“Latin America does not need new imperial powers that seek only to benefit their own people,” Tillerson said on Thursday. He also attacked China’s state-led development model arguing it “is reminiscent of the past,” adding “it doesn’t have to be this hemisphere’s future.”
China’s Foreign Ministry defended its economic ties with the region claiming they are based on mutual interest. In a statement the Chinese government blasted the U.S., describing Tillerson’s comments as going “against the truth,” and charging the U.S. with displaying “disrespect to the vast number of Latin American countries.”
The statement also rejected claims that China is undermining U.S. interest in the region.
"The development of China-Latin America ties does not target or reject any third party, nor does it affect the interests of third parties in Latin America,” the release stated while urging the United States to abandon its “outdated concepts of zero-sum games and look at the development of China-Latin America relations in an open and inclusive manner.”
Many of the region’s leaders have looked to China as a trading partner and a source of government to government loans after various economic crises hit several countries in the region in the early 1990s and early 2000s.
According to analysts, China’s attractiveness to the region as a loan provider is that it does not demand any economic or social policy changes, nor does it impose structural adjustment programs as was the norm with loans granted by the International Monetary Fund, which many claimed undermined the country’s sovereignty.
Tillerson started his Latin American tour on Thursday but has faced significant criticism after he openly called for a military coup in Venezuela.
During a speech in the University of Texas on Thursday Tillerson praised the military claiming that "in the history of Venezuela and South American countries, it is often that the military is the agent of change when things are so bad, and the leadership can no longer serve the people." Commentators have said his statements disregarded the role military dictatorships on the continent have had in subverting democracy and committing human rights violations including killings, kidnappings, and forced disappearances.
Venezuela’s military quickly responded to Tillerson’s insinuations saying these "senseless threats against Venezuela demonstrate, once again (that the U.S. government) has become the greatest agent of violence, discrimination, and humiliation in the world."
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