Best approach for Argentina is to never take sides
Published: Dec 10, 2023 09:13 PM
National flags of China and Argentina Photo: VCG

National flags of China and Argentina Photo: VCG

Editor's Note:

On Sunday, Javier Milei will take oath as Argentina's new president. How will the Argentina-China relations develop after Milei take office? What kind of changes has the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) brought to Argentina? Carola Ramon (Ramon), an Argentine economist and vice president of the Argentine Council for International Relations shared her views with Global Times (GT) reporter Wang Zixuan, as well as her expectations for China-Argentina relations.

GT: What do you think about China-Argentina relations after Milei takes office and Argentina's role between China and the US? 

I don't see any problem there at all. I know there's a lot being said, but I think Argentina and China have a very strong connection. We have been strategic partners for many years, with a very deep economic relationship. Our cooperation has also expanded to cultural and other areas. I don't think that will change under Milei's presidency.

The best approach for a country like Argentina is to never choose sides. The most important thing is to prioritize our own country's interests, especially during confrontations or geopolitical disputes between major countries like China and the US. It is the middle countries that suffer the most, and no country should take sides. 

GT: China and Argentina signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the BRI last year and then they signed a cooperation plan this year. What kind of changes has this brought to Argentina? Why do you support China-Argentina cooperation under the framework of the BRI?

Ramon: Over the past few years, the signing of the BRI cooperation MoU and plan has particularly shown that the bilateral relations are strong. When you look at the MoU that has been signed, a few things are added, for instance, to make sure that the economic exchanges between Argentina and China are more balanced, as we've been having huge trade deficits. So for Argentina, the BRI is very important. I do think that with Milei assuming the presidency, the new administration will probably be more focused on achieving a more balanced relationship. 

GT: As an economist, how do you view the idea advocating Argentina to "decouple" from China? What are the possible negative impacts if Argentina were to cut ties with countries like China or Brazil?

Ramon: I don't think that's actually likely to happen because both China and Brazil are two of our most important partners. I don't think Argentina should decouple economically from any country. In fact, it should enhance ties with as many countries as possible. In a way, trade and economic relations are more important than political relations. Diana Mondino, who will be named by Milei as foreign minister, is an economist and Milei himself is also an economist, so perhaps the economic relations will be prioritized. If that happens, I don't see any decoupling from any country. On the contrary, Argentina will be trading with even more countries and strengthening trade links. 

GT: Given Milei's harsh remarks during the campaign, many Western media outlets said China-Argentina relations will worsen under Milei's presidency. Why do these Western media outlets stress the negative aspects of China-Argentina relations? Do you think these voices will influence bilateral relations?

Ramon: I think a lot has been said, but don't forget that we've had a very long presidential campaign in which the different candidates have had to express their views in a very vocal manner to be noticed. Also, the press isn't always accurate in their reporting. 

Now, we have to wait and see what Milei will be like. Some things will likely be properly explained or redefined in the context of the current ruling president. I believe there will probably be a few changes, not radical ones, but rather adjustments or clarifications on specific policies.

GT: What expectations do you have for China-Argentina relations in the future?

Ramon: I think China-Argentina relations have increased enormously over the last 20 years since I started working on China issues. My first approach to China was when I moved to Hong Kong in 2000. I lived there for three years and learned a bit of Chinese, and then I came back to Argentina. When I joined the Argentine Council for International Relations, there were very few specialists at that time, and few people in Argentina knew about China or had actually traveled there.

Over the years, we have seen an increasing number of people visiting China and doing business with China. I've personally witnessed how China has developed and how it has completely changed. Our bilateral relations have strengthened so much and I don't think we'll go back, because there are a lot of opportunities with China. Although we now have more knowledge about China than we did 20 years ago, I think there's still much work to do. People only have a limited understanding of China, and there are many other areas to explore that offer great opportunities, particularly in terms of trade.

But I do think there are also challenges. For example, Argentina desperately needs to have a more balanced trade. When thinking of investment, particularly within the framework of the BRI, Argentina still has to develop many areas of our economy. Transport and connectivity are particularly crucial. China has demonstrated successful development in these areas over the past 40 years, and I believe there is great potential for collaboration. That's why we always say that our relationship is a win-win situation, it means Argentina will reach a higher stage of development and China will gain a reputation for truly cooperating and collaborating on development. I think this is the path for our bilateral relations.

GT: Argentina's TV channel TN reported on November 25 that the Milei administration considers joining BRICS to be "an opportunity rather than a risk" for the country. However, Mondino posted on social media X on November 30 that Argentina will not join BRICS. How do you see the prospect of Argentina joining the BRICS? 

Ramon: I think the main problem the new government will face is that the whole BRICS issue has generated a lot of different political views within Argentine society. Once the new government is in power, it will get more information and witness more talks within the government, and then I think it is going to make a much better-informed decision of whether it wants to be in or out.