Chinese President Xi Jinping hailed burgeoning ties Thursday with Latin America, pledging to use his country’s economic clout to support billions of dollars in regional projects and almost double two-way trade to $500 billion over the next 10 years.
Xi was holding talks with officials from left-leaning nations in the Western Hemisphere a day after meeting Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who said he received pledges of $20 billion in Chinese investment into his country’s beleaguered economy.
Xi emphasized the potential for future growth in ties between China and the grouping of more than 30 nations known as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, which together account for 1/8th of the global economy. The late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and other leftist leaders pushed the bloc as an alternative to U.S.-led regional organizations.
“I am sure that this meeting will yield rich results, send to the world a strong message of our commitment to deepening cooperation for common development,” Xi said.
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Xi emphasized China’s commitment to its independent foreign policy and maintaining an equal partnership with the region, comments likely to appeal to many in the region who resent what they see as unfair dominance by the United States.
Trade between China and the region has grown from $10 billion in 2000 to $257 billion in 2013, driven largely by Chinese demand for commodities such as crude oil and soybeans. While slowing growth in China will soften demand for such products, Xi said Latin America and the Caribbean would benefit heavily from forecasts of $10 trillion in Chinese imports over the next five years.
Along with the targeted increase in two-way trade, Xi said he wanted to increase direct investment in the region to $250 billion over the next five years. China last July extended a $20 billion loan to the region for infrastructure development, another $10 billion in preferential loans, a $5 billion fund for cooperation between the sides and $50 million for agricultural development.
Xi said the meeting would produce three documents, including one laying out cooperation goals through 2019 in diplomatic coordination, trade, finance, energy and other areas.
China has strong bilateral ties with nations in the region, especially Venezuela. China is Venezuela’s largest creditor and has loaned it more than $40 billion over the past five years, some of which has been paid back in the form of oil deliveries.
Maduro said after his meeting Wednesday with Xi that there was no word on any new loan package. He said the $20 billion in investments would go toward “projects with an economic, energy and social character” but didn’t specify exactly how the money would be spent.
Venezuela is struggling with the world’s highest inflation rate, a recession and a cash crunch worsened by a steep fall in the price of oil. It has so far unsuccessfully urged OPEC nations to work together to drive up oil prices, which have fallen by half in six months. Venezuela depends on oil for 95 percent of its export income.
The presidents of Ecuador and Costa Rica were also in Beijing for high-level talks on Chinese trade, investment and financial support in Latin America. On Wednesday, Ecuador said it secured $7.5 billion in credit from China.
AP writer Joshua Goodman contributed to this report from Bogota, Colombia.