US and Cen­tral Amer­ica em­bolden re­gion’s ties with China DEEPLY UN­EQUAL

Global Times US Edition - - EPTH -

Emilio put it more bluntly: “For the US, we are a vi­tal re­gion, their back­yard,’ a place where China or Rus­sia are not al­lowed to come close. The Costa Ri­can gov­ern­ment has never wanted to have any con­flict with the US. The na­tion­al­ism here is not strong, and it is safe to be a ‘back gar­den’ for Amer­i­can tourists.”

On a re­cent visit to El Sal­vador, this Global Times jour­nal­ist found that lo­cal peo­ple, on the one hand, be­lieved that es­tab­lish­ing diplo­matic re­la­tions with China was a “brave and cor­rect de­ci­sion.” On the other hand, as Pro­fes­sor Or­lando Ben­itez of the Ger­ardo Bar­rios Univer­sity and oth­ers have ar­gued, their ex­pec­ta­tions for the United States are high and mixed with con­cern.

Ac­cord­ing to an Au­gust re­port by the Eco­nomic Com­mis­sion for Latin Amer­ica and the Caribbean, El Sal­vador’s eco­nomic growth is ex­pected to be 2.4 per­cent in 2018, mainly based on two fac­tors: over­seas re­mit­tances and ex­ports. More than 90 per­cent of El Sal­vador’s re­mit­tances come from the US, which is also its top ex­port des­ti­na­tion. Res­i­dents of El Sal­vador’s cap­i­tal told the Global Times that once the US tight­ens its im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy, sets up some tar­iff bar­ri­ers or re­duces aid, El Sal­vador will be left in a pas­sive po­si­tion.

More­over, Nicaragua, a coun­try ruled by a vo­cal anti-Amer­i­can left­ist, re­ceives rel­a­tively lit­tle Amer­i­can aid and is eco­nom­i­cally un­der­de­vel­oped.

Coun­tries such as Costa Rica, which has bet­ter re­la­tions with the US, are clearly bet­ter off and more pros­per­ous. The US is both a threat and a temp­ta­tion.

Mil­i­tar­ily, Costa Rica, Panama and other coun­tries do not even have mil­i­tary forces. Their na­tional de­fense re­lies on the “pro­tec­tion of the US,” while Wash­ing­ton has mil­i­tary and Coast Guard war­ships and he­li­copters in Gu­atemala and Hon­duras. To some ex­tent, Cen­tral Amer­ica is the “south­ern bor­der” of the US. In fact, the elim­i­na­tion of the Pana­ma­nian army is be­cause more than 30 years ago, the Pana­ma­nian gov­ern­ment stopped be­ing pro-Amer­i­can and tried to take back the man­age­ment of the canal. The coun­try was in­vaded by the US, and has had no de­fense force since then.

The lessons of his­tory make ev­ery Cen­tral Amer­i­can coun­try think twice. Be­tween 1900 and 1933 alone, US troops were sent to Cen­tral Amer­ica and the Caribbean more than 40 times, ac­cord­ing to Bri­tish me­dia. In the 1980s, the US un­scrupu­lously sup­ported the Nicaraguan rebels and even­tu­ally over­threw the left-wing gov­ern­ment in power.

The fu­ture

“Vi­o­lence is par­tic­u­larly per­va­sive in Cen­tral Amer­ica. Poverty is the rea­son and the drug trade is the di­rect form of ex­pres­sion,” Wu Baiyi, di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute of Latin Amer­i­can Stud­ies at Chi­nese Academy of So­cial Sciences, told the Global Times.

He added drugs and il­le­gal im­mi­grants from Cen­tral Amer­ica are the prob­lems the US is most con­cerned about.

Some ex­perts said that sup­port for Cen­tral Amer­i­can coun­tries is the only way to re­duce the pres­sure that leads to il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion. How­ever, it is ob­vi­ous that Trump doesn’t want to pro­vide this sup­port.

Ac­cord­ing to VOA, fi­nan­cial aid from the US to Hon­duras, Gu­atemala and El Sal­vador was one-third less than the ex­pected. This Oc­to­ber, ahead of US Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo’s trip to Cen­tral Amer­ica, Trump threat­ened to cut aid to those coun­tries if they did not stop a car­a­van of mi­grants head­ing to­wards the US bor­der.

Aus­tralian me­dia out­let The Con­ver­sa­tion called Trump’s Cen­tral Amer­ica strat­egy “both cruel and in­com­pe­tent.”

“Trump called those coun­tries ‘shit­hole coun­tries’ – the most di­rect ex­pres­sion,” said Wu, adding pre­vi­ous US pres­i­dents loved to do “ad­di­tion,” such as in­creas­ing fi­nan­cial aid, but Trump thought th­ese ap­proaches were fail­ures. That’s why he “closed the door.”

The im­bal­ance of bi­lat­eral re­la­tions re­sulted in the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion. In Septem­ber, the US re­called top en­voys to Panama, El Sal­vador and the Do­mini­can Repub­lic and later called off the con­fer­ence of the Al­liance for Pros­per­ity with Cen­tral Amer­i­can coun­tries. In Oc­to­ber, US Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence warned Cen­tral Amer­i­can na­tions to be cau­tious when build­ing re­la­tions with China.

It is in­ter­est­ing that the Do­mini­can Repub­lic and Panama, which es­tab­lished diplo­matic re­la­tions with China in May and June re­spec­tively, were both “pun­ished,” but Costa Rica wasn’t.

Ex­perts from El Sal­vador ex­plained that this be­cause Costa Rica had es­tab­lished diplo­matic re­la­tions with China in 2007, which was ear­lier than the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion held power.

Adolfo Quin­tero, econ­o­mist at the Univer­sity of Panama, told the Global Times that Panama’s economy no longer re­lies on the US and the cargo be­tween the US and Asia will go across the Panama Canal. Canal ex­pan­sion will also boost the Amer­i­can economy, hence, there is more two-way traf­fic and de­pen­dence be­tween the US and Panama.

How­ever, it is very hard to say “no” to the US for most of the coun­tries in Cen­tral Amer­ica.

“Coun­tries in Cen­tral Amer­ica are look­ing for sources of power to de­velop them­selves since they don’t have en­doge­nous power. The coun­tries can­not change their de­pen­dency on external forces,” Wu said.

He noted Cen­tral Amer­ica turn­ing to be­come closer to China is an op­tion.

How­ever, he said that Cen­tral Amer­ica is ge­o­graph­i­cally closer to the US than China, so a full strate­gic re­align­ment does not make sense.

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