GIGA Focus International Edition English

The Dragon in the Backyard: US Visions of China's Relations toward Latin America

GIGA Focus | International Edition English | Number 05 |

The economic and political presence of China in Latin America has been growing since the turn of the century. China is now a major trade partner of Latin American countries. China is also a major investor in the region and quite recently also became an important lender as well as, in some cases, a major supplier of military equipment.

The United States has to react to the “dragon in the backyard” given that the Western Hemisphere has traditionally been a US zone of infl uence, and that Latin America is still a major US export market and destination of US investments. Since 2004–2005, politicians and think tanks have recurrently discussed the implications of the growing Chinese presence in Latin America for US interests and foreign policy. Neither the Bush administration nor the Obama administration saw/sees China as a major threat in Latin America. This was also the position of the majority of analysts linked to diff erent US think tanks.

  • China’s interests in Latin America are mainly economic – namely, trade and access to natural resources.

  • While some observers see a competition for scarce resources in Latin America, others emphasize the economic potentials and benefi ts of Chinese investments to explore new deposits in Latin America.

  • The direct impact of Chinese economic links with Latin America is less important than its indirect impact: Latin American countries – including those with strained ties with the United States – can act more independently, consequently reducing the United States’ leverage to infl uence their policies.

  • Until now, Chinese weapon sales to and military cooperation with Latin America have not been seen as a threat to US strategic interests. Only in extraordinary circumstances, such as a military confrontation in other world regions, would China’s presence in Latin America be seen as a direct threat to US security interests.

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Suggested Citation Style

Nolte, Detlef (2013), The Dragon in the Backyard: US Visions of China's Relations toward Latin America, GIGA Focus International Edition English, 05, urn:nbn:de:0168-ssoar-348049


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The GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies – Leibniz-Institut für Globale und Regionale Studien in Hamburg publishes the Focus series on Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and global issues. The GIGA Focus is edited and published by the GIGA. The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the institute. Authors alone are responsible for the content of their articles. GIGA and the authors cannot be held liable for any errors and omissions, or for any consequences arising from the use of the information provided.

General Editor GIGA Focus Series: Prof. Dr. Sabine Kurtenbach

Prof. Dr. Detlef Nolte is the director of the GIGA Institute of Latin American Studies (2006-May 2018) and a professor of political science at the University of Hamburg. His research interests include political institutions, regional cooperation, and the international relations of Latin America.

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