Karl M. Miller
The U.S Needs to Counter China's Growing Influence in the Global South
Photo Credit: atlanticcouncil.org
At the end of the Cold War it was unwisely thought by many leaders in the West that the ideological war movement for Democracy versus Communism was won forever. However, Communists only patiently rebranded itself without using the words Communism or Socialism and slowly encouraged the appeal of capital being managed or redistributed government rather than the market. Ironically, by the West allowing China to enter into the World Trade Organization and having access to the global market for its manufactured goods, enabled China to rise economically and fund the ambition of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). This has been made easier as leaders in the West also embraced and empowered state control of resources under the guise ' for the greater good' such as to counter Climate Change and equality just as the Communists championed state control for the latter decades before.
Over the last decade or more countries in the West and Global South have been trending towards China and away from the U.S and other Western powers. Part of this is because the U.S has withdrawn its influence for democracy and financial investment in the region. China has filled the vacuum by not only providing development capital but also supported authoritarian and socialist leaders especially in Latin America and South America such as the late Hugo Chavez and his successor Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela. Communists also have shifted strategies to influence a region. During the Cold War they would try to influence the masses and stoke them towards revolution or to overthrow Democratic elected governments. Today they court the elites in these countries who have similar ideologies of bigger government and who also enrich themselves through increased power. Very similar to elites in the communist regimes who keep enrich themselves while everyone stays equally poor. China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has brought in much desired capital to these regions but there huge costs to these countries and a strategic and economic advantage to China.
Not only does BRI keep these countries indebted to China, they become submissive to China on global issues such as Taiwan and also when Democracy or freedom becomes at stake such as in Ukraine. Normally democratic countries such as Brazil and South Africa would have joined pleas to support Ukraine and condemn Russia, but not now fearing retaliation from China. While China's BRI may be developing infrastructure in these regions, it also does so by bringing its own workers and equipment, not normally those of the host country which would actually provide jobs and develop local skills. China also ignores many environmental standards which the West or host countries would uphold. This is very unlike when the U.S and western companies were more involved in the Caribbean and South America. When I grew up in Jamaica in the 1980's American and Canadian companies not only developed mining such as in bauxite industries, they would help to develop local skills and hire locals individually or local contractors. They often would built roads, donate to schools and develop infrastructure such wells and water supply voluntarily.
China has also aggressively sought control and build ports in the region including Jamaica's Kingston Harbor, one of the deepest natural harbors in the world. China has made it no secret for its quest for global dominance both economically and militarily, to sub-plant the U.S as the preeminent superpower. If a conflict arrises all these harbors will not only be strategic but these indebted countries will be forced to submit to China. See. https://www.tearline.mil/public_page/china-bri-in-latin-america-caribbean-ports/
As the elites in the West have surrendered energy independence and made themselves vulnerable for energy shortages due to their purported quest to curb climate change, China has cemented itself to have access for the all of the above sources of energy. Whether it be coal, oil and gas and sought after critical minerals which it dominates access to in many of these countries via BRI. While the West seeks a fully electrified future, China still holds control to the minerals and also copper for the wiring to transport electricity they would need to do so even if such a dream was viable. China and communists can appeal to the worlds poor because the poor seek growth which often depends on reliable and cheap energy from oil and gas. While Western banks financial institutions have shunned investing in oil and gas due to their government's Environment and Social Governance ( ESG) standards, China has stepped in to fund development. Recently the Biden administration cut off an approved Inter-development Bank loan to develop Guyana's reserve of light sweet crude ( cleaner burning than heavy crude from Venezuela). The Chinese gladly again filled the void.
The U.S with an abundance of light crude ( 70% cleaner than heavy crude from the Middle East and Venezuela) and clean natural gas could use energy diplomacy to bolster ties in the region. However, anti fossil fuel liberals in the U.S which have succeeded in government environment regulations and ESG mandates have made it almost impossible to build refineries or pipelines. Permits for Liquid Petroleum Gas export terminals sat on President Obama's desk for years before being given the go ahead by President Trump. now those export terminals have proven vital for the world market and Europe after shortages due to Russia's war on Ukraine.
Latin and South America and also the Caribbean could have been the economic and manufacturing powerhouse which China is today. The region has more natural resources than China. It also has an educated workforce and an industrialized base especially in the countries like Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina. However, the remnants of communist influence from the Cold War inspired by Russia and Cuba for authoritarian or socialist governments, high regulation, lack of sufficient property rights and rule of law has held the region back long enough for the ambers of socialism to slowly alight again and spread. This has further impeded the region truly reaching its economic potential. Compounding this has been the U.S withdrawing support for economic freedom, democracy and development in the region. The massive caravans of millions of people heading to U.S southern border from these countries is the great indication of the failures of socialism from where they flee. As China patient long term plan solidifies its soft axis and strategic advantages in the Global South to counter the U.S, the only way the U.S can respond is if it has leaders who will reacquaint themselves with the virtues of economic freedom and how important it is to encourage it in the region as well.