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Xi expected to boost ties in US backyard

2014-07-14 08:38 Global Times Web Editor: Li Yan

Chinese President Xi Jinping left Beijing Sunday morning for State visits to four Latin America countries, a trip largely expected to upgrade economic and diplomatic ties and balance US influence in its own backyard.

The trip, which officially starts Tuesday, is to last until July 23, and will take Xi to Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and Cuba. In Brazil, Xi is to attend the sixth BRICS Summit and the China-Latin America and the Caribbean Summit.

The trip will be Xi's second tour of Latin America and his first to South America since taking office.

"China is building an overall diplomatic relationship with Latin American countries and Sino-Latin American relations are at an all-time high," Yang Zhimin, a research fellow with the Institute of Latin American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), told the Global Times.

Last year, Xi visited Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica and Mexico, and also held talks with leaders of eight Caribbean nations.

The two trips mean he has covered most major countries in the continent.

Brazil and Argentina are two giant economies in the region, Venezuela is one of the biggest oil producers and Cuba is the only socialist state. "These countries are carefully picked," said Yang.

Ahead of Xi's visit, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made a week-long tour to Latin America in late April this year.

During Wang's trip, President Nicolas Maduro said Venezuela hoped to export as much as a million barrels of oil a day to China, making China Venezuela's top oil buyer. The two countries are already in talks to achieve that goal.

The cooperation, according to Yang, will expand from basic resources to technology-intensive industries, from the economy to politics as well as cultural and people exchanges.

Sun Hongbo, another expert in Latin American studies at CASS, said both China and Latin American countries are willing to deepen their ties.

The Community of Latin American and Caribbean states (CELAC) in January approved a special statement extending support for the establishment of a China-CELAC forum at the organization's second summit, seeking to hold the forum's first meeting within 2014.

"It will be a milestone if Xi and CELAC leaders can confirm the forum at the summit in Brazil," Yang said.

China has regular forums with regional African and Arabian economies but has not so far built regular forums with Latin America nations.

This trip will lay the foundations for full-fledged economic cooperation, Yang said.

China's trade with Latin America totaled $261.6 billion in 2013. China is Latin America's second-largest trade partner after the US.

Latin America, composed of 33 countries, has become more important and influential in terms of international politics, Yang said, adding that in many international forums China and Latin American countries could support each other.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is already in Latin America on a six-day tour as of Friday.

Having visited Cuba, its long-time ally, and met with his Argentine counterpart Cristina Kirchner, Putin will also attend the BRICS Summit.

The two leaders' trips may go some way to balancing US power in Latin America and will inevitably create pressure on the US, said Liu Wenlong, professor of Latin American studies at Shanghai's Fudan University. Xi's visit also sends a message that since the US can visit China's neighbors, China can also be active in its neighborhood, said Liu.

Although Latin America is considered to fall in the US sphere of influence, that influence has been steadily in decline. In the meantime, China's influence has gradually grown due to increasing trade and investment, Liu noted.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff told China Central Television on Sunday that Brazil hopes China, with more experience and mature technology, will join it in railway construction.

The country will also announce the sale of about 25 Embraer SA aircraft to Chinese airlines on Thursday.

During Xi's trip, he will also meet newly elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the first time on the sidelines of the BRICS meeting. Modi is widely considered to be a nationalist leader.

Modi said he looks forward to successfully carrying forward major BRICS initiatives like the New Development Bank, an international financial organization considered a counterweight to the World Bank.

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