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China warns Argentina’s Milei that breaking off relations would be a serious mistake

The Asian giant reminds the new president-elect that it is its second-largest trading partner and the first destination for its agricultural exports

Chinese President Xi Jinping greets Indonesian President Joko Widodo at the APEC summit in San Francisco.
Chinese President Xi Jinping greets Indonesian President Joko Widodo at the APEC summit in San Francisco.JOHN G. MABANGLO (EFE)

The Chinese authorities consider that bilateral relations with Argentina are going through a good moment, and on Tuesday warned the new president-elect, Javier Milei, that breaking diplomatic ties would be “a serious mistake,” according to the terms used by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning in her daily media appearance. With these words, Mao described a recent interview with economist Diana Mondino, tapped to be the next foreign minister of the Latin American country. The Chinese spokesperson also stressed that Beijing “is willing to work with Argentina so that relations continue to advance steadily” and that “the economic complementarity between both countries means that there is great potential for cooperation.”

The spokesperson did not miss the opportunity to underscore that “China is Argentina’s second trading partner and the first export market for its agricultural products.” Last year, exports to the Asian giant exceeded $8 billion and imports were $17 billion, according to official Argentine figures. And in recent months, Beijing has also become a lender to Buenos Aires thanks to swap credits in yuan to pay back Argentina’s loan from the International Monetary Fund and other emergencies. On Monday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry congratulated Milei on his election as president.

Milei, a 53-year-old far-right economist, has launched various verbal attacks against his two main trading partners, Brazil, which is also a strategic regional ally, and the Asian superpower. The ultra-liberal politician who won the election on Sunday against the Peronist candidate Sergio Massa went so far as to compare the Chinese government to a “murderer” and has proclaimed that the Chinese people “are not free.”

In addition, recent statements by Diana Mondino, the economist who is emerging as the next foreign minister, have alarmed Beijing. “We will stop interfering with the governments of Brazil and China,” Mondino said. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, however, assured that what Mondino really said during the interview is “that no country can exit diplomatic relations and still be able to engage in economic and trade cooperation; and that it would be a serious foreign policy error for Argentina to cut ties with important countries such as China or Brazil. China is an important trading partner of Argentina. According to Mondino, the newly elected Argentine government values its relations with China, especially the commercial ties between both countries.”

During his campaign, Milei insisted time and again that he is in favor of leaving international trade in the exclusive hands of the market, without state intervention, although, as experts point out and his rivals insist, there are a series of issues such as tariffs or health rules that are the responsibility of the states. His position contrasts with that of the outgoing government of Alberto Fernández, who nurtured the relationship with China and visited Beijing shortly before the electoral campaign.

Argentina was one of the prominent guests at the recent forum of the New Chinese Silk Road, the mega investment and infrastructure program with which Beijing seeks to connect to the world. Held in October in Beijing, at the opening of the event, outgoing President Fernández spoke of China as a “brother.” “China helped us financially when the pressure from the International Monetary Fund put us in check,” he said in a speech. He also cited Beijing’s numerous investments in the country, among others, in the lithium mining sector, a key resource for the production of batteries for electric vehicles, an industry led by China. During the visit, Fernández announced that Beijing had authorized the free use of a second tranche of $6.5 billion of currency swap lines, and returned home after signing various protocols and agreements linked to agricultural exports.

The United States, Israel and “the free world” are going to be the main allies of the next government of Argentina, Milei explained. The newly elected president, who will take office on December 10, confirmed the day after his victory that he intends to travel to the United States and Israel even before assuming power. In addition to congratulating him, the Israeli Foreign Minister, Eli Cohen, wrote to him: “I invite you to visit Israel soon to continue our dialogue and inaugurate the Argentine Embassy in Jerusalem, capital of Israel.

It is very likely that the far-right victory will also affect Argentina’s announced accession into the BRICS bloc, to which it was invited along with five other countries last August. It is an expansion promoted by China of which the outgoing Argentine president was an enthusiastic proponent. But aligning with the bloc to which Russia, China, Brazil, India, and South Africa belong and which Iran or Saudi Arabia are going to join does not fit into Milei’s international plans. “I am not going to promote a deal with communists,” he announced during the campaign.

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