Page last updated at 06:19 GMT, Monday, 9 February 2009

China pursues Latin America ties

By Shirong Chen
BBC China analyst

Brazilian soy bean farm
China is purchasing more Latin American commodities like soya

Two top Chinese officials have started visits to Latin America as part of an intensified effort to strengthen ties with the region.

Chinese Vice-Premier Hui Liangyu is to visit Argentina, Ecuador, Barbados and the Bahamas.

Vice-President Xi Jinping is visiting Jamaica, Colombia, Venezuela and China's two biggest trading partners in the region, Brazil and Mexico.

China has stepped up its efforts to strengthen ties with Latin America.

It is rare for two of its top leaders to descend on the region almost at the same time.

New markets

It is not simply a trip to groom a president-in-waiting or to strike more deals for natural resources, as is often the case with Africa.

President Hu Jintao (left) and Preident Alan Garcia (right) travel through Lima on 19 November
President Hu was given a warm welcome by his Peruvian host
China's export markets in Europe and North America have shrunk substantially in the global financial crisis.

The government is desperate to open up new markets in the region of more than half a billion consumers and maintain market share for China's export machines in 2009.

China is the third largest trading partner for Latin America.

Bilateral trade reached $100bn (67bn) in 2007.

In January this year, China joined the Inter-American Development Bank with a donation of $350m (237m), paving the way for Chinese companies to take part in infrastructure projects there.

China is executing a long term strategy to position itself for further influence in the region.

Beijing published its first ever policy document on the region last November before the country's president visited Costa Rica, Cuba and Peru.

The current economic downturn presents a good opportunity for Beijing to play a bigger role internationally.

So the Chinese leaders will be listening to views from the region and try to reflect their interest at such forums as the Group of 20 summit in April.

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