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Turning Towards China and Russia

Virando hacia China y Rusia

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By: Nicolás Gómez Arenas

Tthe majority of leftist governments in Latin America generate the beginning of a complex and worrying shift in international politics in the continent. If you add the recent victory of former guerrilla member Gustavo Petro in Colombia and the high possibility of Brazil falling back to Lula Da Silva, the situation is only worse. However, this is not new; China and Russia had been vigorously working on it for years. 

This reality became more evident during the pandemic. China and later Russia quickly and effectively took advantage of the vacuum, if you will, that the West left at the beginning of the health catastrophe by supplying many countries in the region with COVID-19 vaccines.

The presence of both countries has been increasing in the continent. On the one hand, China has focused more on economy and infrastructure becoming the main partner of important markets in the continent such as Chile, Argentina, and Brazil, increasing its total trade with the region from $18 billion in 2002 to $318 billion in 2020. 

Likewise, the Asian giant has also positioned itself as one of the major financiers of several Latin American countries, becoming an alternative to private banks and organizations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. 

This is not counting the more than 66 billion dollars invested in infrastructure projects, mainly in energy and transportation, such as the mega-port of Chancay in Peru. 

On the other hand, Russia’s presence has been more limited to military influence and defense cooperation with old and nostalgic partners such as Cuba, Venezuela or Nicaragua. Although its diplomatic ties with other countries in the continent were improving before the war with Ukraine, thanks to the exchange of military equipment and some economic aid, the Russians have lost popularity in the region. 

This does not mean that they are completely weakened. On the contrary, the socialist wave that has co-opted the hemisphere has helped them to confront international instances and, above all, in the search to legitimize their invasion. So much so that old allies in the UN abstained from voting when they sought to condemn the war and other countries, such as Colombia, have begun to moderate their position.

In conclusion, the shift is getting stronger every day. Even if Russia does not achieve as good diplomatic and political results as, for example, China does in the scarce recognition of Taiwan (only eight Latin American countries recognize its independence), the fact that figures such as Lula or Petro have the power of strategic nations may manage to regain their popularity. Especially if the US and Europe continue their indifference to what was once one of their strategic priorities during the Cold War.

Nicolás Gómez Arenas is a political scientist and communicator from the University of Arizona. He holds a master’s degree in Public Policy.

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