Argentina to join Xi Jinping's Belt and Road
by Silvina Premat

A memorandum of understanding is signed during Argentine President Alberto Fernández’s visit to China. His predecessor Macri kept China’s plans at bay in favour of relations with the United States. On paper, China plans to invest US$ 24 billion. Mexico, Brazil and Colombia are next China’s list.

Buenos Aires (AsiaNews) – Argentina formally joined the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the first large economy in Latin America to sign up to the iconic investment plan proposed by Xi Jinping’s government.

A few days ago, during a tour of Russia and China by President Alberto Fernández, which caused a great political stir inside and outside the country, the Argentine government signed a memorandum of understanding.

While negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to refinance Argentina’s external debt remain strained, and tensions between the United States and Russia grow, Fernández proposed to Vladimir Putin that Argentina become “Russia's gateway to Latin America”, bemoaning “Argentina’s great dependence on the IMF and on the United States."

The diplomatic fallout from these remarks have been somewhat overshadowed by Argentina’s decision to join BRI, which began when China in 2017 invited then-Argentine President Mauricio Macri to the first Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. The following year, during the G20 meeting in Buenos Aires, Xi Jinping formally proposed accession to the BRI.

"In those years, the Macri government, because it prioritised ties with the United States, argued that joining the BRI was not necessary, because the 'comprehensive strategic partnership' agreed between the two countries in 2014 included the development of connectivity and the infrastructure works,” said Jorge Malena speaking to AsiaNews. Malena heads the postgraduate programme on China at the Catholic University of Argentina[*] and heads the working group on China at the Argentine Council on International Relations[†].

As usual, China rewards adherence to its megaproject with greater outlays of money. In Argentina, investments would be worth US$ 24 billion for 16 projects developed by China to build highways, railways, ports, hydroelectric dams, power plants, housing and healthcare facilities. One project that stands out, because of its technology and largescale loans, is the construction of a nuclear power plant.

The biggest criticism of Chinese investment plans is the financial dependence they generated in other countries and the failure to employ local workers.

In Argentina’s case, opinions vary. While several analysts point to the risk of falling into the clutches of the Asian giant, others are more optimistic and have their reasons. Malena, is one of the latter.

“As I understand from reliable sources in the Foreign Ministry, Argentina did not sign up to the original text presented by the Chinese counterpart, but a version was signed with a series of changes that allude to the need to employ local workers and Argentine inputs, technology transfer, respect for the environment, etc.,” the scholar said.

Out of the 145 countries that have joined the Silk Road so far, Argentina is the 19th in Latin America and the Caribbean. The others are: Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Uruguay, Venezuela, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Cuba, Panama, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago.

Argentina is expected to boost China’s position in negotiations with other countries in Latin America like Mexico, Brazil and Colombia to persuade them to do the same.

[*] Universidad Católica Argentina

[†] Consejo Argentino de Relaciones Internacionales