In a previous article we focused on Argentina, but it is worth continuing to analyse the situation in Latin America.
Another case is Brazil, a key country in the BRICS cooperation mechanism. It has been China’s main trading partner in Latin America since 2009. After the son of Brazilian President Bolsonaro, Eduardo Nantes Bolsonaro (whom his father pathetically appointed Ambassador to the United States in July 2019, despite not having any specific qualifications: he resigned without even taking office after being offered the leadership of the Partido Social Liberal instead) visited the United States in March 2020, and tweeted condemning China for hiding the new coronavirus epidemic, by saying that China had a “dictatorial government”, etc., a diplomatic crisis was triggered.
At the same time, Brazil asked China for assistance, hoping it would provide five million Covid-19 test kits, and a total of 14,000 air conditioning and ventilation systems. Later, thanks to the efforts of Brazil’s then Minister of Health, Nelson Lutz Sperle Teich (April 17 -May 15, 2020), China eventually gave Brazil 228 million dollars in medical supplies, which helped the country alleviate the extreme shortage of hospital equipment, as well as treatment and prevention supplies. Additional two tons of hospital supplies arrived in Brazil.
There were some minor twists and turns. Although the relations between China and Brazil were not affected by the personal views of President Bolsonaro’s son, it can be seen that the development of Sino-Brazilian relations was not so smooth under the influence of the epidemic.
The newspaper Folha de S. Paitio claimed that the Brazilian government deliberately minimised the impact of Chinese diplomacy by hiding it and maximising U.S. aid to ‘avoid becoming a victim of Chinese foreign propaganda’.
The aid received from China is substantial, while the aid received from the United States (the country with the highest Covid-19 death toll) is far less. Nevertheless, the U.S. aid is vigorously publicized by the White House, which avoids mentioning aid from China. This reflects the tendency of changing sides.
This is the aspect on which we have been dwelling for some time: the United States is more important in the positioning of Latin America’s foreign relations. The development of China-Latin America relations is largely limited and constrained by the development of relations between the United States and its ‘own’ South.
Secondly, China needs to attach importance to third-party forces to develop relations with that region. Within the rise of trade protectionism and anti-globalisation, the proactive use of third parties to promote the development of relations, as well as the creation of new cooperation models, will contribute to reduce China’s risks and create a win-win situation from a multilateral perspective.
China has always proposed win-win cooperation in its foreign policy and has different interpretations from the U.S.win-win cooperation. First and foremost, the United States distorts the meaning of the expression. Attorney General William Barr said that win-win meant that China won twice. There are also those who believe that win-win means that China wins first, and in their opinion China always puts its interests first.
In the context of the demonisation strategy by Latin American media, there are obviously those having negative opinions. For example, during the election campaign, Brazilian President Bolsonaro pointed out that China was buying Brazil. His remarks raised concerns in all walks of society.
Due to the investment of Chinese companies in Brazil in 2016, 2017 and 2018, they have shown a trend of fast development, particularly through mergers and acquisitions. Latin American countries have more mineral resources and China has more energy and infrastructure projects. Therefore, the bulk of Chinese investment in Latin America is made by mining energy companies, which is an important sector of Chinese investment.
Indeed, the Chinese companies’ merger and acquisition targets are mostly assets driven by European and U.S. companies. Just consider, for example, the State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC) (the largest utility company in the world, established in 2002), which acquired a number of electricity companies in Brazil, many of which were Portuguese, Spanish and U.S. companies or subsidiaries of these countries or major shareholders, and were merged by SGCC.
Strictly speaking, China did not buy those assets from Brazil, but from Europe and the United States. However, when European and American countries controlled those assets with purely colonialist attitudes, Brazil had not such strong public concerns. Instead, when the Chinese purchase took place, public concern was stirred up by the paid media.
For example, in Brazil, the Chinese companies Longping Hi-Tech Park (established in 1997) and CITIC Group Agriculture Fund (established in 1979) have acquired the trade in certain products of the U.S. company Dow Chemical (one of the world’s most important chemical companies), and the Chinese company Wanhua Chemical will take over from Dow Chemical. The acquired companies are actually U.S. companies and such large-scale operations have raised fears among the local public.
Many Latin American countries are now facing economic and even debt crises triggered by the public health crisis. Therefore, they may not be able to keep on operating some assets and will return them at a relatively low price.
The U.S. and European companies have been hardest hit by the pandemic, but they are recovering. When Chinese companies acquire shareholdings in these energy or resource companies, they can cooperate with companies in Europe, the United States, Japan, South Korea and other Asian countries, so as to raise less concern among the public in Brazil, Chile and Peru.
China’s actions record shared interests and provide an image of inclusive and open cooperation. The State Grid Corporation of China says it is keen to work with European and U.S. companies to acquire some assets in Latin America
In terms of financing methods, Chinese companies should also strengthen cooperation with the World Bank (established in 1945), the Inter-American Development Bank (Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo, established in 1959), the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the New BRICS Development Bank.
They are multilateral financial institutions with a very broad investment experience. For example, the Inter-American Development Bank has been operating for over sixty years and it is the world’s leading regional lender, which has funded over 20,000 infrastructure projects in Latin America. Its experience and expertise are therefore unrivalled.
Obviously China also established multilateral investment bodies such as the aforementioned Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (established in 2014) and the New BRICS Development Bank (established in 2014). Nevertheless, compared to the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank, the experience of Chinese financial institutions in transnational investment and financing is relatively less. Many infrastructure projects have a very long construction period and require a relatively large scale of investment. They entail high risks, which can be reduced through cooperation with these multilateral institutions.
In short, all this is necessary to strengthen cooperation with third parties without spreading fears and terror artfully created by malicious disinformation.
Hardened US and Iranian positions question efficacy of parties’ negotiating tactics
The United States and Iran seem to be hardening their positions in advance of a resumption of negotiations to revive a 2015 international nuclear agreement once Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi takes office in early August.
Concern among supporters of the agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program which former US President Donald J. Trump abandoned in 2018 may be premature but do raise questions about the efficacy of the negotiating tactics of both parties.
These tactics include the Biden administration’s framing of the negotiations exclusively in terms of the concerns of the West and its Middle Eastern allies rather than also as they relate to Iranian fears, a failure by both the United States and Iran to acknowledge that lifting sanctions is a complex process that needs to be taken into account in negotiations, and an Iranian refusal to clarify on what terms the Islamic republic may be willing to discuss non-nuclear issues once the nuclear agreement has been revived.
The differences in the negotiations between the United States and Iran are likely to be accentuated if and when the talks resume, particularly concerning the mechanics of lifting sanctions.
“The challenges facing the JCPOA negotiations are a really important example of how a failed experience of sanctions relief, as we had in Iran between the Obama and Trump admins, can cast a shadow over diplomacy for years to come, making it harder to secure US interests,” said Iran analyst Esfandyar Batmanghelidj referring to the nuclear accord, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, by its initials.
The Biden administration may be heeding Mr. Batmangheldij’s notion that crafting sanctions needs to take into account the fact that lifting them can be as difficult as imposing them as it considers more targeted additional punitive measures against Iran. Those measures would aim to hamper Iran’s evolving capabilities for precision strikes using drones and guided missiles by focusing on the providers of parts for those weapon systems, particularly engines and microelectronics.
To be sure, there is no discernable appetite in either Washington or Tehran to adjust negotiation tactics and amend their underlying assumptions. It would constitute a gargantuan, if not impossible challenge given the political environment in both capitals. That was reflected in recent days in Iranian and US statements.
Iranian Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested that agreement on the revival of the nuclear accord was stumbling over a US demand that it goes beyond the terms of the original accord by linking it to an Iranian willingness to discuss its ballistic missiles program and support for Arab proxies.
In a speech to the cabinet of outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, he asserted that the West “will try to hit us everywhere they can and if they don’t hit us in some place, it’s because they can’t… On paper and in their promises, they say they’ll remove sanctions. But they haven’t lifted them and won’t lift them. They impose conditions…to say in future Iran violated the agreement and there is no agreement” if Iran refuses to discuss regional issues or ballistic missiles.
Iranian officials insist that nothing can be discussed at this stage but a return by both countries to the nuclear accord as is. Officials, distrustful of US intentions, have hinted that an unconditional and verified return to the status quo ante may help open the door to talks on missiles and proxies provided this would involve not only Iranian actions and programs but also those of America’s allies.
Mr. Khamenei’s remarks seemed to bolster suggestions that once in office Mr. Raisi would seek to turn the table on the Biden administration by insisting on stricter verification and US implementation of its part of a revived agreement.
To achieve this, Iran is expected to demand the lifting of all rather than some sanctions imposed or extended by the Trump administration; verification of the lifting; guarantees that the lifting of sanctions is irreversible, possibly by making any future American withdrawal from the deal contingent on approval by the United Nations Security Council; and iron-clad provisions to ensure that obstacles to Iranian trade are removed, including the country’s unfettered access to the international financial system and the country’s overseas accounts.
Mr. Khamenei’s remarks and Mr. Raisi’s anticipated harder line was echoed in warnings by US officials that the ascendancy of the new president would not get Iran a better deal. The officials cautioned further that there could be a point soon at which it would no longer be worth returning to because Iran’s nuclear program would have advanced to the point where the limitations imposed by the agreement wouldn’t produce the intended minimum one year ‘breakout time’ to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb.
“We are committed to diplomacy, but this process cannot go on indefinitely. At some point, the gains achieved by the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) cannot be fully recovered by a return to the JCPOA if Iran continues the activities that it’s undertaken with regard to its nuclear program…The ball remains in Iran’s court, and we will see if they’re prepared to make the decisions necessary to come back into compliance,” US Secretary Antony Blinken said this week on a visit to Kuwait.
Another US official suggested that the United States and Iran could descend into a tug-of-war on who has the longer breath and who blinks first. It’s a war that so far has not produced expected results for the United States and in which Iran has paid a heavy price for standing its ground.
The official said that a breakdown in talks could “look a lot like the dual-track strategy of the past—sanctions pressure, other forms of pressure, and a persistent offer of negotiations. It will be a question of how long it takes the Iranians to come to the idea they will not wait us out.”
Wendy Sherman’s China visit takes a terrible for the US turn
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.
Why Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer
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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