Latin America needs more cooperation with China, not less
China Daily


Latin America faces numerous and growing challenges. From the increase in the number of people living in extreme poverty, from 81 million in 2020 to 86 million in 2021, to a continued lackluster economic performance-an unemployment rate of 9.6 percent, middling wages, and persistently high inequality-and an atmosphere of crime and violence, the region is in many ways worse off than it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

To overcome these challenges, the people of the region have been clamoring for development in new areas through win-win cooperation with other countries. China has answered that call, pushing forward existing platforms such as the China-Community of Latin American and Caribbean States Forum, proposing new mechanisms like the Global Development Initiative, and deepening cooperation relations with countries at the bilateral level.

Colombia is one of the Latin American countries that has recently benefited from a deepening and widening of relations with China. In a matter of only a few years, what was once a cordial but superficial relationship has become one of greater trust and mutual benefit, leading to concrete benefits for the Colombian people.

For Colombia, the most fruitful areas of cooperation have been those in which the country's needs are met by Chinese strengths. For example, in infrastructure, according to the latest Logistics Performance Index of the World Bank, Colombia ranks 82 among 160 countries and regions in terms of trade- and transport-related infrastructure such as roads, ports and railroads. The poor quality of infrastructure impacts not only the competitiveness of the Colombian economy, but also the quality of life of the Colombian people.

To meet these needs, Chinese companies with excellent records participated in and won public tenders to build major infrastructure projects that are giving shape to the Colombia of the future. No project better symbolizes this than Bogota's first-ever metro line built by China Harbour Engineering Company. A seven-decade-long dream of the residents of Colombia's capital given the city's chaotic traffic, the project is now steaming ahead, impeded neither by the pandemic nor by the global headwinds. The metro will open in 2028.

Apart from infrastructure, Chinese companies are also helping Colombia to transition toward renewable energy. In 2019, when the Colombian government carried out its first auction of renewable energy projects, it was a Chinese company, Trina Solar, which won all three solar energy projects with a combined installed capacity of nearly 300 MW. More recently, in 2021, another Chinese company, BYD, won a bid to supply the Bogota city government with 1,002 electric buses for its transport fleet, which means the city will have the largest fleet of electric buses in the world outside of China.

Cooperation between China and Colombia, however, is not restricted to the economic front. It extends to fields such as people-to-people exchanges. In 2020, following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Iota in the Colombian archipelago of San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina, the Chinese government and the Red Cross Society of China together donated $1.1 million for reconstruction. China's solidarity with Colombia in the face of the tragedy was a reminder of the spirit of building a community with a shared future for mankind.

The experience of Colombia is not unique. It has been replicated at the regional level, too. Data from the China-Latin America FDI Monitor of the Red ALC-China show that from 2000 to 2021, Chinese companies invested a total of $171.8 billion in Latin America and the Caribbean, creating nearly 585,000 direct jobs. Increasingly, these investment projects are focusing on areas that promote innovation in the recipient country and help its economy to transition toward more productivity through the flow of capital into high value-added sectors, like that of automobile manufacturing.

Latin American countries benefit from developing more comprehensive ties on an equal footing with other countries, including China. Unfortunately, of late, some countries in the Global North have been swept up by the Cold War mentality of "with us or against us". By presenting this false dichotomy as a veiled threat, these countries are going against the interests of developing countries such as Colombia which benefit from maintaining mutually beneficial ties with all countries, especially because their needs are so vast that no single country can expect to sustainably supply every dollar in every needed area.

Ironically, this posture also hurts countries in the Global North, as it creates a climate of distrust and uncertainty. In the face of pressing global issues such as climate change and economic slowdown, the forcible creation of blocs that spur needless ideological infighting is the biggest impediment to people's wellbeing.

Given these facts, only one conclusion can be reached: either we swim together or we drown together. With stakes so high, we are better off allowing more cooperation, not less.

The author is a researcher and professor at the Universidad Externado de Colombia. The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.

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