Donald Trump has reached back to the early 19th century to help reformulate his proto-neoconservative foreign policy. Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly on September 25, Trump invoked the arcane and disreputable Monroe Doctrine of 1824. He stated, “It has been the formal policy of our country since President James Monroe that we reject the interference of foreign nations in this hemisphere and in our own affairs.” The target for Trump’s words was clear — it was China.
On October 4, Vice President Mike Pence followed Trump’s anti-Chinese bombast by issuing a warning to China. In remarks Pence made before the neo-conservative Hudson Institute in Washington, DC, he accused China of using “covert actors, front groups, and propaganda outlets to shift Americans’ perception of Chinese policies.” Now under the influence of the war-mongering neocon National Security Adviser, John Bolton, the Trump administration is rattling sabers at anyone it and its major string puller, Israel, see fit to challenge: Iran, Venezuela, Syria, China, Nicaragua, Cuba, Bolivia, and others that stand up to the United States. The Trump administration has become what modern China’s revolutionary founder, Mao Zedong, was fond of calling a “paper tiger.”
While Trump and Pence, the latter having made his third trip to Latin America in June of this year, are pushing discredited gunboat diplomacy mantras inherent in the Monroe Doctrine, in Latin America, China is signing up Western Hemisphere partners for its Belt and Road Initiative, which is championed by President Xi Jinping. Chinese investments in Latin American and Caribbean infrastructures prompted three Latin American nations – Panama, the Dominican Republic, and El Salvador – to switch relations from Taiwan to China. The Trump administration, in a childish and undiplomatic move, recalled its ambassadors to the Dominican Republic and El Salvador and chargé d’affaires to Panama to Washington for “consultation.”
The Trump administration has warned Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua against recognizing China, a warning also directed at Paraguay and a few Caribbean island nations having links with Taiwan. Considering the fact that the Trump administration neocons are applying financial and U.S. visa sanctions on the Nicaraguan government, it is only a matter of time before Nicaragua is forced to abandon its ties with Taiwan. China is investing $50 billion in the Nicaragua Interoceanic Canal, which will provide a sea level connection between the Pacific and Caribbean and is championed by China is a key part of its Belt and Road Initiative and an alternative to the lock-dependent Panama Canal.
Nicaragua and St. Lucia formerly maintained diplomatic relations with China, but they switched back to Taiwan during the competition between Beijing and Taipei for diplomatic allies, the so-called “checkbook diplomacy.” Washington is trying to ensure that Nicaragua, Paraguay, St. Lucia, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and St. Vincent continue their ties with Taiwan, but China’s Belt and Road Initiative investments are more than what the Trump administration, which is slashing foreign aid, can match or exceed.
Moreover, Chinese students by the thousands are studying Spanish and Portuguese, a clear indication that China is planning for a major move into the Western Hemisphere and its plans to stay in the region.
In January 2018, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi invited the 33 members of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), meeting in Santiago, to join the One Belt, One Road initiative, the former name for the Belt and Road Initiative. CELAC was established by the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as an alternative to the U.S.-dominated Organization of American States (OAS), a leftover from America’s gunboat diplomacy era of ensuring that Latin American countries were governed by banana republic dictators subservient to Washington’s whims.
Panama was the first to sign up for the Belt and Road and it was soon followed by Antigua and Barbuda, Trinidad and Tobago, and Bolivia. The Dominican Republic, Guyana, and Suriname followed a few months later. Venezuela, which supports the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, began trading its oil in Chinese yuan, a clear rebuke of the Trump administration, which has threatened a military invasion of Venezuela. Following the CELAC-China Summit in Santiago, the foreign ministers of Barbados, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, and Jamaica announced they were interested in the Belt and Road program.
At the CELAC-China Summit, China outlined its “Five Principles” governing its relations with the Western Hemisphere. China’s Five Principles were originally spelled out in the 1950s by Premier Zhou Enlai and served as the basis for China’s relations with the Nonaligned Movement. The principles are:
1) Mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty;
2) Mutual non-aggression;
3) Mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs;
4) Equality and mutual benefit;
5) Peaceful co-existence.
When these principles are compared to the bellicosity of “Yanqui imperialism” inherent in the Monroe Doctrine, hemispheric nations recognize that the OAS, the Inter-American Development Bank, and other contrivances based in Washington that are used to mask American, and, increasingly, Canadian paternalism over Western Hemisphere affairs are threats to their sovereignty and independence. And China brings to the table infrastructure projects that Washington is not prepared to offer without massive political, economic, and military strings attached.
Sino-Latin American ties have a strong historical basis. Chinese and Latin American anthropologists and archaeologists are continually discovering ancient links between China and pre-Columbian civilizations in South and Central America. Artifacts discovered from the ancient Peruvian Chavin culture that began around 1000 BC suggest strong links to the Shang Dynasty of China, which existed between 1600 and 1046 BC. Other anthropologists are uncovering clues that point to possible Shang and Ming Dynasty contact with the Aztecs and Olmec civilizations of Mesoamerica. Chinese DNA has also been discovered among the indigenous people who live in the Mexican state of Nayarit, on the Pacific. Ancient Chinese maps also point to China’s early knowledge of the great landmass to the east, now known as the Americas.
China is playing up these possible ancient links to the peoples and nations of the Western Hemisphere. Compared to the post-Columbian “contributions” of Europeans to the hemisphere: genocide, conquest, destruction of culture and religion, and the introduction of venereal disease, smallpox, and other imported pathogens, China has an advantage over the United States, which is known for its own genocide of its own Native American population and wars of imperialism in Central and South America and the Caribbean.
After Mr. Trump’s invocation of the Monroe Doctrine before the UN General Assembly, his policy of separating parents and their children from Central America at the southern U.S. border and sending them to separate concentration camps, and his repeated threats to invade Venezuela, there should be little surprise that China is being welcomed with open arms throughout the hemisphere.
Latin America is also filling a trade vacuum left by Trump’s tariffs on China. One-third of Brazil’s trade surplus is thanks to exports to China. China has provided lifeline loans to Venezuela, which has suffered from crippling sanctions and Central Intelligence Agency-financed destabilization by the United States. The Chinese-Chilean free trade agreement of 2006 stands in sharp contrast to Trump’s trade war with China. From January to August 2017, Chinese-Latin American trade exceeded $166 billion, an increase of 18 percent from the same period in 2016. As Mr. Trump expanded his trade war and returned the United States to its old paternalistic policy toward the hemisphere, China was willing and eager to pick up the slack.
China’s Maritime and Land “Silk Roads” are being extended from Greenland above the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego in the sub-Antarctic. These Silk Roads are bypassing the United States, as Mr. Trump and his lethargic and outdated policies make the United States even more irrelevant in a modernizing world.