by James M. Cypher and Tamar Diana Wilson
How has the increasing economic influence of China, especially since 2000, affected Latin American countries? Has China’s recent impact led to a structural shift in the underlying political economy of the region? Has this effect been, on balance, positive, negative, or too complex to be reducible to a normative analysis? Is it the case that, because of ongoing dynamics and the generation of ever newer accords, reached annually if not biannually between China and various Latin American countries, such an assessment lies only in the future?
Latin American and Chinese economic relations are often viewed in terms of either complementarity or dependency, and this approach informs many debates about China’s impact on the region. As Fercheny (2011: 57) puts it:
On one side of the emerging debate are those, including most prominently the Chinese government itself, who claim that the China–Latin America economic relationship reflects fundamental complementarities and therefore has a positive effect for both sides. In contrast, other observers have emphasized that what boosters see as complementarity is really just a renewed form of Latin American dependency. They argue that while rapidly expanding trade and investment ties may have short-term benefits for both sides, the commodity-based nature of the relationship ultimately reinforces dysfunctional patterns of Latin American development that many countries in the region long ago renounced and have been attempting to move away from for over half a century.
Most of the literature seems to fall along a continuum with complementarity at one pole and dependency at the other, with various views as to whether China will emerge as a hegemonic power in Latin America. Jenkins (2012: 1350), for example, finds a growing asymmetrical relationship in the current configuration, noting that:
the structure of trade between China and Latin America has been increasingly characterised by the …
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Latin American Perspectives
November 2015 vol. 42 no. 6 5-26