At the G-20, It's China, Not the US, That Argentina Loves Most

At the G-20, It's China, Not the US, That Argentina Loves Most

Argentine President Mauricio Macri (right) with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a welcome ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on May 17, 2017.

SourceNicolas Asfouri/Pool/Getty

Why you should care

For the people of Argentina, Xi trumps Trump, which could impact foreign investment.

As world leaders gather for the G-20 summit today in Buenos Aires to discuss infrastructure and sustainable food policy, all eyes are squarely on President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping, who will likely meet to discuss the escalating trade war between the U.S. and China. Argentina shouldn’t be a level playing field: While China has been making investment inroads here, South America’s second-largest economy depends on the U.S., its second-largest trading partner after Brazil.

But since Trump’s inauguration, the U.S. commander in chief hasn’t paid a single visit to Latin America. Meanwhile, China has held out its hand to the region — and will continue to do so, with Xi expected to announce a multibillion-dollar increase in Beijing’s credit line for Argentina’s cash-starved government during the summit. Which may be why …

72 percent of Argentines have a positive view of China, while only 60 percent feel the same way about the U.S.

A national survey of 1,009 people conducted this month by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and Poliarquía Consultores, Argentina’s leading polling firm, found that despite China’s authoritarian regime and its poor human rights record, Argentines see China as an ally and approve of Xi more than they approve of Trump.

A majority of Argentines — 59 percent — have a negative opinion of Trump, compared with the 17 percent who are turned off by Xi. “President Trump is disliked throughout Latin America,” explains Benjamin Gedan, senior adviser to the Wilson Center’s Latin American program and director of its Argentina Project. “His views on a range of issues, from trade to migration to climate change, are deeply out of step with public opinion in the region.”

In the survey, those who supported the U.S. tended to be supporters of Argentine President Mauricio Macri, who is known for his business-focused government and love of soccer. But Trump’s lack of policy on Latin America has opened a window for China to gain influence — and Buenos Aires is a prize, says Gedan, who describes Argentina as a “major battleground” in the fight for influence over Latin America.

Before leftist President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner took office in 2007, China and Argentina had never had close ties. But when Fernández came to power, she reached out to Communist Party–led China. Macri has promised to distance himself from Beijing, citing lack of transparency in agreements signed between the two countries. But with the country in economic crisis, even he can’t ignore Xi and his offers of assistance. Gedan says Argentines still don’t have a lot of familiarity with China, and that unfamiliarity can be an advantage. “Whereas U.S.-Argentine relations have a complicated past,” he says, “China is largely seen as an important trade and investment partner for Argentina … with no historical baggage.”

“Amid a severe economic crisis, it is reasonable for people to focus on the material benefits that the summit may bring to the country,” says Alejandro Catterberg, a prominent Argentine political analyst and president of Poliarquía Consultores. Forty-seven percent of Argentines surveyed said the summit should focus on boosting foreign investment. And while the U.S. has been attempting to persuade Latin American governments to distance themselves from China, it’s clear that the tide of popularity may be turning decisively east.

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