Civil Society and Academia Dialogue with Public and Private Entities about Chinese Investments, Socio-environmental Impacts, and LAC-China Relations

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Versión en español 

In the context of a panel discussion, civil society and academia, together with Chinese and Colombian public and private entities, came together for the first time in Bogotá to begin a dialogue on the challenges and opportunities of the commercial relationship between the Asian country and Latin America.  The hope is that the results of this first discussion will be useful in establishing a platform for an ongoing exchange between the three sectors.

Bogotá D.C, August 16, 2019. 

On the afternoon of August 14th a panel discussion was held in Bogotá called “The Growing Presence of China in Colombia and Latin America: a Dialogue in the Context of 3×3 Model Cooperation.”  The gathering was convened by the organization Ambiente y Sociedad, in alliance with the Asia-Pacific Observatory of the Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano and the Colombian Chinese Chamber of Investment and Commerce.  Throughout the event, the need to open up opportunities for dialogue between Chinese companies, financiers, and communities was emphasized for the prevention of social and environmental conflicts in the execution of megaprojects.

The expansion of the China and Latin America relationship has accelerated over the last decade. This expansion is demonstrated at every level and in all areas: it is observed in the TLC’s signed by China with Chile, Peru, and Costa Rica, in the arrival of 300,000 Chinese tourists to Latin American countries in 2018 alone, in the creation of 41 Confucius Institutes in the region, in the $153 billion dollars lent to the region between 2008 and 2018 –making China the largest source of financing–, and in the approximately 20 Latin American and Caribbean countries joining the Road and Belt Initiative, to give just a few examples. Hence, the expanding relationship has been significant, and it is expected to reach even higher levels in the coming years. 

“Based on the White Paper produced by China in 2016, which lays out the interest areas for desired Latin America investment, we have found that it no longer focuses solely on extraction, but also infrastructure, energy, and technology. Thus, I believe that Latin America must also ask itself, what kind of investment do we want to attract? And how much room can we give these companies so that they invest in our countries?” declared Lina Álvarez of the Asia-Pacific Observatory, Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano

 

The regional experience has also impacted the national Colombian context. The increase in Chinese financing for infrastructure, energy, and hydrocarbon projects –from the Bogotá metro to the production of solar energy in Meta–  shows how the relationship is destined to grow closer in the years to come.

Against this background, Jaime Suárez of the Colombian Chinese Chamber of Investment and Commerce noted that China is currently the second largest commercial partner for Colombian exports, with projections that Colombia will have a much more dynamic relationship with China over the next 40 years, meaning that Colombian products will gain presence in the Chinese market.  

“China represents an opportunity, but we must be intelligent regarding the kind of relationship we develop with them, as it will not solve all our problems. We must empower ourselves in our relationship with China and decide what type of relationship we want with that country, to create a win-win relationship,” stated David Castrillón, professor from the Universidad Externado

Thematically, the conversation was carried out in the framework of the 3×3 cooperation model proposed by Chinese prime minister Li Keqiang in his visit to the region a few years ago. The model calls for exchange and coordination between the private sector, society, and government in relations with China, to promote the adequate development and construction of three major focus areas (logistics, energy, and information technology) and the expansion of the three major finance channels (funds, loans, and insurance). In this context, it is also necessary to discuss project impacts and the application of social and environmental policies.  

Even though we find that governments positively view China’s present investment in infrastructure or alternative energy projects, we also note several examples of projects that present diverse socio-environmental problems and conflicts. Such is the case in Bolivia where multiple public complaints were presented over labor and social rights violations in some megaprojects.

For the last six years, several Latin American civil society organizations, including Ambiente y Sociedad of Colombia, have decided to carry out constructive accompaniment of investment projects coming from China by monitoring the social and environmental impacts of these megaprojects, acting as a bridge between the involved stakeholders, and providing information on best practices so that Chinese projects in the country can have win-win results.  

Margarita Flórez, Director of Ambiente y Sociedad, stated, “We believe that information must be public and citizens must be able to influence the projects, not on the basis of what is included in the environmental license but starting at the point of project design. This practice has been lacking in Colombia and today has led to multiple social and environmental conflicts.” 

“As a development bank, it is important that the road be built, but it must do so respecting the communities. In the end, the project is carried out in a specific geographic location and there are people living around the project that will have to coexist with the project for decades, so that is a standard that is nonnegotiable. There must be respect for the environment and workplace safety and health issues. This is not building at any cost, it is building with dignified conditions,” said Pablo Botero of the National Development Finance Agency. 

Vanessa Torres, Deputy Director of Ambiente y Sociedad, added, “Talking with China is complicated due to differences related to human rights concepts. For that reason, we believe that these kinds of strategies, looking beyond a social and environmental critique, can work to get civil society organizations and also communities a seat at an inclusive and participatory table.”

The discussion concluded with the relaunching of a digital tool to map megaprojects with Chinese investment in Latin America (www.chinaenamericalatina.info), which was developed by Ambiente y Sociedad. The online platform makes information available on mining, energy, infrastructure, and hydrocarbon projects executed by Chinese companies or with financing from the main Chinese banks in Latin America and the Caribbean.  In addition to the map, the web platform has information on the Cooperation Agreements between China and Latin America, cases of territories and communities affected by Chinese investment, and research documents and analysis.

 What can we do to prevent the social and environmental impacts generated by

projects with Chinese investment?

Listen, talk, and take action. 

 

For more information: Alicia Gomez/[email protected]  (+57-3204821467) 

Audio-visual material:   https://youtu.be/caEV_wl7mrY