The Western media continually criticizes China’s role in Latin America as being “neocolonial” and claims it has an “insatiable demand for commodities”, so I was keen to observe the people’s attitude toward China during my trip to the region recently.
Judging from the enthusiasm for China displayed by government officials, businessmen, academics and ordinary people in Chile, the picture presented by the Western media has been seriously distorted.
At the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, chiefs and experts attributed the fast trade and investment growth from China as a key factor for Latin America not only surviving, but thriving during the global financial crisis.
The same message was heard from top Chilean officials at the 5th annual meeting of the Chile China Business Council, which drew some 500 government officials and business people.
It is true that commodities are an important part of the trade between China and Latin America. However, that trade benefits not only China, but also Latin America and the rest of the world.
By being the world’s manufacturing workshop, China has paid a high environmental cost. Just half a century ago, that job was done in most of today’s developed countries when they were the global manufacturing center.
Many developed countries have an insatiable demand for China’s rare earth and, of course, the country’s cheap labor. But this never seems to bother the Western media.
In fact, China and Latin America are quickly diversifying and elevating their trade and investment as witnessed by the host of agreements signed by China and Cuba, Uruguay and Chile in the past few days.
China has already become Chile’s largest trade partner. Chinese businesses are increasing their presence in the South America country. The billboards on Santiago streets by automaker BYD and appliance firm Haier, and the Chinese businessmen who do trade, operate malls and run convenience stores are proof of China’s presence.
Both countries share a priority in development. Chile aspires to become a developed country and China wants to become a xiaokang (well-off) society.
Chilean President Sabastian Pinera made constant reminders that the two countries are very close despite the geographical distance between them.
The mood among the ordinary people I met in Chile was also favorable to China. I have never heard the word “Welcome” as often as I did in Chile. Ordinary Chileans I met in cafes, museums, parks in Santiago and Pablo Neruda’s colorful and hilly neighborhood in historic Valparaiso greeted me with “Welcome to Chile”.
What Pinera said was true. China and Chile are very close. In South America, Chile was the first country to recognize China’s market economy status, the first to sign a free trade agreement with China, the first to establish diplomatic ties with China and the first to support China’s WTO accession.
Of course, China and Latin American countries, all belong to the developing world and are going to compete with each other. But we all know that competition is a good thing and there is no need to distort the picture simply because of competition.
Latin American nations are independent countries and they are no one’s backyard. For China and Chile, they are really neighbor countries separated only by the Pacific. You can literally fly from Beijing to Santiago without passing over any other country.
The author is deputy editor of China Daily US edition. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org