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UMaine professor sheds light on China’s presence in Latin and South America

On Thursday, Sept. 26, Professor Stefano Tijerina gave a lecture titled “China and It’s Impact on the Latin American Economies” as part of the Hispanic Heritage Month Lecture Series put together by Chispa Centro Hispano and several University of Maine departments. 

Tijerina, who is from Colombia, obtained a Ph.D. in history from UMaine focusing on business history and is now a lecturer in the management department in the Maine Business School. For his talk in the lecture series, he focused on China’s growing economy and business investments across the globe with an emphasis on how China’s growing influence has changed Latin America and how those countries are changing.

Tijerina explained that China’s growing economic influence is slowly changing the world economy from an atlantic-centered market to a pacific-centered market by extending their influence. According to Tijerina, China had already begun to split up parts of the unity that existed in South America, pointing to Chile’s decision to split off some of its ties to the continental economy and focus instead on Chinese business dealings. Tijerina states that Chile “doesn’t care about its links to South America” or the U.S. for that matter, instead hoping to focus on economic relations with China. 

For Tijerina, this shifting from unity highlights an unfortunate belief held in South America that there is “no cultural connectivity.” 

“We still believe we are our competitors, our rivals,” Tijerina says. 

China has benefited from this feeling of separation as well as from anti-American sentiments in the western hemisphere and beyond, Tijerina pointed out. Many countries are less interested in doing business with the U.S. due to memories of past colonialism and exploitation, and these countries now see China as a better option. China creates the idea of relatability by sending the message that they were an “upward nation” and an “emerging economy,” and therefore they understand what it’s like to be in this position. 

“You can achieve the same thing we have achieved,” said Tijerina regarding Latin America. 

China has also tried to give the impression of not being involved in the party politics of the nations they are investing in. What they are really trying to do is gain influence through financing projects. 

“China sells to the left and to the right. Politics are not a problem,” said Tijerina. 

The reality is that financing billion dollar projects in developing countries gives China immense power and even if the investments are coming from “private” Chinese businesses,  most of these large companies are owned, in large part, by the government so their national interests are of considerable importance. 

In the end, one of the main issues for Tijerina is how Latin American countries can begin to develop and grow on their own. Latin America has spent centuries being controlled by outside forces and even if this time with China seems different, Tijerina says, it is really just continued exploitation. Tijerina stressed that China only wants to extract resources just like the U.S. and others have done before, and if Latin America wants to develop their own countries they have to stop outside influence from foreigners. 


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