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  • China in Latin America: The Whats and Wherefores
  • Ignacio López-Calvo (bio)
R. Evan Ellis . China in Latin America: The Whats and Wherefores. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2009. 329 pp. Paperback $24.50, ISBN 978-1-58826-650-7.

In spite of having a not very promising subtitle, China in Latin America: The Whats and Wherefores is an impressive work of research on the widespread economic and political influence of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in Latin America and the Caribbean. Parts of the book, and especially the last chapter, which works as a sort of conclusion, read as a recommendation to the U.S. government to wake up and counteract the invasion of China in Latin America, the backyard of the United States. This last chapter, titled "Considering Latin America's Future," is perhaps the most original and interesting part of the book. R. Evan Ellis, a professor at the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, predicts both the positive and the negative outcomes that will result from the new partnership between China and Latin America, with a particular focus on how this partnership will affect U.S. security. Each chapter includes a brief but well-informed study of the local Chinese community in each country and its ability to help in the trade with China, as well as a summary of the historical context of each country's relationship with China. The chapters also explore military relations between China and Latin American countries as well as the intellectual infrastructure of each country to establish commercial connections with China.

The first chapter, "China's Expanding Ties with Latin America," can be conceived of as an introduction to the rapidly expanding commercial and political influence of China in the region. It addresses the way in which many in Latin America see China as both a key market and an important new source of investment, but also as a sometimes unfair source of competition through both legal and contraband products. In the political realm, Ellis adds, some see the Chinese presence as a potential alternative to the traditional political influence of the United States in the region. Others fear they might be exchanging one type of dependency for another. Several chapters also study the ongoing struggle for diplomatic recognition between China and Taiwan, particularly in Central America and the Caribbean.

The author describes how the PRC has dramatically expanded its exports of low-end manufactures, such as toys, textiles, and footwear, and has also begun to compete in the market of more sophisticated goods, such as automobiles, telephones, domestic appliances, and computers. In turn, Latin American countries have increased their exports to China, especially of primary products, including fishing and agricultural products (e.g., soy), petroleum, metals (e.g., copper), and other minerals. The new Chinese relevance is reflected in the increase in sister-city relationships, Chinese-language programs, Confucian institutes, and China-oriented-business programs throughout Latin America. Chinese corporations, [End Page 230] banks, and state enterprises are investing heavily, sometimes through joint ventures, to secure reliable sources of primary products. In some cases, this investment has partially contributed to sustain governments with well-known anti-U.S. foreign policies, such as those in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia, or to change some countries' diplomatic relations with Taiwan, as was the case of Costa Rica. The increase in exchange of official visits of diplomats between China and Latin America has also been impressive.

One of the negative impacts of the new Chinese presence in Latin America, argues Ellis, is that it has turned the region away from its development of manufacturing industries and back toward primary product sectors: "Although Latin America is currently experiencing a period of unprecedented growth, this structural shift will have important long-term implications for both the development and the political stability of the region" (p. 4). Latin America's deindustrialization and reliance on exports of primary products is, according to several experts, detrimental to its development, and it may have negative sociopolitical consequences in the future. By contrast, and still in the realm of the issue of comparative advantage, the author also points out how some experts have argued that Latin...