Sunday, February 20, 2005

Why Beijing may make Washington irrelevant in the Americas

The Monroe Doctrine is dead, but nobody wants to say it out loud.

Dollar by dollar, the People's Republic of China is creeping into the American hemisphere, generously spreading money to the region's eager politicians and businessmen who increasingly view Washington as an irrelevant nuisance.

"You guys are losing," a top Latin American diplomat told me recently. "You don't stand by your friends."

"We like the North Americans better, but the Chinese are more generous and they don't preach at us," a senior Panamanian official told me in a separate conversation. Beijing has offered up to $10 billion to finance an expansion of the Panama Canal, which the US abandoned in 1999 under the 1970s Carter-Torrijos treaty. Successive administrations have ignored, dismissed or ridiculed concerns that China would fill the gap.

The PRC not only pays big-time under the table, but it doesn't harp on things like corruption, rule of law and human rights as the US does, some Latin American friends say.

The issue is well beyond Beijing's long-held policy of bribing countries to withdraw diplomatic recognition of Taiwan in favor of the PRC, as has happened recently in the Caribbean.

With deep pockets and a don't ask-don't tell attitude, China is poised to make major inroads in Latin America, leaving the US in the dust. The Bush Administration has stood by and let this happen - even welcoming Chinese troops into the Caribbean as part of an international peacekeeping force.

Political kowtowing and subservience will follow the Chinese money. Our southern neighbors generally prefer the US to the PRC, but it's hard to see how any amount of US aid, loan guarantees, and "public diplomacy" can compete with China's "dollar diplomacy."


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