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Source: United States House of Representatives – Congressman Albio Sires (8th District of New Jersey)

(Washington, D.C.) – Yesterday, Congressman Albio Sires (D-NJ) participated in an online event with the Center for Strategic and International Studies titled A Partnership for Taiwan and Latin America: The Creative Economy. The following statement is a portion of his remarks:

“As Chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, I work every day to deepen the United States’ engagement with Latin America and the Caribbean. I also serve as Co-Chair of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus because I am committed to strengthening U.S. relations with Taiwan and I believe that Taiwan has been a force for good in the world, including in Latin America and the Caribbean. For decades, Taiwan has worked to support democratic institutions, promote human rights, and advance economic opportunity in the Western Hemisphere.

Unfortunately, it has become clear in recent years that the Chinese Communist Party will not accept Taiwan’s constructive relations with the Western Hemisphere. The Chinese government has sought to isolate Taiwan by aggressively targeting the countries which recognize Taiwan diplomatically. In the last few years, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, and Panama have all decided to end their recognition of Taiwan. Government officials throughout the region have told me they feel pressured by China, but that it is difficult to resist China’s offers for instant capital with few strings attached. Yet in some cases, Chinese investments in Latin America have served very narrow interests, and not those of the larger population.

In Ecuador, China provided over eighteen billion dollars in loans for a series of infrastructure projects. One project, the Coca Coda Sinclair Dam, was built by a Chinese state-owned company for the shocking price tag of over two billion dollars. The dam was built next to an active volcano and now has thousands of cracks and is routinely clogged with debris, preventing it from functioning properly. Ecuador’s government has had to implement emergency measures to try to minimize the dam’s erosion and prevent it from collapsing. By any objective assessment, this project was a failure. Yet Ecuador is sending approximately eighty percent of its oil exports to China to pay back the debt for this disastrous dam and other wasteful projects. As one former Ecuadorian minister told the New York Times, “China took advantage of Ecuador.”

It is the same formula we have seen the Chinese government use around the world. It is a strategy that exploits murky public procurement processes and takes advantage of short-term thinking on the part of local governments. I mention this example not to cast blame upon every government that has accepted Chinese financing. This is a simple question of political and economic incentives. The U.S. needs to do much more to open up opportunities for private sector-led development and investment in the region. We need to re-engage in multilateral institutions and we need to commit to doing the hard work of combatting corruption.

I look forward to working with the incoming Biden administration and the new Congress to deepen our ties with allies in Latin America and the Caribbean.  U.S. support will be critical as the region seeks to recover from a devastating pandemic and begins distributing a COVID-19 vaccine. As we all know, Taiwan has provided a model for the world in its coronavirus response. With just seven deaths out of a population of nearly twenty-four million, not only has Taiwan saved lives, it has provided an example of what a transparent government response can look like. Taiwan has followed the science and deployed effective testing and contact tracing strategies.  Looking ahead, it will be important to learn from Taiwan’s success, as we seek to spur economic recovery and promote innovations in science and public health.”