R. Evan Ellis, a professor at CHDS, just published a level-headed and interesting article on Chinese soft power in Latin America in Joint Forces Quarterly (he also published a book on China in Latin America).* The intriguing part is how Latin American countries and China court each other. China is careful not to antagonize the United States, but lets Latin American governments view it as a development model, a market, a source of investment, and/or as an anti-imperialist ally. China can be anything you want, and so its influence has grown.
Yet Ellis also addresses what is always missing from more shrill op-eds on the topic, namely that there are limits to Chinese soft power. Unlike the United States, China is viewed as an outsider, with a completely different culture; few people speak Chinese; there is little expertise in China on Latin America, and they are seen as poor corporate citizens, which is really saying something because labor conditions in Latin America were never great.
This means China is not a threat, but obviously the regional context is changing:
For analysts focused on the "rise" of China in Latin America and elsewhere, the issue is not whether China is a threat, or whether it has the right to pursue its national interests in Latin America and other parts of the world. Rather, it is important to recognize the dynamics that this reemergence creates in a region with close human, geographical, and economic ties to the United States, and to prepare to mitigate the risks, meet the challenges, and rise to the opportunities that China's entry into Latin America makes possible.
* It is worth noting that after many years of reading DoD-funded journals, I often find them more level-headed than others.