China Predicts It Can Tame Javier Milei, Keep Stranglehold on Argentina

Javier Milei of argentina
Erica Canepa/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Chinese Communist Party’s top English-language propaganda instrument, the Global Times, took great pains on Tuesday to emphasize that Beijing is not concerned about Argentine President-elect Javier Milei potentially rupturing ties with the South American nation.

Milei, a self-described libertarian and an outsider candidate who assumed his first public office in 2021, campaigned on opposition to communism and socialism, explicitly rejecting government deals with China. Milei has referred to China as a “murderer” regime and expressed a preference for diplomatic ties to “civilized” countries, instead.

Milei’s administration is expected to be a dramatic contrast to that of outgoing President Alberto Fernández, a hardline socialist whose tenure has corresponded with a near-total economic collapse in Argentina. The country is currently experiencing inflation rates of over 140 percent, a rapid decline in the value of the Argentine peso, and a sharp increase in the rates of poverty and indigence.

Fernández inducted Argentina into the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China’s debt-trap scheme to erode the sovereignty of poor countries, in 2022. Fernández conducted a humiliating visit to Beijing in February 2022 for that purpose in which he laid a wreath at the tomb of Mao Zedong, honoring a communist mass murderer responsible for at least 45 million deaths.

Fernández said this week he will likely move to Spain after Milei takes office on December 10.

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The staff of the Global Times claimed on Tuesday that Chinese officials did not expect Milei to fulfill his campaign promises to distance Argentine foreign policy from Argentina, in part because of “the severity of the challenges currently faced by Argentina.”

Describing Milei’s task as “far trickier … than [that of] any American president since the Depression,” the Times insisted that Buenos Aires did not have the economic leverage to choose its geopolitical friends. It also used the example of neighboring Brazil, where conservative former President Jair Bolsonaro campaigned against socialism and communism, but as president adopted pro-communist policies and even gifted genocidal dictator Xi Jinping a soccer jersey during a visit to Beijing.

“Previously, some people intentionally hyped up the claim that Argentina would ‘decouple’ from China and Brazil, but even some rational Western experts were not optimistic about this gloating,” the Times claimed. “In fact, although the political spectrum of Latin American countries swinging between left and right has not fundamentally changed, the relationship between China and Latin American countries has shown a trend of increasing stability in recent years.”

Brazil, Argentina’s neighboring country, had a similar experience during the presidency of former president Jair Bolsonaro,” it continued. “This is because China’s pragmatic cooperation with Latin American countries, including Argentina and Brazil, has brought tangible benefits to the people of both sides.”

Campaigning, Bolsonaro promised to “put a foot in the ass of socialism.” As president, Bolsonaro declared, “I’m in a capitalist country!” when landing in Beijing and declared, “Brazil needs China, and China needs Brazil.”

The Global Times also noted that a predecessor and close collaborator of Milei’s former Argentine President Mauricio Macri, made a similar shift in favor of Beijing when he was elected president in 2015. Macri endorsed Milei after his party coalition candidate, Patricia Bullrich, lost to Milei in the first round of the presidential election in October.

Regarding Milei personally, the Times claimed that his language had changed from early on in his campaign, when he derided China, to more recently, when he clarified that, as a libertarian, he would not use the state to prevent private business dealings with China but that he would not allow the federal government to enter in such exchanges.

“This ‘change’ is not surprising. China is Argentina’s second-largest trading partner and the largest market for agricultural product exports,” the state propaganda outlet remarked, “while Brazil is Argentina’s largest trading partner. In the process of overcoming Argentina’s difficulties, the logic and interests of the Milei team and the Argentine people in developing relations with countries like China and Brazil are aligned.”

Hu Xijin, the former editor-in-chief of the Global Times relegated to commentator after the newspaper’s poor attempt to cover up the state disappearance of Wimbledon champion Peng Shuai, similarly scoffed on Tuesday at Milei’s anti-communist stances, which helped him build a large voter support base and win the election.

Hu claimed that Milei recently said he would allow Argentina to join the China-led BRICS economic coalition and described that as a change in tone. Hu did not cite where Milei allegedly said this, though it appears to be a misreading of reports that sources close to Milei have said that the president-elect would “seriously consider” the benefits of entering the alliance. BRICS – which stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – voted in August to accept six new members, Argentina among them.

“After his victory, Milei quickly adjusted his attitude toward China,” Hu claimed. “Now, he has also adjusted his position on whether Argentina would join the BRICS. These moves demonstrate the Chinese saying, ‘trend [sic] is more powerful than people.'”

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“Regardless of how Milei governs, China will be a partner in helping Argentina achieve economic recovery, a main political foundation,” Hu predicted. “China’s economic strength and its basic attitude of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries have solidified its unshakeable position in Argentina’s foreign relations.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry greeted Milei’s victory on November 19 with similar warnings not to decouple from China.

“It would be a huge foreign policy mistake for Argentina to cut ties with major countries like China or Brazil. China is Argentina’s important trading partner,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning told reporters shortly after the election results were confirmed.

Despite the close ties between Argentina and China under Fernández, Xi Jinping did not call Milei to congratulate him, sending him a letter, instead. Milei published the letter on social media on November 23.

“China and Argentina are great countries in development and important emerging markets. Both countries always abide by mutual respect, equal treatment, mutual benefit and shared gains,” Xi’s letter read in part, “and mutually lend themselves firm support in relevant issues and respective vital interests.”

“I attribute high importance to the development of Sino-Argentine ties and am willing to work together with you to continue the friendship between both countries,” Xi concluded, “I hope that under your leadership the government and people of your conquer new achievements in the cause of national construction.”

Milei replied on Twitter, a social media outlet banned in China, expressing gratitude to Xi for “congratulations.”

“I send him my most sincere desires of wellbeing for the people of China,” Milei wrote.

Milei has publicly condemned the Chinese Communist Party regularly.

“I would do not business with China. It is false that it would be a macroeconomic tragedy,” he declared in 2021. “We can make transactions with the civilized side of life. I don’t make transactions with communists.”

Milei has also referred to China as a “murderer” regime and expanded his opposition to “business with China” to all communists.

“I am a defender of freedom, peace, and democracy. Communists have no place there. The Chinese have no place there. [Russian strongman Vladimir] Putin has no place there. Let’s go further: Lula has no place there,” Milei told Tucker Carlson in an interview in September.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.



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