Jointly Create Opportunities, Seek Common Development, and Promote Steady and Long-Term Development of China-LAC Relations in the New Era

By Cai Wei

On December 3, 2021, the Third Ministers’ Meeting of the China-CELAC Forum (CCF) was held successfully via video link. Chinese President Xi Jinping and President of Mexico as CELAC rotating presidency Andrés Manuel López Obrador delivered video remarks at the meeting. Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Luis Ebrard Casaubón co-chaired the meeting, which was joined by foreign ministers or representatives of Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries and heads of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the Development Bank of Latin America. Under the theme of “Together Overcoming Current Difficulties and Creating Opportunities to Continue Building a China-LAC Community”, participants focused on the implementation of the Global Development Initiative, explored ways on advancing China-LAC relations and drew a blueprint for common development. The Declaration of the Third Ministers’ Meeting of the China-CELAC Forum and the China-CELAC Joint Action Plan for Cooperation in Key Areas (2022-2024) were issued as outcome documents, charting the course for China-LAC relations to move forward.

As the first major diplomatic event for China and the LAC countries after the Sixth Plenary Session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), this meeting was a grand gathering for the two sides to seek common development and usher in a shared future. In the context of the meeting, I wish to review the development of China-LAC relations and the progress of the overall cooperation since the Second Ministerial Meeting of the CCF, and look into the prospects of China-LAC relations under the guidance of the Global Development Initiative.

I. Further substantiating China-LAC relations in the new era

During his fourth visit to the LAC countries in December 2018, President Xi Jinping advocated fostering a China-LAC relationship for a new era characterized by equality, mutual benefit, innovation, openness, and benefits for the people and bringing the content of the relationship fully up to date, which received warm welcome and active response from the LAC countries. In September 2021, President Xi Jinping was invited to address the Sixth Summit of Heads of State and Government of CELAC via video link. He fully recognized the development achievements of China-LAC relations over the past three years and clearly pointed out that this relationship has entered a new era of equality, mutual benefit, innovation, openness, and benefits for the people. President Xi Jinping reaffirmed this position in his video remarks to the Third Ministers’ Meeting of the CCF, pointing out the new historical position and development direction of China-LAC relations.

 As equal partners, China and the LAC countries have further enhanced political mutual trust. Equality means making decisions through consultations on an equal footing. President Xi Jinping has led by example, as since the onset of COVID-19, he has had 21 telephone conversations and exchanged letters or messages with leaders of 17 LAC countries to conduct equal-footed and friendly communication on major issues at critical moments and on important occasions, building consensus on addressing challenges, and charting the course and lending momentum for the development of China-LAC relations.

Upholding equality among countries of all sizes is China’s consistent principle in handling state-to-state relations. Since the establishment of diplomatic ties in 2018, China’s relations with the Dominican Republic and El Salvador have enjoyed steady and sound development, with dividends continuously yielded, setting a good example for amicable ties between countries that differ in sizes, national conditions and development stages, and creating an exemplary effect. In December 2021, China resumed diplomatic relations with Nicaragua, further broadening its “circle of friends” in the LAC region.

“Complete equality” is one of the basic principles of the CPC in its external relations. On the centenary of the CPC, leaders of political parties in the LAC region sent more than 200 letters and messages and extended congratulations through various means including videos and posts on social media. Leaders of 115 political parties, political organizations and regional party organizations in 28 LAC countries attended the CPC and World Political Parties Summit, demonstrating the strong cohesion and appeal of the equal relations between the political parties of China and the LAC countries.

All countries, regardless of sizes and strength, are equal members of the international community. China is opposed to hegemonism and power politics, condemns the US sanctions and long-arm jurisdiction on Cuba and Venezuela, supports Argentina’s claim for sovereignty over the Malvinas Islands, and supports the LAC countries in independently exploring development paths that suit their national conditions. Many LAC countries congratulated China on the 50th anniversary of the restoration of its lawful seat in the United Nations, and firmly supported China on issues relating to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Tibet, COVID-19 and human rights. China and the LAC countries have worked together to contribute “positive energy” to building a fair and equitable international order.

 As mutually beneficial partners, China and the LAC countries have further deepened their practical cooperation. The ECLAC pointed out that China-LAC cooperation has become an important force contributing to stability and prosperity of the regional economy. The organization estimated that every 1% of growth in China’s economy will bring the economy of the LAC region up by 0.5%, reflecting a cooperation architecture between China and the LAC region where the interests of the two are closely intertwined. In recent years, China has been committed to the right approach to pursue justice and interests and the principles of sincerity, real results, affinity and good faith, and shared development opportunities with the LAC countries for common development. The China-LAC cooperation mechanism has been continuously improved. In recent years, under the guidance of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China and the LAC countries have strengthened synergy between their development strategies and jointly implemented new initiatives and measures on mutually beneficial cooperation such as the new framework for practical cooperation “1+3+6” and the new model of industrial capacity cooperation “3×3”. Practical cooperation in various fields has yielded fruitful results.

China-LAC trade has grown continuously. From 2018 to 2020, China-LAC trade volume has remained above US$300 billion for three consecutive years. In the first 11 months of 2021, two-way trade volume reached US$411.25 billion, up by 42.3% year-on-year and exceeding US$400 billion for the first time. China remains the second largest trading partner of the LAC region, and is the largest trading partner of LAC countries including Brazil, Chile, Peru and Uruguay.

The stock of China-LAC investment has continued to grow. China signed cooperation agreements in production capacity and investment with eight LAC countries and established a mechanism of bilateral cooperation. China is the third largest source of investment to the LAC region, which is the No.2 destination for Chinese overseas investment. Over 3,000 Chinese enterprises are operating in the region.

China-LAC financial cooperation has continued to expand. The programs of special loans, concessional loans and cooperation fund for China-LAC infrastructure are well underway. China renewed the RMB currency swap agreement with Argentina and Chile. Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay formally joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. The New Development Bank of the BRICS officially announced to admit Uruguay as one of its first new member states. Financing between China and the LAC countries has become more diverse.

 As innovative partners, China and the LAC countries have made great progress in transformation and upgrading. Innovation is the primary driving force for development. China and the LAC countries have worked actively to synergize their policies on innovation and placed greater emphasis on advanced science and technologies in their relations. In 2020 and 2021, China and the LAC countries successfully held two virtual Science, Technology and Innovation Forums and issued joint statements, expressed their willingness to step up scientific and technological cooperation, and achieved important results on the joint construction of the China-Latin America sustainable food innovation center and technology transfer center, among others.

China and the LAC countries have deepened scientific research cooperation on epidemic response, and jointly built a bulwark for public health security. China worked with countries including Brazil, Mexico, Chile, and Peru to carry out experiments, research, development and production of COVID-19 vaccines, drugs and medical equipment. China and the LAC countries successfully held a forum on traditional medicine. China-LAC cooperation in health care and traditional Chinese medicine has accelerated. A number of universities of Chinese medicine in China have conducted joint research on traditional medicine with their LAC counterparts.

China and the LAC countries have focused on cutting-edge technology and drawn on each other’s strength to foster an innovation hub. China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite program was hailed as a fine example of South-South cooperation in the high-tech field. China and Argentina signed a memorandum of understanding on satellite navigation cooperation and will cooperate in the joint application of satellite navigation and the construction of the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System Center. Huawei’s 5G has been officially commercialized in Suriname, and the first phase of its 5G network deployment in Trinidad and Tobago and Dominica has been completed. China and the LAC countries have also engaged in cooperation in frontier areas such as polar regions, deep space, oceans and aerospace.

China and the LAC countries have focused on science and technology as the driving force for development and facilitated the shift from traditional drivers of growth to new ones. The impact of COVID-19 and the technological revolution have triggered new business models and forms. Products from the LAC region have been launched on Chinese e-commerce platforms. AliExpress has been a pacesetter for a new model of e-commerce in the region. DiDi Taxi has created new travel trends in the LAC region. The China International Fair for Trade in Services, China International Import Expo, China Import and Export Fair (Canton Fair) and other events have attracted LAC customers virtually. Cloud expos and e-commerce platforms have become new channels for Chinese and LAC enterprises to obtain orders, expand markets and stabilize growth. Digital economy has injected new momentum into China-LAC cooperation.

 As open partners, China and the LAC countries have shared opportunities and sought common development. Both sides have adhered to the philosophy of diverse and open development, and shared the dividends of openness and development. China has taken the initiative to increase imports from the LAC countries, relaxed market access, and improved the business environment to welcome LAC countries aboard the fast train of China’s development. The LAC countries have championed a diversified development strategy and open regionalism, welcomed investment and businesses by Chinese enterprises, valued the opportunities brought by China’s super-large market, and taken concrete actions to deepen their cooperation with China.

China and the LAC countries have promoted high-quality BRI cooperation and created an open cooperation platform. In 2019, nearly 100 representatives from 25 LAC countries attended the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. So far, China has signed BRI cooperation documents with 19 LAC countries. Cuba officially joined the Belt and Road Energy Partnership.

China and the LAC region have been in active discussion on signing an upgraded free trade agreement (FTA) to improve institutional safeguard for open cooperation. The China-Chile upgraded FTA has come into force, and the China-Peru and China-Costa Rica FTAs were in sound operation. To date, 17 LAC countries have recognized China’s full market economy status. Chile, Mexico and Peru have welcomed China’s accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

China and the LAC region have strengthened coordination and cooperation in multilateral areas in an effort to safeguard an open world economy. The two sides have jointly opposed protectionism in all forms and exclusive trade standards, rules and systems, supported the multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organization at its core, strengthened coordination and cooperation in such organizations as the G20, BRICS, and APEC, safeguarded the stable supply chain and industrial chain, and promoted a new type of economic globalization that is more open, inclusive, balanced and beneficial for all.

 As partners that benefit the people, China and the LAC countries have always put the people first. Improving people’s well-being is the ultimate purpose and primary focus for developing China-LAC relations. The two sides have continued to strengthen cultural exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations to enhance the sense of participation and fulfillment of the people. Costa Rica has set up the Chinese Culture Day. Panama has designated the Chinese New Year as a national festival. Cultural activities such as Culture Week and film festivals have gained more popularity. Featured products, movies and TV programs, music and dance, overseas travel and study have enriched people’s life. The friendship between China and the LAC countries has delivered greater benefits to both peoples.

The two sides have strengthened medical and health cooperation in epidemic response and jointly built a bulwark for life and safety. At the most challenging time for China’s fight against COVID-19, leaders of many LAC countries publicly expressed their support, and their people did their best to donate nearly 1.7 million pieces of medical supplies to the Chinese people. China reciprocated by donating nearly 40 million pieces of urgently-needed medical supplies to 30 countries in the region, holding more than a hundred video conferences to exchange experience in COVID-19 response, and dispatching multiple medical expert teams. While some developed countries were in a hoarding frenzy for vaccines, China was among the first and largest suppliers of vaccines to many LAC countries, and has provided a large amount of vaccines to 21 countries in the region.

By providing both immediate, much-needed help and assistance for long-term benefits, China has sincerely helped the countries in the region with their development. China helped Grenada to formulate a national development strategy plan, worked with Cuba to draft a mid- and long-term industrial development plan, and signed a memorandum of understanding on promoting human resources development and cooperation with El Salvador, Trinidad and Tobago and other countries. China introduced bamboo and Juncao planting and processing technologies to the LAC region, carried out programs of agricultural technology cooperation, and implemented livelihood projects in such fields as food assistance, post-disaster reconstruction, refugee relief, and maternal and child health. China established the Climate Change South-South Cooperation Fund to help Uruguay and Caribbean island countries to improve their resilience to climate change.

China encourages its enterprises to fulfill their social responsibilities and help improve people’s livelihood and community development. Chinese enterprises have demonstrated a strong sense of social responsibility by actively participating in social welfare projects, sharing anti-COVID experience, donating medical materials, funding welfare homes, nursing homes and community schools, and building roads and bridges for communities. They have introduced advanced technologies to communities, created decent job opportunities and cultivated a wealth of local talent, sowing the seeds of hope for sustainable development in the years to come.

II. Steadily improving China-LAC overall cooperation mechanisms

The China-CELAC Forum was established and achieved significant progress thanks to the personal guidance and efforts of President Xi Jinping. In July 2014, President Xi Jinping and leaders of LAC countries jointly announced the establishment of China-CELAC Forum. This event marks a new stage of mutually reinforcing progress of bilateral ties and regional cooperation in China-LAC relations and provides strong support to building a community with a shared future for China and LAC countries. It has extended China’s overall cooperation frameworks to cover all developing countries and contributed to a full-fledged structure of China’s foreign policy.

In January 2015, the First Ministerial Meeting of the China-CELAC Forum was successfully held in Beijing. President Xi Jinping attended and addressed its opening ceremony. Foreign ministers or representatives of CELAC members gathered in Beijing, creating a milestone in the history of China-LAC interactions. A cooperation platform covering China and all the LAC countries was established for the first time in history, bringing new opportunities to building a comprehensive cooperative partnership of equality, mutual benefit and common development between China and LAC countries.

In January 2018, the Second Ministerial Meeting of the China-CELAC Forum was held in Chile, and President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory letter. The Special Declaration on the Belt and Road Initiative was adopted at the meeting, marking the extension of the Belt and Road Initiative to all LAC countries. Once again, China and LAC countries joined hands across the ocean in the new era, opening a new chapter in their overall cooperation.

Since its Second Ministerial Meeting, the China-CELAC Forum has achieved remarkable progress.

 Mechanisms and operating rules were improved. The Cyber Secretariat of the China-CELAC Forum was up and running. Institutional meetings including the Dialogue of Foreign Ministers of China and the Quartet of CELAC and the Meeting of National Coordinators of the China-CELAC Forum were successfully held. Foreign ministers of China and LAC countries held a special video conference on COVID-19. Twenty-eight sub-forums were held, covering 15 areas including agriculture, infrastructure, scientific and technological innovation, finance, health care, digital technology, poverty alleviation and development, political parties, youth, entrepreneurs, think tanks, local governments, anti-corruption, new energy and sports. This has significantly enriched China-LAC overall cooperation.

 Practical cooperation yielded fruitful results under the framework of the China-CELAC Forum. In line with its financing package to LAC countries, China has approved over US$20 billion of loans to more than 100 cooperation projects in 20-plus LAC countries, providing financial support for regional countries in the areas of infrastructure, transportation, energy, water conservancy, telecommunications, electricity, science and technology, public health and post-disaster reconstruction, effectively improving the living standards and livelihoods of the people in regional countries and producing good economic and social benefits.

 Cultural and people-to-people exchanges became more diverse under the framework of the China-CELAC Forum. Cooperation and exchange programs such as the “Bridge to the Future” Training Program for One Thousand Chinese and Latin American Youth Leaders, China-LAC Young Scientist Exchange Program, China-LAC Science and Technology Partnership and China-LAC Press Exchange Center were advanced in an orderly manner. These efforts have given a strong boost to extensive exchanges between all sectors of China and LAC countries.

The fruitful outcomes we have achieved at the Forum are attributable to our commitment to the principle of equality, the goal of mutual benefit, the practical and flexible approach and the spirit of openness and inclusiveness in our cooperation. At the recently concluded Third Ministers’ Meeting of the China-CELAC Forum, both sides agreed to make full use of the platform of China-CELAC Forum, focus on common development, deepen China-LAC cooperation and improve people’s well-being. China and LAC countries agreed to explore the possibility of hosting a summit at the 10th anniversary of the establishment of China-CELAC Forum in 2024. It is believed that this will bring the development of China-LAC relations and China-CELAC Forum to a new height.

III. Focusing on development for the sound and steady growth of China-LAC relations

The year 2021 marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the 200th anniversary of the independence of a number of LAC countries. At the moment, the combined forces of changes and a pandemic both unseen in a century pose serious challenges to the global efforts on growing the economy and bettering people’s lives. Faced with new circumstances and challenges, and keeping in mind the new development stage, China is following the new development philosophy, fostering a new development paradigm, and pursuing high-quality development. LAC countries are adjusting their domestic and external strategies on economic recovery, national development and democratic governance in the post-COVID era, and cultivating new growth drivers. Looking ahead, China will work with LAC countries to create opportunities and seek common development, and promote the sound and steady development of China-LAC relations.

First, we need to prioritize development and jointly create opportunities for coordinated development. China and LAC countries are members of the developing world, and development is our top priority. What matters most in people’s lives is to focus on seeking development. There is no one-size-fits-all development model in the world. China and LAC countries should continue to support each other in independently exploring development paths suited to our respective national conditions and keep our future in our own hands. China and LAC countries are comprehensive cooperative partners of equality, mutual benefit and common development. China will work with LAC countries to strengthen communication on governance experience, draw on each other’s successful experience of development, and better coordinate on development strategies and macroeconomic policies. We also need to leverage our respective strengths, explore growth potential, and share development opportunities to achieve better development.

Second, we need to take the people-centered approach and jointly create development opportunities for the benefit of our people. China will work with LAC countries to promote whole-process people’s democracy by encouraging the free expression of views and opinions, pooling wisdom and strength from the people, and protecting and promoting human rights through development. This will help ensure that people’s will is better reflected through the development of China-LAC relations. As COVID-19 remains rampant across the world, China will continue to put people’s lives first and cooperate with LAC countries on COVID response and vaccine cooperation, help regional countries improve health governance capacity, and build a community of health for all. China will share its experience with LAC countries on poverty reduction, enhance cooperation in such areas as poverty reduction, disaster relief, people’s livelihoods and environmental protection, and protect and improve people’s well-being through development. China will take the opportunities offered by the Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics to promote exchanges on winter sports with LAC countries and respond to people’s aspiration for a better life. Friendship among the peoples helps boost relations between countries. China will strengthen cultural and people-to-people exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations and steadily enhance mutual understanding and friendship, to ensure that people remain the beneficiaries of and contributors to China-LAC friendship.

Third, we need to pursue mutual benefit and inclusiveness and jointly create opportunities for common development. China firmly supports LAC countries in post-COVID recovery and will promote high-quality Belt and Road cooperation with LAC countries under the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, with a view to achieving more robust, balanced and sustainable development for both sides. LAC countries differ in resource endowment, development stages and development needs. China will share development experience and industrial technology in various ways and help LAC countries draw up development plans, train local professionals, improve technological strengths, and enhance capacity for self-generated development, so as to achieve diversified, home-grown and sustainable development.

Fourth, we need to pursue innovation-driven development and jointly create opportunities for leapfrog development. Innovation is a key driver of global development. China will deepen cooperation on science and technology with LAC countries by building the alliance on scientific and technological innovation, focusing on the frontier areas, and enhancing exchanges among professionals. This will help leverage our respective strengths and create synergy to achieve more breakthroughs in science and technology, and seize the historic opportunities of a new round of scientific and technological revolution and industrial transformation. China will work with LAC countries to establish and make good use of the technology transfer center, strengthen industrial capacity cooperation, and jointly build industrial parks to foster an open, fair and non-discriminatory environment for scientific and technological development. We need to give full scope to enterprises as the main actors of innovation and redouble efforts to harness technological achievements to boost productivity. In particular, we need to make good use of digital economy as the new engine, foster new growth drivers to promote economic development in the post-COVID era and jointly achieve leapfrog development.

Fifth, we need to uphold the harmonious coexistence between man and Nature and jointly create opportunities for green development. Clear waters and green mountains are as valuable as gold and silver. China will have exchanges and cooperation with LAC countries in such areas as response to climate change, clean energy, maritime cooperation and biodiversity protection, to promote green and sustainable development. China will enhance cooperation on energy conservation and emissions reduction to help both sides achieve carbon peak and carbon neutrality, and work together to foster a maritime community with a shared future, a community of life for man and Nature and a community of all life on Earth. At the same time, green infrastructure, green energy and green finance are the priority areas of the transition to a green economy. China will work with LAC countries to make efforts on multiple fronts to foster new growth drivers for economic recovery and green development in the post-COVID era and make green development a shining brand name and defining feature of China-LAC cooperation.

Sixth, we need to take real actions and jointly create opportunities for practical development. Development requires input of resources. China has announced at the Third Ministers’ Meeting of the China-CELAC Forum its decision to set up a US$1 billion China-CELAC Special Loan for Development Cooperation and a US$1 billion China-CELAC Special Loan for Cooperation on Digital Economy, which shows its sincerity in helping LAC countries achieve development. The two sides have also reached extensive consensus, issued the Declaration of the Third Ministers’ Meeting of the China-CELAC Forum and drew up the China-CELAC Joint Action Plan for Cooperation in Key Areas (2022-2024). China will work with LAC countries to make continued efforts on implementation and advancing China-LAC cooperation.

China and LAC countries are good friends and partners for shared development. China will work with LAC countries to secure new prospects amidst changes, create opportunities in the crisis, and achieve new and bigger progress in our relations to inject greater stability to the uncertain world. Together, China and LAC countries will make greater contributions to the building of a community with a shared future for mankind.

Cai Wei is Director-General of the Department of Latin American and Caribbean Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.