In a significant diplomatic development, China has elevated its relations with Colombia to a strategic partnership, marking a deepening of its engagement with one of the United States' oldest allies in the region. This move underscores China's ongoing efforts to expand its influence and solidify its presence in Latin America. The decision to upgrade their diplomatic ties was announced as Colombian President Gustavo Petro met with Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit to Beijing, marking his first official visit to the world's second-largest economy since assuming office last year.
This diplomatic upgrade with Colombia signifies that China now maintains strategic partnerships with 10 out of the 11 South American nations with which it has diplomatic relations. Notably, Guyana remains the only country in the region with which China maintains ordinary bilateral ties.
China has been actively pursuing a charm offensive in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean in recent years, recognizing the region's strategic significance in the context of its competition with the United States. Furthermore, the region holds importance for China due to its inclusion of several nations that recognize Taiwan, a democratic ally of the United States, as a sovereign state, rather than Beijing's "one-China" policy. Paraguay is currently the last South American nation with diplomatic ties to Taiwan.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, China emerged as the first country to provide vaccines to Colombia, strengthening bilateral cooperation in combating the virus. In 2021, as a token of appreciation for China's assistance in managing the pandemic, President Xi was invited to address the Colombian people via a video link.
Economic ties between China and Colombia have seen significant growth in recent years, with China becoming Colombia's second-largest trading partner after the United States. In 2022, Colombia's exports to China amounted to $7 billion, reflecting a nearly 20% increase compared to five years earlier.
During President Petro's visit, the two countries signed 12 cooperation agreements, including one facilitating Colombian beef imports to China starting next year and another allowing quinoa shipments. Additionally, several working groups were established to enhance trade relations.
It's worth noting that while Colombia is one of the United States' closest allies in the region, and despite its growing ties with China, it has yet to formally join China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a multi-region infrastructure development project, unlike many of its Latin American and Caribbean counterparts.
Upon his arrival in Beijing, President Petro expressed optimism about increasing Colombian exports to China and revitalizing Colombia's national rail network. China has been involved in significant infrastructure projects in Colombia, such as the construction of subway lines in Bogota and the RegioTram light rail system.
Nevertheless, despite loans, investments, and infrastructure projects, President Petro emphasized the need for China to increase its imports from South America to address the trade imbalance. Colombia, in particular, has been grappling with a substantial trade deficit with China, exceeding $8 billion in 2022, making it the South American nation with the largest trade deficit in its relations with China.
In summary, China's elevation of diplomatic relations with Colombia to a strategic partnership signifies its continued efforts to expand its presence and influence in Latin America, a region of strategic significance. While economic ties between the two nations have grown, the trade imbalance remains a challenge that both parties are keen to address through further cooperation and collaboration.