The Chinese local governments have held conferences, signed agreements of cooperation, completed trade missions, and issued official public statements, amongst other actions, in order to get most progress and accomplishments through developing links with the Latin American provinces and cities.
This is not an unscripted attempt for developing this kind of ties with Latin America. On the contrary, the Chinese central government has encouraged the development of relations from a local perspective by settling different frameworks in order to build links between Chinese local governments and Latin American cities. Such as CELAC-China Forum, China’s Policy Paper on Latin America and the Caribbean, and international conferences on building Friendship Cities with China that can be exemplified as remarkable progress in this regard.
The most recent proposed is “One Belt, One Road Initiative” that injects new impetus into the development of building relations between China and Latin America.
Panama and Chile are the first two countries in Latin America to join the “One Belt, One Road Initiative”. The agreement between Panama and China was signed in November of 2017, while the agreement with Chile was signed one year later. BRI has 5 key points, such as policy communication, the connection of infrastructures, fluid of commerce, circulation of funds, and finally the union of wills of the people where the emphasis is given to build relations between local governments with the purpose of promoting cooperation for the public welfare.
As mentioned, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued Chinese Policy Paper on Latin America and the Caribbean in 2008 and 2016, which promote the support to local governments on both sides to conduct friendly exchanges and cooperation.
In the case of the CELAC – China Forum (2016), there is a sub-forum called “China-LAC Local Governments Cooperation Forum” and it aims at promoting friendly cooperation between local governments of China and LAC states in various fields.
At the same time, in November last year, the second international conference of Friendship Cities with China was held in Wuhan City with the broad participation of local governments of Latin America. This Conference had the magnificent presence of the Chinese Vice President, Wang Qishan.
That is to say, among the different topics on the agenda of Latin America and China, the development of relations between local governments is important and desirable to foster local development as well as get involve communities from a much more «bottom-up» perspective.
Challenges and prospects
However, in countries like Chile, the decentralization process began during the 1990s and there is still a long way to go in order to have a stronger provincial government – which is the second biggest administrative unit in Chile after the National Government – that can face the type of ties that China is promoting.
In the case of the administration of the cities – made by the Municipalities – we can see by many public opinion surveys that Chilean citizens trust them since they are rooted in the Chilean society. In this sense, Municipalities have more autonomy from the central government – the Mayor is not appointed by the President – but they have a smaller size on the local administration. Although this is not an impediment, by connecting cities there is an opportunity to spread the voice in Latin America of the development that China is promoting in the world.
Therefore, the challenges for both sides are high. For instances, no Municipalities in Chile has Foreign Affairs Offices to channel all the operational and strategic deployment, as the great cities or Provinces of China do. In addition, the distances in the political culture and language barriers are giant. Relations at times become slow and inefficient. For what is required more professionalism on the part of Latin America and greater knowledge on the local political system by local governments in China.
The second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation was held in April of this year which considered a sub-forum where the ties between sub-national governments were addressed. We all expect that the dialogue had been rich and goals could be settled with specific strategies to develop relations of the people at the local level.
In this sense, BRI is a tremendous opportunity to facilitate the physical integration of Latin America, in the first instance and therefore the desirable greater integration among the people of Latin America and China. This is because BRI can be used as an agglutinating force between local communities and make closer ties that central governments of Latin America have struggled to achieve but with fewer achievements.