China-Latin America Military Engagement: Good Will, Good Business, and Strategic Position

  • August 01, 2011
  • Dr R Evan Ellis

This monograph examines Chinese military engagement with Latin America in five areas: (1) meetings between senior military officials; (2) lower-level military-to-military interactions; (3) military sales; (4) military-relevant commercial interactions; and, (5) Chinese physical presence within Latin America, all of which have military-strategic implications. This monograph finds that the level of PRC military engagement with the region is higher than is generally recognized, and has expanded in important ways in recent years: High-level trips by Latin American defense and security personnel to the PRC and visits by their Chinese counterparts to Latin America have become commonplace. The volume and sophistication of Chinese arms sold to the region has increased. Officer exchange programs, institutional visits, and other lower-level ties have also expanded. Chinese military personnel have begun participating in operations in the region in a modest, yet symbolically important manner. The monograph also argues that in the short term, PRC military engagement with Latin America does not focus on establishing alliances or base access to the United States, but rather, supporting objectives of national development and regime survival, such as building understanding and political leverage among important commercial partners, creating the tools to protect PRC interests in the countries where it does business, and selling Chinese products and moving up the value-added chain in strategically important sectors. It concludes that Chinese military engagement may both contribute to legitimate regional security needs, and foster misunderstanding. It argues that the U.S. should work for greater transparency with the PRC in regard to those activities, as well as to analyze how the Chinese presence will impact the calculation of the region’s actors in the context of specific future scenarios.