Is Latin America’s China Boom Even Bigger than Africa’s?

When Europeans began arriving in the New World at the end of the 15th century, they used the region to source silver, gold, coffee, and wool. Today, China is the foremost trading partner with several Latin American countries, and buys oil from Venezuela, Mexico, and Ecuador; iron ore from Brazil; beef from Argentina; and copper from Chile and Peru.

According to a new book, The China Triangle: Latin America’s China Boom and the Fate of the Washington Consensus, by Boston University global development professor Kevin P. Gallagher, Chinese investment in Latin America is outpacing even its famed liaison with Africa.

Gallagher argues that the Washington Consensus—by which the U.S. pressured Latin American countries to open their markets to free trade and deregulation during the 1990s—failed to help those states develop. “While the United States wasn’t paying attention, Latin America quickly became of the utmost strategic importance for China—as a source for many of the key natural resources it needs to grow its economy and the appetites of more than a billion people,” he writes.

But therein lies the hitch in Gallagher’s thesis. The antiquated notion that the U.S. and China are in a sort of dichotomous or binary economic arms race—a sense highlighted by the “triangle” reference upon which his book is titled—overlooks the fact that these two nations cannot possibly account for all of Latin America’s gains and losses during the two decades that he studies. If Gallagher’s strongest argument is that China’s Latin American presence is surprisingly large, his weakest is that it is almost singularly responsible for the region’s recent growth.

Read the full book review at Columbia University Global Reports.