China has moved into a region the US once considered its backyard and discreetly established itself as a major economic player.
There are new and expanded embassies in Caracas and Brasilia, Mandarin language classes in La Paz and Buenos Aires, Chinese tourists in Machu Picchu, red flags with five gold stars fluttering from tankers steaming through the Panama canal.
Last week President Hu Jintao traveled to Brazil to sign, among other things, a five-year strategic plan between China and South America’s biggest economy.
China has supplanted the US as Brazil’s biggest trading partner, a boom repeated across the region.
Once almost invisible in Latin America, China has seen its trade here rise from $10bn a year in 2000 to well over $100bn today.
The president would come another time, said Chávez. Venezuela’s leader has declared himself a Maoist, but that is not that important to the Chinese. They just want the oil.
Guardian Co. UK reported that after China’s earthquake, Hu cut short his trip to Brazil and canceled visits to Chile and Venezuela, where he was due to sign an oil deal.