WASHINGTON — As a sign of China's growing ties with Latin America, the Asian giant announced Thursday that it will join the Inter-American Development Bank, which is the primary multilateral lender focusing on the Western Hemisphere.
The move, which has been in the works for about a decade, comes as Chinese trade with Latin America booms on the strength of record exports of copper, soybeans and other regional commodities to the red-hot Chinese economy.
Chinese trade with Latin America skyrocketed to $110 billion last year from $8.4 billion in 1995, and China has become the region's second biggest trading partner, behind only the United States. In 1995, China was Latin America's 12th biggest trading partner.
"The biggest part of world trade growth is trans-Pacific," the development bank's president, Luis Alberto Moreno, said Thursday while announcing China's planned entry. "We're looking to follow those trends."
China will join the bank as a donor nation and will contribute $350 million to programs that fund everything from institution building to small business aid. The bank claims 26 borrowing member countries and 22 donor members, including Japan and South Korea. It approves an average of $8 billion in new loans and credit guarantees every year.
China's ambassador to the United States, Zhou Wenzhong, said at the bank's headquarters that such multilateral tools were the key to solving the international financial crisis, which threatens Chinese and Latin American growth.
Zhou said that Chinese economic expansion probably would slow to 8 percent next year, while the International Monetary Fund predicted Wednesday that Latin American economic growth would be around 3 percent.
The White House has invited China and other countries to participate in a meeting of the Group of 20 nations Nov. 15 that will tackle the global financial crisis.
"This is the moment for cooperation and dialogue and close consultations with all countries," Zhou said. "No one country can fix these problems."
Despite such diplomatic words, some U.S. observers say that China's rise threatens the United States' traditionally strong role in the hemisphere.
For example, Chinese trade with Brazil, which is Latin America's biggest economy, has swiftly surpassed even the strong ties between Brazil and its neighbor Argentina and is approaching levels of Brazilian trade with the United States.
Chinese investors also are pouring money into mining, energy and other Latin American ventures that can feed China's ever-growing appetite for raw materials.
Asked about such U.S. suspicions, Zhou said China's ambition in the region was cooperation, not dominance.
"We don't want to compete with the U.S. for anything here in Latin America," Zhou said. "What we're in favor of is peaceful development, harmonious development and sustainable development."
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