El Salvador Signs Major Deal with China Following Biden Admin Attacks

BEIJING, CHINA - DECEMBER 03: El Salvadors President Nayib Bukele meets Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the Great Hall of the People on December 3, 2019 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Noel Celis - Pool/Getty Images)
Noel Celis - Pool/Getty Images

The government of El Salvador finalized a sweeping cooperation agreement with the Communist Party of China on Tuesday night, less than 24 hours after the administration of President Joe Biden accused several members of President Nayib Bukele’s government of “corruption.”

Lawmakers who passed the deal, according to local media, did not read out the full text of the agreement, meaning much of it remains unknown to Salvadoran citizens. When first announced, the deal reportedly included the Chinese construction of several major infrastructure projects and aid in turning underdeveloped seaside territories into major international tourist destinations.

Bukele has insisted that the agreement is not predatory and will not result in the country being heavily indebted to China, though multiple nations throughout Africa and Latin America have found themselves in precarious situations following similar agreements with the Communist Party.

The Bukele administration also loudly promoted the arrival of doses of Chinese-made coronavirus vaccine candidates to the country on Tuesday night, giving the Chinese ambassador to the country a platform to deliver a speech touting friendship and cooperation to the public.

The Biden State Department announced Tuesday that it had added several Bukele officials, including a member of his cabinet, to a list of foreign political figures “credibly alleged” to have engaged in corruption. The accusation claimed those now on the list may be involved in drug trafficking, an allegation Bukele forcefully denied. The Salvadoran officials were among a total of 17 individuals in Central American governments accused of corruption.

Bukele, who has invested heavily in constructing a public image of himself as a tech-savvy Millennial, published an extensive comment on Twitter accusing “George Soros henchmen” of being behind the corruption allegations and appearing to accuse the United States of enabling the corruption of past Salvadoran administrations.

“In El Salvador, we are going to really fight corruption — the [corruption] that you all protected for 40 years,” he wrote. “The one that left our people looted, bleeding out, and underdeveloped. And even though you may come out to defend them, our people know who they are and that is the mandate they gave us.”

He went on to accuse media outlets, and “those who publish and promote” the Biden administration’s attacks, of being “George Soros henchmen” and warned, “if anyone believes that the fight against corruption has even a bit to do with this, they are either incredibly dumb or expect the rest to be. This is not fighting corruption, this is geopolitics.”

Following the tirade, Bukele’s Twitter feed turned to the near-constant promotion of agreements with communist China. The Salvadoran Congress, now controlled by Bukele allies, ratified the agreement Bukele signed with Beijing in 2019 on Tuesday night. According to El Salvador’s Prensa Gráfica, “the content of the agreement was not disclosed to the public as it was not even read to the Congress or the Foreign Relations Committee.” The newspaper added that it had obtained a copy of some of the provisions of the agreement, which included the Chinese construction of libraries, roads, and tourist destinations. According to the outlet, China would be allowed to provide the entirety of the labor force for all the projects, meaning the development initiatives would create zero jobs for Salvadorans.

The deal, Prensa Gráfica continued, also required El Salvador not to tax Chinese workers imported as labor for these projects. The investment is believed to be worth $500 million.

Following the vote, Bukele and his government celebrated the arrival of 500,000 vaccine candidate doses from China, apparently on airplanes owned by the New England Patriots, a U.S. football team.

“China is and will always be a friend to El Salvador; it is willing to help fight the pandemic and deepen exchanges … with mutual respect, equality, and without political conditions,” Chinese ambassador to El Salvador Ou Jianhong said in remarks at El Salvador International Airport late Tuesday.

The display of unity between Beijing and El Salvador prompted a State Department official to attempt to scold Bukele on Twitter, to which the president replied, “you guys are China’s biggest trade partner,” accompanied by a shrugging emoji.

President Joe Biden has repeatedly refused to recognize China as a geopolitical threat, or even an economic one.

“China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man,” Biden mumbled during a campaign rally in 2019. “They’re not bad folks, folks. But guess what: they’re not competition for us.”

The Biden administration has been much more antagonistic towards Bukele, an independent once ousted from El Salvador’s main leftist political party who as president maintained friendly relations with the United States under former President Donald Trump.

“Just this weekend, we learned the Salvadoran parliament moved to undermine its nation’s highest court. An independent judiciary is critical to a healthy democracy and a healthy economy,” Vice President Kamala Harris, tasked by Biden to solve the immigration crisis on the border, said following the move. “We will not make significant progress if corruption in the region persists. Corruption causes government institutions to collapse from within [and] prevents us from creating the conditions on the ground to best attract investment.”

Bukele has also criticized the Biden administration for offering Salvadorans incentives to leave the country. Bukele has emphasized throughout his tenure that retaining the native population and encouraging it to build economically at home is pivotal to El Salvador’s success as a country.

“For a country, it’s not profitable to get the people out. First, it’s immoral. I mean, you need to provide for your people,” Bukele said in an interview with Tucker Carlson in March. “It’s bad for the United States because immigration will go up, and it’s bad for our country because [of] people leaving the country.”

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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