- The China Triangle: Latin America's China Boom and the Fate of the Washington Consensus by Kevin P. Gallagher
Kevin Gallagher has been a prominent voice on the trade and financial relationship between China and the Latin American continent for well over a decade. His economic analyses offered on various platforms, notably that of the Inter-American Dialogue, are key to understanding the evolving relationship. As professor at Boston University's Frederick S. Pardee School for Global Studies, he has established himself as one of the most prolific and widely quoted economists in this field, and The China Triangle attests to that reputation.
The book sums up much of his work over the past several years and as such presents a good overview of the opportunities and challenges that China's growing economic involvement presents for the countries of Latin America. It also offers a series of broad macroeconomic policy recommendations for how those countries and their primary patron and partner, the United States, ought to address those challenges in the future.
Unfortunately, Gallagher's interests rarely dip below the foamy crests of the sea of nations, though he incorporates a handful of published in-country cases to illustrate his points (with a preference for studies written with him or led by him). Smaller states—the two dozen countries of Central America and the Caribbean—barely find mention in the 230 pages of this volume. Another notable absence is any reference to authors who do not publish in English—an awkward reality in a discussion on China and Latin America, where a burgeoning literature has accompanied the growth of bilateral relations.
In addition to Gallagher's many contributions to the field of China-Latin America relations, much of which is summarized in this volume, readers would also benefit from the growing assortment of work being done outside the U.S. orbit. A wealth of material is now available in translation, such as for instance the edited volume by Cui Shoujun and Manuel Pérez García, China and Latin America in Transition: Policy Dynamics, Economic Commitments and Social Impacts (Palgrave 2016). Also, the publications of the Beijing-based Institute of Latin American Studies (since the 1960s) and a growing number of study centers across China offer a diversity of analysis and shed some much-needed light on awareness inside the People's Republic for the social, political, environmental, and economic predicaments of Latin American countries.
The four opening chapters are the most frustrating to read, written in a somewhat convoluted fashion with repeated mentions of the "China Boom," [End Page 253] Latin America's "commodity lottery" (is this a lottery of nature or a lottery of the global economic system?), and the notion of "technology transfer" (or the lack thereof). It remains unclear whether he believes that developing countries can benefit from welcoming foreign firms and investment (the case of China, p. 36) or whether a country "simply opening its doors" is a recipe for disaster (the case of Mexico, p. 37).
Historical references are not always inserted with precision: China's record under Mao Zedong is regarded by many historians as a disaster rather than "a mixed success" as Gallagher notes, although it is true that China's economic record during the Mao era varied considerably over time. He also tends to downplay the role colonization and exploitation played in Europe's industrial growth of the nineteenth century (chapter 2) and speaks of state-led industrialization as a Western idea, when Meiji Japan was perhaps the most conspicuous success story of this strategy.
Gallagher finds his stride by chapter 5, where he illustrates some of the dilemmas in China-Latin American relations with examples from the Brazilian shoe industry and the mining sector in Peru. At the same time, there is little recognition of the role individual politicians, diplomats, and business leaders play—or might play—in current and future engagements. If the refrain "it is...