OPINION: China’s intense engagement with Latin America is a lesson for India
The second high-level academic forum and the sixth think tank between China and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) met on October 12 and 13 in Beijing. The event was organized by the Institute for Latin American Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, in collaboration with the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC, based in Santiago), the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs, the China Institute of International Studies, the China Foundation of International Studies and the United Nations.
Roberto Escalante Semerena, Secretary General of the Association of Universities and Higher Education Institutions of Latin America and the Caribbean (UDUAL) also participated in the event. The event was sponsored by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Mexico (current President of CELAC) and China. Experts, officials and entrepreneurs from both sides attended.
Latin Americans expressed their gratitude to China, which had given the region 241 million doses of COVID vaccines out of the 946 million doses Beijing has given to the world.
Both the academic forum and the think tank are part of the larger China-CELAC forum which was established in 2014. Under it, meetings are held at different levels and on different topics.
In July 2014, President Xi Jinping announced that China will provide CELAC countries with 6,000 government scholarships, 6,000 training opportunities and 400 opportunities for on-the-job master’s programs in China between 2015 and 2019. In 2015 , China officially launched the ten-year training program for 1,000 young leaders from both sides called âFuture Bridgeâ.
By the end of that year, China had opened 39 Confucius Institutes and 18 Confucius classrooms in 20 LAC countries. There are over 100,000 Latin American students enrolled in the Institute’s Chinese language and culture programs. There is detailed and clear information about China-CELAC activities in this link.
The Chinese side takes most of the initiative in setting up these elaborate structures, financing projects and activities, holding regular meetings and systematic monitoring.
India held its first meeting of Indo-CELAC Troika Foreign Ministers in New Delhi in August 2012, one year after the formation of CELAC in December 2011. The CELAC Troika visited New Delhi before Beijing. At this meeting, the two sides agreed to set up an India-CELAC Business Council and an India-CELAC CEO Forum, an Energy Forum, an Agriculture Forum and a Science Forum. There were also a few other meetings at the level of foreign ministers during the United Nations General Assembly. But India has not maintained its engagement with CELAC as impressively and comprehensively as China has.
China’s trade with the region in 2020 was $ 315 billion compared to India’s $ 28.8 billion. China has extended a line of credit of $ 160 billion while India’s line of credit is just under $ 300 million. China’s investment in the region is $ 110 billion, 11 times more than India’s investment of around $ 10 billion.
While India can never hope to match China’s scale in trade, investment, and credit, it can certainly learn from the serious and systematic way the Chinese are cultivating Latin America, through multiple channels and with intense engagement.
Latin Americans want a partnership with India as part of their strategic policy of reducing excessive dependence on China and [increase] diversification. They appreciate India’s annual supply of $ 1 billion in affordable generic drugs that have helped lower the cost of healthcare for the people and governments of Latin America. They are impressed with India’s $ 10 billion investment and the employment of 35,000 Latin American employees in the two dozen Indian IT companies operating in the region. India has become one of the main export destinations for Latin America in recent years.
It is heartwarming that the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has attached more importance to the region in recent years and has taken several initiatives to reach out to it. There have been numerous visits from Indian dignitaries, ministers and officials covering all countries in the region. India has strengthened its technical assistance and development partnership and has just opened two additional embassies in Paraguay and the Dominican Republic, in addition to the ten embassies in the 19 countries of the region.
More things for MEA to consider:
- Relaunch the India-CELAC engagement in addition to proactive sub-regional interactions with Mercosur, the Pacific Alliance and the SICA group in Central America.
- Embassies open in Ecuador, Bolivia, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador.
- Increase the strength of diplomatic missions in the region. Currently, most embassies operate with a diplomat and a half: an ambassador and a trainee diplomat
- Set up cultural centers in more Latin American countries to project soft power. At present, only Brazil and Mexico have Indian cultural centers.
- Persuade the Ministry of Commerce to relaunch its Focus LAC program which had helped in the past to encourage and support Indian exporters to explore business opportunities in Latin America.
- The annual India-LAC Trade Conclave is to be intensified and organized regularly by pooling and coordinating the efforts of the CII and FICCI and other trade bodies and export promotion councils with substantial financial investment from the government.
- Announce a billion dollar loan to the region over five years
- Join the Inter-American Development Bank so that Indian companies can participate in their projects
- Sign FTAs ââwith Mexico, Colombia and Peru, which are the main destinations for Indian exports in the region
- Encourage Indian universities and think tanks to open study centers in Latin America and Spanish and Portuguese language studies. China has more than 60 centers for studying Latin America. The Spanish language departments in Chinese universities have grown from 12 in 2000 to over 80. There is not a single stand-alone Latin American center at an Indian university or think tank in India, although there is there are some good quality Spanish language courses offered by universities and private institutes.
The action of the Indian government must be complemented by organizations outside the public sector. The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) have actively promoted business with Latin America. The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) is active in cultural exchanges with Latin America.
The India International Center in New Delhi is planning to organize an international conference âConnected Stories, Shared Present: Intercultural Experiences between Latin America and the Caribbeanâ from February 22 to 25, 2022.
The author is an expert on Latin American affairs.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of LA SEMAINE