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The era of the Monroe Doctrine is over. The relationship that we seek and that we have worked hard to foster is not about a United States declaration about how and when it will intervene in the affairs of other American states. It’s about all of our countries viewing one another as equals, sharing responsibilities, cooperating on security issues, and adhering not to doctrine, but to the decisions that we make as partners to advance the values and interests that we share.

He may well have intended to counter China’s appeal to growing Latin American dissatisfaction with the US-led international order.

Abruptly, at the start of 2018, then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson dragged Monroe into the 21st century:

Latin America does not need new imperial powers that seek only to benefit their own people. China’s state-led model of development is reminiscent of the past. It doesn’t have to be this hemisphere’s future . . . Russia’s growing presence in the region is alarming as well, as it continues to sell arms and military equipment to unfriendly regimes who do not share or respect democratic values . . . our region must be diligent to guard against faraway powers who do not reflect the fundamental values we share in this region . . . Today China is getting a foothold in Latin America. It is using economic statecraft to pull the region into its orbit. The question is: at what price?

Tillerson’s question about the precise nature of the strategic and economic cost remains unanswered; there are both regional security issues at stake but also a wider question about America’s waning global power and the emergence of a multi-polar international system. Since its creation in the late 1940s, the Peoples’ Republic of China identified as a member of what was then known as the Third World, encompassing Asia, Africa and Latin America. Although China was actively  engaged with the first two regions, her involvement in  Latin America remained constrained. During the 1950s and ’60s,  China  pursued economic development and political outreach through the prism of anti-imperialism and was thus quick to support Fidel Castro in Cuba. It was in the 1960s that China extended its engagement with the apparent aim of actively reducing US influence.

It was China’s membership of the World Trade Organisation in 2001 that accelerated its regional engagement. Latin America has become an increased priority for China’s leadership. The strategic motivation in Beijing is part of the larger project of “democratising international relations” which can be understood as a conscious drive away from unipolar American power in both the economic and international political system. As China has moved towards multilateralism it has strengthened its network of global alliances.
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