Biden’s South American Blind Spot

CAMBRIDGE – Over the past few years, China has significantly expanded its economic footprint in South America, overtaking the United States as the continent’s largest trading partner. Despite US President Joe Biden’s strong commitment to countering China’s geopolitical ambitions, he has largely overlooked its growing presence in his own neighborhood. This is puzzling and alarming, not least because of South America’s crucial role in the fight against climate change.

Earlier in April, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva called on the US to stop “encouraging” the war in Ukraine. His statement was just the latest example of waning US influence in the region – and the Biden administration’s failure to address it.

Americans’ ignorance of South America is something of a cliché. In 1982, after a tour of the region, then-President Ronald Reagan famously said that he was “surprised” to discover that South America is made up of multiple individual countries. His comment reflected a widespread lack of knowledge about a diverse continent with a combined population of 430 million people. With abundant mineral deposits, vast agricultural land, and more than half of the world’s remaining tropical rainforest, it is no surprise that China has taken a keen interest in South America.

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