Opportunities and challenges of China’s presence in Latin America
Ten years of Sino-Argentine Strategic Partnership (2004 - 2014)
Bachelor Thesis 2014 52 Pages
Table of Contents
List of figures
List of abbreviations
1.2 Theoretical framework
2. Argentina, cycles of globalisation and hegemonic powers
2.1 Pax Britannica (1862-1947)
2.2 Pax Americana (1947-2001)
2.3 Pax Sinica?
3.Thereproduction of a North-South framework
3.1 The Realist view: A Zero Sum Game
3.2 The Liberal Institutional view: A Positive Sum Game
4. A nascent South-South imagined community
4.1 The Constructivist view: Towards a Smart Partnership?
5. Discussion and Conclusion
The last decade has witnessed a tremendous shift in the global distribution of wealth in favour of the developing world. This has sparkedgreat expectations within the South-South grouping for the establishment of a fairer international system. However, behind the preached discourse surfaced the reproduction of a North-South framework. Such criticism has especially arisen in regard to China’s dramatic ascension in Latin America. With a focus on the case of Argentina, this paper contends that China’s rise reproduces the historicalsubordination of the region. Based upon the realist, liberal institutional and constructivist lenses of the International Relations discipline, thisstudy highlights the challenges,but also theopportunities, posed by China’s new presence.
First of all, I would like to thank the University of Leeds for granting me the opportunity to study in Argentina during my year abroad. In Buenos Aires, I have had the chance to meet a plenty of inspiring people from various horizons and learned much about the country’s moving history. In addition, I would like to thank Dr XYfor her support and fruitful feedbacks during the elaboration of this project.
List of figures
Fig. 1– Theoretical Framework…7
List of abbreviations
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“Opportunities for South-South cooperation in trade, investment but also in other matters are emerging (…) There are also challenges, especially when it comes to avoiding reproduction of a centre-periphery pattern in which the region becomes over dependent in primary products, something ephemeral in the long run.” - Xulio Rios preface in Hardy, 2013, p.XII
In the last decade, the emergence of a new geography of trade between developing countries has given rise to expectations of a fairer international system. Indeed, the so called South-South trade is now growing twice as fast asthe one between developed nations (Hardy, 2013, p.12). Such transformation is the consequence of a structural and irreversible shift in wealth to the emerging economies (OECD, 2010). This change in the pendulum’s direction has spawned new powers that have increasingly questioned the legitimacy of the United States economic and political world architecture. The new geography of tradegenerated a surge incommercial interactionsbetween developing countries which engendered further cooperation.
However, not all emergent economies have opted for the same developing strategies.Whilst some nations have driven their growth from manufacture and low key production, others have benefited from aboom in the price of commodities(Fanelli and Albrieu, 2012). This led to different paces of development reflected in an unequal distribution of power within the South-South grouping. As such, China has emerged as a natural leader in terms of bothits economic and political clout (Efstathopoulos, 2013). The concept of a Beijing Consensus - the Chinese alternative to the neoliberal economic narrative - then arosein opposition to the historical Washington Consensus (Fernández and Hogenboom, 2010b).
The Washington Consensus represented the climax of the global US-led world system(Corigliano, 2007; Erazo, 2010). Born in the wake of the 1990s, it was extensively applied in Latin America. In the region, it was perceived as thelatest occurrence of a centre-periphery pattern by which developing countries aresubordinatedto developed ones. ThisNorth-South framework included an economic as well as a socio-political aspect. To that end, the Washington Consensusprofessed a decalogue of market orientated reforms, but also involved alignment with the US in non-economic international regimes (Corigliano, 2007; Hardy, 2013). According to its critics, its implementation dramatically weakened public institutions and caused a surge in inequality (Escudé, 2011; Hardy, 2013). Following the economic crises of 1998, the original concept of the Washington Consensus was abandoned andregional leaders adopted a more critical stance vis-à-vis the US.
It is in this context that the South-South trade gained traction within Latin American. In the region, the South-South momentum is denoted by two dynamics. On the one hand, it has witnessed an exponential growth of intra-regional trade; on the other, China has emerged as a new major regional actor (Hardy, 2013; OECD, 2010). However, it can be said that China’s new role has been by far the most potent and novel forceover the past decade. Firstly, it has been increasingly investing in the local mining, transport, petrol, and financial industries. Secondly, as the most important emerging commodity importer, it has offered a new market for Latin American products, and by the mechanism of supply and demand substantially increased the price of primary products(Fernández and Hogenboom, 2010; Iturre and Mendes, 2010; Strauss and Armony, 2012).In 2000, China was the seventh-largest export market for Latin America; it is now third and soon to become second, onlyafter the US(ECLAC, 2010). It is also the third largest external investor in the region (Dadush, 2010).
To illustrate this dynamic Argentina offers an insightful case study. Poster child of the implementation of the Washington Consensus by the Bretton Woods institutions in the 1990s, it subsequently turned into one of the greatest sovereign defaults in modern history. The 1999-2002 crisis marked the culmination of a tense experience in which the animosity of the Argentine people against the global trade regime eventually erupted into an institutional crisis in 2001 (Escudé, 2012). As such, studies have found Argentina to be the country of Latin America with the most negative public perception of the US(Oviedo, 2006).
China has been the crucial factor behind the country’s swift recuperation(Escudé, 2011; Hardy, 2013; Paz, 2013). It has surpassed the US to become Argentina’s second export market, just after Brazil (ING, 2012). The country is the third largest producer of soy bean in the world and China the greatest consumer. From 1990 to 2004, China’s demand for soy bean has increased by 460%, whilst global production only by 32% (Castro, 2010). China’s hunger for soy bean is due to its growing middle class. Soy bean is a crucial input in meat production, whose demand is positively correlated with the size of a country’s middle class (Castro, 2010). Besides, China hosts 22% of world’s population with only 7% of its arable land (Giuffre, 2010). This imbalance makes the country dramatically reliant on foreign imports to feed its population. According to Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, food and commodity scarcitywereamong the top 2013 risks that the country faced(Eurasia Group, 2013). In 2010, the main sources of China’s soy bean were the US (36%), Argentina (19%) and Brazil (16%) (Castro, 2010).
In spite of the economiclinkage between both countries, the relationship has been characterised by its conflictive nature. Argentina is the Latin American country with the most trade disputes against China (49%), followed by Brazil (28%) and Mexico (11%) (Hardy, 2013, p.170). Argentine exports for the most part primary products to China whilst it imports essentially manufactured goods. As of 2006, 84% of Argentine exports to China were concentrated in basic foodstuff (Oliva, 2010, p.106). This touches on the debate of China’s new role in the international system in general and in Latin America in particular. The uncertainty about China’s rise concerns its capacity to provide a comprehensive alternative to the current international system. As such, some have questioned its revisionist potential and the singularity of its rise compared to other hegemonic instances (Brutschand Mihaela, 2012; Efstathopoulos, 2013).
In the case of Argentina, critics of China’s presence have emphasised the asymmetry of the relationship and its similarity with past hegemonic instances(Brutsch and Mihaela, 2012; Oviedo, 2006; Quintana, 2009). It has been argued that China has embraced the US-led world system and is unwilling to build a fairer international architecture. In that sense, the South-South discourse is denounced as hypocritical andinstrumental in serving China’s economic and political objectives. China’s presence is perceived through a realist approach based upon anarrow vision of national interest. They contend that China reproduces the historical process of primarisation of Argentina. That is to say, an economic process characterised by the concentration of the country’s exports in primary products. Hence, they claim that China’s presence must be controlled,if not limited.
In contrast, some have contested that China does represent a novel opportunity for Argentina(Escudé, 2012; Fernández and Hogenboom, 2010;Hardy, 2013; Paz, 2013).In that matter, they argue that the Asian superpowerrepresents a lasting partner. Here, the adopted approach concentrates on a more liberal view founded on the premises of free trade. They support further bandwagoning with China and compare it positively to Britain’s role in the region during the 19th and early 20thcentury.
In spite of disagreements about the virtues of China’s presence in Latin America, both sides agree on the crucial dynamic that links the Asian giantto Argentina. This is what Fernández and Hogenboom identify by distinguishing between endogenous and exogenous development models (2010, pp.25-26). On the one hand, China has followed anatypical endogenous development model based on state intervention and the constitution of a prominent industrial sector. This hasempowered it to shape the process of globalisationas reflected in its impact on theglobal demand for commodities. On the other hand, Argentina has throughout history relied on an exogenous development modelbased upon the exportation of primary products. This has made it much reliant uponglobal tendencies such asfluctuations in the price of commodities (Andrés, 2010; Corigliano, 2007; Escudé, 2011). As such, China’snew role will dramatically continue to impact Argentina’s position in the international economy.Therefore, in regard to the region’s historical subordination to hegemonic powers, how far is China’s presence any different?
The aim of this studyis to explore the extent to which China’s interaction with Argentina offers an alternative to the country’s historical relations with great powers. Such relationshipshave beencharacterised by a centre-periphery pattern.To that end, this paper investigatesthe dynamics of the Sino-Argentine association in regard to previous hegemonic instances in the region. Those hegemonic instances correspond to the Pax Britannica underthe British informal empire (1862-1947) and the Pax Americana under USsupremacythrough international regimes (1947-2001).
The chosen period (2004-2014) is identified as framing the new impulse of the bilateral tie. In 2004, was signed between President Nestor Kirchner and Premier Wen WenJiabaothe joint-agreement which led to the instauration of the Strategic Partnership (Oviedo, 2010, pp.451-461). Consequently, 2014 equates to the celebration of ten years of the Sino-Argentine Strategic Partnership.
1.2 Theoretical framework
Such an ambitious analysis requires adopting a comprehensive methodology. In fact, to better reflect on the nature of the Sino-Argentine relationship it is necessary to outline its main political, economic and social components. To that end, this paperuses the three central lenses provided by the International Relations discipline, namely realism, liberal institutionalism and constructivism.
Each theoretic lens provides a systematic way of thinking about how the international system operates (Bremmer, 2010, p.47). Adler and Barnett distinguish the theories based upon their degree of materiality (seefig.1–next page). As they contend(1998, p.10):
On one end is realism, which assumes that the structure of international politics is defined by the distribution of power and thus a highly asocial environment, and observes a series of discrete, exchange relations among atomistic actors. On the other end is constructivism’s recognition that international reality is a social construction driven by collective understanding, including norms, that emerge from social interaction.
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This difference is reflected in how each theory perceives the ‘rules of the game’ in the realm of international politics. In the first place, realism - and to a lesser extent liberal institutionalism -, assume that state’s preferences are fixed (Adler and Barnett, 1998, p.10). Both theories describe interactions between states as driven by political and economic interests which mirror the unequal distribution of power within the international system (Guzzini, 1998, pp.62-63). Thus, they mostly perceive the Sino-Argentine relationship in terms of material asymmetry and dependency. In the second place, constructivism postulates that states are cognitive actors with mutable identities and changing preferences (Wendt, 1992, pp.391-392). As expressed by Adler: “(…) cognitive structures –like games whose constitutive rules give meaning to the moves – constitute identities, interests and behaviour, but are, in turn, also constituted by them.” (1997, p.266). Hence, the constructivist theory perceives how the Sino-Argentine interaction leads to changes in preferences that surpass the constraints associated with the identified material asymmetry.
This paper adopts all three theories because it contends that each emphasises on a different aspect of the relationship. Furthermore, in the logic of the constructivist approach, it analyses how the normative structure affects the material one. That is to say, how China’s South-South rhetoric affects and constrains the way in which it projects its material power. As this paper will demonstrate, this specific process is fundamental in understanding the transformation of China’s attitude with regard to the developing world.
2. Argentina, cycles of globalisation and hegemonic powers
Throughout its history, Argentina’s destiny has been tied to cycles of globalisations underlined by the rise and fall of great powers. This specific trait can beextended to the whole Latin American region and derives from two main structural factors. Firstly,since its independence from mainland European colonial powers, the region has specialised in the exportation of basic commodities. In Argentina this has translated in shifting specialisations from corn, wheat to - more recently -soy bean(Escudé, 2012). The specialisation in a particular product is contingent to the evolution of technology and global demand. Intimately linked to these transformations is the rise and fall of great powers. As such, Argentina’s recent specialisation in soy bean can be traced back to the emergence of China and subsequent boom in the global soy bean demand (Escudé, 2012, Ferchen 2011). Secondly, the geographical proximity of the region to the US explains, to adegree,its limited autonomy in the second part of the 20th century (Erazo, 2010).
Argentina’s particular exogenous development model makes it important to identify past cycles of globalisation in order to place the Sino-Argentine relationshipin historical perspective. Althoughthe academic literature diverges on the exact number of cycles of globalisation that have affected Argentina’s position in the world economy, this paperidentifiestwo main sequences. Furthermore, it also includes the prospects of China leading a third wave of globalisation in the region.
2.1 Pax Britannica (1862-1947)
The first cycle of globalisation, identified from 1862 to 1947, corresponds to Argentina’s subordination in a world economy led by Britain. In 1862,Argentina emergedas a unified country under the presidency of Bartolomé Mitre. At the time, the agricultural export sector represented the ruling class of the nascent Republic (Hardy, 2013, p.189). Following Napoleon’sdefeat and the subsequent 1814 Vienna Congress, Britain ascendedto a global superpower. This new hegemonic instance usheredin a century of world domination and‘peace’;commonly referred to asthe Pax Britannica(Corigliano,2007). With its great agricultural potential, Argentina became a crucial trading partner to Britain’sblossoming economy and a key actor to sustain the process of industrial revolution in Europe (Erazo, 2010).
The economic linkage between both countries was in its initial stages a mutually beneficial interaction. At this time, Britain invested heavily in Argentine infrastructures, especially in railroads,port infrastructures, and refrigerated items (Andrés, 2010; Corigliano, 2007). Most of these investments were aimed at enhancing the agricultural exporting capacity of the country, also referredto as the agro-export model. From 1865 to 1914, Argentina received in average 8.6% a year of Britain’s investments abroad(Erazo, 2010, p.30). However, this relationshipengendered the formation of a dual economy. On the one hand, capitalism was applied in the external world;on the other, pre-capitalism was applied in the domestic economy (Erazo, 2010). That is to say, a growing contrast emerged between a state-of-the-art agrarian complex and a marginal and uncompetitive industrial sector. As a result, the agro-export model consolidated the power of a landed aristocracy over a mostly deprived population, a region wide pattern which is at the origins of Latin America’s unequal societies (Corigliano, 2007).
2.2 Pax Americana (1947-2001)
The second cycle of globalisation, identified from 1947 to 2001, corresponds to a mix of periods of subordination and isolation. It relates to the diminishing presence of Britain in the region as a result of the Second World War, and the rise of the US as a global superpower(Andrés 2010; Corigliano, 2007). In 1947, Britain clogged the convertibility of the sterling, stepping down from its central position in the global economy. At the same time, the Bretton Woods institutions wereestablished and the US dollar emerged as thesole uncontested international currency. With the advent of the Cold War, Latin America becamewhatis known as the‘US backyard’. The US derived its right to intervene in the region’s domestic affairs with the revival of the 1823 Monroe Doctrine(Oviedo, 2006). However, this time-framecorresponds to both preferential relations with the US and antagonism. In that sense, Argentina shifted between theprotectionist Import Substitution Industrialisation (ISI) model,andmore orthodox free-marketpolicies at various times(Andrés, 2010). Entangled in the context of the Cold War, this period was characterised by the succession of military dictatorships in Argentina coupled with high inflation and weak growth.
From 1991 to 2001,Argentina was incorporatedinto a US-led renewed Bretton Woods system (Corigliano, 2007). Thiswas the result of both political and economic factors. By 1991 the local elites had begun to question the merits of the isolationist model. On the economic front, high inflation and crippling debts delegitimised the virtues of the ISI system(Corigliano, 2007). On the political front, the defeat in the Falklands in 1983 was perceived in a new light which led to an abandonment of the country’s non-alignment policy during the Cold War(Escudé, 2012). In this context, arose an alternative vision of foreign policy in support for further bandwagoning with the US (Escudé, 2012). The convergence of these elements led to high expectations over the Washington Consensus. However, by 2001 the country was left disillusioned as the neoliberal experimenthad further deteriorated Argentina’s position in the international economy.
Within a decade, China has imposed itself as a major actor in the region. This new role coincides with US lessened influence in Latin America. The failure of the Bretton Woods experiment coupled with President George W. Bush’s War on Terror in the Middle East dramatically diminished the relevance of Latin America in US foreign policy(Corigliano, 2007; Escudé, 2012). This receding influence was most notable at the Fourth Summit of the Americas held in the Argentine coastal city of Mar Del Plata in 2005. The summit represented the last attempt to date of the US to enforce the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). It was characterised by a regional opposition to the US sponsored neoliberal project and fierce popular protests (Fernandez and Hogenboom, 2010b, p.187). As a result, some have referred to China’s expansion as part of a new cycle of globalisation for Latin America. Accordingly, Fernandez and Hogenboom label China’s presence as a newdesembarco(arrival) in reference to its similarity with the British, and later American, sway in the region (2010, pp.25-26). This paper corroborates with this view and associates China’s new regional presence as the beginning of a thirdwave of globalisation.
On the diplomatic front, two factors have driven China’s strategy in the region. Firstly, China’s historicalinterest in Latin America has been motivated by the international recognition of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) over the Republic of Taiwan(Oviedo, 2010; Rios, 2010). This was particularly illustrated by China’s ‘Popular Diplomacy’ which involved a series of high-rankingofficials’ tours in the region (Oviedo, 2010). This dynamic still has resonance today. Most of the countries that recognise the Republic of Taiwan are situated in the Caribbean (Rios, 2010, pp.222-225). Secondly, China also uses its diplomatic connections in the region to bolster support in international organisations. This was especially the case regarding the recognition of the Asian giantas a market economy within the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Indeed, the recognition of China as a market economy was a fundamental pre-requisite in the establishment of the Sino-Argentine Strategic Partnership (Oviedo, 2010; Quintana, 2009).
Overthe past decade, China’s involvement in the region has shifted from a diplomatic to an economic focus. This is the result of its new global strategy driven by resource security(Iturre and Mendes, 2010). In effect, to sustain such high pace of growth China has had to increasingly rely on foreign importsof raw material and natural resources (Fernández and Hogenboom, 2010). To that end, Africa has been the first region where State Owned Enterprises (SOE) and state officials have proposed joint-agreements to foreign governments (Power et al, 2012; Sutter, 2008). In this framework, China providedlow interests loans to governments in exchange for exploitation licences for its SOE. The broadening of China’s strategy to include Latin America ismotivated by its increasing reliance upon energy and food imports (Ferchen, 2011). As such, most of China’s investments in the region concern public infrastructures and resource extraction industries. It also proceeds to Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) in order to take control of operating company’s stakes(Fernández and Hogenboom, 2010, p.8).
This international division of labour dictated by the Chinese economy has impacted the region in different ways. China’s initial specialisation in low key manufacture with low wages has exacerbated competition with Latin America’s developing economies(Phillips, 2010; Oviedo, 2013). In that respect, the case of Mexico stands out from other countries of the region. The Mexican economy has adopted a similar specialisation to the Chinese one in a way that their production chains enter in direct competition(Di Masi, 2010). In contrast, South American economies have privileged a commodity export model and although their own industry is at risk, the main drivers of their growth remain untouched (Hardy, 2013, pp.168-170).
In response to China’s rising regional presence, states have adopted different strategies. Countries like Brazil and Argentina have enforced protectionist measures against Chinese goods, especially in order to protect their car parts industry (Di Masi, 2010). Other countries,such as Chile and Costa Rica, have signed free trade agreements (FTA) with China, accepting the detrimental impact on their respective industries (Hardy, 2013, p.156).Broadly speaking, two groups of countries within Latin America seem to diverge on the role of China in particular and the virtues of free market in general. On the one hand, the Pacific Alliance composed of Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico stresses economic liberalism. On the other,the Mercosur alliance composed of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Venezuela and Paraguaypromotes more protectionist measures and adeepening of regional trade (The Economist, 2013).
This chapter has planted China’s growing regional presence in the context of Argentine historical insertion in the international system. Argentine subordination to great powers has proven to consolidate its marginalisation in the international economy. Under the British informal empire, it managed to reach its golden age at the expense of the establishment of an independent industry. In a different framework, under the Washington Consensus,the domestic politics and economy were co-opted by transnational interests. The political vacuum left by US contempt for the region has bolstered China’s new role. In that sense, within the space of a decade China has become Latin America’s leading commercialand financial partner (Oviedo, 2013).
3. The reproduction of a North–South framework
The North-South framework is an applied term derived from the concept of the North-South divide. The concept of a North-South divide was initially coined to distinguish a broadly defined socio-economic rift between the more developed countries of the North and the less developed countries of the South (Kruger, 2009). Based upon the Wallenstein model of core and periphery systems, Oviedo identified how such asymmetry has emerged in the Sino-Argentine relationship (2013, p.5). According to his analysis, the relationshipinitiated as semiperipheral–semiperipheral when the Sino-Argentine tie was first normalised in 1972. Subsequently, as China rose and Argentine stagnated, the relationship progressed to the actual periphery–core model at the turn of the century. Therefore, the evolution of the balance of power has exacerbated the asymmetric trait of the Sino-Argentine relationship.
Thus, the material aspect of the bilateral tie is similar to the North–South framework. The repercussions of such an asymmetric relationship have different bearings. This complexity is manifested by the diverging viewpoints between the realist and liberal institutional theories of the International Relations discipline. Both emphasise the importance of the balance of power in what is perceived to be an anarchical international system (Wendt, 1992). They focus on states as main units, although they also account to varying degrees for non-state actors, such as multinationals and international organisations. However, whilst the realist doctrine perceives asymmetric relations as mostly serving the interest of the stronger state against the weaker one, the liberal institutional school presupposes that cooperation emerges in the long-run (Keohane, 1988). In the first part, this chapter underlines the main elements of the pessimistic realist perception of the relationship and draws similarities with past hegemonic instances. In the second part, it discusses the more optimistic liberal institutional perspective, and stresses its limits.
3.1 The Realist view: A Zero-Sum Game
The realist doctrine can be traced back to Ancient Greece and the narratives of Thucydides on the Peloponnesian War. It perceives power defined in terms of military capabilities as the main locus of politics (Bremmer, 2010, p.47). Contemporary realism is constructed upon Hobbes account of the state of nature (Gallarotti, 2010). According to Hobbes, individuals live in an anarchical system where only material capability can ensure the sustainability of a sovereign. As Gallarotti notes: “Tangible power resources can be used to repel acts of force, and they can be used to compel actors into submission.” (2010, p.18). In that standpoint, sovereign states seek to collect power in order to better ensure their security; this is also known as the security dilemma (Bremmer, 2010, p.47). It is a zero-sum game, in that one’s increased power results in the loss of power from another actor.
However, this does not only concern military power, but also includes socio-economic elements in order to sustain such lethal force. To differentiate this objective from military development alone, Meirsheimer opposes latent power to military power (Gallarotti, 2010, p.17). This latent power has a bearing on the way economic relationships are maintained. The relationship between the military and the economy has historically been sustained through mercantilism. Originally, mercantilist policies sought to support the military prowess through the accumulation of gold reserves. This was possible by the means of a tightly associated trade sector with the state apparatus so as to ensure a positive balance of trade. As Guzzinicontends(1998, p.170):
Technological and organizational innovations in warfare bolstered the rise of mercantilism (…) Both the production of gunpowder and the rise of professional armies depended on the merchant trading system (to assure the provision of powder) and wealth (to pay the armies).
Following the rise of Britain as a global hegemon in the 19th century, mercantilism was progressively abandoned and Adam Smith’s liberal creed embraced (Silver and Arrighi, 2003). Nevertheless, mercantilism has survived as a marginal practice and resurged in times of crisis (Silver and Arrighi, 2003). Similar to the realist assumption, it perceives international trade as a zero-sum game with gains of trade made at the expense of others. In that matter, the mercantilist view of the international system corroborates with the modern realist school of the International Relations discipline (Jones, 1986, p.10-11).
Chinese economic policies have often been described as mercantilist (Leverett, 2010;Rodrick, 2010). The adoption of mercantilism as a driving force in China’s international trade is based upon two factors, among others. Firstly, since the gradual opening up of its economy, China has manipulated theyuan. Doing so, it has strengthened its position as a chief exporter by under-valuating its national currency (Rodrick, 2010). Secondly, China has adopted since the 2000s a strategy of resource drain, also coined as‘resource mercantilism’ (Leverett, 2010). To that end, China’s ‘Going Out’ strategy emerged in order to secure crucial raw material for its internal development (Strauss and Armony, 2012). It was first put in motion in 2004 with the ‘Guidance Catalogue on Countries and Industries for overseas investments’ (Dittmer, 2010, pp.40-41). The official document ensured preferential loans for Chinese companies investing in resource extraction industries, which for the most part were concentrated in developing countries.
Furthermore, in 2007 China announced the creation of the ‘China Investment Corporation’ which sought to invest in ‘strategic assets’ abroad using part of China’s $ 2.4 trillion dollars reserves (Hardy, 2013, pp.162-163). This was motivated by the increased needs of the domestic population but also in order to sustain the pace of development of the productive sector. Such operations have been strengthened given the particular bond between national companies and the state. Similar to the mentioned adopted pattern in Africa, China has pursued its resource diplomacy through the international deployment of its national champions, or SOE, as part of its energy and food security agenda (Fernández and Hogenboom, 2010b).
In Argentina, this was illustrated by China’s acquisition of wide areas of arable land, also known as ‘land grabs’, and concessions of mining sites. In that regard, in January 2011, Beidahuang Group - a conglomerate of state-owned agribusinesses -, leased 320,000 hectares of arable land from the Río Negro province for a 20-year period. The agreement handed over thousands of hectares to the agribusiness SOE for the production of soybeans, wheat and oilseed rape, among other crops (Grain, 2011). Furthermore, it stipulated stringent closes in order to maximise the firm’s profits whilst leaving it free fromliability. This included, among others, the tax exemption of exported crops as well as the use of a newly constructed port on the Atlantic coast, free of charge (Grain, 2011). Conversely, Beidahuang Group has agreed to invest $1.45 billion dollars over the period, especially in infrastructures such as irrigation systems (Hardy, 2013, p.163). Whilst the agreement brought some much needed inflows of foreign capital, its environmental impact and the overall economic sustainability of the project have received much criticism from the local population (Grain, 2011). In the same province, in 2006 SOE China’s Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) acquired 70%of exploitation rights of Minera Sierra Grande's iron-ore mine, with a 30-year concession (Oviedo, 2010).
China has also adopted an aggressive stance on equity stocks of resource extraction industries operating in the country. In March 2010, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (SNOOC) bought $3.1 billion dollars for a 50% stake in Argentine oil and gas holding company Bridas Energy Holdings (Oviedo, 2010). Likewise, in December 2010, refiner Sinopec Group purchased Occidental Petroleum Corporation (OXY) Argentine oil and gas unit for $2.45 billiondollars (Escudé, 2011).
Moreover, China has expanded its financial hold on the country (Oviedo, 2010). In 2011, Industrial & Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), agreed to take over 80% of the Argentine subsidiary of Standard Bank Group in a $600 million dollars deal. This was the greatest takeover of the world's biggest bank, in market value, within the last three years (Tong, 2011). As emphasised in the official ICBC statement: “This is the first acquisition of a Latin American financial institution by a Chinese bank, also the first time a Chinese bank acquires a mainstream commercial bank outside China (excluding Hong Kong, Macau).” (ICBC, 2012).
Consequently, following the realist logic, China’s South-South rhetoric serves three purposes in the country’s gradual rise to power. Firstly, it creates a platform by which to better sell its ‘Going Out’ mercantilist strategy. Secondly, it is used as part of China’s ‘Popular Diplomacy’ so as to gain support in multilateral organisations. Thirdly, it serves as a soft-balancing tactic against US hegemony (Oviedo, 2010, pp.459). This rhetoric was embedded in the 2008 Latin America White Paper. The document represented the first-ever Chinese foreign policy paperon the region (Giuffre, 2010). It expressed China’s interest in Latin America in terms of its ‘abundant natural resources’ and its ‘good base for economic and social growth and tremendous development potential’ (Castillo, 2009). The paper was filled with China’s narrative about a ‘win-win’ situation and a ‘mutual benefit’ relationship (Ferchen, 2011). In regard to China’s aim to rise as a global hegemon, this discourse is perceived by realists as deceitful diplomacy.
In fact, it has been argued that China’s historical tradition of statecraft is still strong today (Gurtov, 2010, p.20). This type of diplomacy was first used during China’s imperial times in order to better rule upon its Asian neighbourhood. As Gurtov states: “Ancient Chinese statecraft, passed down from the earlier days of China’s Imperial history, reflects a tradition of deception and intrigue and a highly developed sense of political strategy that enabled it to gain advantage over rivals.” (2010, p. 20). This still resonates in modern times. This was notably echoed by Deng Xiaoping’s rhetoric about ‘hide brightness, nourish obscurity’ which is at the backbone of China’s ‘peaceful development’ discourse (Dittmer, 2010, p.225).
Such deception dramatically impacted the Sino-Argentine relationship in the wake of the Strategic Partnership proclamation. In 2004, Argentina concluded an agreement with China to concede it with market economy status at the WTO in exchange for investments and the purchase of sovereign debt (Oviedo, 2010, pp.456-458). But the Argentine government was left disillusioned as China’s purchase of Argentine debt never materialised (Quintana, 2009, pp.6-7). Although, according to Hilton, China’s refusal to pay Argentine national debt was due to pressures from the US which waswary about its fading influence in the region (Hilton, 2013, p.3). Nevertheless, this disenchantmenthas led some observers to characterise the relation as acuento chino(tall story) (Olivia, 2010, p.14; Oviedo, 2010, p.458).
Another particularity of China’s South-South relations is that they are for the most part based upon bilateral ties. In its relationship with Argentina, China exclusively relies upon bilateral agreements (Hilton, 2013). This is coherent with the realist tactic of ‘divide and rule’ in international politics. In fact, China possesses much more leverage when dealing with one country at a time, rather than as a bloc. Furthermore, it also lessens the risk of retaliation (Hardy, 2013, p.181-185). According to Shambaugh: “Advocates of Chinese realism tend to argue (…) that Western attempts to enlist greater Chinese involvement in global management and governance is a dangerous trap aimed at tying China down, burning up its resources, and retarding its growth.” (2011, p.13). In that view, China’s preference for bilateral ties comes as a consequence of its fear of multilateralism which empowers weaker states. Thus, China pursues Strategic Partnerships with developing countries in order to enforce trade agreements based upon its own terms.
The perception of China as a nation that follows mercantilist policies and a ‘divide and rule’ strategy in its pursuit of global hegemony resembles to the region’s relation with great powers. In that sense, China’s use of its economic and financial clout to open developing country’s markets’ for exports and investments in resource extracting industries has been compared to the resurgence of the ‘Gunboat Diplomacy’ (Shambaugh, 2011, p.12). Gunboat Diplomacy corresponds to the pursuit of a diplomacy based upon the use or threat of the use of force, often by military means. Such diplomacy was pursued especially by Britain and the US in order to impose free trade agreements and access to natural resources in Latin America new born Republics during the 19th and early 20th century (Graham-Yooll, 2002). Hence, China’s presence in Latin America reproduces the pattern of emerging great powers that sought global hegemony through the expansion of privileged economic relations.
The implications for Argentina are three-fold. Firstly, China’s mercantilist strategy revolving around the appropriation of natural resources has deprived the country’s control over its strategic assets. This is what Oviedo contends as he argues that non-renewable resources should be employed to develop Argentina’s internal economy, rather than to serve for exports (Oviedo, 2010, pp.483-484). This is most certainly true concerning the petrol and gas sector, given that Argentina has become dependent on energy imports since 2007 (Fanelli and Albrieu, 2012). Secondly, China’s ‘divide and rule’ tactic has come at the cost of the regional integration process. In that sense, Oliva states that China’s growing interaction with Latin America has halted processes of regional integration (Olivia, 2010). Finally, China’s growing presence has engendered a relationship of dependency. In fact, through the acquisition of companies in the extracting and financial sector, China has increased its leverage upon the Argentine government (Oviedo, 2013).
However, there are several limitations to the cynical portrait painted by the realist doctrine. Firstly, it fails to account for the trade outcome of the Sino-Argentine relationship. Since the outset of the Strategic Partnership in 2004, Argentina has benefited from a surplus with China over its commercial balance (ECLAC, 2010). In other words, Argentina exports more in absolute value to China than it imports from it. This observation contradicts the principal axiom held by the mercantilist theory which assumes that states must engage in trade only when it fosters a positive balance of trade. Hence, the relationship can’t be perceived as a zero-sum game given that Argentina benefits from the positive outcome of the bilateral trade. Indeed, China’s purchase of Argentine goodshas generated inflows of foreign capital that have much assisted in the development of the economy over the past decade (Escudé, 2011; Hardy, 2013).
Secondly, it fails to account for China’s increased presence in Latin American multilateral organisations, and its efforts to build a trans-Pacific dialogue. Over the last ten years, China has gained the status of permanent observer in a wide range of Latin American international organisations, such as the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) (Escudé, 2012). Furthermore, it has strived to create a multilateral dialogue through the Mercosur and Pacific Alliance organisations (Oviedo, 2013). China has even set the agenda for such process by designating the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) as the most appropriate organisation to launch the Sino-Latin American forum (Hardy, 2013, p.214). Therefore, this study will look at the liberal institutional theory in order to shed light on these elements of the relationship.
3.2 The Liberal Institutional view: A Positive Sum Game
Liberal institutionalism arose as a coherent school of thought in the 1980s. Its aim was to create a new paradigm that would transcend the traditional realist/liberal dichotomy in order to account for a more multipolar world order. In fact, at the time of the doctrine’s emergence, US hegemony was increasingly challenged by external shocks reflected by changes in the international structure. This was most notable in 1971 with the US abandonment of the Gold Standard (Guzzini, 1998, p.62). It assumes that in the absence of an hegemon, states will pursue agreements within the international community in order to further their interests (Keohane, 1988).
In that matter, states are not solely driven by relative gains, but also by absolute gains. This paradigm shift thereby rejects the realist zero-sum game logic in favour of a positive-sum game, or win-win paradigm (Bremmer, 2010, p.48). That is to say that, regardless of the material asymmetry of a relationship, states are naturally inclined towards mutually advantageous endeavours. In other words, liberal institutionalism is a middle-ground between an unrelenting ‘Hobbesian’ struggle of all against-all, and the liberal vision of endless peace and harmony founded upon a laissez-faire global economy (Jones, 1986, p.116). As expressed by Adler and Barnett: “While neo-liberal institutionalism shares with neo-realism the assumption of anarchy, it is more interested in how self-interested states construct a thin version of society through the guise of institutions and regulative norms in order to promote their interests.” (1998, p.11). Hence, liberal institutionalism accounts for instances of confrontation in the international system but perceives cooperation as the final state of equilibrium (Keohane, 1988).
The revival of the idealism of liberal thinking through a more pragmatic lens brought to the fore the principle of comparative advantage. The concept of comparative advantage is a basic tenet of David Ricardo’s free-market model (Jones, 1986). It assumes that in an optimal version of international trade, states would specialise in the sectors they are the most efficient in. This is a reversal of the mercantilist zero-sum game thinking that seeks a relative positive balance of trade. As expressed by Jones: “The power and subtlety of this principle is that it demonstrates that even where one society is more efficient at producing the entire range of relevant goods and services that any other, there may still be a sound basis for mutually advantageous specialisation of production and subsequent trade between the two societies.” (1986, p.33). When states specialise in specific sectors it creates instances of complementarity. In that case: “(…) there is mutual benefit and increase in overall production when specialisation and trade develop.” (Jones, 1986, p.33). Such specialisation is distributed across the global economy according to factor endowments (Jones, 1986). Those factor endowments correspondto country-specific features that account for such mutually advantageous trade. Subsequently, under the principle of comparative advantage, liberal institutionalism promotes the international distribution of labour and gains from trade (Adler and Barnett, 1998, p.51).
Following Deng Xiaoping’s Open Doors policy and the country’s gradual development in the 1980s, China has become the ‘world’s factory’ (Zhang, 2006). By 2008, it had outpaced the US and becamethe world’s first trading nation (Zweig, 2010, pp.37-38). Traditionally, China has benefited from the low wage of its labour force to sustain its position as the world’s most competitive nation in light-manufacturing. However, to supportthe comparative advantage of its development model, the country has had to concentrate on its urban development. In that matter, through the Hukou system the government ensures that the countryside population does not overcrowd the richer coastal cities in the East (Spencer, 2011). But this also means that to occupy these populations the countryhas had to maintain a labour-intensive agrarian sector (Oviedo, 2010, pp.435-436). Moreover, for historical reasons, China’s agrarian sector is mostly constituted of small independent farmers that are less efficient than their South American counterparts who benefit from sophisticated large-scale farming techniques (Hardy, 2013, p.156-158). Correspondingly, South America has been described as the ‘Farm of the World’ (Hardy, 2013, p.158). Hence, there is a complementarity between China’s industrial capacity and South America’sagriculturalpotential.
The liberal institutional lens accounts for the conflicting nature of what Hardy calls the ‘complex partnership’ between Latin America and China (2013). In the case of Argentina, Oviedo has distinguished varying elements which are underpinned by the liberal institutional theory and that account for the dual dynamic of the relationship (2013). In the first place, the increased density of trade interaction between China and Argentina has generated further confrontation. China’s rise has exacerbated competition in three distinct domains. Firstly, it has amplified competition for manufacture exports in local and third-markets. For instance, in 2006 Chinese manufactured exports displaced Argentine exports in the Brazilian market. This was the case in spite of the preferential arrangements provided in the Mercosur grouping (Phillips, 2010, p.188). Secondly, it has increased competition for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). As such, China has become the second recipient of FDI after the US (Zweig, 2010, p.47). Thirdly, and most importantly, China’s exports have undermined the local industrial sector. According to Hardy, over 90% of Argentine manufactured exports are under threat due to the competitionfrom Chinese firms (2013, p.168).
The 2010 Argentine soy crisis epitomised the confrontation between Argentine protectionist policies and China’s manufacture export-led development model. In 2010, the Chinese government impeded cargos filled with Argentine soybean to enter its ports. The official reason was that Argentine soybean did not comply with China’s new health regulations for the import of such crops (Oviedo, 2010, pp.494-498; Quintana, 2009). However, it was later revealed that China was pressing Argentina to withdraw its anti-dumping policies against Chinese manufactured goods (Hilton, 2013). Only after Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner paid a visit to Beijing was the dispute eventually settled (Quintana, 2009, p.7). This precedent underscored the importance of further cooperation, but also exposed the asymmetric aspect of the relation. Nevertheless, Argentina has demonstrated great resilience in the face of the Chinese embargo as it managed to channel its exports to other countries, such as Brazil. Consequently, the incident also proved that Argentine dependency to China was only relative (Oviedo, 2013).
In the second place, increased interaction between Argentina and China has led to further cooperation. Instances of cooperation were highlighted in the content of the joint memorandums. In 2004, Argentina signed with China the ‘Memorandum of Understanding between the Argentine Republic and the PRC’. The memorandum stipulated Argentine recognition of China as a ‘market economy’ in exchange for Chinese investments in infrastructures and the purchase of goods. Most of the investments concerned railway and road transport infrastructures in the form of interest-free loans. China hadnotably agreed to increment its level of purchases in the country to $6 billion dollarswithin a five-year period (Oviedo, 2010, pp.452-453). Furthermore, it stipulated the diversification in the basket of products that China would purchase from Argentina (Oviedo, 2010, pp.453-454). Likewise, in 2007, Argentina signed with China a ‘Memorandum of Understanding on Military Cooperation’. The memorandum established a common commission of defence and included the provision of military equipment at a discount price (Malena, 2010).
The perception of economic complementary in the Sino-Argentine linkage resembles to Argentine’s relation with Britain from the end of the 19th to the beginning of the 20thcentury. In that matter, Chinese investments in infrastructures that support the agro-export model echoes with Britain’s investments in South America during the Victorian era. This parallel has been drawn by proponents as well as opponents of China’s new role in the region. On one end, the proponents have argued that Britain provided much needed finances to the country, ushering in Argentina’s golden era during the Belle Époque (Escudé, 2011). On the other end, the opponents have argued that this relationship has generated a state of dependency and resulted in the primarisationof the South American economies (Oviedo, 2006).
This critique was first elaborated by the Argentine economist RaúlPrebisch, a pioneer in dependency theory (Escudé, 2011). He argued that commodity exporting countries were trapped in boom and bust cycles as they couldn’t climb up the value chain. According to his thesis, this is because the Terms of Trade (ToT) -the difference between the price of the average exported product to the price of the average imported product - tended to decrease for economies relying on commodity exports (Escudé, 2011). This eventually led to the ‘middle income trap’, where developing countries constantly failed to match the level of sophistication of their developed counterparts (Hardy, 2013, p.XXIV). However, since the onset of China’s emergence and the subsequent commodity boom of the 2000s, the ToT of commodity exporting economies such as Argentina have dramatically improved as the price of manufactured goods has decreased (Phillips, 2010).
In the case of Argentina, the liberal institutional theory poses several implications. Firstly, the comparative advantage principle engenders sectorial and geographical concentration of exportable goods. This means that whilst Argentine agribusiness has boomed in the past decade, the local industry has been much hampered. Nevertheless, the agribusiness has also developed to create further added value production chains (Hardy, 2013, p.204-210). For instance, the ratio of produced Argentine refined soy-oil to soybean has gradually increased over the past decade (Castro, 2010). Furthermore, geographical concentration has generated production clusters that have enhanced productivity and innovation (Hardy, 2013, p.188). Yet it has also reproduced what Hardy terms the 19th centuryBelindasyndrome,by which a landed aristocracy has reaped most of the gains of international trade (Ferchen, 2011; Hardy, 2013, pp.189-199).
Secondly, China’s investments’ in infrastructures have bolstered Argentine development. In contrast with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB) loans, those investments are for the most part interest-free and come with ‘no-strings attached’ in terms of ideology and market orientated reforms (Fernández and Hogenboom, 2010b). Nevertheless, Chinese loans are often in exchange of preferential market entry for SOE and privileged access to natural resources (Oviedo, 2013). According to the liberal institutional theory, as the density of Sino-Argentine interactions increases, so will the incentives for further cooperation (Keohane, 1988).
A careful analysis shows that the liberal institutional perspective sheds an over-optimistic light on the Sino-Argentine relationship. In fact, in accordance with the comparative advantage principle, through specialisation commodity-exporting countries should gain in productivity so as to further their industrial capacity (Jones, 1986).Conversely, the international system, and more specifically the Bretton Woods institutions, is believed to level the playing field for developing countries by outlawing practices of unfair tweaking of factor endowments. However, China has emerged to become what Zweig calls a ‘Trading Nation’ (2010). As he argues, against the Ricardian idea of comparative advantage, through mercantilist policies the East Asian model showed that states can create ‘comparative advantage’ by ‘getting the price wrong’ (Zweig, 2010, p.38). Furthermore, instead of shifting to more sophisticated chains of production, China has developed in the specialisation of labour intensive industries (Dittmer, 2010). In other words, as China has developed it has also improved its competitiveness in light manufacturing, thereby further marginalising Latin America economies from the global production chain.
Another negative effect of China’s thirst for commodities relates to thecausedincrease in the price of primary products. As mentioned, this has contributed to the rise in the ToT for commodity exporting countries. However, it has also resulted in the appreciation of the South American currencies (Fanelli and Albrieu, 2012; Hardy, 2013, p.171). This effect is known as the ‘Dutch Disease’ in which a rise in international demand for primary products engenders the appreciation of the national currency.Consequently, such appreciation gradually degrades the international competitiveness of the domestic industry. In fact, this effect has historically catalysed the process of primarisation of the South American economies (Iturreand Mendes, 2010).
This chapter has brought to light the inherent challenges posed by the material asymmetry of the Sino-Argentine relation. The realist prism has presented China’s incursion in Argentina in terms of a zero-sum game, in which China’s gains were made at the expense of the country’s development. In contrast, the liberal institutional lens has highlighted the underlyingmutual gains of trade. However, a careful analysis found that those gains are unequally distributed. That is to say, a relationship characterised by a positive sum game with unequal gains of trade.
As discussed, China mostly imports raw materials and natural resources from the region in order to process added-value products. In that regard, China’s interaction with Argentina is perceived as no more different thanthe one of historical hegemons. Both the mercantilist and the comparative advantage concerns drive China’s interests. As a consequence, the centre-periphery character of the relationship has deepened in the last decade. This is notably illustrated by the concentration of Chinese demand and investments in capital intensive sectors. Such observation has ushered in a double transformation of development thinking. On the one hand, commodity export-led growth theories have made a comeback; and on the other, industrialisation has been dismissed as an unviable alternative. Thus, China’s rise has further squeezed the already constrained development spaces of Latin American economies (Phillips, 2010; Hardy, 2013). Yet a focus on the social aspect of the relationship revealsthe potential emergence of an alternative association.
4. A nascent South-South imagined community
The concept of a South-South community arose in opposition to the classic North-South framework that characterised much of the interactions between developed and developing nations in the past century (Kruger, 2009). In the preceding chapter,this study demonstratedthat the material aspect of the Sino-Argentine relationship, that is to say its political and economic content, is in many ways similar to the historical North-South framework. This is because China’s interest in the region is guided by a mix of mercantilist and comparative advantage concerns.
However, the study has yet discussed the normative aspect of the relationship and its present andpotential impact on the material side of the bilateral tie. Thisdynamic constrainshow nationsproject their power. In fact, in contrast with Britain and the US, China sees itself as a non-Western developing nation. As such, it has defined its presence in Latin America in terms of non-interference in domestic affairs, respect for state sovereignty and mutually beneficial trade (Strauss and Armony, 2012). As China deepens its relationship with the region, it is increasingly pressed to develop a more coherent strategy. Hence, using the constructivist prism this chapter will explore the potential of such dynamic to engender a fairer relationship.
4.1 The constructivist view: Towards a Smart Partnership?
The International Relations strand of constructivism emerged in the late 1980s as an alternative to both the realist and liberal institutional paradigms. It was developed in the wake of the end of the Cold War and the subsequent implosion of the Soviet Union to better reflect on the process of institutions and culture in affecting state identity and interests (Bremmer, 2010, p.49). The theory takes its roots in the field of Sociology and emphasises on the normative aspect of international politics. To that end, it views the environment of international relations, and especially the idea of anarchy, as socially constructed (Wendt, 1992). It perceives nations in terms of communities as the main unit of study and discourses as the driving force in international relations. As described by Wendt, its two mains canons are: “(1) that the structures of human association are determined primarily by shared ideas rather than material forces, and(2) that the identities and interests of purposive actors are constructed by these shared ideas rather than given by nature." (1999, p.1).
Such theory has proven particularly relevant in the study of the developmentalist discourse which is embedded in the South-South rhetoric. In that regard, the rise of a South-South identity has been compared with Anderson’s concept of ‘imagined communities’ (Efstathopoulos, 2013). According to Anderson, communities such as sovereign states are not materially bounded, but rather represent social constructs that are the consequence of the perception of a shared identity, a community of interests (2006).
Going beyond Anderson’s concept of imagined communities, Adler and Barnett have developed a methodology for the identification of what they call ‘security communities’. Accordingly, security communities are built upon “(…) the development of shared understandings, transnational values and transaction flows to encourage community-building.” (Adler and Barnett, 1998, p.4). Such communities have emerged with the broadening of security to encompass issues relating to economic, environmental and social welfare concerns. It represents the next step in theinteraction between international actors as first exposed in the theory of liberal institutionalism (Adler and Barnett, 1998).Adler and Barnett argue that as confrontation in the international system will continue to occur, actors will result to internal arrangements so as to promote order and security. As they contend: “(…) a security community ‘gets out of the gate’ because of either push or pull factors that cause states to reconsider how they organise their relations.” (Adler and Barnett, 1998b, p.52).
Such theory precisely pins down the ongoing process of the development of a South-South community. As explained: “(…) a shared developmentalist ideology (…) may promote not only transnational exchanges and policy coordination, but, more fundamentally, a shared project (…)” (Adler and Barnett, 1998, p.4). Instead of deepening apositive sum game with unequal gains of trade, a nascent imagined community would give rise to a fairer relationship based upon long-term mutually beneficialoutcomes(Adler and Barnett, 1998b, p.57).
Since the formation of the PRC in 1949, ideologically China has remained an outsider in the international system. As expressed by Hongying: “(…) in the post-Cold War era, China has stood as an ideological outlier in the world, challenging the universal validity of economic liberalism and political democracy.” (2010, p.210). Today, China represents the main rival to the US narrative on the international arena. In fact, it perceives itself as essentially non-white, victim of the greed of colonial powers (Hongying, 2010). Furthermore, China has constantly depicted itself as the ‘world’s greatest developing country’ (Mitchell, 2007, p.XI).
This vision was first expressed in Deng Xiaoping’s 1974 speech at the United Nations (UN) where he introduced Mao Zedong’s Theory of the Three Worlds (Mitchell, 2007, p.17). The Theory of the Three Worlds constituted the backbone of China’s foreign policy during the Cold War following the Sino-Soviet split at the end of the 1950s. Its novelty lay in its triptych perception of international politics. According to Mao’s thought, the world was divided into three segments; the first contained great powers, such as the US and the Soviet Union; the second contained the industrialised nations, such as Western Europe and Japan; and the third contained the non-aligned Third World countries led by China (Oviedo, 2010, p.16). Mao’s vision was at the origin of the formation of the Beijing Consensus underpinned by the Four No’s policy and the New Security Concept that,respectively, promotenon-intervention in domestic affairs and multipolarity in the international system(Fernández and Hogenboom, 2010b). China’s Third World leadership was also reflected in international organisations, where it has demonstrated to be a fervent supporter to the cause of developing countries (Dittmer, 2010, p.210).
To identify the formation of a nascent Security Community, the constructivist stance separates ‘structure’ and ‘processes’ as two driving forces in international politics (Wendt, 1992). The first pole, the structure, corresponds to how the community is organised and how it is perceived by its members. In the first place, power is the uniting force for the constitution of a security community. Power in that sense is perceived as non-coercive; it is a magnet which brings states together as part of a voluntary association. As put forward by Adler and Barnett: “(…) those powerful states who belong to the core of strength do not create security per-se, rather, because of the positive images of security or material progress that are associated with powerful and successful states, security communities develop around them.” (1998b, p.40).This is coherent with China’sself-image as the leader of the Third World. Indeed, its rhetoric constitutes an alternative to the one upheld by Western powersand has been acclaimed bymany developing world leaders (Fernández and Hogenboom, 2010b).
In the second place, knowledge creates a shared understanding within the community. As put by Adler and Barnett: “(…) what constitutes and constraints state action is the knowledge that represent categories of practical action and legitimate activities.” (1998b, p.40). This corresponds to the restrictions imposed by China’s self-image within the South-South grouping. In that matter, Wang has demonstrated how China’s self-image constrained its actions in ways contrary to its interests (2003). A notable example was China’s unilateral decision not to devaluate its currency in the midst of the Asian crisis in 1998 (Cox, 2010; Wang, 2003). According to Wang, China refused to devaluate its currencygiven the harming effect that it would have had incurred upon the economies of its neighbours (2003, p.65). In the case of Argentina, China’s implicit support at the UN for the Falklands issue represents a unilateral action that is accompanied with only marginal direct benefits (Wang, 2010; Oviedo, 2010). As such, the South-South momentum revolving around China represents an alternative structure that is not solely guided by the logic of direct costs and benefits.
The second pole of a security community is underpinned by the concept of ‘processes’. Processes correspond to the deepening of the relationship within the community through increased transactions, institution building and social learning (Adler and Barnett, 1998b, p.43). This is notably reflected in China’s strategy with the developing world to create an alternative financial and commercial entente centred on the internationalisation of the yuan(Ovideo, 2013; Rios, 2010). To that end, China’s Central Bank has emerged as a major partner of its Argentine counterpart. In 2009, it issued a yuan denominated $10 billion dollars currency swap arrangement for a three-year period, which was renewed in 2013 (Parks, 2013). Such agreement facilitates transactions between the two countries and diminishes Argentina’s reliance upon the US dollar. Furthermore, it represented China’s first ever currency swap agreement in the region (Redrado, 2010, pp.129-133). China has also assisted Argentine high-tech sector by investing in INVAP, a cutting edge firm that specialises in the production of nuclear devicesfor civil purposes (Escudé, 2011; Oviedo, 2010). In exchange, Argentina has supported China’s implementation in Space and the Antarctic (Oviedo, 2010; Paz, 2013).
Moreover, China has pressed for the creation of multilateral institutions, such as the Sino-Latin American forum on agriculture and trade (Oviedo, 2010, p.494). Interactions within these institutions have generated processes of social learning. According to Adler and Barnett, social learning represents: “(…) the capacity and motivation of social actors to manage and even transform reality by changing their beliefs of the material and social world and their identities.” (1998b, p.44).
This momentum has further been propelled by the interaction between the people of both nations. In that matter, China’s growing diaspora has increased its exposure in Argentina (Hang, 2013). An estimate of 80,000 Chinese descendants currently lives in the country. The Chinese diaspora notably occupies a vital role in the country’s chains of supermarkets in which it runsover 2,000 stores (Zampori, 2010). Cultural events also play an important part in social learning. In that regard, Buenos Aires was chosen as a host city for China’s 2008 Summer Olympics torch relay. The selection of the Argentine capital for the Beijing torch relay was of great symbolic importance;not only was it the sole country of Latin America to participate in the tour, but it was also the only representative of the whole Spanish speaking world (Oviedo, 2010, pp.476-477).
Such rapprochement between the people of the two respective nations has only few precedents in Argentine history. In fact, during the 19th and 20th century, the Argentine elite had bonded with its US and British counterparts. Yet these links were for the most part limited to a wealthy class composed of land owners and the intellectual elite (Corigliano, 2007). In terms of international organisations, the creation of the Organisation of American States (OAS) in 1948, which reassembles American states in a multilateral organisation that focuses on security issues, corresponds to a form of security community. However, the development of such a community was not the result of a voluntary association but rather imposed by US clout (Oviedo, 2006). As such, the OAS has constantly been criticised by Latin American leaders for embodying US supremacy in the region (Escude, 2012; Tiezzi, 2014). Hence, historically Argentina has been incorporated into communities where it yielded to external pressures. In contrast, China pursues the discourse of a developing nation whichresents Western imperialism (Dittmer, 2010, p.210).
Conforming to the constructivist perspective, the resilience of the Sino-Argentine relationship is due to the emergence of a nascent imagined community. Whereas the liberal institutional view assumes a gradual resolution of the dilemma of unequal gains of trade, Adler and Barnett’s theory about security communities exposes how states build order out of the traditional boundaries of international regimes (Adler and Barnet, 1998b, p.52). Among the implications for Argentina, this includes the diversification of the elements of the bilateral agenda towards the constitution of a fairer relationship (Oliva, 2010, p.99). This wasnotably highlighted by China’s commitment to reform some aspects of the Bretton Woods architecture, and its passive support of the Argentine Falklandsclaim. Consequently, China’s diplomacy has enhanced its image among the Argentine people. This was underscored by a census which found that in the past decade theArgentine perception of China as a reliable partner has dramaticallyimproved (PEW, 2013). Accordingly, in 2013 more than half of the Argentine population (54%) perceived China favourably against only 41% for the US (PEW, 2013).
The main limits for the development of a Sino-Argentine imagined community lie in the lack of understanding and trust between both nations. Language and cultural differences account to a great extent for such impediments (Velloso, 2010). For instance, China’s foreign policy still tends to perceive Latin America as an homogenous, collective region (Strauss and Armony, 2012). Yet recent developments seem to demonstrate a gradual disaggregation of China’s diplomacy (Hardy, 2013, p.221). Still, the relationship has been plagued by the absence of trust. Such trust is fundamental as it propels the formation of security communities by forging mutual expectations (Adler and Barnett, 1998b; Axelrod and Keohane, 1985; Keohane, 1986).The lack of long-term expectations was most notably exposed in the context of theArgentine 2008 farm protests. During the protests, which opposed the powerful peasant union against the government, the supply of soybean was halted for several months. As a result, China has blamed Argentina to be an ‘unreliable partner’ (Quintana, 2009, p.7).
The issue of trust has been further aggravated by the absence of reliable information. In that sense, in 2007 the Kirchner administration reformed the methodologies used by the National Institute of Statistics and Census of Argentina (INDEC) so as to better suit its political agenda (The Economist, 2012). This has led to the loss of credibility of published national economic statistics regarding matters such as inflation and trade. In the same fashion, the reliability of Chinese official statistics has also been questioned (Oviedo, 2010, pp.478-484). This has sparked much conflict between the Argentine and Chinese economic ministers upon the extent and content of the trade between the two countries (Oviedo, 2010, pp.498-502). Furthermore, SOE have frequently clashed with Beijing’s foreign policy, causing discontent among Latin American governments (Strauss and Armony, 2012; Zweig, 2010). A finalconstraint concerns the geopolitical aspect of the association. In fact, in its dealing with the region, China has taken much care not to conflict with the US interests (Hilton, 2013). As such, many have lamented China’s poor commitment in strengthening the commercial relationship with an ideological content (Efstathopoulos, 2013; Escudé, 2012).
This chapter has demonstrated how the emergence of a South-South community represents an opportunity in avoiding the reproduction of a centre-periphery pattern. Such a dynamic is unique to the rise of China and shares little similarity with the region’s past interaction with great powers. It represents a chance for Argentina, and Latin America as a whole,to shift its association with China from a complex partnership to a smart partnership. That is to say, an economic and political tie based on common interest and long-term sustainable growth. However, such a scenario only represents a potential which is yet to be fulfilled. In that regard, the lack of trust and understanding between both nations has much hampered the constitutive process of a South-South community.
5. Discussion and Conclusion
Since the establishment of the Sino-Argentine Strategic Partnership ten years ago, China has shown to be both a competitor and a partner. On the one hand, it has proven to be a fierce competitor in manufacture production and ravenous in the acquisition of strategic assets. On the other, it has presented itself as a partner in the realm of international organisations, financial loans and research and development (R&D) in the high-tech industry. This duality of China’s new presence represents both challenges and opportunities for the region.
The main challenge arises from the reproduction of a centre-periphery pattern. This North-South framework has characterised the relationship of the region with great powers throughout the 19th and 20th century. It has been at the root of Latin America’s problem of rampant inequality and weak public institutions. Furthermore, it has incapacitated the region to climb-up the value chain, squeezingit into the ‘middle income trap’ (Hardy, 2013, p.XXIV). In the past decade, China’s increased interaction with Latin America has ushered in a new era of growth and a decreasing rate of inequality thanks to vast programmes of wealth redistribution (Fernández and Hogenboom, 2010). However, the content of this interaction has been increasingly questioned as a sustainable framework for growth (Brutsch and Mihaela, 2012; Oviedo, 2006; Quintana, 2009).
As this paper has shown, China’s interaction with Argentina corresponds to apositive sum game with unequal gains of trade. Through the use of the realist and the liberal institutional lenses this study found that China’s strategy in the region is driven by both mercantilist and comparative advantage concerns. In the first place, China fosters the importation of commodities; in the other, it is reticent to import added-value products. This trait has been amplified bythe ‘Going Out’ strategy which encompassed the acquisition of foreign assets abroad, but also involvedforeign investments and a global increasein the price of commodities. This latter point has led to a rise in the ToTto the advantage of the South American economies. But through various mechanisms, the same process has hampered the competitiveness of national industries and concentrated exports in capital intensive sectors. This has led to a relative primarisation of the region similar to the one witnessed underthe British rule. Furthermore, as discussed, such interaction has also come at the cost of the process of regional integration.
Nevertheless, there are also opportunities to transform the relationship into a fairer one. This is what has been argued based on the constructivist lens. Indeed, China has historically proven to represent the spearhead of a multipolar world and of a more equal international society. As such, it has framed its relationship with the Latin American region in terms of a mutually beneficial partnership (Giuffre, 2010). This rhetoric represents a constraint to the projection of China’s power and in the formation of its interests. Such a dynamic is already occurring although its achievements have yet to be acknowledged. To that end, the Asian superpower has notably assisted in the development of several China-Latin American negotiation platforms and has proven to be a vital lender for the region (The Economist, 2014). As argued, the development of this nascent South-South community has the potential to transform the current complex partnership into a smart partnership. But the main limits to the emergence of such a community concern the lack of trust and mutual understanding.
This observed dual dynamic in the Sino-Argentine relationship between the deepening of the North-South framework and the emergence of a South-South community is characteristic of China’s ‘schizophrenic’ foreign policy with regard to the developing world (Hongying, 2010; Shambaugh, 2011). The inconsistency of China’s discourse with its attitude has engendered a wide gap between its self-image and how it actually projects its power. According to some, this is because the country is still in the process of integration into the international community (Power et al, 2012). As such, China is increasingly pressed to offer a coherent and more predictable stance in its interaction with foreign nations. The coming issue is thereby which type of attitude China will finally embrace; whether it will deepen the current North-South framework or push for the creation of an alternative South-South community.
In that matter, China has shown some mixed signals. In fact, following the 2008 economic crisis its image has been enhanced in the region as it has increased its financial commitments. This was especially highlighted by China’s financial assistance in the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti disaster (Griuffe, 2010). Furthermore, in January 2014 was announced at the Second Summit of the CELAC meeting in Cuba’s capital, Havana, the creation of the China-CELAC Forum. This wasof great symbolic importance given that the CELAC is conceived as the region’s alternativeto the Washington-led OAS (Tiezzi, 2014). Conversely, China’s economic strategy still presses forthe primarisation of South American economies. This was especially outlined in China’s 12th Five-Year Guideline for the period 2011-2015. Developed by the Chinese economic authorities, this last five-year plannotably stressed the importance to bolster added-value activities in the realm of agribusiness by the means oftargeted protectionist measures (Balze, 2010). In practical terms, the new Chinese economic policywould hinder the region’s food-processing industries and further squeezeits industrial capacity.
China’s dramaticascension in Latin America is likely to continue in the near future at the expense of the US and other Western powers. In the case of Argentina, it is forecasted that trade with China will double from 2011 to 2017 in terms of both its volume in exports and imports (ING, 2012). Such numbers have generated great expectations from Latin American leaders in their faith to broker a fairer relationshipwhich distinguishes itself from the historical centre-periphery pattern. However, much will depend on China’s willingness to build an alternative South-South community and the capacity of the region to foster the adequate environment for such an endeavour.In that matter, further efforts should be made to enhance mutual understanding and trust between Latin American nations and the Asian giant. But until words are matched in practice, such unfulfilled potentialis at risk ofturning into another missed opportunity for the region.
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