US ‘should be concerned’ about Chinese influence in Latin America: warlord

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The commander of US Southern Command expressed concern that the US is not in line with China’s grand strategy in Latin America.

“Fly along the Panama Canal and look at everything SOEs from China on both sides of the Panama Canal, my concern is…they look like civilian companies or state-owned enterprises that can be used for dual purposes,” Gen. Laura Richardson said during the second day of the Aspen Security Forum.

“[They] can be quickly converted to military capability if they need it too, so the way I look at it, the investments they make… I think we should be concerned.”

China’s global strategy involves extensive investment in overseas markets, including the Middle East and Latin America. Even as Beijing grapples with domestic economic pressure and a backlog of recovery, it has maintained its foreign investment, driven largely by its own Belt and Road Initiative.

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Richardson, as commander of SOUTHCOM, oversees operations in Caribbean, South and Central America. She criticized what she calls “southern blindness” where the US cares much more about what happens in the East and West, but not as much about what happens in their own backyard.

“The SOUTHCOM area of ​​responsibility… is a very, very important region,” she explained. “I look at it like a 20-yard line. If you want to talk about sports and make a sports analogy, we’re on the 20-yard line to our homeland and the United States, and our competitors know it.”

U.S. Army Major General Laura J. Richardson, the first woman to serve as second in command of a combat division, listens from the Army Chief of Staff General.  Mark Milley (left) during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the implementation of the decision to open all ground combat units to women on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 2, 2016.

U.S. Army Major General Laura J. Richardson, the first woman to serve as second in command of a combat division, listens from the Army Chief of Staff General. Mark Milley (left) during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the implementation of the decision to open all ground combat units to women on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 2, 2016.
(Reuters/Kevin Lamarck)

She highlighted such vital factors as the fact that 60% of the world’s lithium supply is found in the region along with light sweet crude oil, rare earth metals and 31% of the world’s fresh water.

“There are adversaries who take advantage of this region every single day,” Richardson said.

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China is one such adversary that continues to increase its interest and investment in the region. Brazilian Foreign Minister Carlos Franca discussed his country’s international dynamics with Fox News Digital, noting that China is Brazil’s top trading partner.

He clarified that Brazil does not see China as a “threat” but as a superpower that has established a “very mutually beneficial relationship” between the two countries.

View of the Panama Canal Expansion Project on Friday, March 18, 2016

View of the Panama Canal Expansion Project on Friday, March 18, 2016

“I must tell you who first helped Brazil with vaccines? This was China in the darkest hour of the pandemic. The first vaccines came from China,” he said, adding that the debate about “security concerns” between the US and China is “much more common… in these countries than (in) countries like Brazil.”

But Richardson insists the US must work to improve its working relationships with regional partners to limit China’s advantage in Latin America.

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“I say that China is playing chess,” she said. “They have a long-term perspective: they put on a theater that we use as a doctrinal term or, as I can say, in layman’s terms.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly weakened countries across South and Central America, pushing 22 million people into poverty and making the region more vulnerable to Chinese initiatives and investments: Richardson said 21 of the region’s 25 countries have joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Retirees from Venezuela's state oil company PDVSA protest in front of the company's headquarters demanding the return of pension funds in Caracas, Venezuela, August 3, 2021.

Retirees from Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA protest in front of the company’s headquarters demanding the return of pension funds in Caracas, Venezuela, August 3, 2021.
(Reuters/Leonardo Fernandez Viloria)

“Metro station, railway, highway, telecommunications, dam: various projects under the guise of economics,” she said. “It looks like there is investment in this region, (and) these countries are hungry for investment. They are eager to have and show that they are of benefit to their people.”

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“We need to strengthen our area, and we need to understand how resource rich area and how close our competitors and our adversaries are in the region,” she said.