HAVANA -- China hopes to expand its growing economic and political clout at the Nonaligned Movement summit, influence that analysts say will come at the expense of the United States, which passed up an invitation to attend as an observer.
Led by Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi, the Chinese delegation plans to hold bilateral meetings with a number of Latin American countries and strengthen China's ties to the region, where its trade has soared. China's imports from Latin America quintupled to $20.3 billion, and exports to the region tripled to $15.4 billion from 2000 to 2004, according to the International Monetary Fund.
The administration of President George W. Bush has declined to attend the summit, and a press officer at the U S Interests Section in Havana said that office wouldn't comment on the Nonaligned Movement.
That's a mistake, according to Latin America analysts who have tracked declining U S influence in a region where it can no longer count on the unconditional support of political leaders, even though U S trade remains the most powerful engine for their economies.
``Bush likes to use the saying `You're either with us or against us' and they are writing off the summit because they are non aligned, which to them means they are not with the U S ," said Mark Weisbrot, co director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C.
The United States is wary of the region's more leftist governments, some of which have openly opposed Washington's economic prescriptions for economic growth through austerity measures, free trade deals , and privatization. The region's economies have largely stabilized , and hyperinflation and crippling debts are mostly history. But poverty and unemployment remain huge problems, and many Latin Americans feel the Washington model failed to improve their lives.
Some analysts say the United States is out of touch, by still trying to impose trade agreements that will make life even more difficult for the poor while raising the rhetoric about the dangers of populism in Venezuela, Bolivia , and other countries.
Earlier this year, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld compared President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela to Adolf Hitler, and Bush worried publicly about the leadership of Bolivia's president, Evo Morales.
Chávez response was telling: At an event with Fidel Castro in Havana in February, he noted the waning U S influence in the region and echoed Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong's idea that capitalist countries were paper tigers to be challenged.
China paid little attention to Latin America until recently, and its commerce with the region still represents less than 1 percent of its colossal foreign trade, according to a Harvard University study commissioned by Inter-American Dialogue, a research center in Washington, D.C. But now China is booming and looking to Latin America for the raw materials it needs to support its growth, and for new markets to sell to.
And unlike the United States, which often uses trade deals for political leverage, China has avoided political meddling, said Weisbrot, who predicts that U S commerce may have already peaked as a share of Latin America's economies, while their trade with China will grow substantially.
China, whose domestic consumption is expected to grow by $1.3 trillion in the next decade, is increasingly seen by the world's developing nations as both a source of investment and a mammoth emerging market.
China mainly exports machinery, televisions, computers , and automobiles to Latin America. In exchange, it buys about 30 percent of its agricultural imports (mostly soybeans) from Argentina and Brazil, China's largest trading partner in the region, and is one of the top buyers of Chilean copper.