Hugo Restall at the Wall Street Journal has a very interesting article on the growth of Chinese investment in Latin America. It gets straight to the pragmatic interests involved, which I agree is the best way to understand China's role in the region.
There are two key points. First:
There are several reasons to be relatively sanguine about China's increasing involvement in Latin America. Most obviously, the Chinese interest in the region is pragmatic rather than ideological. The goal is to further economic growth at home by opening new markets and guaranteeing a supply of necessary inputs.
Rocking the boat politically is not on the agenda. Even where Beijing is engaging America's foes, like Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez, it is careful not to offer encouragement for their destabilizing activities.
The more China invests, moreover, the greater the risk of an eventual backlash. Already there are murmurings from vested interests in Latin countries that Beijing is a neocolonial power, buying raw materials and flooding the region with its cheap manufactured goods. Certainly competition from Chinese goods has had a much greater effect in Latin America than in the U.S., hurting the textile industries in Brazil, Argentina and Mexico. This has brought a wave of antidumping suits.For all the talk of budding South-South relations, the reality is that developing economies directly compete with each other because their comparative advantages are similar.