‘Belt And Road’ Western Hemisphere Investments Has China Firmly Rooted In America’s Backyard

Authored by John Haughey via The Epoch Times,

The United States has been so focused on global security concerns that it has overlooked investing in its own backyard’s economic and military needs for decades.

But China hasn’t. With its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI, also known as “One Belt, One Road”), China has become South America’s largest source of infrastructure investment and second-largest trading partner, increasing trade from $18 billion in 2002 to $450 billion in 2022.

Twenty-five of 31 Central and South American countries have negotiated infrastructure investments from China, and 22 of those nations, most recently Honduras, have formally signed onto the BRI program.

Chinese companies, either owned or subsidized by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), operate mines in Mexico, Argentina, Peru, and Venezuela, electrical grids in Peru and Chile, 5G wireless systems in Costa Rica, Bolivia, Brazil, and Mexico—80 percent of Mexico’s telecommunications equipment is provided by Chinese companies—space launch and satellite tracking facilities in Argentina, and the world’s largest embassy in the Bahamas.

The U.S. State Department estimates China’s trade with Latin American nations and investments in sea, space, telecommunication, critical minerals, and energy will match the United States by 2035 in the region. China’s military ties with Venezuela, Cuba, Peru, and Chile—which now include port visits by Chinese warships and technical advisers—will mature into base agreements within a decade.

China has, or plans to build or improve, 40 ports across 16 Latin American and Caribbean countries without restrictions on military use, including on both ends of the Panama Canal, where CCP-sponsored companies are bidding with Panama to work on the U.S.-built canal.

Next fall, Chinese leader Xi Jinping will be in Peru to commemorate the completion of “a $3.6 billion ‘mega port’ that was financed by China, built by Chinese workers, and it will be owned and operated by a CCP-backed company,” House Armed Services Committee Chair Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) said.

“It will be used to ship South American copper, lithium, and other critical materials to China to further their military modernization,” he said during a House Armed Services Committee March 12 hearing on Western Hemisphere national security challenges.

Mr. Rogers called it “the latest effort of China’s efforts to displace American influence and build a strategic footprint in our backyard.”

‘Debt Traps’ and CCP Espionage

However, U.S. Southern Command Commander Army Gen. Laura Richardson said China’s increasing presence is a double-edged sword for countries that accept financing and other assistance from the CCP.

“The world is at an inflection point,” she said at the committee hearing.

“Our partners in the Western Hemisphere, with whom we are bonded by trade, shared values, democratic traditions, and family ties, are increasingly impacted by interference and coercion from [China.]

“The People’s Republic of China [PRC] has exploited the trust of democracies in this hemisphere, using that trust to steal national secrets, intellectual property, and research related to academia, agriculture, and health care,” she continued.

“The scope and scale of this espionage is unprecedented. Through the Belt and Road initiative, the PRC aims to amass power and influence at the expense of the world’s democracies,” she added.

Ms. Richardson said that while it’s true that Central and South America have not received the economic and national security attention other areas have, that is changing.

“I’ve learned that our presence absolutely matters,” she said, noting after nearly 20 years of “receiving less than 50 percent” of its Western Hemisphere security cooperation needs, the U.S. Southern Command was fully funded and received additional supplemental funding in the fiscal year 2024 defense budget.

Ms. Richardson said while the boost “was very, very helpful, we can’t just get one year of additional funding to meet the requirement, and I would say that our presence absolutely matters” and needs to be fully funded again in the fiscal year 2025 defense budget.

With the additional funding, she said, the United States has stepped up joint military and emergency response exercises with Chile, Argentina, and Paraguay with “more engagement other than just a visit once a year.”

“This has really made a huge difference in terms of the partnering, but we have to be there. We have to have good security cooperation programs; we have to have flexible authorities that [respond to] opportunities [as they] open because they’re only open for a short period of time,” she added.

(L-R) Costa Rican President Rodrigo Chaves Robles, U.S. President Joe Biden, Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou, and other leaders attend the plenary session of the inaugural Americas Partnership For Economic Prosperity Leaders’ Summit in the East Room of the White House in Washington on Nov. 3, 2023. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

‘Put Our Money Where Our Mouth Is’

That money will be there, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Hemispheric Affairs Rebecca Zimmerman said at the committee hearing.

“We’re putting homeland defense and other interests across the hemisphere front and center,” she said.

“The department’s top priority is defense of the homeland [and countering] the growing multi-domain threat posed by the People’s Republic of China.”

Ms. Zimmerman said the United States is “deepening partnerships with Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, and Chile while reinforcing democratic institutions civilian control of the military and respect for human rights and the rule of law” across the hemisphere.

In February, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin participated in the North American Defense Ministerial with his counterparts from Mexico, Canada, and Latin American countries.

In November 2023, President Joe Biden welcomed leaders from the Western Hemisphere to the White House for the inaugural Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity Leaders’ Summit to discuss migration, supply chains, and infrastructure investment.

Prime ministers, presidents, and foreign ministers from Canada, Barbados, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay, Mexico, and Panama attended.

The United States is developing a program with the Inter-American Development Bank to expand financing for infrastructure with the launch of an investment platform through the U.S. International Development Finance Corp. to invest billions in improving critical supply chains, modern ports, clean energy grids, and digital infrastructure.

The “Americas Partnership Accelerator” will assist entrepreneurs in developing and funding their business ideas and mobilize venture capital from around the world for startups in the region, the Biden administration maintains.

Rep. Jan Kiggins (R-Va.) said while “the defense budget is always inadequate” in addressing all needs, it is good “that we are again prioritizing that funding because it is so important that we can put our money where our mouth is.”

“The good news,” Ms. Richardson said, “is working with our very willing partners leads to the best defense.”

“We must use all available levers to strengthen our partnerships with the 28 like-minded democracies in this hemisphere who understand the power of working together to counter these shared threats,” she continued.

“The United States remains the preferred and most trusted security partner in the region.

“We build trust through investment and security cooperation programs that train and equip our partner militaries and security forces, a robust joint exercise program to build interoperability, and the development and employment of emerging technologies,” she added.


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