Interview. “Beijing to fill the void left by the U.S.”

Renato Balderrama Santander, Head of the Center for Asian Studies at the Autonomous University of Nuevo León, says the Asian country has built up its internal market and it is determined to open to free-trade with the rest of the world
Photo: Courtesy of Renato Balderrama
18/02/2017
18:41
Guadalupe Galván
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China has always been an Asian giant and has been preparing to take the global lead for years. The arrival of Donald Trump to the presidency of the U.S. has represent a definite opportunity for China to be at the center stage of the century, despite the fear it raises in the international community as a result of its imminent ascent.

For Mexico, who is behind several Latin American countries, it is best to “hold one hand and one political discourse with Washington and to hold another hand and discourse with the Chinese, without making the same mistake of selling the country to the U.S., by giving away everything in exchange for nothing”, says Renato Balderrama, Head of the Center for Asian Studies at the Autoomous University of Nuevo León in an interview with EL UNIVERSAL.

During the last months China has positioned itself as an advocate of globalization and free trade. How has been the passage of Chinese communism to the present discourse of president Xi Jinping?

China has nothing left of communism whatsoever. It has an autarchic regime, a single-party monopoly. However, its economic system is completely open to free trade, they have become leading investors worldwide by breaking the investment record in the last decade and by promoting an internal development policy based on state of the art technologies that have placed China as one of the finest environments for entrepreneurship in the world. The Chinese have taught us that they hold a very unconventional economy stemming from Deng Xiaoping policies that came into force in the late 70s. China’s religion is making money. Asia has always been a giant region and China has become the economic and cultural drive both regionally and beyond.

It seems that the real novelty is that China openly accepts such leadership. How much of an influence does Donald Trump has in such unveiling? Is China up to the challenge posed by the nationalist rhetoric of the U.S. president?

Neither of us believed that Trump would become president, nor that he would enforce what he promised during his run for presidency, and, yet he is actually doing so. The Chinese had been preparing themselves for this challenge, mostly under the leadership of Hu Jintao and the president Jinping. China had developed a foreign policy which promotes harmonic growth, growth by sharing. However they didn’t imagine that the void of a world power would be so quick. With the triumph of Hillary Clinton, the Chinese would have kept the same foreign policy established under the Obama and the Bill Clinton administration respectively, they would have been bound under institutional and legal frameworks.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was a plan to contain China in terms of its commercial advancements, Obama also designed a military contention policy, “Pivot To Asia”. By renouncing to the TPP, Trump is blatantly declaring an open war to China, for Trump and his administration the TPP would only represent a slow form of war with the Chinese. By attacking Mexico, Trump is not simply testing international and national opinion but it is directly targeting China. China must take the leadership left by the U.S. void. I do not believe China is ready to this day to face the challenge, however China has also taught us that they are a nation who learns quickly. I don’t think they wanted to be center-stage for the implications entailed, it would have been more convenient for them to have the U.S. lead the United Nations and the World Bank. If the U.S. withdraws from the limelight China will prevail under the conditions it’ll surely impose.

What is the role of Mexico amidst this context? Is Mexico ready for China taking the lead in Latin America?

President Peña Nieto went to Boao to assure Jinping that ‘he wouldn’t make the same mistakes that the previous Fox and Calderón administrations incurred in,“I will make business with you’”. The Chinese government hold his statements true and then the Mexican government bailed out from the construction of the train, despite the tender was already in place. Then came the issue of investments in Cancún and Baja California.

China has shown interest in investing in Mexico, however our country remained reluctant because of the close relationship we held with Washington. Things are different now, should we let China in? Tension with the U.S. will escalate should we let China in. China remains expectant of Mexico’s response with Videgaray (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and president Peña Nieto.

Which scenario is best for Mexico? Which is the most likely scenario to happen?

Mexico must strengthen its internal market, which has been left behind for decades, along with the diversification of trade. Despite having signed free-trade agreements with half of the worlds we are still being linked to basically a single market.

Despite Trump’s rhetoric, I believe China will be the only Asian country willing to invest in Mexico; the car assembly investment in Ciudad Sahagún, Hidalgo attests to it. I think it is best to keep a discourse for Washington and a discourse for China, without selling the country, without incurring in mistakes from the past in which we gave away everything inexchnage for nothing.

What about Latin America?

Chile and Peru have celebrated free-trade agreements with China, Korea, Japan, Singapore and India. South America is actually linked with Asian trade, they understood this much earlier than us. We should follow and link with Latin American economies that will therefore enable commercial linkage with Asia.

How is the Mexican diplomacy going to respond to this?

We have to strengthen our commercial intelligence in China, Japan, Korea, Singapore and India, which are economies on the rise. The upcoming Mexican government wil have to take a strong stand should Trump threats come true, and it is very likely they will. We have to be ready for the worst-case scenario.

What are the global implications of China’s leadership in a world with nationalisms on the rise?

China’s ascent raises fears amidst neighboring countries over the issue of the islands, the border and its recent strengthening of military troops. China has tried to soothe this with soft power, however, if China manages to convince its neighbors starting with South Korea and Japan we could actually witness a century were power starts moving east.

You mean the Asian century?

The Asian century, unless war breaks in the Middle East, Asia or Latin America as a result of Trump and his cabinet’s madness, which is what many fear. We do have to consider Russia in this equation, to understand the role of president Vladimir Putin is vital. Moscu- Beijing relations are complex as they are partners but not friends. Russia wants to become the hegemonic power it once was. These are very complex times.

 

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