Competition for Spheres of Influence between the United States and China: South China Sea and Latin America

I'm an image! 2022 / 09 / Jan


Competition for Spheres of Influence between the United States and China: South

China Sea and Latin America

Iman Al , Fakhrani

Any country in the world has several surrounding geographical areas whose national security is affected by the security and stability of these geographical areas, whether this impact is negative or positive, a century ago and perhaps more, the Latin continent was located within the regions that the United States maintained its security and stability against the colonial expansions of European countries, and as the United States considered itself responsible for Latin America, the geographical area of the South China Sea was once an integral part of the Chinese empire that China is now seeking to attach Within its sovereignty, but the state of international relations of competition between China and the United States in many regions of  the world and considering each other as a threat and competitor, prevented the security and stability of their areas of influence, whether the South China Sea or Latin America, because both the United States and China follow in one way or another a strategy against their opponent in their area of influence, in an attempt to exploit the importance of this region for the security of their national opponent and harm their vital interests, and thus gain an advantage. Competitive against his opponent.

The United States, perhaps a decade or more ago, has worked to increase its military presence in the South China Sea region in a way that provokes China to the proximity of the sea with the eastern coastal shores of China, and it may suggest to non-specialist world events that there is a warning of war to come, as a result of the American military provocation to China on the one hand and the restraint exercised by China on the other hand, which may sometimes depart from it, due to the passage of many naval vessels of the US army through the waters that China claims to have historical rights in it without prior Chinese permission, which China sees as a diminution of its sovereign rights and damage to its national security.

As for the Chinese presence in Latin America, which is fundamentally different from the American presence in the China Sea in terms of its focus mainly on the economic factor, for the United States it is a threat to its interests in its backyard, especially when the volume of bilateral trade between China and Latin American countries rose to $ 300 billion in the period between 2000 and 2019, and the increase in Chinese loans to Latin American countries to $ 137 billion in 2019, and the United States considers China's economic growth in Latin America or any public area is the beginning of Chinese penetration, in a way that works to damage its influence and influence on the decisions of Latin American countries in the future, and some analysts of international relations view the Chinese presence in Latin America as a natural reaction and similar to the US military presence in the China Sea, just as the United States is located in the South China Sea region Chinese area of influence China is located in Latin America, the area of influence of the United States, and this paper seeks to discuss these strategies in a form of Detail by answering a key question

How is the competition between the United States and China in the South China Sea and Latin America? Through the following axes:

1. The importance of spheres of influence (South China Sea and Latin America)

2- U.S. presence in the South China Sea

3. Chinese presence in Latin America

The first axis: - The importance of areas of influence (South China Sea and Latin America)

First: - South China Sea

Before President Barack Obama took office in the United States and the beginning of his adoption of the East Asian orientation strategy, this region was previously included in a paper entitled Paul Wolfowitz's Defense Planning Guide, among the areas that the United States must pay attention to; through the control of a country over one of these areas, forces hostile to the global American influence will emerge in the future, but a comprehensive strategy towards China was not adopted until Obama announced the strategy of rebalancing in East Asia, after Sensing the first threat to the global American influence by the growing Chinese rise, whether economically or in terms of military development, China is now seeking to control the South China Sea by building several artificial islands and attaching them to a number of military bases on these islands, thus making China the first country in the regions referred to by Wolfowitz that seeks to threaten the American global influence.

 The South China Sea is one of the areas that if a country has control over it will show forces that challenge the global influence of the United States; the South China Sea is the earth's maritime heart in Southeast Asia, as Robert Kaplan pointed out, control of the South China Sea area gives an opportunity to control one of the most important global trade outlets.

1. The importance of the South China Sea to China

When determining the goals that China wants to achieve behind its constant quest to make the South China Sea a Chinese sovereign area, we find that its most important goals are mainly economic and affect its national security, not to mention that the South China Sea region is an area rich in oil and gas in estimates from the US Energy Information Administration ranged from 11 to 22 billion barrels of oil and between 19 to 290 trillion cubic meters, which may be as much as China's feelings for full acquisition without the participation of other countries, and that The end of four sea routes to transport oil energy estimated at 82% of all its imports to China is through the passage through the South China Sea, so it was natural for China, as a result of the importance of energy for the Chinese economy, to seek to secure the South China Sea for its oil imports, especially when China felt that as a result of the American presence in the China Sea, the Indian and Pacific Ocean and the US-Chinese competition, the United States may close the Strait of Malacca, which represents a threat to China's maritime trade lines, and by maintaining The security of China's energy import flow will maintain the stability of China's energy-dependent economy, thus meeting the demands of the middle class and safeguarding China's national security.[7][8][9]

Twenty years ago, China began planning for the complete exit of the United States from the South China Sea region, and we are at the beginning of the third and final stage from 2020 to 2040, and in terms of controlling the South China Sea and making it a vital area for it and ending the conflict with ASEAN countries, China will have struck a strong blow to the structure of global American influence, and both goals Whether economic or strategic, it is no less important than the other for China.[10]

2. The importance of the South China Sea to the United States

It seems that the United States has no ambitions in the wealth of the South China Sea because there are at least no unofficial partnerships to help ASEAN countries extract oil and gas, except when China forced three American companies - Chevron - Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhelps - to suspend their agreements with PetroVietnam, and there were no official government permits expressing the desire of the United States to share oil production with ASEAN countries. Despite this, the United States does not deny the interest of the United States in keeping the sea lanes in the South China Sea safe, but the United States has a strategic goal behind its military presence in the China Sea, which is to try to encircle China with a number of allies of the United States. By limiting China in its regional sphere.[11][12][13][14]

Second: Latin America

China's relationship with Latin America began long before that. During the rule of Chinese President Mao Zedong, relations with Latin America revolved around exporting the Maoist revolution, but this policy did not last. With the beginning of the period of Chinese economic reform, which began since Deng Xiaoping, China searched for resource-rich areas to link them to the emerging Chinese economy. Within these regions that it included in its development strategy in addition to Africa and Southeast Asia, so the beginnings of the Chinese presence in Latin America had purely economic goals, but this presence is now seen as a reaction and as a Chinese policy to confront the American policy of anchoring in East Asia, specifically in the South China Sea, and it is no longer a presence caused by the search only for economic resources, as for the United StatesThe importance of Latin America is that it is a safe market for American products away from African markets where competition with Chinese products, and that the Latin American region is a fertile ground for the growth of revolutionary ideas that the United States is fighting globally; the presence of such ideas next to the liberal world led by the United States represents a threat to its national security, so it was natural for the United States to fight countries such as Cuba and Venezuela and seek not to spread such ideas in the rest of the continent.

The second axis: - The US presence in the South China Sea

China's consideration by successive US administrations before Obama took office as a strategic partner under Clinton, and again as a strategic competitor that must be contained under Bush Jr., reflects the different perspectives by which China's rising power is estimated resulting from the different personalities of US presidents, and the importance of this difference in perspectives may not be appreciated compared to the development of a new US State Department's eastward policy, because it was able to convince policymakers. The US State Department said that the danger of terrorism and wars launched against the countries of the Middle East is not as much as the danger of the rise of an East Asian power that threatens the global position of the United States, and thus was able to move the weight of American foreign policy from one region to another from the Middle East and North Africa to the Far East, specifically the South China Sea, in succession of administrations after Obama, the policy of heading east was not abandoned, even if the ways of dealing with China differed.

The United States realized the centrality of the South China Sea to the rise of China and its importance for China's national security, so it worked to exploit the sensitivity of this region for China, and linked its national interest to the issue of conflict in the South China Sea region, as stated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and even with the advent of the Donald Trump administration to power after Obama, the Indo-Pacific region was considered the most important geographical areas of US foreign policy, and thus the importance of the South China Sea region appeared for the US strategy to contain China in its Asian region,  We can note that the US strategy in the South China Sea, which seeks to limit Chinese influence, relied on three methods: military presence, freedom of navigation, and intervention to obstruct a solution to the maritime border issue in the China Sea.

First: US strategy in the South China Sea

1- US military presence in the South China Sea

The United States has diversified its military presence in the South China Sea region; between military exercises with allied countries such as the Cobra Gold  exercise, the  largest multilateral military exercise in Asia, the Balicatan and Pacific Rim exercise with the Philippines and Malabar trilateral exercise with India and Japan, and defense security agreements with ASEAN countries that dispute their rights in the South China Sea such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore, in addition to its security alliances with Japan and South Korea. Australia and New Zealand, and between a steady deployment of US forces such as  the US Forces Command in Japan USFJ and the  US Forces Command in South Korea USFK, there are also four air bases in the  Philippines, a base in Darwin, Australia, air and naval intelligence bases in Midway, the Northern Mariana Islands, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia, and perhaps the US air presence on the Philippine island of Luzon enables the United States to be followed by a military naval presence that closes the Luzon Strait linking the Philippine Sea and the China Sea South Pacific Ocean.

The current Biden administration also seeks to focus on the importance of US alliances in Southeast Asia to confront China, as an AUKUS tripartite agreement was established that includes the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia  to deploy submarines carrying nuclear warheads in the Pacific Ocean near China, and after the announcement of this agreement, Biden renewed the return  of the  Quad security axis, which includes the United States, Australia, India and Japan, and the Five Eyes Intelligence Agreement, which includes the English-speaking countries of the United Kingdom. The United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand may see a change in terms of the type of countries they will include in the future; there are efforts within the U.S. Senate to expand the scope of the agreement to include India, Japan, Germany and South Korea, most of which are allies of the United States and share competition with China.

2. Freedom of Maritime Navigation in the South China Sea

One of the most provocative military actions that China sees as provocative is FONOPS because on the one hand the United States has not ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea while defending freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, and on the other hand, the United States has not heeded China's repeated warnings about the passage of parts of its military tankers without prior permission from China, which the latter considers an encroachment on its sovereign territory. Although there have been provocative US military naval passages, as some describe them under Obama, these naval operations - whether maritime passage or maneuvers - have increased in light of the tension in US-China relations during the Trump administration; six naval exercises were held in 2018 in disputed waters and eight increased in 2019/2020. The number of U.S. naval traffic has been reduced almost fifteen times since Trump took office.

After Biden's call for freedom of navigation in the course of the South China Sea, maritime navigation operations are no longer limited to the passage of US military units only, but some European countries and India shared the American provocative way of China; French Defense Minister Florence Parly announced that there were two ships of the French Navy sailing in the South China Sea to emphasize freedom of navigation, and the British Ministry of Defense announced the dispatch of two ships to carry out periodic work in the Indo-Pacific Ocean after a change in its foreign and military policy. On China, Germany expressed the reason for sending a warship to the South China Sea that it aims to maintain stability in the region and respect international law, and the Indian Ministry of Defense confirmed that it will send a task force of four ships to conduct exercises in the South China Sea with Japan, the United States and Australia, and Australia also confirmed Australia's maritime rights in the South China Sea, where the Chinese Navy spotted three Australian warships that passed through the China Sea.

3. Maritime dispute in the South China Sea

The limits of the US presence in the Southeast Asian region in general and the South China Sea in particular did not stop on the military side only, so it took advantage of the crisis experienced by China and the ASEAN countries that have maritime rights in the South China Sea to put pressure on China on the other hand; the United States wants to obstruct the COC negotiations  on the issue of maritime dispute in the China Sea; by intervening through its allies in the region and a key party to the conflict, such as Vietnam, in a report issued by the Council. The United States urges the United States to seek with like-minded countries in the region to find a strategy to resist Chinese threats in the China Sea, so when Vietnam assumed the presidency of the thirty-sixth and thirty-seventh summits, it called for legal commitment on the maritime dispute in the China Sea to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and not to abide by the complex code of conduct between China and the complex ASEAN countries of 2001, and China has already blamed the United States as a result of the failure to issue a joint statement on the issue of the China Sea Because of the U.S. desire to add contents to the statement, it was not discussed during the meeting.

Second: Chinese strategy in the South China Sea

It is natural that the US strategy in the China Sea is confronted with a Chinese counter-strategy as a result of the vital importance that the China Sea represents for China's national security, and we find that China has relied on an internal strategy in the China Sea and an external one, externally, the Chinese strategy is trying to violate the US military provisions in the China Sea by launching global projects that link its economy to China with the global economy, such as the Belt and Road Project, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and the Made in China project. 2025, which received wide acceptance from the countries of the world except for the United States, which failed to prevent the accession of countries even their allies, these projects and the link between the economy of several countries will give China the opportunity to operate outside the scope of the South China Sea region, and thus China turned to the United States strategy in the South China Sea by linking its economy to the economy of several countries in the world, and was able to reduce the possibility of limiting Chinese influence in the Asian regional ocean.

China is also looking for alternative routes to the South China Sea – although important to China – to secure its maritime trade routes from the potential U.S. threat, such as the Chrysthmus Isthmus Canal as an alternative to the Strait of Malacca, Pakistan's Development Corridor 2015.


China realizes two things, the first of which is that it is impossible to have a direct military clash between it and the United States because the US and Chinese military forces possess nuclear weapons and equipment with a destructive effect, the second thing is that the preference in the South China Sea is for China, so we find that China, despite military provocations and the US diplomatic attack on it, did not stop construction and drilling operations in the South China Sea, so China began to gradually seize the islands of Spartelles and Parcelles and build military bases on them such as Miss Schiff, Fairley Cross and Sabi in Spartelles, Woody Island Base, Terry Island, and North Island in Parcelles, building a barrier of fifty artificial islands and turning it into a semi-enclosed body of water to control passing ships, pushing the United States back and away from the China Sea.

Through China's increasing aggression against the sovereign rights of its neighbors in the South China Sea, such as the military threat to Vietnam in 2017 by not stopping drilling in its exclusive economic zone, its presence near islands under the sovereignty of other countries, such as the presence of Chinese coast guard forces near the Philippine island of Thetu and Malaysia's Lukonia Suls, the installation of an oil drilling rig in waters disputed with Vietnam in 2014, its seizure of the Scarborough Shull Islands from the Philippines in 2012, and the deployment of weapons by the People's Liberation Army. Advanced in the South China Sea such as the test fire of Chinese DF-26 anti-carrier missiles, wants to send a message to regional countries and to the United States that it forcibly controls the South China Sea and flouts international law and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, especially when China passed the Coast Guard Law in January 2021 that gives the Coast Guard to fire on foreign ships operating within the nine-line claimed by China.

Third Theme: Chinese Presence in Latin America

The economic factor is the factor that has been heavily focused on in building the Chinese strategy in Latin America, and perhaps China's reliance on only one factor may cause a deficiency in its strategy, but it adds more credibility and transparency to the reasons for its growing presence in Latin America, where it has become an important economic partner for most Latin American countries, in a 2019 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center on the impressions of citizens in Latin American countries, nearly half of the participants expressed Positive opinions about China While about 42% expressed negative opinions about China, China seeks, perhaps, behind its presence in the Latin continent, to make it an arena for competition with the United States instead of the South China Sea region, but the essence of the Chinese strategy through which China will manage the competition with the United States does not depend on the military aspect, as China still cannot manage the People's Liberation Army outside its national domain, so it adopted the Chinese strategy in its presence in Latin America on the development of trade exchange with Latin American countries.

First: Chinese strategy in Latin America

 The movements of China's economic strategy can be monitored by strengthening its relationship with Latin American countries in two ways.

1- Increasing investments and developing trade relations

China considered Latin American countries a rich source of resources needed by the Chinese economy, whether food, oil or mineral, so it concluded strategic partnership agreements bilaterally with many Latin American countries, the first of which was Venezuela in 2001 - which has the largest oil reserves in the world - Mexico in 2003 and Argentina in 2004, in addition to considering Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and Peru as comprehensive strategic partners for China, so these countries export to China their mineral and food needs and import technological equipment from China,  Within the multilateral collective framework, Latin America welcomed China's South-South Cooperation Initiative and the Forum on Cooperation between China and Latin American and Caribbean States.

China has worked to connect Latin American countries more with Chinese investments; by inviting Latin American countries to join the Asian Development Bank, which was joined by Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil and Chile, and the Belt and Road Initiative. Despite their good economic relationship with China, and through the establishment of a co-financing fund for Latin American and Caribbean countries in 2013, because borrowing from China has an advantage over borrowing from the United States or from the World Bank because there are no strict conditions.




2-Infrastructure Projects

Between 2005 and 2020, according to data from the Chinese Academic Network in Latin America, China presented 138 projects in the fundamentals of infrastructure for Latin American countries, exclusively the Pilger Ano shipping project in Argentina, the subway project in Colombia, a cloud railway project in Brazil, another in Mexico and the Jamaica North Road, but in fact the infrastructure projects funded by China for Latin American countries were not only in their interest. These projects also served the interest of the Chinese side in terms of facilitating access to the resources and wealth of Latin American countries, whether through ports or railways that financed them.[58][59][60]

In addition to the role played by China through its presence in Latin American multilateral organizations such as its application for observer status in 2004 instead of Taiwan in the Organization of American States, a member of the East Asian and Latin American Forum for Cooperation in 2001 and the Latin American Parliament in 2004, a member of the Inter-American Development Bank Joint Committee in 2008 and initiating a series of dialogues with the Andean Organization and Mercosur.[61][62]

But although China relies heavily on the economic factor in its strategy for Latin America, we cannot just say that it aims to open markets for its investments and obtain a source of flow of its basic economic resources; the People's Liberation Army has built a satellite tracking space station in Argentina to respond to a series of U.S. bases in Southeast Asia, and there may be another in the Strait of Magellan linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and the policies of Latin American countries may have faced pressure before. Because of the size and importance of Chinese trade relations and [63][64][65]investments forSalvador, Dominican Republic and Panama, their diplomatic relationship with Taiwan was abandoned, leaving Taiwan with nine allies in Latin America after they were fifteen.[66][67]

Second: - The American strategy in Latin America

The growing interest of the United States in many other regions of the world, especially the Middle East and Southeast Asia, led to the neglect of its first area of influence, Latin America, in a way that allowed the Chinese giant, its current first competitor, to expand in the region, but despite the Obama administration's shift to the Southeast Asian region to limit Chinese influence there, there was keen interest from the Obama administration when Biden was vice president, but this keen interest did not prevail over the decline of influence. The American in Latin America, which Biden referred to and Obama before him, so the current administration is working to restore the influence of the United States in Latin America,[68]but it faces the obstacle of Chinese investments there, so the solution presented by the Biden administration was to find a more attractive American economic alternative than the Chinese alternative.[69]

On the one hand, the United States invited some officials from Latin American countries – Panama, Colombia and Ecuador – to identify key projects for an alternative U.S. initiative to the Belt and Road Initiative; on the other hand, it is working to increase the proposed capital of the Inter-American Development Bank to counter the $137 billion debt trap of Latin American countries to China; and on the third hand, it is trying to build a good image and a positive impression by confirming The return of humanitarian aid and financial incentives cut under Trump.[70][71][72]




Despite the statements made by Chinese officials that the US presence in the South China Sea affects China's national security, and the statements of their American counterparts that the Chinese presence in the Latin American region threatens American influence in it, the US-Chinese competition in each other's areas of influence has not yet risen to the point through which we conclude that there will be a serious impact on US-China relations, and then this impact will be reflected in a negative impact on stability and security. Because on the one hand, both countries realize that their possession of an arsenal of nuclear weapons will deter both from embarking on direct damage to each other's interests.

On the other hand, we did not find that there is a general level of competition for areas of influence between the United States and China, through which we can say that this competition will develop in the future to take the form of a conflict between them in these two regions; the United States, for its part, deals with a military and political logic in its strategy to compete with China in the South China Sea, while China, for its part, deals with an economic logic, although it has some strategic and political goals, but it is still somewhat shy in the American region. China's military presence in Latin America still ranges from military exercises to arms sales, and even port leases from Latin American countries – despite the low likelihood that China will use them for purposes to spy on the United States – still revolve around the peaceful and commercial use of the maritime silk line, and this difference in how China and the United States manage competition in their spheres of influence makes the South China Sea region more interesting and attractive to researchers and readers of the Latin American region.[73][74]