Real Instituto Elcano
La geopolítica de América Latina ante la rivalidad EEUU-China: del relato a los datos
Ernesto Talvi

Latin America's neutrality in a bipolar world

Article analyzing how the supposed neutrality of Latin American (LA) countries in the face of the rivalry between the US and China is taking place. After analyzing 31 resolutions representing 'values' (human rights, sovereignty and territorial integrity) and 'economic interests' (trade and development, economic sanctions) voted in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) between 2001 and 2023, in which the US and the European Union (EU) voted on the opposite side to China (and Russia), the article concludes that LA pursues its own national interests by aligning with the different blocs on different issues: on values they do so with the US and the EU, and on economic interests they do so with China and their emerging peers.

Main takeaways:

  • State self-interest or neutrality with regard to China and the US: According to the article, the votes taken by Latin American countries in the UNGA have not avoided aligning themselves with either of the two blocs, abstaining in order to maintain neutrality when there was an opposing stance between the two. Instead, Latin American countries have voted according to their own national interests, aligning themselves with the different blocs on different issues: in terms of values, they do so with the US and the EU, and in terms of economic interests they do so with China and their emerging peers. This has occurred irrespective of the political party of the government in power.

  • Differences between the US-China rivalry and the Cold War (US-Russia): 

    • The current rivalry is limited to the economic and technological plane, and unlike what happened during the cold war, it is not yet manifested on the ideological or military plane (with the exception of Taiwan).

    • The USSR had strong economic ties mainly with the countries in its orbit (Warsaw Pact) and hardly any economic ties with emerging countries. China today is the most important trading partner of more than 100 emerging countries, including Brazil and Argentina.

  • Latin America, the emerging region most aligned with Western values. While Russia would have aligned itself with China in all votes, the democratic countries of Latin America (excluding Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, which aligned themselves with China and Russia) mostly align themselves with the Western bloc when it comes to resolutions on values: human rights and sovereignty and territorial integrity. They do so 79.5% of the votes (Brazil 60 per cent and Mexico 80 per cent), compared to 37% in the Middle East and North Africa, 25% in Sub-Saharan Africa and 19% in emerging Asia.

  • Latin American countries are mostly aligned with China on the resolutions referring to economic interests: trade and development and economic sanctions. 90.5% of Latin American countries vote with China on trade and development resolutions and 97% on economic sanctions.

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