Chinese-Latin American Relations

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Chinese-Latin American Relations

Traces of the first Chinese in Mexico can be found as far back as 1585. The Manila Galleons (1571–1814) that crossed the Pacific, bringing to Mexico and other Spanish colonies in the Western Hemisphere silk, brocades, linen, tea, and spices from China and other Asian lands, also brought many Chinese sailors and merchants, some of whom stayed in the New World. In 1810, the Portuguese contracted with several hundred Chinese workers to plant tea in the capital of Brazil. (Chá, the Portuguese word for tea, is a transliteration of the Chinese word for tea.) To remedy the labor shortage in Peru, Mexico, and the Caribbean toward the end of the nineteenth century, more than 300,000 Chinese "coolies" were imported. Since the early twentieth century, there have been few new Chinese arrivals in Latin America due to restrictive immigration laws. Today, Chinese are found in all Latin American countries, assimilated into their societies. Apart from the Manila galleon trade, early contact between China and Latin America arose from emigration.

With the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, relations between China and Latin America were strained by complex ideological and political factors. During the pre-Cuban Revolution period, Beijing (Peking) had neither the opportunity nor the incentive for involvement in Latin America. The Cuban Revolution in 1959 gave the PRC an opportunity to break the American policy of "containing China," and to establish relations with Latin American countries. However, except for Cuba, China made no diplomatic breakthroughs in the Western Hemisphere in the 1960s. By the 1970s, most of the trade and cultural exchanges between China and Latin America were concentrated on Cuba.

After the PRC's joining the United Nations and the U.S.-China rapprochement, Chinese diplomatic representation in Latin America increased, and by 1978 China had embassies in twelve Latin American countries. This paralleled the growth of Chinese economic activities in Latin America. Nonetheless, the political and economic ties between the two regions were very limited before China adopted an "open-door" policy in 1978.

Since the late 1970s, however, Chinese-Latin American relations have undergone a radical change. Economic interactions have intensified; financial, commercial, investment, and technical ties have been formed where, in general, few existed before. By the end of 1993, China had established diplomatic relations with most of the countries in the region. Taiwan maintains diplomatic and close economic ties with several Central American and the Caribbean countries.

China's 1992 trade volume with Latin American countries reached nearly $3 billion, an all-time high, compared with only $2 million in 1950. Chinese import volume accounted for nearly $1.9 billion, a 21.5 percent increase over the previous year. Export volume climbed to $1.1 billion, a rise of 35.3 percent over 1991. In 1991, Cuba was the only country in the region to which China's exports exceeded $100 million. In 1992, imports of Mexico, Panama, Chile, and Argentina from China also exceeded this figure. Enormous changes have also taken place in the composition of Chinese exports to Latin America. Prior to the 1990s, China's exports to the region were confined to textiles and some raw materials. In recent years, alongside sustained increases in exports of textiles, those of machinery, motor vehicles, airplanes, ships, electrical appliances, and farm machinery rose rapidly. Under the Chinese policy of modernization, imports from Latin America, such as copper, lumber, lead, and zinc are of prime importance. Latin American agricultural exports of wheat, fish meal, and maize have been long-term staples for Chinese consumption.

From 1993 to 2003, trade between Latin America and China expanded 600 percent. China has begun to ship large amounts of manufactured goods to Latin America, creating stiff competition for maquiladoras, Mexican factories on the U.S.-Mexican border. Yet China's economic rise has greatly helped the agricultural exports of Latin American countries, especially Brazil and Argentina. Venezuela has also sought and received Chinese investment in its oil industry. Some analysts believe that Venezuela hopes to use China so as to counterbalance its dependence on the United States.

See alsoAsians in Latin America .


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                                                He Li