The twentieth century has been defined by historians, political scientists, and economists as a century of Western hegemony, particularly marked by North American leadership. However, now that we are well into the 21st century, the same sectors have begun to preach the Asian Century, given the promising indicators of growth and development that this region is experiencing both socially and economically as well as its growing role in the global political scenario. In this context, Colombia faces a unique historical conjuncture.
Latin American Political Economy in the 21st Century
First, the prevailing political and economic order at the international level is experiencing its most important transformation since the end of the Cold War. Thus, the 21st century promises to be one of political change and economic growth, particularly in the emerging regions of the world. Similarly, Colombia’s new administration marks a new chapter for the country’s development as it is expected that new economic opportunities will open up in remote and virgin regions of the national territory. The accomplishment of a fully pacified Colombia would mark a milestone for the Western Hemisphere and could even transform the relationship that has existed for decades between Bogota and Washington.
Although Washington has, for decades, shown particular interest in Colombia and invested large amounts of resources into the country, it has been mainly due to the prevailing need to address regional security issues that are vital to North American interests. However, in the near future, and if the threats posed by drug trafficking and armed groups are controlled, a certain degree of withdrawal by the US could become a reality.
Moreover, this dynamic of regional withdrawal is complemented, at least in the short term, with the foreign policy of isolation preached by the current President of the United States, Donald Trump. In this sense, the China’s Policy Paper towards Latin America and the Caribbean, published in 2016, is very diplomatic when stating its interest in the region by writing: “Based on equality and mutual benefit, the comprehensive and cooperative partnership between China and Latin America and the Caribbean is oriented towards common development. It does not target or exclude any third party.”
Historically, the United States has had very close political, economic, and commercial relations with Latin America. Currently, the United States has several free trade agreements (FTAs) in force with the region, including with Mexico, through NAFTA; with Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, through CAFTA-DR; with Panama, with Colombia, with Peru, and with Chile. Simultaneously, in recent decades, the People’s Republic of China, as an emerging and revisionist power, has intensified its political and economic activities in Latin America while seeking new allies and markets on the world stage. Towards the end of the 20th century, Beijing’s first challenge in the region was to secure political and diplomatic recognition given that most governments in Latin America recognized the government of Taipei and the Republic of China in Taiwan as the legitimate government of China (at the expense of Beijing).