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USAF Journal of the Americas

China’s Use of Soft Power in Support of its Strategic Engagement in Latin America

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R. Evan Ellis, PhD
 Kelly Senters Piazza, PhD, United States Air Force Academy
Maj Adam Greer, USAF 
Brig Gen (Ret) Daniel Uribe, PhD, USAF*

The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) expanding engagement and presence 
in Latin America and the Caribbean has captured the attention of political and 
business leaders and the people of the region, as well as the United States. Although the PRC’s engagement and use of “soft power” has political, cultural, security and other dimensions, the attention that the PRC commands in the region 
is arguably driven primarily by the pace of China’s rise, and the lure of benefiting 
from China through engagement and business. For Latin America and the Caribbean, the PRC’s rise has been most directly felt through the PRC’s increasing 
importance as a partner in trade, loans, and investment for the region over the past 
two decades. Since the acceptance of the PRC into the World Trade Organization in 2001, PRC-Latin America trade has expanded 17-fold, from $18.5 billion 
in 2002, to $312 billion in 2020.1

In political terms, in addition to regular regional bilateral interactions, the PRC 
has engaged Latin America principally through the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), and through virtually all the region’s other 
multilateral institutions, including the Interamerican system, where it has had an 
active role as observer in the Organization of American States (OAS) since 2004. 
In the 2015, 2018 and 2021 China-CELAC ministerial-level summits, the PRC 
advanced multiyear “plans”2  detailing how the PRC aspires to take its relationship 
with the region forward. PRC engagement also takes on cultural and informational 
dimensions, including targeted regional dissemination of PRC state-sponsored 
propaganda and news-media; the establishment of 44 regional Confucius Institutes for Chinese language and PRC culture education; various forms of “people-