Lost recently amid the focus on the meetings between Barack Obama and Xi Jinping was the Chinese leader’s destination beforehand. Careful observers note that Xi criss-crossed Latin America, a region where China has increased its imports from $3.9 billion in 2000 to $86 billion in 2011. The recent efforts of a Chinese company to start building a Nicaraguan canal further highlights how much China has interjected itself into the U.S. neighborhood, one with huge long-term economic and strategic ramifications.
For the past decade, the United States has virtually ignored the region, preoccupied with the Middle East wars and the economic crises. Both the Obama and Bush administrations fell victim to the U.S. tendency to overlook Latin America unless a crisis developed (such as the rise of Fidel Castro), something exacerbated by traditional Eurocentric and now China-centric view of the world held by many U.S. policymakers.
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Longley is a professor at Arizona State University and author of In the Eagle’s Shadow: The United States and Latin America