Last month, Uruguay took a decisive step towards ratifying a military partnership with China and then stalling the discussions, a hesitation that reflects the tensions of the so-called Cold War 2.0.
The proposal for a military agreement emerged from a term signed between the two countries in 2019, during the government of leftist President Tabaré Vázquez. A bill to ratify the compromise was sent to the Uruguayan parliament by the Executive in February this year.
In June, the agreement was unanimously approved by the Senate International Relations Committee and easy approval was also expected in the plenary, but the bench that supports center-right president Luis Lacalle Pou asked for the bill to be withdrawn.
The justification was that the proposal should go back to the International Relations Commission, so that Uruguayan government ministers can better detail the terms of the agreement.
The text approved by the commission and withdrawn soon after provides for a cooperation in defense that will include “mutual visits of high-level delegations”, exchange of students and instructors from military institutions, transfer of war material, joint training, in addition to “coordination of international peacekeeping operations”, cooperation in science, technology and military equipment and in the fight against terrorism.
When the bill on the military agreement was withdrawn from the agenda, the coordinator of the National Party bench (legend by Lacalle Pou), Gustavo Penadés, claimed to the newspaper El Observer that the ministers of Defense and Foreign Affairs did not participate in the discussion that resulted in the approval of the agreement in the Senate committee.
“Everything I voted on, I did by listening to those involved first. It is natural to hear who has direct responsibility”, added Penadés.
Already Daniel Caggiani, senator from the Frente Amplio, party of Tabaré Vázquez (who died in
), and a member of the International Relations Commission, told the newspaper La Diaria that the withdrawal of the project was influenced by “some actors” with a “vision quite contrary to China having greater levels of rapprochement with the region”.
It is speculated that the decision to further discuss the agreement arose due to expressions of concern on the part of the United States government, expressed during the Summit of the Americas, held in Los Angeles in early June.
Free Trade Agreement
The Americans also criticized a free trade agreement that has been negotiated by China and Uruguay, the target of criticism also from Argentina, which believes that this partnership would disrespect Mercosur regulations.
In April, the president of the Chamber of Representatives from Uruguay, Ope Pasquet, from the centrist Colorado party, had already warned that the free trade agreement being negotiated with China needed to be reconsidered due to the war in Ukraine.
China is Russia’s main geopolitical partner, and while it is not helping Moscow militarily, it has criticized Western sanctions on the country ruled by Vladimir Putin. Before the war, the Chinese and Russians pointed out that their partnership “has no limits”.
“It is evident that, in this new international scenario, a free trade agreement between Uruguay and China would not mean what it would have meant a year or two ago,” said Pasquet.
In addition to China’s growing economic influence in the region, the United States fears that Beijing will increase its military presence in the region. Latin America, as it is already doing in the Indo-Pacific and in Africa.
In addition to the ties with left-wing dictatorships in the region, Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, in 2015 China has deployed a space station in the Argentine province of Neuquén, a structure that Washington suspects has military objectives.
In a statement made in March to the Committee Senate Foreign Relations Officer Evan Ellis, a researcher at the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), pointed out that left-wing governments are the main buyers of Chinese weapons in the region and warned that any approach by Beijing with Latin American heads of state must be observed.
“The collective result of the economic, military and technical support to the China’s populist authoritarian friends it was undoubtedly the prolonged survival of their regimes. In the process, China has contributed to a hemisphere with fewer democratic governments, less and less willing to cooperate with the United States on issues important to our security, from transnational organized crime to migration, corruption and human rights,” said Ellis.
Although he did not mention the possibility of a military partnership between Chinese and Uruguayans, the analyst argued that the Americans need to direct resources and efforts to the region, given that China’s alignment with Russia at the moment in which it promotes an invasion of a neighboring country “creates an opportunity for the United States to remind the world that democracy, human rights, and legal commitments must mean something if the global institutional order that has brought current security and prosperity to remain viable” .
For Daniel Runde, also a member of CSIS, China is ready “to meet the needs of many countries [na América Latina]: digital connectivity, supply of and vaccines, trade and – possibly – security.”
“If the United States does not find better ways to engage with the region, even with small but vibrant economies such as Uruguay, China will fill this gap”, he argued, in an article published on the website of the newspaper The Hill.