International Experts Predict That Alberto Fernández Will Increase Relations With China – 11/05/2019

Three international experts were of the opinion that President-elect Alberto Fernández will maintain or increase relations with the People's Republic of China, while he could not maintain "the preferential treatment" that the Trump administration gave to the government of Mauricio Macri.

China is Argentina's main trading partner in terms of agricultural trade and, with the exception of Brazil, the one with the most trade with Argentina in general. During the four years of the government of Mauricio Macri and the eight years of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Argentina and China have negotiated – at least – $ 57.3 billion in currency swaps, in loans from development banks and in military investments and in infrastructure. The amount exceeds the loan that the IMF gave to Macri for more than one billion dollars, which indicates that Argentina's relationship with China is one of the deepest.

Benjamin Gedan, the principal advisor of the Latin American Program of the Wilson Center in Washington and director of the Argentina Project, told Clarín that something characteristic of the relationship with China over the years is that he remained stable despite political turbulence.

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But there were political differences in the relationship if the president was Cristina or Macri. As president, "Cristina sought deep personal and political ties" with China, said Gedan, something that could now happen again. He affirmed that the elected vice president promoted the country's role in Argentina to reduce dependence on the United States, who has a historical rivalry with the Asian superpower.

During the two mandates of Kirchner, the Development Bank of China and other similar Chinese institutions invested $ 15.265 billion dollars mainly in infrastructure projects such as railroads, renewable energy projects and hydroelectric dams in the country. Towards the end of his presidency, during a state visit to China in 2015, Cristina's government announced the deepest military sales and defense cooperation package ever made between China and a Latin American country. It was valued at approximately $ 21 billion.

For his part, Macri later managed to continue courting China without antagonizing the US president. Today, it has negotiated at least an additional $ 1.817 billion from Chinese development banks. When Chinese President Xin Jinping came to Argentina for the 2018 G20, the two countries signed a $ 9 billion currency swap agreement, an amount only slightly less than one that Kirchner had agreed with the country almost ten years before.

Meanwhile, in 2018, Macri announced that Argentina had sent the first lemons to the United States in 17 years, after Trump authorized Argentine citrus imports, in what was a milestone in bilateral relations.

Now, "there is a real risk that Alberto Fernández, if he does nothing different, will not receive Trump's special treatment that Macri has enjoyed," Gedan said.

"I have not seen any indication that something similar could happen," Rebecca Ray, a postdoctoral fellow at the Boston University Center for Global Development Policy, told Macri, referring to Macri's ability to maintain favorable relations with both countries. under Fernandez, Chinese investments will probably continue, but not at the same accelerated pace as in Kirchner's time, Ray forecasts.

Meanwhile, Margaret Myers, the director of the Asia and Latin America Program of the Inter-American Dialogue NGO, explained that today China has "less risk tolerance than before" for domestic reasons such as the slowdown in its economic growth. "There is less interest in issuing billions in credit," he added.

Myers predicted that a new type of agreement between Fernández and China will soon arrive with Fernández in the position of head of state. "I don't see why I wouldn't. I don't see a significant disadvantage," Ray also said.

Argentina is one of the Latin American countries that has not yet signed an agreement called the “Silk Belt and Road Initiative,” also known as “Strip and Road”, with the superpower.

Myers anticipates that Fernandez will make an agreement with China about the initiative "more or less immediately." In return, "they would get something from China, like some kind of cooperation agreement," he said.

The Chinese initiative was announced in 2013 and aims to strengthen the country's connection with the world. China wants to create an international strip of land and sea corridors to the Indian Ocean that are more efficient than the ones it uses now. The route is projected to go from Asia to Africa, passing through Eastern Europe. Chinese representatives have said that Latin American countries "are indispensable participants in the international cooperation of the project."

At least 144 countries have signed agreements or expressed interest in the initiative. Among them, there are already 6 Latin Americans and Caribbean: Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Guyana, Panama, Dominican Republic, and Trinidad and Tobago.

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