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News from CELAC:

Community of Latin American and Caribbean States
(Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribenos) (CELAC)

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Commentary: China and CELAC: Is China redefining its engagement?
Published on January 14, 2015Email To Friend    Print Version

By Anton Edmunds

While many look at the China-CELAC forum as an event that will strengthen cooperation and deepen ties between China and the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, the results of this meeting may be starkly different than what is being envisioned.

Anton Edmunds is an emerging markets expert and corporate consultant. He heads The Edmunds Group International, blogs at, tweets at @theedmundsgroup and can be contacted via email at or
While committing to doubling trade with the region to over $500 billion and providing an economic lifeline to Venezuela and Ecuador in loans are nothing to scoff at, the reality may well be that China is searching for a mechanism under which to coordinate the over 150 bi-lateral agreements that it has signed with countries in the region and advance a China-Regional agenda, versus trying to manage disparate requests for support.

In some respects, China may be pursuing the same path taken by major powers, in assuming that the region can be dealt with as a bloc. As to whether a China-CELAC mechanism can serve to do this while other frameworks have failed is uncertain, especially considering how fragmented the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean are in terms of their economic development levels, and social and political agendas.

That said, supporting an effort to stand up institutions within CELAC is likely to be a cheaper proposition than trying to handle multiple parties increasingly approaching with hat in hand. Interestingly, a China-CELAC arrangement may well add a level of complexity to the already overlapping agendas of the alphabet soup of entities established to advance cooperation within and outside of the hemisphere.

The ability of smaller countries such as those within the Caribbean and Central America to finance active engagement within China-CELAC institutions while managing existing obligations will be interesting.

Fundamentally for Latin America and the Caribbean, gone are the days of China’s largesse through grants and free stadiums. The new China is a slowing economy, whose leaders will be primarily focused on domestic economic growth and employment in 2015 and beyond. While a more mature relationship with the larger regional economies will continue to center around market access for Chinese goods and services, and the sourcing of raw materials for China’s domestic market, there should be concern by smaller economies in the Caribbean and Central America as to their futures.

For many observers, the sense is that the smaller regional economies of the region will be relegated to the sidelines, unless they serve some particularly strategic interest. Logistics hubs and fossil fuel producing countries stand out as those that justify interest. Sadly for smaller economies, the relationships of the future way mirror that which exists with the US, with sporadic initiatives and engagement the best to be expected.

Ultimately, it is a key plank of China’s political agenda, which is to be active within this hemisphere that will guarantee a certain level of presence. While the bulwark against Taiwan’s influence may be no longer needed, Chinese interests align with some regional countries in a common desire to try to keep the US in check.

US active engagement in Asia through the proposing of trade agreements that exclude Beijing and a military presence in support of traditional allies clearly irritates China. As a result, China as an economic power is willing to flex some muscle in the hemisphere while the US struggles with domestic problems, a fractured political system and foreign policy flashpoints in the Middle East.

For some in the region, China’s involvement goes beyond economics and rests in the political realm, as that the country’s firm position on non-interference in internal matters by external parties -- notably the West – is quite appealing.
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Hudson George:

Anton Edmunds, while you keep on focusing on the expansion of China in Latin America, I think you should be looking into the role western powers played in the days when all Latin american countries were Banana Republics.

In addition, the North American Free Trade between Canada, United States and Mexico destroyed the traditional ways of business in the region.

Maybe, you should ask the question: Why Ronald Reagan free trade policy open up the way for China economic growth?

This present generation of Caribbean youths are suffering. The banana industry is dead. President Clinton and Chiquita create higher unemployment in the Caribbean islands.

We as Caribbean people should focus more on technology and stop wasting time on cold war politics.


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