SANTIAGO -- Premier Li Keqiang’s Latin America tour marks another step toward “a new type of relationship with Latin America and the Caribbean,” says a UN official.
Osvaldo Rosales, director of the International Trade and Integration Division of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), spoke with Xinhua about Li’s ongoing visit to Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Chile.
“The premier’s visit consolidates one stage in the relationship between China and Latin America, and opens another new stage leading on from President Xi Jinping’s meeting with Latin American leaders in Brazil in July 2014,” said Rosales.
Recent events attest to the evolution of the bilateral relationship, said Rosales.
The first ministerial meeting of the China-Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) Cooperation Forum took place this year in Beijing, and the two sides agreed that their bilateral agenda should develop along practical lines and center on specific projects.
More recently in Quito, Ecuador, CELAC national coordinators gathered to further implement the forum’s agenda, with the attendance of an official for Latin American affairs from the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
CELAC foreign ministers are now set to meet in Santiago in the coming days to, among other things, review the proposals for cooperation laid out in the 2015-2019 China-CELAC Cooperation Plan.
“Li’s visit will give added impetus to this new stage, which began with the China-CELAC Cooperation Forum for the 2015-2019 period,” said Rosales.
The plan contains 13 points, including eight economic points, said Rosales, adding that “it’s time to hold technical meetings to transform these general ideas into specific projects that will generate investment in sub-regional cooperation programs in agriculture, industry, infrastructure, energy, education, tourism, environment, etc.”
Latin American nations, said Rosales, should also use this trip to update their consensus on the region’s cooperation agenda with China, so when the next forum is held in Chile in 2018, “it will mark another step in deepening ties, not merely be an opportunity to reiterate the good intentions already expressed in Beijing in January 2015.”
“Regional countries need to be able to define their specific projects and interests, ... not just to strengthen ties with China, but also to improve our competitiveness and develop our inter-regional trade,” he added.
Latin America, said Rosales, is beginning to understand the role that China plays in the world economy as Chinese proposals and initiatives are reconfiguring the world economic map.
The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), initiated by China and composed of 57 founding members from inside and outside Asia, is one example, he said, noting that it also has a Latin American country, Brazil, among its ranks.
Another example is China’s Belt and Road initiatives, which Rosales described as “the boldest and most innovative proposal on the world agenda” today.
The Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road would link together China, Europe, Eurasia, Africa and the Middle East, in a modern-day revival of the ancient Silk Road trade routes.
The vision is both “spectacular” and doable, Rosales said, given that there are already railway lines that go to Spain and Germany from China, and a train used by companies such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Hewlett-Packard that runs from Shanghai’s outskirts to Europe.
Such mega-projects, said Rosales, point to “a growing link between China and Europe that also takes in Russia and Ukraine, connecting the Asian giant with Eurasia and Europe.”
“All of this is reconfiguring the world economic map and our biggest fear, as Latin Americans, is that we will be left out of this model, if we lack a proposal for inserting ourselves into this new reality,” said Rosales.
To prevent that from happening, he proposed, Latin American countries should work to bridge existing gaps in infrastructure and telecommunications, diversify exports, incorporate more new technologies into manufacturing, and make progress in areas approved at the China-CELAC forum.
“The infrastructure projects are not only going to allow greater connectivity with China, but also with the region, and that will spur labor activity, and goods and services, which in turn will generate more economic activity and more jobs,” said Rosales.
In the past five years, a succession of Chinese leaders have visited ECLAC’s headquarters in Santiago, which “is a great honor and makes us truly proud,” said Rosales.
“It means all our hard work hasn’t been in vain and that ECLAC’s efforts have received recognition, which strengthens our commitment to continuing working with dedication on an issue that is essential to Latin American development,” he added.