Dec. 1, 2017 -In his opening remarks to the first session of the China-Latin America-Caribbean Business Summit (China-LAC 2017) in Punta del Este, Uruguayan President Tabare Vasquez set the tone for the day’s discussion when he identified China as “the champion of international trade and a motor of global economic growth.”
Speaking before approximately 3,000 attendees, Vasquez said that because of its growing trade, economic, political, scientific, and cultural ties to Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), China now “occupies a central place in the affairs of Latin America and the Caribbean….[and] a central place in the future of the region.” That future, he underscored, “is not predetermined, but is rather built in the present, because the future can be shaped among us all, as no country, no matter its size, [defines] its fate by itself.”
The two-day event, which includes businessmen, government officials, policymakers, and other experts from all three regions, is unprecedented in its size and has generated enormous enthusiasm and debate about the prospect of Latin America joining the Belt and Road Initiative. In fact, today’s first plenary session discussed the vision for an alliance among the three regions, in the framework of the Belt and Road.
One indication of the policy discussion now underway was Vasquez’s report that “we have received and are evaluating an interesting Chinese proposal which includes audacious and transformative ideas” such as promoting a free trade zone between China and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac), which will be taken up in January at the group’s next annual conference in Santiago, Chile.
Other speakers at the opening session included Ma Peihua, Vice President of the Chinese People’s Consultative Conference, who said that China’s main goal is to establish cooperative associations with countries, especially to promote unity and collaboration with LAC countries, and push the world economy toward a more open and inclusive path that will offer universal benefits. China-LAC relations have now entered a “new historical phase,” he said, with good results. He recalled that over a period of four years, President Xi Jinping toured the LAC countries three times–the last time in 2016– strenghtening this relationship.