What Argentines think of Chinese investment

New survey reveals positive view of China’s economic impact on Argentina despite controversial projects


Argentine president Mauricio Macri welcomes Chinese counterpart Xi Xinping to the 2018 G20 summit in Buenos Aires (image: Argentina G20)

As geopolitical tensions over the US-China trade war continue to simmer, a majority of citizens from Argentina, for whom China is its largest trading partner, believe its economic influence on their country to be positive, according to a recent survey.

ArgentinaPulse, an initiative of consulting firm Poliarquia and the US-based Wilson Center, found that 80% of Argentine respondents are in favor of Chinese investment in Argentina, while 76% have a very good or good image of the Asian country.

Despite initial doubts about Argentina's relationship with China, President Mauricio Macri has maintained the close ties established by his predecessor

The survey noted that 83% of those who have a good opinion of China support current president Mauricio Macri, who has maintained a good relationship with both the US and China during his first term in office.

"Despite initial doubts about Argentina's relationship with China, President Mauricio Macri has maintained the close ties established by his predecessor, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner," said Benjamin Gedan, director of the Wilson Center's Argentina Project.

Only 32% of Argentines believe the country should have to choose between Washington and Beijing, the survey said. However, among those who foresaw a break with one of the two world superpowers, 54% would prefer Argentina to ditch China.

Still, the US tops the list of countries considered a priority for Argentine foreign policy, with 28% of respondents positioning it first. China ranks second with 21%.

"Argentine society does not express a clear preference of one country over another and prioritizes relations with China and the US equally," Alejandro Catterberg, director Poliarquia told Perfil newspaper.

Close ties

Argentina has a comprehensive strategic alliance with China, a diplomatic status the latter confers in a few countries. The relationship between the two has continued to develop since the government of former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, under whom more than 20 treaties and investment projects were agreed.

Macri reviewed many of the deals as he sought new overseas business partners during his presidency. But despite this, controversial China-backed infrastructure projects such as the Santa Cruz dams and a nuclear power plant in Buenos Aires have advanced.

Among economists and environmentalists, however, the dams and nuclear projects have not always been viewed positively. Local NGOs and energy experts have expressed concern about the environmental impacts and financial prudence of developing massive energy infrastructure that increases Argentina’s debt burden.

Chinese president Xi Xinping visited Buenos Aires during the 2018 G20 Summit and agreed on a 2019-2023 Joint Action Plan with Macri. However, Argentina resisted signing up to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)

In the last decade, Chinese products went from representing 5% to 20% of Argentina's imports. Meanwhile, Argentina's exports to China rose only marginally, between 8% and 10% percent of all exports. This has meant to a record trade deficit of more than US$5 billion in trade between the two countries.

Regional view

The results of the Argentina survey are broadly in line with Latin America’s positive view of Chinese investment.

In Chile, a survey by the Chilean firm CADEM showed that 77% of Chileans have a positive image of China, 16% more than positively view the US. Furthermore, 51% believe Chile should strengthen its ties with China.

In Mexico, 57% of respondents had a favorable opinion of China, compared with 43% for the US, according to public opinion survey Latinobarómetro.

Research by the US-based Pew Research Center in 2018 counted those with favourable views of China in Latin America's three largest economies (Brazil, Mexico and Argentina) slightly lower (see below).

Since 2005, China’s two main policy banks have lent an estimated US$140 billion to Latin America, 90% of which has gone to Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and Ecuador.

While Chinese lending has surpassed that of multilateral organisations such as the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF) over the same timeframe, the trend seems to be slowing.