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Pulling together


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, China and Latin America have witnessed slower economic growth and fewer people-to-people exchanges. But despite the impact of the pandemic, relations between the two sides have continued to make marked progress.

In 2021, the trade volume between China and Latin America surged 41 percent year-on-year, hitting a record high of $451 billion. China's exports to Latin America stood at $229 billion, up 52 percent, and its imports from Latin America hit $222 billion, up 31 percent.

Brazil, the largest trading partner of China in Latin America, saw bilateral trade rise 31 percent to $138 billion in 2021, while China's trade with Mexico grew 42 percent to $86 billion. China's trade with Chile rose 49 percent to $61 billion, and its trade with Argentina was up 28 percent to $17 billion.

On Dec 3, President Xi Jinping addressed the third Ministers' Meeting of the Forum of China and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States via video link, pointing the way forward for high-quality China-Latin America ties in the new era. The two documents adopted at the conference, namely the Declaration of the Third Ministers' Meeting of the China-CELAC Forum and the China-CELAC Joint Action Plan for Cooperation in Key Areas (2022-24), demonstrated the two side's shared aspirations to jointly build a community with a shared future and to respond to the global challenges hand in hand. The documents outline the road map of cooperation between the two sides in various fields such as politics, security, economy, infrastructure, society, people-to-people exchanges and sustainable development, as well as global and regional affairs.

China's circle of friends in Latin America has grown over the years. So far, it has established strategic partnerships with 10 countries in the region, and comprehensive cooperative partnership with nine countries. On Dec 10, China resumed its diplomatic ties with Nicaragua, which became the 25th country in Latin America to have diplomatic relations with China. On Jan 10, President Xi's special envoy Cao Jianming attended the inauguration ceremony of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega for a new term, which was the first visit by a high-ranking Chinese official to a Latin American country since the outbreak of the pandemic.

China and Latin America also have strengthened the alignment of their development strategies. China and Nicaragua signed a memorandum of understanding on jointly advancing the Belt and Road Initiative on Jan 10, 2022. And China and Argentina inked a memorandum of understanding on Belt and Road cooperation on Feb 6, making Argentina the 21st country in Latin America and the first major economy in the region to ink such a memorandum of understanding with China. So far, China has signed agreements on industrial capacity and investment cooperation with eight Latin American countries to construct industrial parks in the countries and help the region build an independent and diversified industrial system.

In February, Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso and Argentine President Alberto Fernandez visited China and attended the opening ceremony of the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games, making them the first Latin American heads of state to visit China since the onset of the pandemic. According to the joint statement issued after a meeting between President Xi and President Lasso, China and Ecuador have agreed to launch negotiations on a free trade agreement, which means Ecuador is expected to become the fourth Latin American country to sign a free trade deal with China after Chile, Peru and Costa Rica. The two countries will conduct talks on renegotiating Ecuador's debt to help it better cope with the public health crisis and promote post-pandemic sustainable development. Ecuador will host the 15th China-Latin America and the Caribbean Business Summit this year.

China and Argentina issued a joint statement on deepening their comprehensive strategic partnership on Feb 6. According to the statement, the two countries will enhance cooperation in various fields including politics, military, economy and trade, technology and culture. The two sides will also deepen cooperation in energy, infrastructure, financing and investment, the anti-pandemic fight, agriculture, aerospace, the digital economy and green development. And leaders of the two countries announced the launch of the 2022 Year of China-Argentina Friendship and Cooperation.

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, China and Latin America have maintained close cooperation in fighting the virus. So far, China has donated more than 40 million units of medical materials and equipment to 30 Latin American countries, and provided 300 million doses of vaccines to 21 countries in the region. The anti-pandemic cooperation between the two sides has opened up new fields for bilateral collaboration.

Looking toward the future, the two sides will focus on cooperation in improving people's livelihoods, promoting the development of the digital economy, building new infrastructure and improving public health services.

China and Latin American nations are developing economies, and are comprehensive cooperative partners based on equality, mutual benefit and common development. They also seek independent development and national rejuvenation. By aligning the Belt and Road Initiative with the development strategies of Latin American nations, and enhancing cooperation in areas such as the economy, culture and technology, the two sides will consolidate the foundation for advancing bilateral ties. As President Xi said while addressing the third Ministers' Meeting of the China-CELAC Forum, the China-Latin America relationship has entered a new era featuring equality, mutual benefits, innovation, openness and benefiting the peoples of the two sides. China and Latin America enjoy a long-standing friendship and by joining hands to overcome the current challenges, the two sides will strive to build a community with a shared future.

The author is an honorary member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.