, SANTA CRUZ DE LA SIERRA, Jun 14 – China, whose presence in Latin America until now was largely based on an appetite for raw materials, is diversifying investments by financing much needed development projects, analysts say.
At a summit, opening Saturday in Santa Cruz, the G77 + China group of developing nations meets on its 50th anniversary to promote economic development.
Delegations from 133 countries and some three dozen heads of state will be in attendance.
“China now acts in a different way with South American countries,” said Gabriel Dabdoub, president of the chamber of commerce of the Santa Cruz region, Bolivia’s economic engine.
The Asian powerhouse “no longer aims at only at buying raw materials, it wants to get into investing in industrialization,” Dabdoub told AFP.
Bolivia, Latin America’s poorest country, has experienced more than six percent growth in recent years and has plans for major infrastructure work.
“China is particularly attracted by industrialization projects that the country needs over the next 10 years and which cost an estimated $42 billion,” Dabdoub said.
Chinese companies have expressed interest most notably in building a railway from Bolivia to Brazil, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as in road and river connection projects.
In Brasilia, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently announced his country’s interest in increasing its investments and relationship with Latin America and the Caribbean.
And although Chinese President Xi Jinping will be notably absent from the Santa Cruz summit, he plans to participate mid-July in Brazil in a BRICS meeting of emerging economic powers Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
– From infrastructure to satellites –
Mass purchase of raw materials and sale of manufactured goods have made China the second trading partner of a number of countries in the region in recent years. And in 2009, China became Brazil’s number one trading partner, ahead of the United States.
“Until recently Bolivia did not consider China a partner, it was very wary,” Dabdoub said. “But now there is more trade, and, in fact, we’ve just acquired a satellite.”
Bolivian President Evo Morales last December traveled to China with several ministers to attend the launch of Tupac Katari, his country’s first telecommunications satellite.
China provided $102.2 billion in loans to Latin American countries between 2005 and 2013, particularly to Venezuela and Argentina, according to a report released in April by the Global Economic Governance Initiative at Boston University.
Last year, alone, China loaned Latin American governments, public enterprises and private companies $20.1 billion.
“Today, in terms of trade and investment, China is displacing the region’s traditional partners like Europe and the United States,” Gary Rodriguez, president of the Bolivian Institute of Foreign Trade, based in Santa Cruz, told AFP.
Bolivian analyst and former foreign minister Armando Loayza told AFP that China “certainly plays a greater role in the new millennium and will strengthen its commercial expansion by coming together with Latin America.”
In neighboring Peru, one of the region’s most dynamic economies, China’s metal mining industry made its largest overseas acquisition earlier this year with the purchase of the Las Bambas copper mine, for around $5.85 billion.
In 2013, China also signed a contract with Venezuela — which sits atop the world’s largest oil reserves — for a $28-billion project in the resource-rich Orinoco Oil Belt in the country’s east.