Institutions And Competition

UPDATE 13 MAR Is China the "big dog" in Latin America?

February 21, 2018
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Eric Ehrmann

Brazilian columnist and RIAC blogger

Blog: Institutions And Competition

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UPDATE: An opinionator column at the Buenos Aires daily Clarin offers some reasons as to why former secretary of state Rex Tillerson was removed from his job, which historically has been considered as being that of Washington's "top diplomat." What the article does not say, however, is that the removal of the former oil man is likely to negate-- or set back-- items that were part of his five day visit to Latin America, which included a meeting with Argentine president Macri. Thomas Shannon, the #2 person at State and a longtime player in Latin American affairs resigned shortly before Tillerson's January Latin tour, further demoralizing the organization, which can be described as "rudderless." In April, Trump is expected to make a public relations visit to an international business summit in Peru, and to meet outoging president Santos in Colombia, where Washington "consultants" share with Colombian specialists a military-ready base not far from the border with Brazil. China, regardless of its long term goals in Latin America can become more opportunistic in short term now that it is evident that U.S. Latin policy is yet another dimension of the Trump cult of personality. UPDATE ENDS

The Chinese "Year of the Dog" has just started and western media assets, including The Economist, are suggesting that Beijing is becoming the “big dog”in Latin America.

China is making multi-billion dollar long term food and energy security deals, and financing infrastructure projects, some of which imhport Chinese workers.

On the eve of his recent five nation tour of Latin America and the Caribbean (Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Jamaica) U.S. secretary of state Rex Tillerson charged that the communist regime in Beijing seeks to dominate, rather than empower, Latin America.

Tillerson's tour, which combined eco-tourism (horseback riding in the Argentine Patagonia) with politics (martialing opposition to Maduro's cash starved Chavista regime in Venezuela) followed the high profile visit of Beijing foreign minister Wang Yi to Chile late last month. Yi used a UN conference as a platform to promote China-Latin America economic relations, and amp up China's Belt and Road Initiative.o

The short meeting Tillerson had in Buenos Aires with Trump friend, Argentina's president Mauricio Macri, was offset by China's finance minister Xiao Jie, who discussed substantive economic themes during his visit with the Argentine leader.

Not surprisingly, the "big dog China" meme got traction in Brazil, where Beijing has surpassed the United States as the #1 trade partner. Oliver Stuenkel, a popular Brazilian-German analyst-influencer with the neoliberal Getulio Vargas Foundation in Sao Paulo, is now prognosticating that Brazil's elites must adapt to “a China-centric world.”

Meanwhile, as Tillerson and Washington-friendly media assets push back on the notion of a "China-centric world", they are also busy promoting Russophobia throughout Latin America. Former presidential candidate and Obama secretary of state John Kerry once made the quaint mistake of calling the huge continent "our backyard." Some "deep state" enthusiasts in Washington think it still is.

Tillerson, and senior U.S.intelligence and national security officials have warned on multiple occasions that cyberwarfare units controlled by the Kremlin are busy disrupting the democratic process in Mexico, with the objective of helping leftist mayor of Mexico City (Distrito Federal), Lopez Obrador, win the presidential election in July. The prospect of Russian or proxy meddling has already created some concerns in neighboring El Salvador, which holds local elections next month and will elect a new president next year.

The media circus publicizing the alleged Russian cyberwatfare threat to Mexico is also resonating in Brazil. Concerns over Kremlin medding in the nation's October elections could amp up the latent Russophobia that has long existed among some military cliques, and conservative factions of the political class. In addition, according to a study by Brazil's Veja magazine (and other sources) most of Brazil's electronic voting machines are obsolete "first generation" relics and their tabulation and vote tracking technolgies do not present a major challenge to hackers and hybrid warfare experts. Ironically, Russia's electronic voting machines are mostly "third generation" technology.

This calendar year, Latin America in the midst of what latinamericanists have defined for the rest of the world as an “election supercycle” with eight nations going to the polls; Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, El Salvador, Mexico, Paraguay and Venezuela. If we go three months back to late 2017 and include Honduras and Chile, the “election supercycle” includes ten nations.

In simplistic terms, Washington and US-friendly media assets seem addicted to using Russia as the evil culprit that seeks to destabilize democracy not just in Latin America, but in other regions.

We hear a lot about "Fancy Bear," via international media, but what about the so-called "Big Dog?"

The respected U.S. international affairs publication Foreign Policy claims that China maintains a large military, and near-military network of collaborators (“contractors”) whose mission includes network defense and attack capabilities. In the popular realm, journalists, analysts and military generally call these capabilities “hybrid warfare” or “cyberwarfare.” In some western media the operation is referred to as People's Liberation Army unit 61398.

In addition, it has been known for some time that China also maintains large electronic intelligence operations in Cuba at the Lourdes, and Bejucal stations, in the metropolitan Havana area, which are shared with Cuban services.

China also maintains a strategic partnership with, and is an important shareholder in Bandeirantes, one of Brazil's major media companies.

A recent New York Times article reported on Russian activities, and the long history U.S. meddling in foreign elections, using some former U.S. intelligence officers as sources. But there was no mention at all of China. One might wonder why scoop-concious competitors of the New York Times, like Politico, The Daily Beast, The Intercept and others aren't asking why.

On a broader front that goes beyond election meddling, The New York Times has reported that the Trump administration "inherited" a cyberwar from the Obama administration that is designed to disrupt the North Korea guided missile program. In addition, an alarmist article in the London Express published a few months ago reported that North Korea is conducting a hybrid warfare or "cyberwar" operation designed to disrupt the U.S. commercial aviation system.

With the Amazon-owned Washington Post proclaiming that "democracy dies in darkness" maybe its time to expand coverage beyond the "Russian bad guy" meme, a story that sells a lot of newspapers and generates heavy online traffic, and shine some light on China's methods of influencing outcomes during the Latin American "election supercycle" that is unfolding during The Year of the Dog.



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