By Katherine Wolchko
On February 4, in a gesture of both good will and good business, China and Argentina formulated a comprehensive alliance pact that spans multiple sectors within the South American economy. An array of fifteen separate projects were agreed upon by the two nations, comprised of technological advances, improvements in infrastructure, and energy innovations which will be funded—quite willingly—by the Chinese government.
Although the financial assessments of this package deal have not been disclosed, it is safe to assume that these endeavors will carry on into the tens of billions, some of which is planned to finance a controversial agenda: the construction and development of two new nuclear power plants within the borders of the South American nation.
A “gateway” for “deepening this strategic friendship,” as Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner describes, the nuclear deal holds the promise of technology sharing and innovating Argentina’s current plant, Atucha. Additionally, two hydroelectric plants will be built, keeping in line with Argentina’s goal of energy self-sufficiency. While this concept appears to be paradoxical as a foreign power is given the financial responsibility for this endeavor, it is sure to be a highly-anticipated project to follow in the coming months.
Yet what is most fascinating about the trans-continental alliance is not just the scope of their agreement (ranging from dams to Chinese CAC J-10 fighter jets), but rather the significance this regarding the changing global landscape. This exchange presents itself quite clearly: it is not just a matter of developing nuclear technology, but is in fact a blatant attempt by both parties to address their desired national agendas while also strengthening diplomatic ties. Argentina is heavily relying on China to run its economy, with the latter recently agreeing to a currency swap with the peso as it struggles against the international market, in addition to overseeing the country’s dire need for modernization.
The negotiated infrastructure projects are services that the Argentinian government should provide, yet their dependency on China shows that they are incapable of meeting those expectations at the current time. However, Kirchner’s dedication to seeing this pact through is evident – she traveled to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping with a broken foot and has explicitly stated her resolve to strengthen ties with China, which she referred to as “the world’s most important economic actor” in a congressional hearing at the beginning of this month.
However, Chinese interests play a significant role here as well. Pledging $250 billion for projects in South America over the next ten years, the Asian superpower has its sights set on not just Argentina, but on the entirety of Latin America as the ideal ground to push its “go global” initiative, focused on long-term energy and raw material supply. Monopolizing the Latin American market as its sole benefactor is an incredible display of the power wielded by China, which could have great impact on the international market within the next fifteen to twenty years. But this “marriage of convenience” harbors doubts in the minds of those who are concerned over China’s ability to commit to the terms of the pact, implying that devastating financial ruin for the South
American economy will be an inevitable outcome. Jorge Castro, director of the Strategic Planning Institute and an expert on China, states his view that the agreement is important for both parties involved, but warns that it is still “insufficient to gauge the dimension of the bilateral commitment.”
An interesting power play of economic potential and international might, the question will not be if China will agree to the comprehensive terms of the agreement, but to what extent and how much time it will take to see it through.