Tillerson intends to queer pitch for China on his trip to Latin American nations

By Wang Congyue Source:Global Times Published: 2018/2/6 20:33:39

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, currently on his first tour of Latin America since taking office, plans to visit Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Colombia and Jamaica within a week. During US President Donald Trump's first year in the White House, his diplomatic policies and remarks have complicated ties with Latin America, including the issues of immigration, drug smuggling, violent crimes, economy and trade. Tillerson's trip is aimed at a rapprochement with nations irked by Trump's offensive remarks.

Before the trip, Tillerson delivered a speech at the University of Texas in Austin, accusing China of becoming one of the "new imperial powers" in Latin America, warning South American nations that "China's offer always comes at a price."

His remarks smack of the hegemonic intentions inherent in the Monroe Doctrine, which mirrored US concern over rapidly growing Sino-Latin American relations and anxiety over the shift in US sphere of influence in Washington's backyard. What he said is precisely the 2.0 version of the Monroe Doctrine.

In the speech, Tillerson highlighted the China threat theory in the context of Sino-Latin American cooperation and undermined China's soft power in the region with the help of biased global public opinion. "New imperial power" is not a new term Washington used to point a finger at Beijing.

When China provided African countries with generous assistance and increased its investment in the continent without any political conditions attached, hyping up what it called the Chinese style of neocolonialism had become a sharp weapon for the US to pile pressure on China.

In the first decade of the 21st century, frequent high-level visits, establishment of bilateral and multilateral collaborative mechanisms have led to swiftly warming ties between China and Latin America. Meanwhile, the US has realized its weakness while being caught up in a series of domestic and international issues. Therefore, some US media outlets and politicians started a rant that Beijing is threatening Washington's backyard or Latin America is becoming China's backyard.

After Trump entered the Oval Office, conservative forces and military industry groups, which are his core supporters, urged him to abandon the theory by former US secretary of state John Kerry - "the era of the Monroe Doctrine is over" - and weaken China's influence by distorting Sino-Latin American cooperation and hyping up China threat theory.

Tillerson wants to repair US ties with Latin America through the trip. Over the past year, Trump has shown unprecedented indifference and neglect of Latin American nations. On the one hand, he lacks a clear regional policy and has not yet assigned a professional team within the Department of State to deal with Latin America. On the other, he is carrying out his proposal such as building a border wall with Mexico, promoting his immigration plan, threatening to scrap the North American Free Trade Agreement, withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and referring to Haiti and African nations as "shithole" places. All that apparently made matters worse.

However, the importance of Latin America to the US has not decreased. After China surpassed the US to become Latin's America's largest trading partner and called the region the natural extension of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, the US' sense of unease worsened.

Moreover, Tillerson is trying to create situations to intervene in or divide Latin American countries through economic means and value-oriented diplomacy. For instance, during his speech, Tillerson said that the US was not advocating regime change in Venezuela, but suggested that historically the military in Latin America has often intervened in times of serious crises. Obviously, the recession and turmoil in Latin American countries would give the US an opportunity to interfere in the economic development and domestic affairs of the region. However, Latin America's increasingly close relationships with China and Russia have provided it a bargaining chip when interacting with the US, which challenged Washington's unilateral intervention in the region.

Given the experience of resisting US hype-up over China threat theory in Africa, Beijing has the confidence of enhancing mutual trust with Latin American nations. Yet, Tillerson's recent remarks echoed the US' latest national security plan and Trump's State of the Union address. Cold War mind-set is spreading in Trump's administration and the possibility of the US using Latin America to check China in the future will last for some time.

The author is assistant research fellow at the Institute of American Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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