General Laura Jane Richardson, the head of the US Southern Command, told the House of Representatives this week that “China continues to expand its influence” in Latin America and “manipulates” its governments through “predatory investment practices.”
She also underlined how the Asian power was interested in the region’s lithium resources, particularly around the Argentine-Chilean-Bolivian border.
Richardson complained before the House Armed Services Committee about other countries profiting from the region’s natural wealth: “This region is full of resources and I am concerned about the malign activity of our adversaries who are taking advantage of it, pretending they are investing when in fact they are extracting,” she said.
“Beijing continues to expand its economic, diplomatic, technological, informational, and military influence in Latin America and the Caribbean,” she also pointed out. China “has the ability and the intent” to “promote its brand of authoritarianism and amass power and influence at the expense of these democracies,” she went on. In her view, the Asian power has “expanded its ability to extract resources, establish ports, manipulate governments through predatory investment practices and build potential dual-use space facilities,” she also pointed out.
The general also told lawmakers that Beijing was taking advantage of Latin American leaders being “desperate for their economies” after being hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and, because they tend to stay in power for only one term, are in a hurry for the results of their administrations.
“When there is nothing else available, there is no Western or international investment or bidders in the tenders that go out, when there are big projects for critical infrastructure and there are only Chinese bidders, they have no choice,” she stressed. “We should be very concerned about Chinese investment throughout the Western Hemisphere.”
Richardson also noted that in Mexico alone Chinese companies such as Huawei supply about 80% of telecommunications. The general also warned about the effects of the New Silk Road, a global infrastructure development strategy launched by Beijing when Latin American countries “are trying to dig themselves out of the hole” China appears with billions of dollars available for large projects that “look like investments but everything is in critical infrastructure.”
“Surprisingly”, these projects are related to “space, telecommunications, and deep water ports”, Richardson remarked, adding that “one has to wonder why.”
Richardson also pointed out that the so-called “lithium triangle” accumulates “60% of the world’s lithium”. “Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile have it and [our adversaries] are subtracting resources from these countries and their people, who are trying to produce, from these democracies that are trying to contribute to their peoples,” she explained.
“When you talk to the US ambassadors in Chile and Argentina and the companies that are there, China’s aggressiveness and the ground game they have with lithium is very advanced and very aggressive,” Richardson argued.