by Margaret Myers and Ricardo Barrios
The coastal city of Zhuhai in China’s Guangdong province is quickly becoming a focal point of China’s efforts to strengthen relations with the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region. Government officials, businesspeople, and academics all appear to have joined forces to make the city a so-called “future bridge” in the China-LAC relationship.
Numerous LAC-focused initiatives are underway in the Macau adjacent city. In November, Zhuhai held the country’s first China-Latin America & Caribbean International Exposition, which reportedly attracted some 250 Latin America enterprises. Zhuhai will also host the next China-LAC Business Summit, organized by the Inter-American Development Bank and Chinese partner organizations.
More permanent features, such as a liaison office of the China-Latin America Business Council, a non-profit “cooperative mechanism” established in 2012, and the Hengqin area of the Guangdong Free Trade Zone promote China-LAC commercial cooperation. The Hengqin China-LAC Economic and Trade Cooperation Park, a 2.5 billion yuan ($378 million) venture, will provide legal aid, policy research, trade facilitation and e-commerce services to Latin American investors.
The city has also launched some LAC-focused educational initiatives. It was a stop for the China-Latin America Young Leaders Training Camp during a country tour in June. And Zhuhai’s Sun Yat-Sen University opened a Latin American Studies Center in 2016.
Zhu Qingqiao’s appointment as deputy mayor this past August will further strengthen the city’s LAC connections. Zhu was formerly director-general for Latin American and Caribbean Affairs in China’s Foreign Ministry and minister counselor in China’s Embassy in Brazil.
Though not yet a fixture in China-LAC affairs, Zhuhai is a natural hub for cross-Pacific economic engagement. The prefecture-level city boasts a dynamic, outward-facing economy that can be traced back to its distinction as one of China’s first special economic zones. Zhuhai was one of the cities visited by Deng Xiaoping during his Southern Tour in 1992.
The Brazil-Macau linkage might also have prompted Zhuhai’s LAC-centric makeover. In late 2003, China established the Forum for Economic and Trade Cooperation between China and Portuguese Speaking Countries, or the Macau Forum, to leverage the special region’s connection to the Portuguese-speaking world. To date, the Forum has held five Ministerial Conferences and established a US$1 billion Cooperation and Development Fund for participating countries.
With all of this in mind, China-LAC observers would do well keep an eye on Zhuhai as both an incubator and logistical center for China’s Latin America initiatives.