President Donald Trump spent the last two years, both campaigning and in office, disparaging Latin American countries, and it appears this was a gift to the Chinese.
While U.S. trade with Latin America has decreased, China has witnessed marked growth in trade with the region.
There is no question that China is gaining ground in Latin America. While Latin America bought 50 percent of its total imports from the United States in 2000, that percentage has gone down to only 33 percent today. Meantime, China’s share of Latin America’s imports grew from 3 percent to 18 percent during the same period, according to an Inter-American Development Bank study.
Still, Trump has not let up on putting his feelings about Latin American countries on full public display:
Trump’s signature project is a wall on the border with Mexico, which he routinely justifies with a narrative that demonizes Mexican and Central American immigrants as people who bring crime and drugs to the United States. In Trump’s world, there seem to be no good Latin American immigrants.
Just recently, he falsely tweeted that Mexico is the most dangerous country in the world and was quoted as saying that El Salvador and Haiti are “shithole countries.” That’s hardly a recipe to improve ties with Latin America.
The president also abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and threatened to walk away from the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Unsurprisingly, Trump is not well liked in Latin America.
Trump’s approval rate in the region, on a scale of 0 to 10, is at an all-time low of 2.7, according to a recent Latinobarómetro poll.
China, on the other hand, has been making friends:
While Trump is insulting Latin Americans, the Chinese are courting them. President Xi Jinping has visited the region three times during the past four years, while Trump has not set foot in the region. Likewise, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi has made two trips to South America during the past 15 months, while Tillerson is making his first trip to South America this week.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has his work cut out for him as he attempts to repair damage done by Trump's insulting ways.
Tillerson said that Latin America is “a priority for the United States,” and that “we have a historic opportunity” to improve hemispheric relations. He suggested that, unlike China, “we do not seek short-term deals with lopsided returns” in the region.
If Tillerson really wants to improve ties with Latin America, he should tell his boss to come up with a positive agenda for the region, and to stop insulting its people. If you call your neighbors “shithole countries,” threaten to withdraw from trade agreements and wrongly claim that most undocumented immigrants coming from the southern border are “criminals” and “rapists,” you shouldn’t be shocked when countries in the region welcome the Chinese with open arms.