- New Geographies of China and Latin America Relations:Introduction to the Special Issue
The geographic relations between China and Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) have deepened and diversified in the twenty-first century, coinciding with the ebb and flow of the "pink tide" in Latin America, massive Chinese economic growth, and a recalcitrant United States. Accordingly, grounded, transnational, and ethnographically driven research on this relationship has emerged in recent years, with contributions coming from across the social sciences (Lau-sent-Herrera, 2013; Kong & Gallagher, 2016; Oliveira, 2016; Klinger, 2017).
This special issue of the Journal of Latin American Geography presents a collection of articles that broaden and deepen the scope of geographic literature on China and Latin America in light of contemporary change in both regions. We note that Latin America is a cultural and geographic construct that includes territories, people, and politics throughout the Americas, and as such the entire hemisphere is a valid site of inquiry for China–Latin America relations. Latin America is not simply a neutral site that is impacted by China, nor China by Latin America; rather, the articles in this issue question the forms of agency exercised by multiple actors constituting China-LAC/LAC-China relations in diverse locations and sectors. We further note that there is no single monolithic "China" acting across global space; rather, there are specific actors with distinct sets of interests, even within the same sector and site.
In the present global political juncture where social and environmental justice, international cooperation, government transparency, corporate accountability norms, and human rights are under siege, it is especially important for scholars to advance understandings of the dynamic and multiscalar processes that shape the future of Latin America in broader regional and global perspectives, including in relation to China. Toward that end, the articles in this issue explore specific dimensions of the geographies of China-LAC relations, delving into themes as diverse as migration and ethnic politics, local and transnational food justice movements, infrastructure construction, the seafood trade, defense partnerships, and outer [End Page 6] space cooperation. These investigations use an array of methodological approaches to advance grounded empirical work on actually occurring spatial practices. In this introduction to the special issue, we briefly review some major trends in the literature on research of the geography of LAC-China, discuss contemporary developments, and put forth some questions for further inquiry.
approaches to the geography of china-lac relations
While the literature on LAC-China relations has grown prodigiously over the past fifteen years, work that focuses on the spatial aspects of this relationship has grown more slowly. This is in part due to the methodological commitments of grounded empirical research, which often involve extensive ethnographic fieldwork, sometimes in multiple languages and countries.
In the twentieth century, the most robust research on the spatiality of LAC-China relations occurred in the areas of historical and diaspora studies (Chang-Rodriguez, 1958; Farley, 1968; Conrad, 1975). A strong tradition of historical, ethnographic, oral history, and multilingual archival research has since emerged, tracing the movement of Chinese people to and from the Americas over the past three centuries (Hsu, 2000; Quiros, 2016; Seijas, 2016), revealing transnational relations that decenter overwhelmingly Euro-American and white definitions of settlement and belonging in the western hemisphere (Siu, 2007; McKeown, 2010; López, 2013; Young, 2014). This is part of a larger project to recenter Latin America in world history (Benton, 2004; Besse, 2004; Vaughan & Weinstein, 2004; Sebastiani, 2012).
Deploying post-colonial and critical race theory, many of these histories examine how the multiple pathways through which people from China came to the Americas were crucial to the formation of race, national identity, and labor relations in the Americas (Jung, 2006; Roediger & Esch, 2012; DeLugan, 2016; González, 2017). Histories of the introduction of coolie labor to the cane fields, gold mines, and railroads of the Americas lend considerable empirical and theoretical richness to the important Anglophone histories of "the Chinese" in "America" (that is, the United States) (Lee, 2003; Jung, 2008; Meagher, 2008; Zhou, 2009). The persistent official categorization of people of Chinese descent as "other" in much of Latin America erases both the...