21st-Century Geopolitics Of Central America: Grand Strategy
From The Global Periphery To The Center Of Great Power Competition
The skinny isthmus of land connecting the North and South American landmasses has always occupied pivotal geostrategic real estate in global affairs, but it’s long been under the near-exclusive hegemonic influence of the US and therefore pretty much “cut off” from most international events at large. That began to change during the Cold War when the ideology of communism naturally took root in this oppressed region and organically spread like wildfire among the exploited populace, but a series of US-backed “counter-insurgency” campaigns and death squads put a brutal end to this “regional rebellion”. There were flickers of hope in the mid-2000s that the “Pink Tide” of democratically elected socialist-populist governments could spread from South America to Central America, and this did indeed seem to be a realistic possibility following the election of Manuel Zelaya as President of Honduras in 2005 and the re-election of Nicaraguan revolutionary leader Daniel Ortega in 2006, but the 2009 Honduran Coup proved that the US was dead-set on reviving its hemispheric-wide regime change policy of the Old Cold War in order to remove uncompliant Latin American governments in the New Cold War.
“Operation Condor 2.0”, as the author has since referred to it as, saw the US systematically orchestrate a series of “soft” regime changes in Argentina and Brazil, thereby effectively neutralizing the strategic independence of Mercosur, and spark the simmering Hybrid War on Venezuela as the ultimate coup de grace to reassert the US’ hemispheric hegemony. Given that the Bolivarian government in Caracas is under a state of ever-escalating siege which has dangerously put the multipolar lynchpin of Latin America on the verge of externally provoked “civil war”, it’s understandable why regional observers have also accordingly come to doubt the viability of Venezuela’s strategic “dependencies” in ALBA, which pertinently includes Nicaragua. It’s not to say that the countries of this grouping are Venezuela’s “satellite states” or aren’t independent, but just to underline how strongly their political futures depend on the eventual outcome of the Hybrid War on Venezuela, since the toppling of the oil-rich Chavismo government would drastically reduce the probability that the smaller, weaker, and more impoverished multipolar states of the region would retain their hard-fought strategic integration. Put another way, the US could more easily divide and conquer them, picking each country’s government off one-by-one.
In spite of the formidable challenge that this presents to the emerging Multipolar World Order, there’s still a chance that the Western Hemisphere won’t fall back under the US’ full control even if Washington is successful in overthrowing the Venezuelan government, and this is due to China’s silently growing influence in Latin America and its ambitious plans to build a transoceanic canal through Nicaragua. Although the proposed Nicaraguan Canal is officially a private venture and isn’t formally associated with the Chinese leadership, its completion would inevitably have a profound impact on shaping the forthcoming foreign policy calculations of the People’s Republic, so it deserves to be seen as a game-changing initiative which could completely upend the traditional geopolitics of the region. As such, it represents the most powerful vehicle for promoting multipolar interests in the Western Hemisphere and correspondingly makes Central America one of the most important battlefields in the New Cold War. The problem, however, is that comparatively few observers have publicly recognized this fact, which means that most of the world isn’t even aware that the US’ “backyard” has been thrust back into the center of Great Power competition.
Order Of Research
For this reason, a comprehensive study of the 21st-century geopolitics of Central America is long overdue in order to elaborate on the regional and global implications of this reality, taking care to explain how and why this part of the globe has become as significant as it is. There’s a multitude of information about Central America which could be overwhelming if presented in a clumsy manner, which is why it’s so important to structure the research in a way that makes everything easier to digest, especially for readers who lack a firm background of knowledge about this region.
In executing this task, the first part of the study will describe the overall 21st-century strategic context of Central America in regards to the US-Chinese Great Power rivalry. The second chapter will then present a geographic and historical overview, while the third and final one will touch upon the prevailing characteristics and trends which are more or less emblematic of this part of the world, as well as the integrational initiatives that are present here as well.
Considering that this introductory chapter also doubles as the first part of the study, the research will now continue along with describing the geostrategic significance of Central America in the 21st century.
The US’ “Zero-Sum” Mindset
China is well aware of the geographic limitations forever hindering the projection of its influence in Central America, which is why it doesn’t harbor any grand delusions of directly influencing the region to the degree that some in the US might be worried about. It’s all but impossible for China to exert power here in the same way that the US does, so it must go about executing its strategies in an asymmetrical and somewhat roundabout manner. For example, the only real game-changing physical/tangible (key word) activity that China is engaged in is the Nicaraguan Canal, which in and of itself will facilitate “soft” Chinese influence into Central America by boosting the trade relations that the People’s Republic enjoys with it and the Caribbean. Even though there’s the possibility that China might dispatch private military contractors (PMCs) to safeguard some of this project’s infrastructure in the Nicaraguan jungle, it’s highly unlikely that this will result in any sort of “hard” Chinese influence penetrating the region and influencing its geopolitics. Rather, China’s strategy is much more benign than the US’ and seeks to catalyze phased political-economic change in Central America by gradually drawing the six relevant countries (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama) into its strategic orbit.
The “zero-sum” perception of International Relations prevalent among American decision makers expectedly leads them to see any sort of “soft” Chinese influence as a threat which must ultimately be snuffed out, and it’s this line of thinking which is compelling the US to once again “micromanage” the region’s affairs through political interference (the “Northern Triangle”), economic sanctions (2017 proposed measures against Nicaragua), and coups (2009 Honduras). There’s nothing new to this in principle, but given the system-wide paradigm shifts taking place all across the world nowadays, there’s a chance that the US might “mismanage” its activities and yield unintended strategic blowback to its interests such as through orchestrating another Hybrid War on Nicaragua that inadvertently prompts another uncontrollable migrant surge through the “Northern Triangle” and into the US’ southern borderland states, for example. This is but one of the many scenarios which could develop in the coming future, but the point to focus on here is that China doesn’t really have to do much in terms of its activity in order to push the US into taking counterproductive actions, and this is due to the “zero-sum” “security dilemma” that’s festering in the minds of the Washington elite.
The Reverse-South China Sea Strategy
Just as the US is trying to put pressure on China’s southern periphery in the South China Sea and shape the regional dynamics in such a way as to bolster the chances that Beijing clashes with its neighbors, so too can it be argued that China’s activity in the US’ southern Central American periphery is shaping the regional dynamics in a manner that’s increasing the odds that the US will once again pursue hostile clandestine policies against its neighbors. The thematic difference is that China never had many serious problems with the states abutting the South China Sea (with a few notable exceptions such as the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese War), whereas the US has a long legacy of one-sided aggression against the Central American states, but apart from that, the main idea is that each Great Power’s renewed presence (military in the American sense regarding ASEAN, economic concerning China’s ties with Central America) in the other’s “backyard” is pushing their competitor into differing degrees of conflict with their neighbors.
The US is responsible for initiating this asymmetrical “shadow boxing” with China through its “Pivot to Asia” (P2A) and attendant destabilization activities in the South China Sea, while China responded with its “Pivot to the Americas” (P2A) by dedicating more time, attention, and resources to Central America, among other Western Hemispheric regions. It’s because of this cause-effect relationship that China’s policies in Central America and the Caribbean can be referred to as a “reverse-South China Sea strategy”, but there’s also much more to it than “geopolitically trolling” its Great Power rival and trying to trigger a counterproductive overreaction from it which could end up being disastrous to the US’ regional standing. Although there are certain strategic benefits to be had if the US’ “imperial overreach” results in a costly quagmire (or series thereof) with a host of unintended blowback consequences to its homeland, it’s much better for China, the region, and the emerging Multipolar World Order in general to see Central America peacefully free itself from the US’ yoke, ergo the far-reaching and ambitious geostrategic expectations attached to the Nicaraguan Canal.
China envisions that Central America and the Caribbean would become indispensable components of its One Belt One Road global vision of New Silk Road connectivity following the successful completion of the (oft-delayed) Nicaraguan Canal, which would integrate them into the new global system and mitigate the US’ influence by extent. This is of course the most ideal outcome that China is aiming towards, but its leadership prudently understands that the US won’t willingly “surrender” its hegemony over the states in its own “South China Sea”, hence why there’s a high likelihood that Hybrid Wars and other forms of asymmetrical destabilizations (“Operation Condor 2.0”) will be hatched in response as Washington fights to retain control over its “backyard”. There’s only so much that China can do to prevent this considering that it’s literally half the world away across the Pacific Ocean, and it’s also wise enough to not get drawn into its own quagmire-like situation in this region either even if it was capable of exerting the military force necessary to counter the US’ destructive designs, which draws into question the long-term viability of Beijing’s strategy towards Central America.
Making Mexico Multipolar
There’s no way that China can sustainably expand and protect its desired multipolar influence in Central America and the rest of the Western Hemisphere without a network of solid regional partners which share the same interests, so multilateralism is inevitably the only solution for dealing with this difficulty. None of the six discussed states in this region are strong enough to stand on their own as the type of leaders that China needs, and the odds of them integrating with one another in a 21st-century form of the “Central American Federation” are low for the time being due to strategic and administrative incongruences, though the scenario itself shouldn’t be entirely discounted in the long term. Rather, it’s more likely that China has a much larger state in mind as its regional partner for Central America, and that’s Mexico, which could in theory serve as a multipolar counterweight to the US if only the country were able to clinch a strategic partnership with China. Mexico, which is commonly regarded as a North American country by many experts and also the author himself in the context of this research, is the real prize that China’s aiming to “win” in the Western Hemisphere.
To explain, Beijing knows that a Chinese-Mexican Strategic Partnership would pair well with the incipient collaboration between the People’s Republic and the transcontinental Pacific Alliance trading bloc that Mexico leads, the latter of which was discussed at length in the final chapter of the author’s previous book-length analytical series about the “21st-Century Geopolitics Of South America”. The US is more “overly protective” and “defensive” about Mexico’s Great Power partnerships than it is about any other state’s in the Western Hemisphere because it intimately understands just how pivotal of a global game-changing factor it would be if its neighboring country of over 100 million people became a multipolar and competitive Great Power, let alone which weaponized its diaspora community in order to reclaim its lost 19th-century territory. This development might seem far off for the time being, but it in any case represents the most paramount strategic and possibly even existential threat that the US has ever faced since the end of its mid-19th-century Civil War, which explains why it will do everything in its power to prevent this possibility from materializing. To be clear, there are no indications that Mexico intends to do this, but the “zero-sum” American decision makers aren’t taking any chances.
Per their black-and-white, win-lose perspective of International Relations, they’ve convinced themselves that any significant partnership that Mexico develops with a multipolar leader, especially China, could in one way or another potentially lead to this disastrous outcome, so they therefore need to actively prevent any progress from being made on this front at all costs. Some of the tools at the US’ disposal include seamlessly transitioning some of the drug cartels into “democratic freedom fighters” against a multipolar government and/or exploiting the country’s widespread corruption problems in order to catalyze a Color Revolution. Either way, the US will assuredly take active measures to prevent a Chinese-Mexican Strategic Partnership from crystallizing, but Beijing is also well aware of this so it’s going about its plans in an indirect way through Central America and the Pacific Alliance, both of which could serve as “backdoors” to reaching an unofficial partnership between Beijing and Mexico City.
Mexico is already playing the “China card” in the run-up to its NAFTA negotiations with the US, but the present government doesn’t seem all too serious about going as far as it should in this direction and instead appears to be bluffing a bit in order to boost its standing vis-à-vis Washington, but the potential election next year of leftist-nationalist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (popularly known by his initials AMLO) could totally transform the situation, that is, if the US doesn’t stop it first. At any rate, China’s outreaches to the Pacific Alliance trading bloc have been productive so far and are on pace to strengthen the partnership between the two economic bodies with time, which naturally means that Beijing’s ties with Mexico City will be enhanced as well. The US tacitly encouraged the Pacific Alliance to form in the first place as a neoliberal counterweight to what was then the socialist-focused Mercosur, though this strategy may come back to bite it if it turns out that China is able to use the trading bloc as a backdoor to Mexico. So far, however, China’s engagement with the group has been directed mostly towards its South American members, but there’s a chance that Central America could provide a breakthrough in this regards, and it all comes down to Costa Rica.
China signed a free trade agreement with the tiny country in 2011, which at the time was generally overlooked by most observers who couldn’t comprehend why Costa Rica would want to have zero-tariff relations with such a disproportionately larger economy. With the benefit of hindsight, however, it becomes clear that both sides might have intended to reap much grander strategic benefits from the other in a clever win-win partnership which yields equal advantages for both despite their obvious differences of scale. Costa Rica already had a bilateral free trade agreement with Mexico since 1994 but signed a multilateral one with it alongside several other Central American countries (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica) the same year that it clinched the deal with China, so this in effect makes the state the institutional economic bridge between China and Mexico. Moreover, Costa Rica showed eagerness in 2014 to begin accession to the Pacific Alliance, and though the process hasn’t yet been formalized and China already enjoys free trade agreements with the bloc’s Peruvian and Chilean members, the Central American state’s membership in the group would further elevate the influence that China is able to wield within it through what would by then be bilateral economic deals with three of its five members.
China’s engagement with the Pacific Alliance is independent of its relations with Central America for the time being, but the same doesn’t hold true for its ties with Mexico, which are indirectly linked to the People’s Republic through both sides’ free trade agreements with Costa Rica. This is an under-discussed regional geopolitical nuance that has thus far generally avoided the attention that it deserves, but it’s being focused on in this context to advance the point that China is utilizing two “backdoors” (Pacific Alliance and Costa Rica) to strengthen its relations with Mexico, which it also hopes will become a stabilizing force in Central America that could push back in its own way against any of the US’ disruptive anti-Chinese designs there. In a sense, what China wants to see Mexico do in Central America is a multipolar version of the US’ “Lead From Behind” stratagem of “outsourcing” regional leadership to local likeminded partners, which interestingly overlaps with the US’ intended regional role for Mexico too, thereby putting Washington in a Catch-22 situation.
“Lead From Behind”
On the one hand, the US wants its NAFTA ally and regional subordinate to become a powerful enough anchor economy that it can dislodge China’s growing role in Central America, while on the other hand, it fears the consequences of Mexican-Chinese strategic collaboration (promoted through the two “backdoors” that were just discussed) in this geographic domain. The US would prefer that Mexico, as a much more direct and “authentic” regional stakeholder, takes the lead in promoting its own influence in Central America in order to peacefully counter China’s, yet Washington isn’t shy about wielding the weapons of Hybrid War (whether coups, sanctions, or outright physical conflicts) in order to get its way if this doesn’t work. At the same time, however, the US is walking a thin line because it knows that any pronounced destabilization in Central America will inevitably affect Mexico and in turn unsettle the situation in the US’ own borderland states through a potentially uncontrollable influx of “Weapons of Mass Migration” and other means. This places it in a very delicate situation where it’s “damned if it destabilizes” the region because of the blowback that this could engender but also “damned if it doesn’t” since it could lead to China making strong inroads right in the US’ own “backyard”.
The best way for the US to promote its interests, then, is to convince Mexico to become a unipolar stakeholder in Central America at its behest, seeing for itself some shared interests in this plan, and the most optimal approach for doing so is for Washington to emphasize that Mexico City can become a Great Power in its own right if it exploits its economic-integrational relationship with the region. The author briefly touched upon this in one of the chapters in his previous book-length work about the “21st-Century Geopolitics Of South America” when he wrote about the prospects of a revived “Mexican Empire” and a new “Gran Colombia” competing with one another for influence in Central America despite their shared Pacific Alliance membership, but it’s now necessary to explain a bit more at length how this could unfold from both the unipolar and multipolar angles.
About the former, the US has its own multilateral free trade agreement with Central America (CAFTA-DR, which includes the same five states as Mexico’s FTA with the region – Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica – plus the Dominican Republic) that it approved in 2005 as well as a corresponding agreement with Panama since 2012. Mexico reached its own free trade agreement with the canal country in 2015, so between the two NAFTA allies, their North American Free Trade Area essentially already encompasses all of Central America already. Canada has existing trade deals with Honduras, Costa Rica, and Panama, so it’s not too far off to say that NAFTA has pretty much absorbed Central America in an oblique way which will naturally take a “cleaner” and more “streamlined” form sometime in the future through the official expansion of the bloc to formally include these countries.
Furthermore, if one accounts for the US and Canada’s free trade agreements with Colombia, Peru, and Chile, then NAFTA is already de-facto on the way to merging with the Pacific Alliance and integrating most of the mainland countries in the Americas into a hemispheric-wide free trade zone along the lines of the so-called “Free Trade Area of the Americas” (FTAA) that some US decision makers have fantasized about for years. The notable exception is of course Mercosur, but “Operation Condor 2.0” and the Hybrid War on Venezuela are frantically working to reshape these socialist states into free market economies compatible with the US’ hegemonic FTAA vision. Mexico is irreplaceably relevant in this framework because it could take the lead in integrating Central America into NAFTA, which is a necessary prerequisite for building the FTAA and expanding it further afield into South America through the Pacific Alliance and Mercosur later on.
From the opposite angle, however, there’s also a multipolar plan at play too which could see Mexico become a stakeholder for the “other side” and therefore disrupt the US’ hemispheric ambitions. It may seem a bit far-fetched upon first glance, but the reader is encouraged to continue perusing the text in order to become familiar with the general principles behind this strategy. Mexico obviously wants to become a renowned Great Power, and while it can do so without exerting regional influence, it’s compelled to carve out a sphere of influence for itself just like its similarly sized peers have in order to obtain the associated prestige that comes from states in its desired geostrategic position. The US is giving Mexico an opportunity to do this through the aforementioned strategy which could end up fomenting a fierce economic competition with China in the region per the US’ premeditated design, but events could proceed in a different direction where Mexico comes to see itself as having a shared interest in Central America which complements China’s.
This can only happen if China continues to remain an ever-rising economic force in the region which becomes impossible to ignore, an ongoing trajectory which would be greatly secured by the successful completion of the Nicaraguan Canal. Instead of competing with China in a mutually disadvantageous way, Mexico could cooperate with it to secure Central America’s stability and therefore its own sphere of influence through the overlapping multilateral trade agreements mentioned earlier. China and Mexico could both coordinate with one another to their shared benefit and that of the region’s, which would push back against the US’ influence by displacing it as the premier economic force in Central America due to the combined power of the Chinese-Mexican Strategic Partnership. It’s difficult to predict whether Mexico would choose to throw its long-term strategic weight behind the US or China seeing as how there are arguments in favor of it going either way, whether due to the unipolar temptations and Hybrid War pressure from Washington or the win-win benefits being offered by Beijing, but it might ultimately all come down to Trump and AMLO to decide which way things develop.
The firebrand American President is a nationalist-populist who doesn’t believe in open borders and is against gargantuan multilateral free trade zones, so instead of pursuing the “utopian” FTAA vision of his liberal predecessors, it’s probable that he’ll go forward with his pledge to enhance border security with Mexico and negotiate a multitude of bilateral trade arrangements instead. Should this happen, then the ultimate geostrategic redoubt of “Fortress America” would look quite different than what Obama-Clinton had in mind, but it could still nevertheless “work” in principle so long as Mexico considered it a better and more respectable deal than whatever China has to offer, but therein lies the opportunity for Beijing and the emerging Multipolar World Order. It’s comparatively more advantageous to Mexico’s Great Power standing and global respect, especially under a future AMLO administration and following the successful completion of (or convincing progress on) the Nicaraguan Canal, to reject Trump’s hegemonic deal and side with China’s instead, therefore countering the US’ destabilizing designs for the region.
Proceeding from the last-mentioned point about the prospects for Mexican-Chinese multipolar coordination in Central America, the issue then begins to center on the role that Mexico’s fellow Pacific Alliance member Colombia could play in all of this, particularly as it relates to the central isthmus between itself and the North American state. While it’s much too far along the scenario trajectory to accurately forecast what could unfold under those competitive conditions, it’s reasonable that the Pacific Alliance would be struck by an intra-organizational contradiction as the two “bookend” states bordering Central America begin to jostle for this tract of territory. This doesn’t mean that the Pacific Alliance will formally “break up”, but just that the high-level distrust between Mexico and Colombia could interfere with the working efficiency of their shared organization just like the mutual suspicions between China and India have begun to affect BRICS and the SCO. Each pair of countries would have a multipolar and unipolar actor, with the former being Mexico and China and the latter being Colombia and India, representing yet another variable of division to further complicate the dynamics of the New Cold War.
Accepting the inevitability that the Pacific Alliance’s two largest economies bordering Central America will likely compete with one another for this strategic space between them, then it follows that this could present a divide-and-rule opportunity for both the US and China when it comes to managing their hemispheric policies, albeit to completely different ends. The US could either encourage “friendly competition” between the two in advance of making progress on its unipolar FTAA vision, or it could find a way to decisively shift the strategic balance to the favor of its designated partner (in this scenario, Colombia) through selective interventionism (sanctions, coups, conflicts) either in Central America or against its newfound “out-of-control” Mexican rival. From the opposite end, China could attempt to skillfully leverage its relations with both Mexico and Colombia in order to “balance” between them, using the nested economic influence that it could have developed in Central America by that time to present itself as a neutral no-nonsense partner for both. Instead of destabilizing the situation to various degrees like the US would seek to do (in spite of the blowback potential through Mexico and the US’ southern border), China would attempt to stabilize and balance it.
Just like the US would be carrying out its policies in this context in order to counter China and preserve unipolarity in the Western Hemisphere, so too would China be doing the same in order to make strategic progress against the US in advancing multipolarity. It’s self-explanatory how this would work from the US’ perspective, but a few words need to be said about the Chinese strategy, especially in respect to Central America. Beijing’s emergence as a balancing influence in the US’ “backyard” would be a significant development in and of itself, and it may apply some of the experience that it’s acquiring in Africa in this regard in order to become more effective in the Americas, but this doesn’t fully explain the deeper nuances at play. By becoming one of the most influential economic forces in Central America, China can also open up a “backdoor” to NAFTA because of the overlap of free trade agreements between the bloc’s three members and the region. It’s this factor, even more so than the geopolitical balancing role that China envisions, which could grant Beijing “shadow access” to the US’ cherished trade organization and therefore endow it with untold influence over their hemispheric affairs to build the FTAA.
US-Chinese Great Power Contradictions In Central America
The first chapter has thus revealed that there are many strategic divergences between the US and China in Central America, but they contradict one another in three primary fields:
The Nicaraguan Canal:
The US wants to stop this transoceanic canal’s construction in order to put a cap on China’s regional influence, while China has a deep-seated interest in seeing tangible progress made on this project and it ultimately being completed.
Taiwanese Recognition And Free Trade Agreements With China:
China can only sign free trade agreements with countries that recognize Beijing as the official government of the People’s Republic, so it needs to ‘flip’ the remaining ‘holdover’ states of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua over to its side first in order to make this a possibility; likewise, the US must prevent this from happening and push back against any other Central American states becoming an institutional-integrational ‘backdoor’ for China like Costa Rica is poised to be.
Balancing, Leveraging, And Integrating:
The competing Great Powers must “balance” between the larger states (e.g. Mexico, Colombia) in order to most effectively leverage their influence among the smaller (Central American) ones in this region, and both the US and China seem to tacitly agree that it’s inevitable that the isthmus will be integrated in one way or another into the aforementioned larger states’ spheres of influence, though it’s just a question of whether this will lead to unipolar or multipolar ends.
It’s crucial to have pinpointed the contradictions between the US and China in Central America because this gives one an indication of what to expect concerning their competition in the isthmus. The paramount geostrategic importance of the Nicaraguan Canal in the larger paradigmatic framework suggests that this country is prioritized by both Great Powers for polar opposite reasons, thereby heightening the chances that their rivalry could come to a violent head in this centrally located state through a new Hybrid/Proxy War closely resembling the 1980s “contra” conflict, albeit backed by the US under different “plausible” pretexts.
As for the second category of contradictions, this will expectedly be less intense than the first one but also quite fierce as the two Great Powers vie for the Central American states’ loyalty. One might scoff at the thought of these countries “breaking ranks” to abandon Taiwan in favor of China, but the fact remains that Panama of all states just did so in mid-2017 despite its long history of strategic servitude to the US. This means that the other four countries – Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and especially Nicaragua – are plausibly in play too now.
Concerning the last element of strategic divergence related to balancing, leveraging, and integrating, this will occur on more of a macro-level and could take many forms depending on the contours of any potential Mexican-Colombian intra-organizational competition for Central America, the outcome of the Hybrid War on Venezuela, and other factors. One multipolar possibility could even see the “Northern Triangle” of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador coming under Mexican influence, the “Southern Isthmus” of Costa Rica and Panama falling under Colombia’s, and the geographic pivot state of Nicaragua being under China’s sway as Beijing masterfully balances all sides.
The objective of the first chapter was to place the US-Chinese Great Power competition for Central America into the context of the New Cold War between the unipolar and multipolar forces, as well as to elaborate at length on China’s long-term strategy for the region. Some of the concepts expressed in this opening part of the study may be completely new for some readers, so it’s encouraged that they revisit this work and skim through it again after reflecting on its contents if some of the points weren’t clear the first time around. It’s important to grasp the ideas being expressed in this section because they form the backdrop to everything else that’s to come in this research, which will be a set of historical overviews followed by a listing of Central America’s strategic mainstays. Without an eye on the bigger picture, it may be difficult to understand the relevance of present-day events, and it’s the author’s hope that this research will serve a useful purpose as a collection of reference materials for interested individuals whenever news-breaking events unfold.
To concisely summarize the most significant ideas contained in this chapter, China is silently building up a groundswell of all-around strategic influence in Central America through the Nicaraguan Canal project, its ever-expanding regional economic footprint, the two “backdoors” to Mexico of the Pacific Alliance and Costa Rica, and the potential that it has for swaying states away from recognizing Taipei and consequently sealing free trade agreements with Beijing. Taken together, all of these moves provide the People’s Republic with a lot more regional influence than might initially meet the eye, especially considering that China is in a prime position to balance between the larger states of Latin America by leveraging its rising role in Central America as Pacific Alliance members Mexico and Colombia seek to integrate the stretch of land between them. China can “geopolitically troll” the US into overreacting and engaging in counterproductive policies as per the “reverse-South China Sea” stratagem for Central America, but it also has the much more proactive possibility of using Central America as a “backdoor” to NAFTA and subsequently disrupting the US’ hegemonic FTAA plans.
DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.