Following Jean Manes’ statements, the private sector cautioned the Salvadoran government not to start a trade war. Manes warned of “geopolitical” consequences.
U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Jean Manes said that China seeks to expand in Central America and the Caribbean by way of countries’ vulnerabilities to “militarize the region.” In the case of El Salvador, the point of access would be China’s investment in La Unión Port, said Manes.
“They are trying to find weak spots in the region to make these kinds of arrangements in the region. We are concerned that it is not only an investment in a port, but that they will then want to do something with their military and expand Chinese influence in the region. It is a strategic matter and we all need to keep our eyes open as to what is happening,” she said.
Her concern stems from information provided by diplomats contending that China seeks to approach Central American and Caribbean governments offering investments that are “neither clear nor transparent” as a strategy to expand in those countries.
In the case of El Salvador, China would likely seek to establish a port of entry, which would be La Unión, due to its current state of neglect.
Manes said the information on hand indicates that the Salvadoran and Chinese governments initiated talks to start interventions in the maritime plant of Cutuco Port.
“They are in the talking phase, but it’s a significant phase for any country. People should be aware of these talks and the facts and tactics China employs,” Manes said.
The United States’ concerns already reached the entrepreneurial and political arena in El Salvador, Manes said. “We are working on it,” she said when asked whether meetings had taken place to warn political parties about China’s intentions toward El Salvador.
“It’s important that everyone knows what’s happening and is able to identify the usual tactics China employs. There are good examples you can study to ensure you are doing the best for your people in your country,” the ambassador said.
Salvadoran Minister of Economy Luz Estrella Rodríguez confirmed talks had initiated between the Salvadoran and Chinese governments during an interview with Salvadoran Channel 33, in which she confirmed the Asian country was interested in investing in La Unión Port.
For Manes, this isn’t about driving foreign investment away from El Salvador, but looking closely at the kind of offer China makes and its commitment to local economic development.
“It’s time to be careful about those things; we obviously want to see more investment in El Salvador, but not all investment is the same. What’s best is to improve truly sustainable investment that would benefit the country,” she said.
According to Manes, cases of China’s investment interventions in other countries showed that infrastructure projects ultimately stayed at the hands of the Chinese government.
“Other countries, such as Sri Lanka, no longer control their ports—another country does. We’ve seen this in other countries; once China obtained the project, they no longer complied,” Manes said.