China Engages Latin America: Distorting Development and Democracy?

posted by R. Evan Ellis on March 17, 2022 - 11:55am

My new full-length single-author book, China Engages Latin America: Distorting Development and Democracy, has just been published by Palgrave-Macmillan. The work provides an updated analysis of PRC activities in Latin America and its meaning for the US and the region, as I have seen the Chinese presence evolve in the almost twenty years I have followed and published on the topic.

The work includes an analysis of the principally economic focus of China’s engagement with the region, to include its pursuit of secure access to Latin American commodities, foodstuffs and strategic markets, and its desire to capture for its own companies as much of the value added associated with those supply chains as possible. It also takes an in-depth look at China’s focus in dominating the infrastructure that underlines Latin American and Caribbean economies, including not only in land and maritime transportation, ports and other logistics sectors, but also electricity generation, transmission and distribution, telecommunications, eCommerce and non-traditional banking, smart cities and surveillance architectures, with the PRC leveraging those positions in the connective tissue that underlies the economic functionality of the region, to advance its strategic position and objectives there.

China Engages Latin America further examines the relationship between PRC activities in the region and populist governments, with multiple case studies highlighting how the PRC, in pursuing its own economic and other objectives, undermines democracy and institutions in the region, to its own strategic benefit.

Additional chapters in the book also look at the PRC-Taiwan struggle for diplomatic recognition in the region and its strategic implications, PRC military and other security engagement in Latin America, and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the prospect of China’s advance and associated challenges.

The book concludes with an extended set of recommendations for policymakers in the US and the region.

China Engages Latin America is designed for use by undergraduate and graduate level classes whose content touches on PRC activities in Latin Americas, international relations and international political economy, and Latin America Studies. It is also designed for government policymakers, strategic analysts and business professionals whose responsibilities encompass China and Latin America.

It is my hope that this book provides a balanced and compelling framework for understanding PRC engagement in the region that recognizes both the opportunities and threats to the region, and that recognizes the legitimacy of the search for economic opportunities by both China and the region in the context of transparency, rule of law, and a level playing field for the benefit of all. At the same time, this is a work that also candidly addresses the risks to development and democracy in the region of engaging with the PRC in ways that do not leverage the protection of strong institutions, transparent processes, and democratic legal frameworks.