China Helps? How Dare They!

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China has just joined the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), a multilateral lending institution in Latin America, by contributing $350 million. The move should be applauded: not only is China ponying up to help other countries, but it is doing so through a multilateral institution largely run by well-respected technocrats. Yes, China, is obviously seeking to extend its influence - but it's doing so about as responsibly as could be imagined, pretty much exactly how US and other policymakers have been encouraging them to do so.

So what does China get? Fear-mongering quotes like this (from the story linked above):

Analyst Gary Hufbauer, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, said the Chinese could be seeking to outflank the United States in its own backyard.

"The U.S. is well prepared to meet Chinese challenges in the Taiwan Strait or the high seas," Hufbauer said. "It is poorly prepared to grapple with Chinese financial diplomacy, both because 'our' institutions -- the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank -- are small potatoes compared to the Chinese war chest, and because Americans don't think of national security in financial terms."

This is silly. China may very well be trying to 'outflank' the US in Latin America with secretive investments, agreements with Chavez and Morales, or infiltrating intelligence assets into Latin America - those are all possible (although I have no specific reason to think China is actually doing that; they just theoretically could). And yes, China and the US have some pretty fundamental differences in foreign policy. But to chalk every attempt by China to act in a way commensurate with its ginormous economic heft up to some nefarious plot to best the US is a bit much. By that light, what would China do if it were not trying to 'outflank' the US? Avoid any and all involvement in Latin America seems to be the only possible answer - and not a very realistic path for China.

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