China regime seeks to un­der­cut U.S. in­flu­ence in Latin Amer­ica.

The Bei­jing regime seeks to un­der­cut tra­di­tional Amer­i­can in­flu­ence in the hemi­sphere

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - By James A. Lyons and Richard D. Fisher Jr. James A. Lyons , a re­tired Navy ad­mi­ral, is the for­mer com­man­der in chief of the Pa­cific Fleet. Richard D. Fisher Jr. is a se­nior fel­low at the International As­sess­ment and Strat­egy Cen­ter.

China’s June 14 poach­ing of Panama, help­ing it to switch diplo­matic re­la­tions from Tai­wan to China, be­lies a grow­ing cam­paign by Bei­jing to seek greater eco­nomic and strate­gic in­flu­ence in Latin Amer­ica at the ex­pense of the United States.

For too long the pol­icy man­darins at the State Depart­ment have avoided as­crib­ing hos­tile in­tent to China’s grow­ing eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal clout in Latin Amer­ica. In the main, China places a pri­or­ity on strength­en­ing Latin Amer­ica’s anti-democrats and is us­ing its grow­ing eco­nomic power in the re­gion to ex­pand its strate­gic op­tions.

In poach­ing Panama, Bei­jing made two power plays. First Bei­jing in­creased the diplo­matic iso­la­tion of demo­cratic Tai­wan, which it ul­ti­mately seeks to de­stroy to help dis­place Amer­i­can power in Asia. Also, hav­ing long dom­i­nated the Panama Canal via com­mer­cial con­trol and af­ter es­tab­lish­ing diplo­matic re­la­tions, Bei­jing urged Panama to join its vast $1 tril­lion “One Belt, One Road” in­fra­struc­ture ini­tia­tive from China to

Europe, which would give this pro­gram a global pro­jec­tion.

Long-stand­ing man­age­ment of the Panama Canal by Chi­nese com­pa­nies, and Chi­nese cor­po­rate pur­chase of one Pana­ma­nian port, is now com­pli­mented by Chi­nese com­mer­cial in­vest­ment in 10 more Latin Amer­i­can wa­ter­borne or land-bridge “canal” projects. While some of these projects may be too grandiose to suc­ceed, what mat­ters is that China is seek­ing to achieve a po­si­tion of eco­nomic and then po­lit­i­cal pri­macy in Latin Amer­ica. It should be a mat­ter of deep con­cern that China could deny the U.S. Navy ac­cess to the Panama Canal, and then also deny ac­cess to the fu­ture canals be­ing built by Chi­nese com­pa­nies.

China’s anti-demo­cratic bent in Latin Amer­ica is fur­ther proven by its de­ci­sive eco­nomic sup­port for Venezuela’s Ni­co­las Maduro regime. Hun­dreds of Chi­nese-made Nor­inco VN-4 ar­mored cars pro­tect Mr. Maduro’s po­lice thugs killing Venezue­lans protest­ing his so­cial­ist bas­ket­case poli­cies. China has also be­come the strong­est ally of Cuba’s Cas­tro fam­ily dic­ta­tor­ship and a grow­ing source for its eco­nomic sup­port.

China has sought to trans­late its eco­nomic-po­lit­i­cal clout into strate­gic gains. Late in the past decade, China be­gan court­ing Ar­gentina’s mil­i­tary, and by early 2015 was on the verge of of­fer­ing the regime of Christina Fer­nan­dez the start of a rear­ma­ment pro­gram that could have en­abled a sec­ond war with Bri­tain over the Falk­lands Is­lands. By early 2015, China was of­fer­ing Ar­gentina mod­ern, fourth-gen­er­a­tion Chengdu J-10B com­bat air­craft, mod­ern fri­gates and co-pro­duc­tion of wheeled ar­mored ve­hi­cles.

Since early in this decade, China has been mar­ket­ing deadly short-range bal­lis­tic mis­siles to

Latin Amer­ica. Just last April, China mar­keted one of its most mod­ern un­manned com­bat ae­rial ve­hi­cles, the Chengdu Wing Loong-2, at an air­show in Mex­ico City.

While the Ar­gen­tine arms deals cooled off af­ter the Oc­to­ber 2015 elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Mauri­cio Macri, China main­tains con­trol of a space track­ing and con­trol base in Ar­gentina’s Neuquen Province. This deep South­ern Hemi­sphere fa­cil­ity will al­low China’s Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army to bet­ter con­trol fu­ture mil­i­tary-space as­sets it re­quires to at­tack U.S. space sys­tems, which could hap­pen in the open­ing phase of a Chi­nese at­tack against Tai­wan.

This drives home the point, Amer­ica can­not ig­nore China’s ag­gres­sion against its demo­cratic al­lies and friends, in­clud­ing Tai­wan. Wash­ing­ton can and should play a more ac­tive role in laud­ing Tai­wan’s demo­cratic ex­am­ple and en­cour­ag­ing Latin states to sus­tain a vi­brant re­la­tion­ship with Taipei, even if it is “un­of­fi­cial,” as does the United States.

Wash­ing­ton must also make clear to its Latin friends that al­low­ing China to threaten free­dom in Tai­wan, and to sus­tain cruel dic­ta­tor­ships in Venezuela and Cuba, ul­ti­mately also threat­ens their free­dom. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion should con­sider trans­lat­ing the Pen­tagon’s an­nual re­port on China’s mil­i­tary growth into many lan­guages, in­clud­ing Spanish, to en­able a wider pub­lic un­der­stand­ing of China’s threats to free­dom.

Like pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is seek­ing to gain China’s de­ci­sive sup­port in con­tain­ing North Korea’s now-im­mi­nent nu­clear mis­sile threats. But for 25 years, Mr. Trump’s

China’s an­tidemo­cratic bent in Latin Amer­ica is fur­ther proven by its de­ci­sive eco­nomic sup­port for Venezuela’s Ni­co­las Maduro regime.

pre­de­ces­sors watched as China re­fused to re­verse deep sup­port for North Korea, even its mis­sile pro­grams, as it worked in­creas­ingly to un­der­mine U.S. se­cu­rity in­ter­ests on the Tai­wan Strait, East China Sea and South China Sea.

Wash­ing­ton has lit­tle choice but to push back harder against Chi­nese bel­liger­ence in Asia if it wants to main­tain its al­liances and in­flu­ence. In this hemi­sphere, the U.S. will have to for­mu­late a new hard line against China’s strate­gic am­bi­tions. This must be done now be­fore China ac­quires its planned global mil­i­tary pro­jec­tion forces of air­craft car­rier bat­tle groups and large heavy-lift trans­port air­craft, which it could use to in­tim­i­date and to sup­press Latin Amer­ica’s still-frag­ile democ­ra­cies.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY LINAS GARSYS

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