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China flexes muscles in Latin America in latest US security challenge

China flexes muscles in Latin America in latest US security challenge

Over the past two decades, China has increased its economic ties with Latin American nations, but it is China’s growing influence in the region that is increasingly worrying Washington.

China’s growing threat to the United States has steadily moved into the American consciousness as defense officials and lawmakers continue to monitor emerging trends in Beijing’s growing relationships around the world.

China’s quiet expansion into the southern hemisphere has increasingly attracted the attention of US defense officials and lawmakers, including Rep. María Elvira Salazar, R-Florida, who last month drew attention on the growing security threats emerging from Latin America.


In a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Salazar told lawmakers that Argentina, along with nations like Venezuela and Bolivia, were allowing China to gain a foothold militarily in Latin America.

“[Chinese President] Xi Jinping has been to Latin America more times than President Obama, Trump and Biden combined in the last 10 years,” Salazar told lawmakers. “The Chinese are not here for trade. They are here for war.”

The Florida congresswoman pointed to China’s sales of military equipment and weapons to the region over the past decade and claimed that Argentina is now considering opening a factory for Chinese fighter jets.

Argentina’s ambassador to the United States, Jorge Argüello, dismissed Salazar’s claims earlier this month as false, calling them “absurd.”

However, Salazar also drew attention to a Deep Space Station the size of “400 football fields” in the middle of Argentina’s Patagonian desert as another major security concern.

“I’m sure the Chinese are very interested in studying the stars and all the constellations. But the problem is that Argentina has no idea what’s going on there because the Chinese won’t let them in,” he said before question whether this program has anything to do with recent Chinese “balloon” activity over the US.

The ambassador scoffed at Salazar’s concerns about the space station, saying he has visited it personally and claimed it was similar to another agreement Argentina has with the European Space Agency.

However, an expert on Latin America told Fox News Digital that the United States has serious concerns about this space station.


“We have no idea what is happening there and neither do the Argentines. We believe so [China’s] use it as a mechanism to monitor our space activity and otherwise be an intelligence collector,” said Juan Cruz, former senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs at the Security Council national

Beijing’s involvement in Latin America goes far beyond its military interests there.

According to Salazar’s office, China has a “physical presence” in 25 of the 31 Latin American countries and nearly 30% of its global loans go to Latin America.

Trade between China and Latin America also increased 26-fold between 2000 and 2020, an increase from $12 billion to $315 billion, according to the World Economic Forum.

This growth is only expected to continue to increase, reaching more than $700 billion annually by 2035.

While the United States remains Latin America’s largest trading partner, China is rapidly rising to overtake Washington in nearly every area of ​​the region, including trade, security, technology and diplomatic relations, a a feat he is accomplishing largely through soft power.

“We woke up one day and the Chinese were in our neighborhood,” Cruz said. “This displacement occurs not only in business and government [and] diplomatic influence, but in terms of technology and what they’re doing around the world that’s much more relevant to U.S. interests.”

Cruz explained that the U.S. has a “crisis-oriented” approach when it comes to Latin American foreign policy, which generally means Washington pays attention to regions after they already have problems or cause a problem for the U.S. .

“Chinese investment and Chinese participation is the opposite,” he said. “They are investing and playing a role where no one is watching.”

China began investing in small local projects throughout Latin America in the late 1990s. In the early 2000s with the start of the war on terror, China increased its investments in places such as the Caribbean where the former colonial powers no longer spent so much of their resources.


Cruz explained that this left a “vacuum” that China stepped in and filled, establishing itself as a top international player in Latin America.

“That’s how quickly they got into the game and bought their influence,” he said. “They come in with these little projects or insignificant things that you or I discount, but they think about it in a totally different way.”

US companies have largely left Latin America for various reasons related to corruption, legal parameters and other foreign financial incentives.

However, under China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Chinese companies have not only not been deterred by the same obstacles, but have chosen to invest in projects that show no obvious or even immediate payoffs. .

“Nobody makes money from a public service; that’s why they sell it. But the Chinese are buying,” Cruz detailed. “And what is this? It is noticed. It has influence.”

However, investing in public infrastructure and technological development not only buys China favor in the region, but also opens them up to some scrutiny.

“The Chinese are brilliant,” Cruz said. “They buy deals that don’t make money, but they get … leverage that you can’t tabulate.”

US and international defense officials have long warned of the information China may be collecting through its Huawei infrastructure and the threat it poses to international security.

However, Cruz pointed to another advantage that China gains in the acquisition of public utility services such as water, electricity and Internet facilities: foreign exchange.

“Do you want another country to operate and control this kind of infrastructure in your country?” Cruz asked. “If they wanted to, they could put a tool in their software that would remotely monitor your electricity.

“It makes these countries more indebted to the Chinese,” he explained.

The influence China appears to be buying in Latin America has security officials worried about the number of fronts Beijing is inserting itself on, including natural resource acquisition, 5G development, space security and major issues hot geopolitics such as the security of Taiwan.

“The Chinese playbook is not just one. They have tool after tool after tool that they’re using,” Cruz said, explaining that it’s almost impossible to counter China in every sector they’re involved in.

“They have opened 10 fronts for us. Do we fight on all 10 fronts?” he continued. “Can it be done? I don’t know.”

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