Roles of China, Russia in Latin America 'alarming'

US Secretary of State calls them 'imperial powers', urges region to work with America

AUSTIN (Texas) • US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has warned that China and Russia are assuming "alarming" roles in Latin America and urged regional powers to work with the United States instead.

"China's offer always comes at a price," Mr Tillerson said in a major policy address on Thursday at the University of Texas at Austin before his first tour of South American capitals.

Mr Tillerson noted that China was now the largest trading partner of Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Peru.

He warned that strong institutions and accountable governments were needed to secure sovereignty against "potential predatory actors" arriving in their region.

"While this trade has brought benefits, the unfair trading practices used by many Chinese have also harmed those countries' manufacturing sectors, generating unemployment and lowering wages for workers," he said.

"Latin America does not need new imperial powers that seek only to benefit their own people," Mr Tillerson said. "China's state-led model of development is reminiscent of the past. It doesn't have to be this hemisphere's future."

Left unsaid, though, was that the Trump administration has pulled back from trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is intended to serve as a check on China. The Chinese have been eager to fill the vacuums left by the US on the world stage.

In his speech, Mr Tillerson said Russia had continued to sell arms and military equipment to unfriendly governments that "do not share or respect democratic values".

"Our region must be diligent to guard against faraway powers that do not reflect the fundamental values shared in this region," he said. "The United States stands in vivid contrast. We do not seek short-term deals with lopsided returns."

Mr Tillerson also pledged more help in Mexico's fight against drug cartels and Colombia's peace initiative and efforts to cut back on coca production.

He called on both Cuba and Venezuela to embrace democracy, and said updating the North American Free Trade Agreement and striking other trade deals were a priority.

Mr Tillerson set out the vision of deeper cooperation with the region as he embarked on his six-day, five-nation tour of Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Colombia and Jamaica.

"We share an interwoven history and chronology. Our nations still reflect the New World optimism of limitless discovery," he said. "And importantly, we share democratic values, values that are the core of what we believe, regardless of the colour of our passport."

Mr Tillerson was scheduled to meet Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray yesterday. They were expected to discuss Central American migration and drug trafficking - two areas in which Mexico has sought to work more closely with the United States since US President Donald Trump took office.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 03, 2018, with the headline Roles of China, Russia in Latin America 'alarming'. Subscribe