by Rhys Jenkins
Richard L. Harris claims to show that the Western academic literature and media coverage of relations between Latin America and China “is characterized by factual distortions, errors, facts taken out of context, important omissions, and the use of derogatory images and terminology” and “has all the characteristics of a planned smear campaign—slander, falsification, and vilification.” He presents an alternative picture in which China has been economically beneficial for the region and politically progressive in supporting left-leaning governments in their attempts to develop alternative postcapitalist societies.
For an article that makes claims about the way China’s involvement in Latin America is portrayed in the Western academic literature, this one has surprisingly few references to that literature.1 The only major academic study referred to is Kevin Gallagher and Roberto Porzecanski’s The Dragon in the Room: China and the Future of Latin American Industrialization (2010). Instead Harris relies mainly on media reports, blogs, and NGO web sites. This might be acceptable if he were only writing about media representation of China, but he very clearly makes the case that the academic literature has the same features. He gives the impression that the sources that he quotes either are academic sources or represent the views of academics.
His characterization of the limited academic literature that he does cite is distorted and takes statements out of context. For example, he uses a quotation from Gallagher and Porzecanski ‘s book that “China is an awakening monster that can eat us,” the words of a Nicaraguan CAFTA negotiator (which Harris fails to mention), as if it represented the views of the authors, although it is obviously intended to illustrate the fears being expressed by some in Latin America. He dismisses the book as presenting a threatening image of China (based on the picture of a rather small dragon …
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Latin American Perspectives
November 2015 vol. 42 no. 6 191-194