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China maps new road to Latin America to rival and check US influence

China laid out a new roadmap for its relations with Latin American and Caribbean countries in a strategic push to expand its clout in the US backyard, as President Xi Jinping wrapped up his high-profiled visits there.

However, Beijing said that its relations with the southern hemisphere continent will also aim to safeguard the current international order, but not target any country, a veiled reference to US, which has traditionally played a dominated role in the continent’s affairs.

“The comprehensive and cooperative partnership between China and Latin America and the Caribbean is oriented towards common development. It does not target or exclude any third party,” said a Chinese government document, entitled: China’s Policy Paper on Latin America and the Caribbean.

The document charts the course for the future cooperation in wide range areas, ranging from politics, diplomacy, military, security, trade, investment, climate and internet.

Xi concluded his state visits to Ecuador, Peru and Chile from November 17 to 23 and attend the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation from November 19 to 20 in Lima, capital city of Peru.

Analysts said the document aims to deepen and upgrade China’s cooperation with countries in the continent in effort to rival and check US influence, which is declining there. Xi’s visits came at a time when many analysts believed that Donald Trump’s victory would chill US-Latin American ties as the US president-elect had vowed to scrap regional trade deals, build a wall on the border with Mexico and deport undocumented immigrants.

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They also believed Beijing’s step-up diplomacy might also target Taiwan as most of the island’s only 22 states that recognise Taipei are from the region. In March, Beijing seized Taiwan’s former ally Gambia, ending an unofficial diplomatic truce between the two sides in past decade.

Cross-strait relations have chilled since Tsai Ing-wen of independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party took office in May.

Alexander Huang, director of Strategy and International Studies at Tamkang University, said Beijing’s move is not necessarily targeted on Taiwan. “Rather, that region is the backyard of the United States. I believe the pressure is not just being felt by Taiwan, “ said Huang, a former Taiwanese vice minister in charge of mainland affairs.

However, Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations at Renmin University, said that for now and for a long period of time in the future, China would not seek any strategic or military presence in the United States’ backyard.

“[Beijing] is clear some of those Latin American countries maintaining diplomatic relationships with Taipei out of economic motivation,” he said.

“If Beijing wants, they would not be so difficult to poach. It is only because the cross strait relations were fine under Ma administration and Beijing has not taken any action.”

In 2008, China laid out its vision for a “cooperative partnership” with the continent in its first white paper on Latin America and the Caribbean.

Trade between China and Latin America and the Caribbean has jumped by 22 times between 2000 and 2013. However, it has decreased by 23 per cent in past two years since it peaked in 2013. Still, China has overtaken European Union to become the second largest trading partner in the region following US in 2014.

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Beijing also pledged to provide economic aids without attaching political terms, a policy widely criticised by human rights and environment protection organs.

“China will continue to provide economic and technical assistance to Latin American and Caribbean countries without attaching any political conditions,” it said.

It said that China and Latin American and Caribbean countries share a global responsibility in promoting international cooperation, equity and justice.

“China is ready to strengthen communication and cooperation with Latin American and Caribbean countries within the international multilateral mechanisms, and jointly safeguard the international order and system with the purposes and principles of the UN Charter as its core,” It said.

“China will advance multi-polarisation, promote democracy and the rule of law in international relations and enhance the representation and voice of developing countries,” it said.

Beijing said it will push ahead the free trade pact with the region, as Trump vowed to scrap such pacts.

“China will discuss with Latin American and Caribbean countries the establishment of long-term and stable trade relations and various trade facilitation arrangements including the FTA,” the document said.

Additional reporting by Liu Zhen