US Tour of Latin America Highlights China’s Influence in the Region
The United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, has begun a six-day trip throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, commented in a statement, “U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will travel to Austin, Texas, and then to Mexico City, Mexico; Bariloche and Buenos Aires, Argentina; Lima, Perú; Bogotá, Colombia; and Kingston, Jamaica on February 1-7.”
Only two days before, Tillerson met with Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland in Mexico City to discuss the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), amongst other topics.
During the conference, Tillerson discussed Trump’s plans to “modernize” NAFTA. He also acknowledged Trump's proposal to limit illegal immigration from Mexico, stating,“ I know it's painful, the process.”
In addition to addressing the relations between the United States and Mexico, a relationship that has brought much global attention since the election of Trump, Tillerson’s main objective during his tour is his visit to Venezuela.
A senior State Department official has explained that “the United States will use all its political and economic tools to address the situation in Venezuela.”
Since 2016, Venezuela has been entrenched in one of the worst political and economic crises in the countries' history. Consequently, the United States Department of Treasury has added various Venezuelan government officials to its sanctions list due to allegations of corruption and violations of human rights. These sanctions are believed to have caused a shortage of basic necessities in Venezuela. In addition, the European Union has also imposed sanctions on Venezuela.
The representative commented that the objective of the Trump administration is to “help the Venezuelan people deal with this economic crisis, but also to restore the democratic order so that they can be in charge of their future again.”
Representatives of the United States government have also blamed China for the ongoing crisis in Venezuela. Secretary for International Affairs David Malpass, issued remarks concerning the two countries, “Most of the blame for Venezuela’s economic collapse and humanitarian disaster falls squarely on Venezuela’s rulers, but China has been by far Venezuela’s largest lender, supporting poor governance.”
As part of his tour, Tillerson called upon Latin American nations to protect themselves against “potential predatory actors” and the “unfair trading practices” of the Chinese government.
Increasingly, China has focused more of their attention on Latin American affairs as President of China Xi Jinping, pledged in 2015 to directly invest USD 250 billion in Latin America and increase its trade with the region to USD 500 billion until 2020.
In response to Tillerson’s remarks, China’s foreign ministry responded, “What the United States said is entirely against the truth and displayed disrespect to the vast number of Latin American countries. China is a major international buyer of Latin American bulk commodities, and imports more and more agricultural and high-value-added products from the region.”
The United States remains Latin America and the Caribbean’s largest trading partner, but China’s economic influence in the region could pose future problems for the US.
Tillerson’s tour of the region will likely set the tone of how Latin America and the Caribbean will continue to relate to its largest influencers: the United States and China.