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China’s stance on the Venezuela’s crisis and beyond

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Since January 23, President of Venezuela’s National Assembly Juan Guaido was sworn in as the country’s “interim president”. The US, Brazil and many other countries have issued statements to recognize Guaido. Yet, Venezuela’s Supreme Court reaffirmed that the relevant action of the National Assembly “has violated the Constitution”. President Maduro announced his decision to sever diplomatic ties with the United States and Columbia as well.

As usual, Chinese government immediately and firmly call upon all relevant parties to stay rational and cool-headed and seek a political solution to the issue of Venezuela through peaceful dialogue within the framework of the Venezuelan Constitution. China supports the efforts made by the Venezuelan government to uphold national sovereignty, independence and stability since it always upholds the principle of non-interference in other counties’ internal affairs. Due to this, China opposes foreign interference in Venezuela’s affairs in anyway and hopes that the international society can jointly create favorable conditions for this crisis.

China’s involvement in Latin America is expanding in a visible and dramatic way. As American scholar Ariel Armony observed, “In a time frame of one decade, China has gone from having virtually no presence in Latin America to being a very significant trade partner to a large number of Latin American states, in particular the Mercosur states.” In 2010, China and Venezuela agreed a range of packages that have included financing for Venezuela’s energy infrastructure, aerospace training, guaranteed minimums of oil supply to China and a joint Venezuela-China company for oil exploration. Equally, from a hemispheric perspective, the presence of China in the so-called “backyard” of the United States is surprising in its suddenness and scale, and this in turn has aroused a variety of commentary, debate and policy concerns, particularly in the realm of strategic thinking, political economy and bilateral relations, as argued by Kerry Dumbaugh and Mark Sullivan’s CRS Report to the U.S. Congress.

But it is necessary to note that China’s involvement in Latin America and the Caribbean is part of its general policy of “going out” and then needs to be understood within a larger context of globalization. That indicates China’s current drive to “going out” varies by region, by country, by sector and by prior patterns of engagement. Put it simply, China’s involvement in Latin America is more cautious, though in a rapidly growing profile, rather than a proactive and overall involvement in Africa. Due to this, China is not interested in engaging in geopolitical competition in Latin America.

Consider this, China’s stance on the Venezuela issue can be perceived out of the points as follows. First of all, China has been closely following the uncertain situation in Venezuela. In principle, China must support the Venezuelan government’s efforts to uphold national sovereignty, independence and stability. As Chinese spokesperson has argued, all countries should earnestly observe the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and Venezuela’s issue must and can only be independently tackled by its own people.

Second, regarding the U.S. possible intervention, either directly or indirectly, China also calls for that all parties can make more efforts to promote stability and development in Venezuela, improve its people’s wellbeing, and observe the international law and basic norms governing international relations. Yet, it is equally assured that China will be unlikely involved in Venezuela’s issue along with Russia which is much frankly critical of the United States and its allies which have cut off their normal ties with Maduro’s government two weeks ago.

Third, the leaders in Beijing are well-aware that China actually can play a minimal role in the West hemisphere if Washington is determined to take actions against the current government of Venezuela. In terms of China’s overall goal in the next three decades, Venezuela is a good and important energy partner of China, yet it is not within Beijing’s core interests. Therefore, China will not openly challenge the U.S. and its hegemony in Latin America and the Caribbean, though China would be frustrated by this reality.

Fourth, although the current government of Venezuela is at stake for the domestic challenger Guaido who has accumulated the vital support and help from the U.S., key EU states and even some of Latin American states, the current leader Maduro and his ruling party has equally large supporters inside the country and the outsides. This reality also encourages China to continue supporting Maduro and his ruling by upholding international law and diplomatic norms. Yet, all in all, China is very unlikely alliance with Russia on the current issue, no matter what end comes out.

However, China’s stance on Venezuela would likely lead to a negative image that China is a simply-driven for money and trade like “a nation of shop-keepers”, a term coined by Napoleon who used to scoff about Britain and early the United States. Liberal group might be critical of China’s indifferences toward the human rights in Venezuela while realist block likely accuses China’s pursuit of power and profits for the final competition with the ruling power, like the United States. Even Russia, which accused the U.S. and its NATO allies of discussing how to arm the opposition in Venezuela, might be unhappy with Beijing’s evasiveness in view of their overall strategic partnership and most of the developing countries would somewhat lose their confidence in Beijing’s commitment in the future. This has frequently happened in the real politics.

There is no doubt that China’s stance on the Venezuela issue comes out of the careful calculation of the reality in Venezuela, Latin America and the real leverage of the U.S. in the whole hemisphere. Recently, Venezuelan FM Jorge Arreaza openly said at a press conference at the UN headquarters that “his government wanted peace with the United States … we want mutual respect between both of us”. He even took initiative to say that he would be very pleased to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington, or perhaps in New York.

Chinese government has insisted that it is in line with the fundamental interests of the two sides and two peoples, China-Latin America collaboration has brought the latter a large number of job opportunities and solidly boosted local development and improved people’s livelihood. It is exactly due to America’s uncertainty and arrogance that it has consistently imposed tariffs on China, EU, and Japan while reforming relationships with Canada and Mexico under NAFTA. Under this growing pressure, China has joined Latin American countries in a mission to expand international markets and has offered investment worth 250 billion US dollars. Meanwhile, those with a positive view of the growing China-Latin America relationships see new opportunities in a wider range of investment fields.

As a matter of fact, China, the U.S. and Latin America countries have different comparative advantages in the global trading market. For example, both China and the Latin America are trying to move up to the higher end of the value chain. In addition, China insists in playing a win-win game whereas the current American mindset of international competition reflects the zero-sum game. China is operating in a pragmatic way, which is well-received by the Latin American countries. The best strategy for China and Latin America from now, as Farnsworth suggested, is to forge long-term cooperating relations. Presumably the trade war between China and the US is going to be reduced or end hopefully soon, so the opportunity here is to develop a long-term supplier relationship between these two sides. Once the relationships are built, they are hard to break. True, China and Latin America en bloc are not just business partners, there is more to look at, such as climate change, sustainable environment, and other similar challenges in the global system bring the two sides together, particularly the mutual understanding between the two peoples.

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Americas

Wendy Sherman’s China visit takes a terrible for the US turn

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Photo: Miller Center/ flickr

US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, had high hopes for the meeting in China. At first, the Chinese side did not agree to hold the meeting at all. The reaction had obvious reasons: Antony Blinken’s fiasco in Alaska left the Chinese disrespected and visibly irritated. This is not why they travelled all the way.

So then the State Department had the idea of sending Wendy Sherman instead. The US government actually needs China more than China needs the US. Sherman was in China to actually prepare the ground for Biden and a meeting between the two presidents, expecting a red carpet roll for Biden as if it’s still the 2000s — the time when it didn’t matter how the US behaved. Things did not go as expected.

Instead of red carpet talk, Sherman heard Dua Lipa’s “I got new rules”. 

That’s right — the Chinese side outlined three bottom lines warning the US to respect its system, development and sovereignty and territorial integrity. In other words, China wants to be left alone.

The bottom lines were not phrased as red lines. This was not a military conflict warning. This was China’s message that if any future dialogue was to take place, China needs to be left alone. China accused the US of creating an “imaginary enemy”. I have written about it before — the US is looking for a new Cold War but it doesn’t know how to start and the problem is that the other side actually holds all the cards

That’s why the US relies on good old militarism with an expansion into the Indo-Pacific, while aligning everyone against China but expecting the red carpet and wanting all else in the financial and economic domains to stay the same. The problem is that the US can no longer sell this because there are no buyers. Europeans also don’t want to play along.

The headlines on the meeting in the US press are less flattering than usual. If the US is serious about China policy it has to be prepared to listen to much more of that in the future. And perhaps to, yes, sit down and be humble.

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Why Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer

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When Sarah Huckabee Sanders showed up on the scene as White House Press Secretary, the reaction was that of relief. Finally — someone civil, normal, friendly. Jen Psaki’s entry this year was something similar. People were ready for someone well-spoken, well-mannered, even friendly as a much welcome change from the string of liars, brutes or simply disoriented people that the Trump Administration seemed to be lining up the press and communications team with on a rolling basis. After all, if the face of the White House couldn’t keep it together for at least five minutes in public, what did that say about the overall state of the White House behind the scenes?

But Psaki’s style is not what the American media and public perceive it to be. Her style is almost undetectable to the general American public to the point that it could look friendly and honest to the untrained eye or ear. Diplomatic or international organization circles are perhaps better suited to catch what’s behind the general mannerism. Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer, but a Sean Spicer nevertheless. I actually think she will do much better than him in Dancing With The Stars. No, in fact, she will be fabulous at Dancing With The Stars once she gets replaced as White House Press Secretary.

So let’s take a closer look. I think what remains undetected by the general American media is veiled aggression and can easily pass as friendliness. Psaki recently asked a reporter who was inquiring about the Covid statistics at the White House why the reporter needed that information because Psaki simply didn’t have that. Behind the brisk tone was another undertone: the White House can’t be questioned, we are off limits. But it is not and that’s the point. 

Earlier, right at the beginning in January, Psaki initially gave a pass to a member of her team when the Politico stunner reporter story broke out. The reporter was questioning conflict of interest matters, while the White House “stud” was convinced it was because he just didn’t chose her, cursing her and threatening her. Psaki sent him on holidays. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

Psaki has a level of aggression that’s above average, yet she comes across as one of the most measured and reasonable White House Press Secretaries of the decade. And that’s under pressure. But being able to mask that level of deflection is actually not good for the media because the media wants answers. Style shouldn’t (excuse the pun) trump answers. And being able to get away smoothly with it doesn’t actually serve the public well. Like that time she just walked away like it’s not a big deal. It’s the style of “as long as I say thank you or excuse me politely anything goes”. But it doesn’t. And the American public will need answers to some questions very soon. Psaki won’t be able to deliver that and it would be a shame to give her a pass just because of style.

I think it’s time that we start seeing Psaki as a veiled Sean Spicer. And that Dancing with the Stars show — I hope that will still run despite Covid.

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Americas

As Refugees Flee Central America, the Mexican Public Sours On Accepting Them

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Authors: Isabel Eliassen, Alianna Casas, Timothy S. Rich*

In recent years, individuals from Central America’s Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) have been forced out of their home countries by extreme poverty and gang violence. While initial expectations were that the Lopez Obrador administration would be more welcoming to migrants, policies have slowly mirrored those of his predecessor, and do not seem to have deterred refugees. COVID-19 led to a decrease in refugees arriving in Mexico, and many shelters in Mexico closed or have limited capacity due to social distancing restrictions. Now that the COVID-19 situation has changed, arrivals could increase again to the levels seen in late 2018 or 2019, with overcrowded refugee centers lacking in medical care as potential grounds for serious COVID-19 outbreaks.

Mexico increasingly shares a similar view as the US on this migration issue, seeking ways to detain or deport migrants rather than supporting or protecting them. For instance, Mexico’s National Immigration Institute has been conducting raids on freight trains to find and detain migrants. Public opinion likely shapes these policies. In the US, support for allowing migrants into the country appeared to increase slightly from 2018 to 2019, but no significant majority emerges. Meanwhile, Mexican public opinion increasingly exhibits anti-immigrant sentiments, declining considerably since 2018, with a 2019 Washington Post poll showing that 55% supported deporting Central Americans rather than providing temporary residence and a 2019 El Financiero poll finding 63% supportive of closing to border to curb migration.

New Data Shows the Mexican Public Unwelcoming

To gauge Mexican public opinion on refugees, we conducted an original web survey June 24-26 via Qualtrics, using quota sampling. We asked 625 respondents to evaluate the statement “Mexico should accept refugees fleeing from Central America” on a five-point Likert scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree. For visual clarity, we combined disagree and agree categories in the figure below.

Overall, a plurality (43.84%) opposed accepting refugees, with less than a third (30.08%) supportive. Broken down by party affiliation, we see similar results, with the largest opposition from the main conservative party PAN (52.90%) and lowest in the ruling party MORENA (41.58%). Broken down by gender, we find women slightly more supportive compared to men (32.60% vs. 27.04%), consistent with findings elsewhere and perhaps acknowledgment that women and children historically comprise a disproportionate amount of refugees. Regression analysis again finds PAN supporters to be less supportive than other respondents, although this distinction declines once controlling for gender, age, education and income, of which only age corresponded with a statistically significant decline in support. It is common for older individuals to oppose immigration due to generational changes in attitude, so this finding is not unexpected.

We also asked the question “On a 1-10 scale, with 1 being very negative and 10 very positive, how do you feel about the following countries?” Among countries listed were the sources of the Central American refugees, the three Northern Triangle countries. All three received similar average scores (Guatemala: 4.33, Honduras: 4.05, El Salvador: 4.01), higher than Venezuela (3.25), but lower than the two other countries rated (US: 7.71, China: 7.26) Yet, even after controlling for general views of the Central American countries, we find the public generally unsupportive of accepting refugees.

How Should Mexico Address the Refugee Crisis?

Towards the end of the Obama administration, aid and other efforts directed at resolving the push factors for migration in Central America, including decreasing violence and limiting corruption, appeared to have some success at reducing migration north. President Trump’s policies largely did not improve the situation, and President Biden has begun to reverse those policies and re-implement measures successful under Obama.

As discussed in a meeting between the Lopez Obrador administration and US Vice President Kamala Harris, Mexico could adopt similar aid policies, and decreasing the flow of migrants may make the Mexican public respond more positively to accepting migrants. Lopez Obrador committed to increased economic cooperation with Central America days into his term, with pledges of aid as well, but these efforts remain underdeveloped. Threats to cut aid expedite deportations only risks worsening the refugee crisis, while doing little to improve public opinion.

Increasingly, the number of family units from Guatemala and Honduras seeking asylum in Mexico, or the United States, represents a mass exodus from Central America’s Northern Triangle to flee insecurity. Combating issues such as extreme poverty and violence in Central American countries producing the mass exodus of refugees could alleviate the impact of the refugee crisis on Mexico. By alleviating the impact of the refugee crisis, refugees seeking asylum will be able to navigate immigration processes easier thus decreasing tension surrounding the influx of refugees.

Likewise, identifying the public’s security and economic concerns surrounding refugees and crafting a response should reduce opposition. A spokesperson for Vice President Harris stated that border enforcement was on the agenda during meetings with the Lopez Obrador administration, but the Mexican foreign minister reportedly stated that border security was not to be addressed at the meeting. Other than deporting migrants at a higher rate than the US, Mexico also signed an agreement with the US in June pledging money to improve opportunities for work in the Northern Triangle. Nonetheless, questions about whether this agreement will bring meaningful change remain pertinent in the light of a worsening crisis.

Our survey research shows little public interest in accepting refugees. Public sentiment is unlikely to change unless the Lopez Obrador administration finds ways to both build sympathy for the plights of refugees and address public concerns about a refugee crisis with no perceived end in sight. For example, research in the US finds public support for refugees is often higher when the emphasis is on women and children, and the Lopez Obrador administration could attempt to frame the crisis as helping specifically these groups who historically comprise most refugees. Likewise, coordinating efforts with the US and other countries may help portray to the public that the burden of refugee resettlement is being equitably shared rather than disproportionately placed on Mexico.

Facing a complex situation affecting multiple governments requires coordinated efforts and considerable resources to reach a long-term solution. Until then, the Central American refugee crisis will continue and public backlash in Mexico likely increase.

Isabel Eliassen is a 2021 Honors graduate of Western Kentucky University. She triple majored in International Affairs, Chinese, and Linguistics.

Alianna Casas is an Honors Undergraduate Researcher at Western Kentucky University, majoring in Business Economics, Political Science, and a participant in the Joint Undergraduate/Master’s Program in Applied Economics.

Timothy S. Rich is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Western Kentucky University and Director of the International Public Opinion Lab (IPOL). His research focuses on public opinion and electoral politics.

Funding for this survey was provided by the Mahurin Honors College at Western Kentucky University.

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