11/21/2023, 18.49
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China, BRICS and Milei's Argentina

Argentina’s upcoming administration is already questioning whether to join the forum of emerging economies on 1 January, backed by Xi Jinping. During the election campaign, Milei had highlighted the gap with China. Beijing's reaction has been cautious so far, which may affect bilateral relations. Last year 92 per cent of Argentina’s soya beans and 57 per cent of its meat went the way of China.

Milan (AsiaNews/Agencies) – In 2022, Argentina was the first major Latin American economy to formally join the Belt and Road Initiative, Xi Jinping's "new silk road".

It was also one of six new countries expected to join BRICS, the group of countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) styled to be the alternative to the G7, on 1 January.

But the election of Javier Milei to the presidency of Argentina and his promise of "drastic changes" to cope with his country’s economic morass raise many questions about what will change in relations between Buenos Aires and Beijing.

Under the presidency of Alberto Fernández, Argentina took many steps towards China in recent years to reduce its dependence on the International Monetary Fund and the United States. This includes the promise of billion in Chinese infrastructural investments (and a nuclear power plant).

Recently, economist Diana Mondino, who is expected to become Argentina’s new foreign minister, told Russian agency RIA Novosti that she strongly doubts that Argentina will join the BRICS along with Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

“We don't understand what the benefit (of joining BRICS) is for Argentina at the moment,” she said.

So far China has been has responded with caution. Last August at the BRICS summit in Durban, Beijing strongly pushed for the enlargement of this group.

During her daily press conference yesterday, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning simply congratulated Milei on his victory, stressing that the People's Republic of China was ready to “further consolidate our traditional friendship, deepen political mutual trust, elevate practical cooperation to a higher level and bring our relations to new heights”.

Spokeswoman Mao added that BRICS “is an important platform for stronger solidarity and cooperation among emerging markets and developing countries to uphold common interest.”

Today, returning to the topic, Ms Mao cited another passage of the interview in which the Argentinian economist acknowledges that “It would be a huge foreign policy mistake for Argentina to cut ties with major countries like China or Brazil,” noting that China is already Argentina's second-largest trading partner and main export market for its agricultural products.

Last year, 92 per cent of Argentina's soya beans went to China, as did 57 per cent of its meats, while significant Chinese investments were made in the country's energy sector and rising lithium industry.

Argentina also has a US$ 18 billion credit line with China, which it tapped into during Sergio Massa's tenure as economy minister to help pay off some of its debt to the International Monetary Fund. It will not be easy for the new administration to turn its back on past policies.

Despite openly disagreeing with China’s policies and siding with Ukraine in its war with Moscow during the election campaign, the new president reassured Argentine businesses that his government would not hinder their economic relations with China.

Photo: Flickr / Ilan Berkenwald

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