Too close relations with China could limit the country’s autonomy. Argentina, the main recipient of Chinese investments in Latin America, expects more money from the Asian giant. This is raising major concerns in the United States. Meanwhile, Sinophobia is growing with attacks on Chinese immigrants in the Argentinian capital.
Buenos Aires (AsiaNews) – “China out” was one of the slogans heard on Monday in Argentinian streets during the eighth popular march against the Kirchnerist[*] government that took office last December.
Representatives of the United States government recently expressed similar concerns over the increasingly close relationship between China and Argentina, which come on top of attacks against Chinese immigrants whose country is blamed for the COVID-19 pandemic.
US concerns that "a close relationship" would limit Argentina's economic autonomy were reawakened by a forty-minute telephone conversation between Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Argentinian counterpart, President Alberto Fernández, two weeks ago.
In addition to the Chinese president's proposed visit Argentina once the pandemic is over, the two discussed issues of bilateral interest such as the construction of a fourth nuclear power plant in Argentina, cooperation on making available a COVID-19 vaccine, and infrastructure works.
A few hours after the high-level phone call, Kevin O'Reilly, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the US Department of State, spoke to Argentinian journalists and businessmen explaining his country's position on the matter.
At the Global Insights conference, organised by the United States Chamber of Commerce in Argentina (AmCham), O'Reilly called for fair competition that respects cultural norms and institutions.
"Let everybody compete on a level playing field that protects our intellectual properties," the US diplomat said, adding that those are not conditions that Chinese companies, wholly-owned or state-dominated, always meet. "That is our concern," he added.
According to an investigation by LAC-China (Academic Network of Latin America and the Caribbean on China[†]), Argentina is the Latin American country that received the most infrastructure investment from China between 2005 and 2019 (US$ 30.6 billion or 39 per cent of all Chinese investment in Latin America for that period) and the one that ostensibly has been the highest priority in the last four years.
Whilst not significant quantitatively, the social rejection of China has attracted the attention of observers. This trend includes some xenophobic incidents reported in the city of Buenos Aires a month after the Argentinian government ordered strict confinement measures as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Miguel Calvete, secretary general of the Chamber of supermarkets owned by Chinese residents in Argentina, told AsiaNews that two complaints were filed last April with the National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism (INADI[‡]) in connection with the mistreatment of two Chinese business owners by customers who blamed them for the COVID-19 outbreak in Argentina.
“Given the paralysis of the justice system due to the quarantine, no progress has been made in the investigation of these incidents,” Calvete said.
[*] Kirchnerism is an Argentinian left-wing populist political movement inspired by the late Argentinian President Néstor Kirchner.
[†] Red Académica de América Latina y el Caribe sobre China.
[‡] Instituto Nacional contra la Discriminación, la Xenofobia y el Racismo.