For decades, the U.S. has been the major influence in South America. This is being challenged by the Chinese regime, which is building its own sphere of influence in the continent. In response, the Trump administration launched the America Crece program, which aims to counter Chinese soft power and keep South America close to the United States.
Getting closer to South America
The America Crece initiative aims to catalyze private sector investment into South America so as to promote faster job creation and economic growth. Washington wants to ensure that private investment is competitive and transparent while also being in line with international best practices. The main focus of America Crece is the infrastructure projects in areas like telecommunications, energy, airports, ports, and roads. The program works closely with local governments, business associations, civil society groups, and regional institutions
It will also host business-to-business and business-to-government roundtables, undertake commercial feasibility studies, support project financing, share best practices to boost investment climate, and support trade missions as well as study tours. American agencies involved in the initiative include the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), United States Trade and Development Agency (USTDA), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and various state, treasury, and commerce departments.
On a recent visit to Guyana and Suriname, two nations that have just discovered oil offshore, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that no state-owned operation can beat the quality of services and products from American private companies. He highlighted the investments brought in the CCP, which though looks great at first, end up being a headache when the political costs linked to such investments become clear. Chinese companies have invested more than US$123 billion in South America since 2005. During this period, almost US$137 billion have been loaned to the region by Chinese banks. Companies from China have won major transport, mining, and energy projects in the region under the BRI initiative. Around 19 South American countries have entered into BRI agreements with Beijing.
Through America Crece, the U.S. has already begun channeling investments into the region, signing MoUs with the governments of Colombia, Argentina, Jamaica, Chile, Panama, and El Salvador. Some of the major loans provided under America Crece include US$1 billion to El Salvador to build a project involving a natural gas power plant, a floating LNG import unit, and a transmission line extending 44 kilometers. The program has also lent US$300 million to Vista, an Argentine oil and gas company.
“It’s clear that America Crece is a U.S. response to the BRI; Pompeo has consistently criticized what he considers onerous conditions attached to Chinese infrastructure loans… Inside China, a number of academics see America Crece as the U.S. attempt to reassert control over South America as its unique area of influence – a new version of the Monroe doctrine,” Rob Soutar, managing editor of Dialogo Chino, a website specializing in China-South America relations, said to The Guardian.
The COVID-19 outbreak is taking a heavy toll in South America, with the region accounting for most of the new cases. Beijing has realized the vulnerability of South American countries and quickly moved to take advantage of the situation by offering “help” to these nations, which includes technical assistance, donating medical supplies and equipment, etc. Chinese ambassadors have also upped their social media game, spreading stories of China-South America cooperation. Beijing has announced US$1 billion in loans so that these nations can buy a China-made vaccine as and when it is available.
It is not just the Chinese government or state-backed entities that are aggressively courting South America. Even private companies are joining in. Jack Ma, the founder of China’s Alibaba Group, donated 104 ventilators, 400,000 test kits, and 2 million masks to 24 South American nations. Huawei has chipped in by offering AI capabilities in analyzing COVID-19 cases.