Ecuador is a test case for how the United States can counter Chinese influence in Latin America
Ecuador is a test case for how the United States can counter Chinese influence in Latin America

Ecuador is a test case for how the United States can counter Chinese influence in Latin America

While all eyes were on the athletes competing at the Beijing Winter Olympics last month, China was busy organizing high-level international events behind the scenes. Chinese President Xi Jinping welcomed the leaders of Argentina and Ecuador, underlining China’s growing influence in Latin America. That influence was solidified as Buenos Aires signed a Memorandum of Understanding on China’s Belt and Road Initiative. But Ecuador’s president, Guillermo Lasso’s negotiations in China, stressed how important it will be for the United States to nurture its ties with governments that have shown interest in cooperating with Washington.

Lasso reaffirmed Ecuador’s commitment to working with Washington when US Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Quito in October 2021. While Blinken met with Lasso, paid tribute the work of the Ecuadorian President in the fight against corruption, an area of ​​common interest between the United States and Ecuador. And the two countries pledged to continue working together to uphold democratic governance and values ​​globally, as well as on drug trafficking and climate change.

However, a few issues discussed during Lasso’s visit to China (in addition to the widely reported possibility of a free trade agreement or the restructuring of Quito’s debt to Beijing) raise concerns about Quito’s willingness to push back on problematic aspects of its ties. to Beijing. These topics include the expansion of Chinese surveillance and the negative social and environmental consequences of some Chinese projects in Ecuador.

That joint declaration who followed the Xi-Lasso meeting mention that Ecuador “positively commented” on China’s Global Data Security Initiative, Beijing response to a Trump administration initiative called Clean network who sought to limit the use of information and network technology and prevent surveillance or intrusion from China. The new statement is worrying because Ecuador had previously agreed to be so part by Clean Network. Lasso also held meetings with various Chinese companies about commercial opportunities in Ecuador, which should similarly raise concerns in Washington about Quito’s willingness to break away from the United States on issues of common interest.

Activities surrounding Chinese investment in Ecuador – and their negative impact on the country – raise further questions about Quito’s willingness to push Beijing back. According to the Ecuadorian press, several Chinese companies met virtually with the Ecuadorian authorities to talk about investments, including Huawei, ZTE, China Electronics Corporation (CEC) and PowerChina. PowerChina is parent company by Sinohydro Corporation, which built the controversial and defective Coca Codo Sinclair hydroelectric power plant. The dam reportedly displaced more than a million people and destroyed forests. The state-owned Corporación Eléctrica del Ecuador has gone into business arbitration with Sinohydro through the International Chamber of Commerce to solve mechanical problems with the plant. Despite all this, Lasso repeated to Chinese business leaders, including PowerChina, the opportunities that Ecuador offers as an investment destination. He publicly listed to Chinese businessmen that he would have an international auction for Corporación Nacional de Telecomunicaciones, Ecuador’s public telecommunications company, and sell Banco del Pacifico to a foreign bank. China National Petroleum Corporation was also among the companies that met with Lasso, despite the Ecuadorian National Assembly examining one of the company’s weapons – PetroChina – and its oil-to-loan agreements with Ecuador, as president of National Petroleum. Assembly Audit Commission called “the largest oil corruption plan in Ecuador.”

Similar Chinese companies, including China National Electronics Import and Export Corporation (CEIEC), a CEC subsidiaryand Huawei was involved in controversial ECU-911 monitoring system in Ecuador. Both CEC and Huawei have been sanctioned of Washington, and so has CEIEC sanctioned to assist Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s efforts to monitor political opponents and restrict Internet services. Also ZTE sanctioned of the United States, helped develop Venezuela “patriotic map”Allowing the Maduro regime to monitor Venezuelans’ activities, including how they vote.

All of this does not mean that Washington should be deterred from the possibility of deepening ties with Ecuador. In fact, Washington has a unique opportunity with Lasso to deepen ties and cooperation restarted during the previous Moreno administration. Certain aspects of Chinese cooperation with Ecuador contradict – and therefore are likely to hinder – cooperation between the United States and Ecuador. Thus, Washington cannot take for granted the opportunity it now has under Lasso, and it must actively compete with China if it is to promote cooperation on mutual interests with Ecuador.

Washington should raise its concerns to Quito. Such American efforts in the past have been successful in Latin America, as since the southern command of the United States raised concerns over Chinese investments in deep-water ports and infrastructure on the Panama Canal, and whether these projects could enable the Chinese military to gain a foothold around a critical global shipping route. Panamanian President Laurentino Cortizo is credited with caution following these American concerns.

Washington must also come prepared alternatives including financial agreements in key sectors – infrastructure investments are already investigated in Panama – which promotes transparency, facilitates and prevents social and environmental impacts and respects democratic values ​​and human rights. In addition to economic cooperation, the United States and Ecuador must constantly nurture their cooperation to advance their democratic and security interests. Washington can not risk dulling its commitment to the region and should pay particular attention to those governments that prefer to work with the United States instead of China.


Gabriel “Gabo” Alvarado is a non-resident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Global China Hub with previous experience in the U.S. State Department in the offices of East Asian and Pacific Affairs and Western Hemisphere Affairs.

Further reading

Photo: Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso speaks at the inauguration of an expanded ocean reserve that will cover 198,000 square kilometers (76,448 square miles) aboard a research vessel off Santa Cruz Island, in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador on January 14, 2022. Photo via REUTERS / Santiago Arcos.

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