Reality Defeats Ideology: Milei ‘Gives In’ to China Despite Tough Talk

Misión Verdad, Orinoco Tribune, May 4, 2024 ─  

During his election campaign, the president of Argentina, Javier Milei, repeated ad nauseam that once he became president he would align himself with the West, whose highest representative references of economic liberalism for him were the United States and Israel. In regards to China, one of Argentina’s major trading partners, he stated that he would not establish relations with communist governments, an international approach that he would also apply to Venezuela, Nicaragua, and North Korea.

In an interview with Bloomberg in August 2023, Milei spoke about the possibility of suspending relations with Beijing, even though China granted Argentina an $18 billion”swap” that it used to pay its IMF debt, as well as $3 billion in credits for infrastructure, energy and public transportation works, three sectors considered key by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

All of Milei’s delusional statements were based on myths about the government of the People’s Republic of China: “People don’t have freedom in China, they cannot do what they want, and if they do, they are killed.”

However, reality has prevailed over Milei’s delusional discourse. It would be inappropriate for Argentina to break off relations with China, no matter how much Milei would want to associate only with Western governments, since China is the third top destination for Argentina’s exports (8%), as well as the second top origin of its imports (19%), according to official data.

Argentina’s economic reality is determined by a growing need for investments that China is willing to make, which would even be useful for the government project that the ultra-right Argentinian president wants to implement.

Six months after Javier Milei took office, it has been evident that his tough talk was simply anti-communist rhetoric in order to arouse ideological resentments, through prefabricated ideas that are far removed from reality. Additionally, everything indicates that he does not know how international and trade relations should be handled when one is a head of state and government.

In an exclusive interview with the Chinese state media CGTN, the minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade of Argentina, Diana Mondino, reflected on the progress and challenges of her country’s bilateral relations with China. After her visit to China, she was asked about the future of the relations as 2024 marks the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the comprehensive Strategic Partnership between the two countries.

Referring to the state of the relationship, Minister Mondino said, “We are in an appropriate moment, due to the new government of Argentina and the current global context. Our relationship has a firm base and now it will be better.” Referring to the cooperation within the framework of the Belt and Road initiative, she highlighted that her country will need a lot of infrastructure (bridges, roads, energy, etc.), initiatives that are already within the Belt and Road project, resources that the Argentinian economy needs “to make a great leap.”

Undoubtedly, the minister’s statements contradict the image that Milei tried to project during his electoral campaign. The Chinese government understood this reality when, after Milei’s repeated expressions of willingness to break away, it argued that it would be a “serious mistake” if Argentina were to cut its trade ties with the Asian giant.

Last year Argentina’s exports to China exceeded $8 billion and imports $17 billion, a flow of foreign currency necessary to sustain the Argentinian economy. Everything indicates that the warning from China was enough for Milei’s government to realize the deep connection between Buenos Aires and Beijing.

Another issue that signified a provocation for China was Mondino’s meeting with Taiwanese representatives in January, a rapprochement that began the previous month when members of the new Argentinian government started claiming that they had received “Christmas boxes” to give to the people pf Argentina. In that context, the government of the People’s Republic of China responded that “Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory, and the Taiwan issue is entirely an internal affair of China.” The Milei government’s behavior generated profound concerns regarding the fact that Argentina was exchanging 300 boxes of sweets offered by Taiwan for a swap from China amounting to $18 billion, which served to rescue the economy.

What Mondino is now saying is completely contrary to what Milei said he would do during his campaign and the first weeks of his term. He has even invited Chinese investors to his country and stated that he will promote the launching of commercial air routes to further strengthen cultural relations. This attitude makes it clear that in geopolitical matters and in economic-commercial valuations, pragmatism ends up imposing itself over the ideological agendas of some governments, such as Javier Milei’s.

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