Opinion – Latinoamérica21: Half a century of relations between Argentina and China


On February 19, 2022, Argentina and China celebrated 50 years of diplomatic relations that passed through different stages that accompanied the accelerated rise of the Asian power at a global level.

Currently, asymmetries require adjusting strategies to maximize the benefits derived from Argentina’s growing interdependence in what will most likely be the main world economy by mid-century.

As early as the late 1970s, Argentina was trying to take advantage of the potential agri-food demand of an economy at the dawn of profound reforms.

The 1980s were marked by the primacy of external and internal factors, and Argentina’s democratic restoration boosted relations with China.

Under similar visions of the world as “developing and non-aligned economies”, both parties have made progress in signing agreements, typical of a cooperative agenda.

Later, the 1990s provided a particularly suitable framework for the implementation of a more intense bilateral agenda, favored by globalization with its consequences on economic liberalization (Washington Consensus), Chinese expectations of accession to the WTO (World Trade Organization) , the attraction generated by the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) project and the economic stabilization of Argentina.

During this stage, China’s dynamic growth has expanded options to expand trade flows under a pattern of complementarity, channel loans from Chinese financial institutions for social programs, and attract Chinese investment capital, particularly interested in the mining, agri-food, and mining sectors. energetic.

Chinese state-owned companies, driven by the government’s strategy on internationalization (“go out”), explored opportunities in the country.

Supported by an active presidential trade diplomacy, the respective business sectors (public and private) took on greater prominence, and topics such as migration, double taxation, investment protection, customs cooperation and the opening of an Argentine trade promotion center in Shanghai pushed forward a dense bilateral agenda.

The first decades of the 21st century indicate divergent economic paths, which, however, did not prevent the continuity and expansion of bilateral ties.

China maintained high growth rates and implemented an active strategy of commercial, cultural, investment and financial penetration in Latin America and the Caribbean.

On the other hand, Argentina entered a critical economic phase that was partially overcome after 2004.

At this stage, China would play a central role in the traction of Argentine agrifood exports, favoring the attainment of income by a national economy in difficulties thanks to the boom in international prices of raw materials.

The visit to Argentina in 2004 by then-President Hu Jintao confirmed China’s investment interest at the local level in strategic sectors such as railways, telecommunications, roads, ports, mining and hydrocarbons.

The agreements signed then confirm the importance for Argentina of a bilateral relationship with China, assumed in words pronounced by Néstor Kirchner as a geopolitical “counterweight” against the US proposal to create a Free Trade Area of ​​the Americas (FTAA) and as a “factor of industrialization”.

The political-ideological harmony between “leftist” governments in the region (Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela) allowed China to insert itself less interfered by the United States, which tried to “contain” the growing Chinese influence.

On the other hand, the creation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in 2010 fed back Argentina’s intentions to deepen its ties with China.

During the last decade and until today, bilateral relations have been consolidated.

In 2014, Presidents Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Xi Jinping signed the Joint Declaration for the establishment of the Comprehensive Strategic Association between the two countries.

Other economic, commercial, financial, nuclear and cultural cooperation agreements, which include the granting by China of a loan of US$ 4.714 billion to finance the Kirchner and Cepernic dams (Santa Cruz province) and the loan for the total renovation of the rails of the Belgrano Cargas railway, validated the Argentine entry, in fact, into the Belt and Road (BRI) project.

Since then, Chinese investments have flowed into sectors such as infrastructure, telecommunications, oil extraction, conventional and unconventional energies.

Financing from Chinese state-owned banks has supported and sustains development projects in municipalities under the auspices of “city and province twinning” initiatives that bring distant geographies together and blend different identities. Subsequently, and also as a result of the 2014 government agreements.

But if the fact is relevant, the symbolic occupies a prominent place.

In five decades, the construction of images about China at the local level has evolved positively. Immigration consolidated the establishment of an “overseas Chinese community” with an active social presence whose differentiated cultural identity generates interest.

Cultural promotion through the creation of the Confucius Institutes (at the University of Buenos Aires and the University of La Plata) feeds the curiosity to get to know Chinese culture better; the opening of bilingual schools (Chinese-Spanish), the diffusion of studies on Argentine literature in China, tango as a popular expression and the opening of study centers on China in Argentine universities and Argentine economic “think tanks” served to reaffirm the expected continuity of a strategic bilateral relationship with an extra-regional actor with increasing global influence.

President Alberto Fernández’s recent visit to China, in February, reaffirmed Argentina’s interest in having China as a strategic ally, political partner, market for the export of agro-industrial products and energy, source of investment, supplier of credit and center of innovation to capture and transfer new technologies.

For example, in the nuclear sector, through the construction of a new plant financed by Chinese banks that would transform Argentina into a “leading case” with an experimental Hualong One reactor.​

This framework is complemented by Argentina’s formal entry into the Chinese project on the global connectivity of the Belt and Road in its different components (land, rail infrastructure, maritime-port, digital-5G telecommunications) through an expected financing of US$ 23 billion, the search for alliances in science and technology focused on the space sector and the expansion of the Swaps Agreement to US$ 21.7 billion.

Joint participation in the G20 also offers another plan of bilateral and multilateral interaction in which both parties share interests in global stability, economic development and the reduction of North-South asymmetries.

In the projections of these relations, the gaps and asymmetries of power between China and developing nations such as Argentina, plunged into periodic crises in a troubled world, will require the management of a common agenda with greater doses of diplomatic expertise, in order to maximize the benefits. derived from a growing interdependence of China.

In this way, during the coming decades, China can play a central role for Argentina, promoting trade exchanges, attracting investment and contributing to local development through financial contributions aimed at critical infrastructure projects.

Translation of Giulia Gaspar

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