Chinese children wait for the arrival of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Tuesday. Photo: AFP
Chinese President Xi Jinping and ministers from some 30 members of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) will attend the first China-CELAC forum, scheduled to kick off in Beijing on Thursday.
The China-CELAC forum, China's first major diplomatic event of 2015, indicates that the strategic importance of Latin America for China is on the rise. It is also widely perceived by observers as a platform to elevate relations between the two sides.
Over 40 ministers from 30 out of the 33 members of CELAC have confirmed their attendance at the two-day forum. Xi will attend the opening ceremony of the meeting on Thursday.
The two sides are expected to discuss cooperation in a wide range of areas, including politics, diplomacy, trade, and culture during the forum.
Zhang Jiazhe, a research fellow with the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that this forum will contribute to more comprehensive cooperation between China and Latin America, as the previous joint efforts were mainly limited to economic deals, with little emphasis on culture and social welfare.
"After the forum, the two sides will deepen cooperation on various sectors that could benefit both sides, such as establishing schools or nursing homes in Latin American countries," Zhang said.
China-CELAC cooperation has great potential in fields like agriculture, manufacturing, and telecommunication. Several Chinese high-tech companies, such as Huawei and ZTE, have established a foothold in Latin America, and will help upgrade communication infrastructure, said Guo Cunhai, deputy director of Latin American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Bilateral trade volume between China and Latin American nations has grown twentyfold in the past 10 years. During Xi's visit to Latin America in 2014, China proposed that the trade volume between the two sides should reach $500 billion in the next 10 years, and China's direct investment to Latin America should reach $250 billion.
China is Latin America's second largest trading partner. The trade volume of the two sides reached $242 billion from January to November in 2014.
While China strengthened cooperation with Latin America and the Caribbean in various sectors, the US has also taken steps to improve its relations with those countries. The most recent action was to normalize its decades-long frozen ties with Cuba.
As its pivot to Asia strategy has achieved little, the US has paid close attention to China's recent actions in Latin America, Jin Canrong, a professor at the School of International Studies at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times.
"Recent US actions, including the dramatic change in diplomatic policy toward Cuba, could be seen as a way to cope with the expanding influence of China in Latin American," Jin said.
With abundant natural resources, Latin America's position and impact have increased, which explains the growing regard China and the US place on the region, he said. Further cooperation between China and the region could also benefit the US as China could help improve the overall investment environment in Latin America by improving the area's infrastructure, Jin noted.
The US is uneasy with China's deepening ties with Latin American countries, as the US could interpret this as China's strategy to tap into its sphere of influence, Zhang said.
"But the US at present will tolerate it, since bilateral cooperation between China and Latin America mainly focuses on economy and trade," Zhang noted.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Costa Rican counterpart Manuel Gonzalez Sanz will co-chair the forum.
Established in December 2011 in Caracas, Venezuela, CELAC is a block of 33 countries, including all Latin American countries and some Caribbean states.
During Xi's visit to Latin America in July 2014, he and CELAC leaders announced the establishment of the cooperation forum and agreed to hold its first ministerial meeting at an early date.
Xinhua contributed to this story