The 2008 crisis was a watershed for China. Until that time, the great Asian nation had experienced an accelerated transition from Maoist socialism to liberalization led by Deng Xiaoping, which yielded more than thirty years of annual growth rates of over 10%. The Western reading was that, sooner or later, China would converge with the rest of the world not only on levels of economic development, but on political openness. Regardless of the internal political dynamics, what seems clear today is that in 2008 a new path was defined, much less open in the economic, more authoritarian in the political and much more assertive at the international level.
The new direction that China is adopting goes hand in hand with the US retraction at the international level, which throws a scenario of enormous importance for Mexico. For the past decades, China, an emerging power that acts with absolute geopolitical determination, has dodged Mexico. Although there have been some industrial facilities (mostly maquiladoras) and at least two infrastructure projects, both failed, the Chinese presence in Mexico is minimal, especially when compared to other nations in the southern part of the continent or in Africa. China has always recognized the geographical location and economic ties that characterize Mexico, which is why it had remained relatively untouched.
Two circumstances have altered this story: on one hand, the new American ideology under the Trump administration has reopened the discussion within Mexico about the high concentration of economic ties with the United States. In addition to this, protectionist actions such as the case of the steel industry, but, above all, the permanent threat of canceling the FTA, require a review of national priorities. Mexicans should review the constellation of possibilities looking to the future.
And on the other hand, the new Chinese assertiveness has an implacable rationality: taking advantage of the American weakness to establish new geopolitical realities. If one observes the way in which China has been building artificial islands along the South China Sea, to the degree of formalizing them as a new province, this leaves no doubt of the clarity of vision, and one-person leadership. Xi Jinping’s decision to ignore regular elections says all about his political and international goals: although it involves the obvious complexity of the succession (which tends to be the unpredictable, unlike Mubarak in Egypt and now Putin in Russia), this allows a continuity of command and vision that no other country can achieve.
Mexico has had a long relationship with China: since 1972, the political relationship has been profound, but not the economic one. Certainly, Mexico imports tens of billions of dollars from that nation (plus others by smuggling), but Mexican exports to China are relatively small.
In the last year, Mexico has been reviewing its international relations, partly by design and partly by the way things have been presented. The biggest surprise comes not from China, but from Brazil, a nation that for decades has seen Mexico with suspicion and as a competitor.
However, in recent times, Brazil has sought to deepen its economic and political ties. Although the two nations – Brazil and Mexico – have adopted radically different strategies in recent decades – Brazil has a strong protectionist bias, Mexico has adopted a pronounced liberalizing strategy – the rationality of carrying out greater exchanges and developing greater cooperation in the political plane is evident.
The question is what is possible and desirable with China? Mexico is firmly anchored in the North American region – especially in the industrial vertebration, but also in the strategic political logic – and that establishes an absolute limit to any exchange, in addition to that it forces a triangular conception – Mexico, USA and China- in the relationship.
On the other end, within that framework, there are many opportunities to deepen the relationship and develop new ways of interacting, both politically and economically.
What certainly has no sense of reality is the notion of a “Chinese letter” in the relationship with the United States. China will never accept to be treated as a change card, but its power project forces Mexico to define their own priorities and establish frameworks of possibility both in relation to the United States and with China There is no way out of that triangle, but to expand it more and more.
Opinion piece by Luis Rubio for Reforma
The Mazatlan Post