Towards a Community of Shared Future Between China and Latin America and the Caribbean

By Zhu Qingqiao*


Between 17 and 23 November 2016, at the invitation of President Rafael Correa, President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and President Michelle Bachelet, Chinese President Xi Jinping paid a state visits to Ecuador, Peru and Chile and attended the 24th APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting held in Lima. It was a visit of key significance geared towards the Asia-Pacific and Latin America, and the third visit by President Xi to Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) in four years.

During the visit, President Xi renewed traditional friendship and drew the blueprint for future cooperation with leaders of the three countries. He delivered a major speech at the Congress of Peru intended for the whole LAC region to chart the future course of the relations between the two sides. Marked by numerous highlights and fruitful outcomes, the visit has left a far-reaching impact and sent a strong message that despite the turbulent and fluid international and regional environment, China’s confidence in the development prospects of Latin America and the Caribbean remains strong; the two sides remain each other’s source of development opportunities and China remains committed to enhancing cooperation with regional countries. The visit marks the beginning of a new journey towards a community of shared future between China and LAC. Upon the conclusion of President Xi’s visit, the Chinese government issued the second Policy Paper on Latin America and the Caribbean, detailing China’s vision, ideas and measures towards the region in the new era. This document will guide bilateral cooperation and lead the comprehensive and cooperative partnership between China and LAC to new height.

I. China-LAC relations in the new era

The long geographical distance between China and LAC has never been an obstacle to their time-honored friendly ties and the natural bond between the two peoples. The relationship has registered leapfrog growth in recent years, with frequent high-level exchanges and expanding interactions and cooperation in various areas. The two sides have boosted each other’s economic development, and together addressed the challenges brought about by the international financial crisis. The relationship between China and the Latin American and Caribbean region, with the following outstanding features, is a template of South-South cooperation in the new era.

First, this is a relationship navigated by high-level exchanges. Being developing countries alike, China and LAC states share broad interests on issues such as the pursuit of a multipolar world and greater democracy in international relations. Over the years, leaders from both sides have enjoyed frequent exchanges. From the 1990s on, all  principal Chinese leaders have visited the LAC region, and most of the region’s leaders have visited China during their tenure. Through close communication and candid dialogue on bilateral relations as well as regional and international issues of common concern, the two sides have strengthened and broadened their political consensus. In 2008, the Chinese government issued the first Policy Paper on Latin America and the Caribbean, establishing the goal of building a comprehensive and cooperative partnership featuring equality, mutual benefit and common development with LAC countries. It also contained policies for cooperation with the region in various areas and provided overarching guidance on the development of this relationship. In 2014, President Xi Jinping and LAC leaders jointly announced the establishment of the comprehensive and cooperative partnership of equality, mutual benefit and common development and the Forum of China and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (China-CELAC Forum), demonstrating that their political mutual trust has reached a new level and their comprehensive cooperation has entered a new stage. 

Second, this is a relationship powered by practical cooperation. Since the turn of the century, China and the LAC region have fully tapped into their economic complementarities and spurred rapid growth of practical cooperation on the economic front.  It took only one decade for their bilateral trade volume to rise from less than US$20 billion to US$260 billion, which is rarely seen in the history of world trade. China now stands as the second largest trading partner of the region and the largest trading partner of many individual regional countries. Free trade agreements have been inked between China and countries like Chile, Peru and Costa Rica. Petroleum, soybean and iron ore from LAC helped sustain China’s growth while engineering machinery and production equipment from China facilitated the development of LAC countries. In addition, the region is a major destination of outbound investment and source of project contracting for Chinese companies. Many important cooperation programs in energy and resources, telecommunication and, infrastructure and so on have helped countries in this region to enhance their ability to develop on its own and, at the same time, brought tangible benefits to both peoples.

Third, this is a relationship underpinned by sound people-to-people exchanges. Both China and LAC boast a long history and a splendid civilization. Throughout the long course of interactions, the two peoples have always cherished friendly sentiments towards each other. Cooperation booms in different areas, and people-to-people and cultural exchanges have also become more vibrant. China is gaining in popularity among the people in LAC, and vice versa. There are now 39 Confucius Institutes, 11 Confucius Classrooms and one Chinese Cultural Center in the region, and every year nearly 10,000 LAC students pursue their studies in China. Spanish and Portuguese are taught in more than 50 Chinese institutes of higher learning. LAC is becoming a top destination for high-end Chinese tourists. China and LAC are linked by direct flights and more and more countries in the region offer Chinese tourists visa free treatment and other visa facilitation measures. Events such as the Year of Culture, the week of TV programs and a variety of art performances have brought our people even closer.

II. A new five-dimensional structure of China-LAC cooperation

In 2014, President Xi Jinping stated at the first China-LAC leaders’ meeting that China and LAC were better positioned than ever before to seize the growing opportunities for mutually beneficial cooperation across the board and achieve greater progress. He proposed to build a new, five-dimensional relationship characterized by sincerity and mutual trust in the political field, win-win cooperation on the economic front, mutual learning in the cultural sphere, close coordination in international affairs, as well as synergy between China's cooperation with the region as a whole and its bilateral relations with individual regional countries. His initiative was well received by regional leaders and has thus become the new overarching goal of China’s policy towards LAC. Two years on, significant progress was made in advancing the relationship along this thinking. Efforts in each of the five areas have contributed to the overall relationship and, indeed, to one another.  

To treat each other as equals and to help each other with sincerity is the fundamental premise of the relations between China and LAC. China is committed to the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence and maintains that all countries, regardless of their size, strength and wealth, are equal members of the international community. China firmly supports the efforts of LAC countries to pursue development paths suitable to their own national conditions, seek strength through unity and bring about prosperity. Since 2013, President Xi Jinping has paid three visits to the region, each covering a different sub-region and met with leaders from all the states that have diplomatic relations with China in this region. China established comprehensive strategic partnerships first with Brazil, followed by Peru, Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela, Ecuador and Chile. Strategic partnerships were established with Costa Rica and Uruguay and a comprehensive and cooperative partnership featuring equality, mutual benefit and common development with Caribbean countries that have diplomatic ties with China, thus strengthening China’s partnership network in this region. The two sides have improved dialogue and cooperation mechanisms, including high-level committees, strategic dialogues, bilateral commissions and political consultations, and continue to render each other understanding and support on issues concerning state sovereignty, territorial integrity, stability, development and other core interests and major concerns and uphold common interests.

To uphold mutual benefit and promote common development is the core engine that drives the relations forward. Guided by the “1+3+6” framework proposed by President Xi Jinping, practical cooperation has moved on to the fast lane. By adopting the China-Latin American and Caribbean Countries Cooperation Plan (2015-2019) , cooperation in six key areas, namely, energy and resources, infrastructure, agriculture, manufacturing, innovation in science and technology, and information technology, is getting a real boost from trade, investment and financial cooperation. Since 2015, despite the frustrating world economic recovery and the falling international commodity price, China’s imports of major products from the region have remained stable. Bilateral trade mix continues to improve. Advantageous products from Latin America such as agricultural produce are becoming new drivers of exports to China. China’s direct investment stock in LAC has topped US$150 billion, expanding from traditional recipients such as the resource and energy industry to power generation, automobile, machinery manufacturing, new energy, e-commerce and other emerging industries. New means of investment including equity acquisition and commercial franchise are being explored. LAC is now second to Asia as the largest destination of overseas investment by Chinese companies. The new “3 x 3” model for production capacity cooperation (i.e. jointly building the three major passageways of logistics, electricity and information in Latin America, enabling healthy interactions among the enterprise, society and government, and expanding the use of funds, credit loans and insurance as financing tools), unveils a promising future especially in infrastructure construction. China has put in place a set of financial arrangements in support of its cooperation with the region over the years, including a financing support package of US$35 billion, a US$30 billion China-Latin American Production Capacity Cooperation Investment Fund and a US$3 billion China-Caribbean Cooperation Fund. China signed bilateral financing and currency swap agreements with quite a few regional countries and designated RMB clearing banks in Chile and Argentina, providing key financing support to bilateral business cooperation. Closer cooperation and the growing convergence of  interests have enabled China and LAC to better tap into each other’s strengths for common development. 

To carry out exchanges and mutual learning and cement enduring friendship is a solid support for relations between China and the LAC region. In 2014, President Xi Jinping announced that China would provide LAC countries with 6,000 government scholarships, 6,000 training opportunities and 400 on-the-job master’s degree opportunities, and invite 1,000 leaders of political parties of LAC countries to visit China. The effective implementation of such important measures has further deepened mutual understanding of the two sides. In 2016, cultural, sport and people-to-people exchanges culminated in such major activities as the Year of China-LAC Cultural Exchange and the 31st Summer Olympics and Paralympics in Brazil. During his third visit to the LAC region, President Xi Jinping announced that China would provide countries in the region with 10,000 training opportunities in various sectors, set up a center for press exchange and invite LAC reporters to work in China in the next three years, and train 500 media professionals for these countries in the next five years. The implementation of the said measures will further strengthen the people-to-people bond and traditional friendship between the two sides.

To enhance international collaboration and uphold equity and justice is an international responsibility for China and LAC countries as they develop their relations. The two sides have carried out effective dialogue and coordination and upheld common position in pursuing sustainable development, safeguarding the multilateral trading regime, improving global economic governance, tackling climate change and promoting Asia-Pacific regional cooperation in the UN, WTO and other international organizations and multilateral frameworks. China supported Brazil and Peru in hosting the 2014 BRICS Summit and 2016 APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting respectively. LAC countries have also been highly supportive of China’s efforts to host the 2014 APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting and the 2016 G20 Hangzhou Summit and China’s proposals, including an FTA of the Asia-Pacific and the Belt and Road Initiative. Brazil is a founding member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and has worked with China in building the BRICS New Development Bank. The two countries held a common position at the Paris Conference on Climate Change. Cooperation on regional and international affairs has effectively helped uphold the international order and system centered around the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, promoted Asia-Pacific regional cooperation and contributed to the building of an open and inclusive world economic system.

To ensure mutual reinforcement between China’s cooperation with the region as a whole and with individual countries is a strategic pathway for the growth of the relations between the two sides. In 2014, leaders of China and LAC countries jointly announced the establishment of the China-CELAC Forum. Its inaugural ministerial meeting was held in Beijing in January 2015, marking the full coverage of the overall regional cooperation mechanism with other developing countries advocated by China. Over the past two years, steady progress has been made in all cooperation areas of China-CELAC Forum. Over ten sub-forum meetings have been held in such areas as infrastructure, science, technology and innovation, and among political parties, young political leaders, the general public, think tanks and entrepreneurs, giving a boost to cooperation across the board. Cooperation measures under the framework of the China-CELAC Forum have also been steadily implemented. In the principle of equality and with the goal of mutual benefit, China actively advances cooperation with the region mainly through the platform of the China-CELAC Forum in a flexible, practical, open and inclusive spirit. China has continued dialogue and cooperation with sub-regional organizations such as Mercosur and the Pacific Alliance and regional financial institutions including the Inter-American Development Bank. China’s relations with LAC countries, sub-regional organizations and the region as a whole have all made progress and reinforced each other. Such a sound momentum has been welcomed and acclaimed by the LAC region.

III. Jointly build a community of shared future for common progress

The CPC Central Committee with General Secretary Xi Jinping as the core has proposed to build a community of shared future for mankind based on its keen insights into the future of mankind and the trend of the times. A major innovation in the theory of major-country diplomacy with Chinese features and a major plan for the evolvement of international order and system, it is exerting a positive and profound impact on the contemporary international relations. When it comes to the relations between China and the LAC region, the two sides have always treated each other as equals, upheld fairness and justice, and committed themselves to pursuing economic growth, inclusiveness, mutual benefit, mutual learning between civilizations and green development. Given such high conformity with the master plan for building a community of shared future for mankind, the relations have already developed the basic features of a community of shared future.

In his speech in the Congress of Peru, President Xi Jinping pointed out that China and LAC countries need to stay committed to peace, development and cooperation, seek complementarity between development strategies, scale up cooperation, share fruits of cooperation and work together for China-LAC community of shared future which, like a giant vessel, will take the friendly relations onto a new voyage. This charts the course for the future of relations between China and the LAC region.

Staying committed to peace, development and cooperation means to act in accordance with the trend of the times, grasp the overall international landscape, always make national development and renewal a fundamental mission, and jointly uphold world peace, promote common development and build a new model of international relations featuring win-win cooperation. Peace and development represents the fundamental aspiration and biggest converging interest of the developing countries, China and LAC countries included. With one fifth of the world’s total landmass and nearly one third of the world’s population, China and LAC countries are crucial forces for world peace, stability and growth. On development, the two sides need to treat each other as equals, stay on a path of dialogue and partnership instead of confrontation or alliance, and develop a China-LAC model for state-to-state relations in the new era. The two sides need to conduct win-win cooperation, lend impetus to each other’s development, and contribute to global economic growth with their combined strengths. The two sides need to engage in exchange and mutual learning, seek harmony but not conformity, and offer their experience to shaping the harmonious coexistence among different civilizations. On major international affairs concerning peace, development and cooperation, the two sides need to make their voice heard, elaborate on their common position, and jointly increase the representation and voice of emerging markets and developing countries.

Seeking complementarity between our development strategies means to strengthen experience sharing on governance, enhance macro policy planning and coordination, and synergize China’s 13th Five-Year Plan with the strategies of LAC countries. China will upgrade its foreign trade at a faster pace, further open its market to the world, encourage enterprises to invest overseas and speed up the implementation of the FTA strategy. This dovetails with development plans of LAC countries as they all aim to increase added value of exports, attract foreign investment, diversify industrial mix and safeguard global trade and investment liberalization. China and LAC can learn from each other’s comparative advantages in such areas as social governance, environmental protection, poverty reduction and health. China will hold a round table on environment and sustainable development in Beijing next year, when the two sides will compare notes on relevant policy concepts and explore new areas for cooperation. The two sides also need to grow the relations in the context of regional and international development. China calls for synergy between Asia-Pacific regional cooperation and the “look east” policy on development of LAC countries. The development of FTAAP will create more opportunities for China, LAC countries and beyond.

Scaling up cooperation means to drive development with innovation, take the initiative to adapt to the new changes and challenges in the global economic and financial landscape, and keep upgrading practical cooperation. As urbanization and the new type of industrialization in China and LAC countries create enormous market demand, the two sides need to seize the opportunity to unlock trade potential, optimize trade mix, nurture new growth areas in products with a cutting edge, high quality and high added value. The two sides need to guide investment in such sectors as high tech, clean energy, manufacturing, information and communications, foster a multi-dimensional investment network covering financing, technology, equipment and human resources, and diversify ways of financial cooperation. The two sides need to strengthen production capacity cooperation, encourage enterprises from both sides to conduct joint innovation and R&D, support each other’s development strategies and lend new impetus to common development. Both sides need to make full use of bilateral and multilateral cooperation mechanisms, including the China-CELAC Forum, to make good plans for cooperation in all areas, keep improving the institutional arrangements for trade and investment facilitation, and build a full-fledged legal and institutional architecture for our cooperation.

Sharing fruits of cooperation means to make our people the champion, contributor and beneficiary of China-LAC cooperation. China encourages enterprises to act on the concept of green development, fulfill their corporate social responsibilities and step up technological transfer and human resource cooperation with LAC countries. At the same time, Chinese businesses should respect local customs and cultural traditions, abide by local laws on labor, environment and in other areas, promote investment localization, and contribute to local employment and social development, so that people of both sides can truly feel the benefits of their cooperation. The two sides also need to expand cultural and people-to-people exchange and mutual learning between civilizations, so that people from both sides will understand and support each other in the exploration of a development path that suits their conditions, that the Chinese dream and the LAC dream of unity, coordination, development and revitalization will reinforce each other, and that China-LAC cooperation will bring both material and cultural benefits.

The giant vessel of China-LAC community of shared future has set sail. Let us work hand in glove for a smooth and long voyage that delivers greater prosperity and benefits for our people, and makes fresh contribution to the great endeavor of building a community of shared future for mankind.


* Zhu Qingqiao is the Director General of the Department of Latin American and Caribbean Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.