China’s Military Activity in Latin America GABRIEL MARCELLA
THE FIVE DIMENSIONS
Chinese military activities fall into five categories: humanitarian, peacekeeping, military exchanges, arms
sales and donations, and technology transfers.
1HUMANITARIAN Under the banner of “Harmonious Mission 2011,” the Chinese Navy’s hospital ship, the Peace Ark,
entered the Caribbean in October 2011. The mission was
to provide medical services to local people and military and administrative personnel of countries visited.
Stops included Cuba, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago,
and Costa Rica. The craft has 300 hospital beds and
eight operating rooms—and carries 416 personnel, 107
of them medical workers. This was the second overseas
voyage of the Peace Ark, following “Harmonious Mission 2010” in the Gulf of Aden and five countries in Asia
and Africa, which treated 15,500 people.
The demonstration of soft power is similar to humanitarian missions conducted by the U.S. Navy’s hospital
ship, the USNS Comfort, since 2007. Those trips have
taken the USNS Comfort to ports of call in Central America, South America and the Caribbean to provide care to
thousands. There is one important political distinction:
unlike the Chinese program, the USNS Comfort does
not attend to armed forces personnel and administrative personnel of the countries it visits.
2 PEACEKEEPING Although it once opposed international peace- keeping, China is now the largest provider of
peacekeepers of the five permanent members of the UN
Security Council, with over 3, 100 in Africa and Lebanon.
In 2004, China sent 130 riot police to Haiti as part of
the UN’s MINUSTAH peacekeeping forces, becoming the
first Chinese uniformed formation to serve in the Western Hemisphere. Eight Chinese peacekeepers were killed
during the devastating January 2010 earthquake. All but
Americas Quarterly WINTER 2012
16 of the 130 were withdrawn in 2010. Taiwan, which has
ambassadorial level relations with Haiti, sent a rescue
team of 23 people and two dogs.
3 MILITARY EXCHANGES enior defense officials from Latin America visit China routinely and Chinese officials reciprocate
with high-level visits to Latin America. Students from
Colombia, Chile, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay have gone
to China’s Defense Studies Institute, the Army Command College, the Navy Command School, and the Naval Research Institute.
Though this might seem impressive, the numbers do
not come close to the thousands of Latin American students, military and civilian, who go to the U. S., Europe
and other countries for advanced studies. Moreover,
most of the student programs are one-way: to China.
It will be a measure of increased trust and confidence
when Chinese officers are sent to study in Latin American military schools. The U.S. has sent officers to study
at various Latin American military schools for more
than 50 years. Some of them have reached the highest
ranks in the U.S. military.
4 ARMS SALES The truth is that Latin America is not a large market for arms sales. Its military establishments are small by world standards and their defense
budgets austere. The defense problems that many countries face are internal conflicts and public security, not
conventional threats from over the horizon.
Latin American defense spending is forecast to grow
from $63 billion in 2011 to $65 billion by 2014, with a
mere 20 percent being available for procurement and
the bulk going to personnel costs.
3 While equipment
modernization is imperative, only a few countries
In the past decade, China sold
$58 million worth of Karakorum
jets to Bolivia, upward of $150 million in air surveillance systems to
Venezuela, and donated military
materiel to Bolivia, Guyana, Colombia, and Peru, such as uniforms,