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Fuerte cruce de opiniones sobre China entre dos investigadores del Conicet

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El investigador del Conicet Eduardo Oviedo publicó en la revista Voces del Fénix , que edita la Facultad de Ciencias Económicas de la UBA, un artículo muy crítico sobre las relaciones sino-argentinas, donde reitera sus ideas acerca de la “dependencia” argentina, y otro investigador del mismo Centro, Carlos Escudé, le respondió duramente en un artículo para Academi.edu, descalificando su postura académica. Aquí la nota de Oviedo y en Leer más, la respuesta.

-How to lobby against China (or how NOT to conduct scholarly research in International Relations): a case study in contemporary (2018) SinoArgentine relations through the work of Eduardo Daniel Oviedo

By Carlos Escudé

Introduction (or how not to cooperate in global financial governance)

In recent decades, the People's Republic of China has made an important contribution to Argentina's economy and, indirectly, to its democratic stability. Although China is far more powerful than its South American strategic partner, with a GDP that nearly equals that of the United States, Argentina has a higher income per capita and is in this sense somewhat more “developed.” Both economies are complementary and there is a reciprocal albeit asymmetrical demand for each other's products. Moreover, with the internationalization of the RMB, China has shown a much greater disposition to contribute to the solution of Argentina's financial difficulties than other great powers.

Notwithstanding, an important segment of Argentina's establishment seems to be adamantly against the consolidation of the strategic association between the two countries. Right-of-center politicians, businessmen, journalists, diplomats and academics often display prejudice and suspicions vis-a-vis the PRC, and express themselves as if Argentina were a natural part of the West. To make it worse, their writings are often plagued with sophistry and untruths that make cooperation difficult.

Such discourse runs parallel to similarly paranoid American efforts, such as Evan Ellis’ February 2, 2018 article, titled “It’s time to think strategically about countering Chinese advances in Latin America.” 1

This sort of pseudo academic analysis goes as far as labeling the Confucius Institutes “Trojan horses,” as if they were any different from the Alliance Française, the British Council, Spain’s Instituto Cervantes or the American Icana.2

Indeed, in this age of fake news, fake academic analysis has proliferated in Argentina and elsewhere as regards China. Surprisingly, this decadent trend includes distinguished professors and academics. In this research paper I will concentrate on one highly visible article authored by Prof. Dr. Eduardo Daniel Oviedo, “Las relaciones argentino-chinas a dos años de la alternancia política.” It was published in April 2018 in Voces en el Fénix (pp. 96-101), an online review edited by the School of Economics of the University of Buenos Aires. 3

As we shall see, Argentine relations with China are therein singled out as an actual cause of Argentina's economic difficulties. In order to so argue, the author violates every rule of social scientific research and analysis. This selfdegradation is surprising because Prof. Oviedo is a researcher and teacher of some distinction, and his previous work has often contributed importantly to knowledge on Sino-Argentine relations. His 2016 article “Déficit commercial, desequilibrio financiero e inicio de la dependencia argentina del capital chino,” for example, is of much greater scientific quality and cannot be discarded as mere anti-China propaganda.4 But in in his 2018 work we find a involution that is difficult to understand unless we attribute it to motivations of a political and ideological sort.

This phenomenon, which should be further studied from the perspective of the Sociology of Knowledge, is possible only in an underdeveloped academic milieu in which colleagues do not subject each other to a healthy measure of quality control. Furthermore, it does unquantifiable damage to global financial governance.

From Cristina Kirchner (CFK) to Mauricio Macri (MM): the presidential transition in Argentina

Before we begin, we must summarize the basic numbers that characterize present-day Sino-Argentine relations. As Prof. Oviedo acknowledges, by the time of the presidential transition of 2015, the accumulated Chinese FDI in Argentina amounted to US$ 1948 million, more or less the same as Chinese investments in the Alliance of the Pacific. To this, investments made through fiscal paradises by state Chinese firms such as SINOPEC, CNOOC and ICBC, had to be added. Using Chinese sources, Oviedo acknowledges that China generated some 11.000 jobs in Argentina, plus an additional 30.000 through indirect means.

The downside to this is the trade deficit with China, which from 2008 to 2015 amounted to a total of US$ 30.812 million, comparing very disfavorably to the trade surpluses of Chile (US$ 41.000 million) and Brazil (US$ 181.000 million) during the same period. 5

Notwithstanding, China’s most important contribution to Argentina is financial, through the 2009, 2014 and 2017 swap agreements, and the supplementary agreements of 2015 and 2018. As Noemí Brenta and Juan Larralde state in their important 2018 paper, the strategic link between Argentina and China has continued in force despite the change in the geopolitical orientation of the MM Administration, which switched from the pro-China policy of CFK to a pro-American approach. 6 Indeed, although a pro-American inclination can still be perceived, by 2017 Macri had no alternative but to return to a strong financial cooperation with the PRC.

The change of heart of the MM Administration shows the limits of any Argentine alignment with the United States. Metaphorically, we can state that the MM Administration was willing to sell its favors to the United States, but that the United States was not buying much. Much to his chagrin, Macri had to continue relying partially on China, the great rival of the American giant.

This is understandable. As I argued in 2011, the essential difference between these two great powers vis-à-vis Argentina lies in the fact that China has an use for what Argentina can offer, whilst the United States has practically no use for it, because its rich farmlands compete with Argentina in the production and exportation of temperate climate foodstuffs. Contrariwise, China actually needs to buy these products. This is good, not bad, for Argentina.7 As was to be expected, Macri’s attempt to switch from China to the United States largely failed, and so he had to backtrack rapidly in order to avoid even greater financial turbulences.

The art of blaming China

This failure of Macri’s first approach to relations with China is duly recorded in Oviedo’s paper, but with a bias. He reminds us that, under CFK’s presidency, there had been a high degree of cooperation between both countries, so when the new administration undertook a revision of the agreements signed under CFK, great tension was generated with Beijing. Nonetheless, Oviedo continues, during Macri’s 2017 state visit to China, presidential diplomacy reestablished cooperation between both states, “consolidating an unequal pattern of bilateral relations.” He adds that this “unequal pattern” consists of “North-South asymmetries and centerperiphery exchanges of goods and services, with trade deficit and capital requirements”. 8

This language appears to ignore that one can only eliminate such “unequal patterns” through socio-economic development. Without a proper degree of socio-economic development, a country can only exchange one dependence for another dependence. This is inexorable.

To pretend otherwise amounts to magical realism. And this is what Oviedo’s rhetoric on dependence accomplishes: a magical realism more worthy of a literary genius like Gabriel García Márquez than a social scientist like himself. He tells us that, after the change of government, “Macri returned to the international financial system, diluting the country’s financial dependence on China, notwithstanding which a multilateral dependence on foreign capital continued, as well as a strong Chinese influence on the local economy.”9 This outcome was so inevitable that it was not even worth mentioning. Given the weakness of the Argentine economy, a government cannot instantly eliminate dependence. As said, all it can do is trade one dependence for another. To think that the strategic relationship with China engendered the problem is magical thinking. Only legitimate long-term growth can eliminate some measure of dependence.

But Oviedo does not stop here. He goes on to say that: “The legacy of the CFK government was not limited to the agreements that were signed, but also included eight years of lost commercial exchange, and inaugurated a dependence on Chinese capital.”10

We may ask, what does “inaugurated a dependence on Chinese capital” mean? It can only mean that there isn’t enough local capital to face the ends set by the Macri government (or the needs of Argentina’s polity and society), and that there is therefore a need for foreign capital wherever it may come from. Indeed, there is no such thing as a dependence on specifically Chinese capital.

Oviedo continues arguing that “this is the reason why” countries like Brazil and Chile had the foreign exchange needed to confront the world financial instability inaugurated in 2008, while Argentina had no alternative but to recur to Chinese swaps to stabilize its currency, at the cost of depending on Chinese capital. 11 He implies that Argentina’s trade and financial weakness were due to errors in Argentina’s policy towards China, but does not demonstrate it in the least. His comparative statement involving Brazil and Chile makes a mockery of social scientific methods. Indeed, Oviedo’s is a libelous pamphlet disguised as social science. His use of concepts such as “dependence” and “autonomy” is colloquial, and betrays a lack of understanding of the debate that has taken place in Argentina since 1992 on the actual meaning of this oft-abused terminology.12

Oviedo complains that “short-term trade, and financial and political needs, imposed limits to a radical change in Argentina’s policy towards China, especially inasmuch as the country was still submerged in a default situation and needed the Chinese swap to eliminate exchange controls.” Here he adds a strikingly naïve comment: “This is when President Macri understood the measure of Argentina’s dependence on China.”13

Indeed, Argentina needed the Chinese swap if its government wished to eliminate exchange controls (the so-called “cepo”). This illustrates the fact that Argentina was direly dependent on foreign sources of foreign exchange, and that China was available to lend a helping hand. Other countries were not, and this is not China’s fault, but rather, that of Western sources of alternative financial support for Argentina.

Needless to say, it cannot be true that, at that moment in time, Macri finally came to understand Argentina’s high dependence on China. If Macri has any brains at all, and he does, he must have understood long before that Argentina depended on capital that it did not have, and that this capital had to come from abroad. Fortunately, China was available when other great powers were not.

A few paragraphs down in his text, Oviedo tells us that “President Macri managed to set Argentina free from its dependence on Chinese capital, even if the government of Xi Jinping continues to wield great influence on the Argentine economy and is an alternative source of capitals in an unstable world. (…) Argentina severed its dependence on China and increased its autonomy, but continued depending on international capital. Thus, Macri’s government reduced its dependence at a bilateral level, but not in the wider sphere of foreign policy.”14

This is pure anti-China and pro-Macri political propaganda. As stated before, so long as it does not undergo significant further development (a process that requires years of intensive work and intelligent economic policy), Argentina can only exchange one dependence for another.

Apparently, Oviedo celebrates the replacement of dependence on China by dependence on the United States. Thus, it follows that, for unknown reasons, he does not like China. He seems to operate as the academic engine of an anti-China lobby. At any rate, whatever his intentions may be, he performs this job or function remarkably well.

Oviedo acknowledges that the agreements reached between the two presidents in Washington (2016), Hangzhou (2016) and Beijing (2017) led to an increase in cooperation, but remarks that “these agreements did not modify the structure, asymmetries and trends of the economic and financial relations.” 15 Once again, in this reasoning he forgets that asymmetries and structures are not modified by art of magic or by presidential decrees. Oviedo cannot ignore this. Rather, he plays with his readers’ naïveté.

Furthermore, he acknowledges that, after these meetings, “Chinese capitals continued arriving as FDIs, loans and swaps,” and that since the beginning of the Macri government 19 projects originated in China for a value of US$ 1413 million.” But when reporting these data he complains that “these quantities are irrelevant considering Argentina’s capital needs.”16

So nothing will suit him! On the one hand, he objects to Argentina’s so-called dependence on Chinese capital. But on the other hand, when capital is available, he criticizes China, seemingly demanding that it quench Argentina’s thirst for investments. There is no way that he will appreciate that the Chinese are making a positive contribution that, albeit insufficient to solve Argentina’s problems by itself, helps advance in the right direction.

He also criticizes Argentina’s strict application of the “one China” policy. In this, he tells us, there is continuity between the CFK and MM administrations. Oviedo chastises Macri, asserting that in so doing he is not being true to his proclaimed pragmatism, inasmuch as China tolerates economic and cultural relations with Taiwan so long as these relations do not overflow into the political sphere.17

In this, Oviedo seems to ignore that a basic tenet of Argentina’s foreign policy is its claim to the Malvinas/Falkland Islands, and that the principle of “territorial integrity” is at stake both in this case and that of Taiwan. Abandoning the “one China” principle would be tantamount to abandoning the principle of “territorial integrity.”

Furthermore, leaving aside the Malvinas/Falkland issue, Oviedo does not seem to understand that it may be pragmatically advisable to please a friend in need (in this case, Beijing’s need for support in its one China policy), even if going only halfway in this direction would have no immediate consequences for trade and capital flows.

Conclusions

It is clear that Oviedo wants Argentina to draw as far away as possible from China. One can only conjecture as to why. In his effort to make his case, he engages in cause-effect speculations, violating every rule of social science research. Toward the end of his article he actually states that “the relation with China must be thought of as one of the causes of Argentina’s economic problems.” 18 This is a cause-effect assertion that lacks all scientific backing. The author should know that correlations do not demonstrate causality in and of themselves.

He then insists on the idea that “Argentina lost a decade of trade with China (eight years with CFK and two with MM), becoming dependent on Chinese capital, while this did not happen with other South American countries such as Brazil and Chile.” 19 His anti-Chinese bias is so strong that he does not seem to realize that if Argentina “depended” on Chinese capital, it was because Argentina needed foreign capital and China was willing and able to supply it. As said before, Argentina was not dependent on Chinese capital specifically, but on capital it did not have and had to look for abroad.

Wittingly or unwittingly, disregarding this and blaming China for Argentina’s financial dependence contributes to the derailment of the two countries’ cooperation in global financial governance, which has been so aptly fostered by the swap agreements of 2009, 2014 and 2017, and by the supplementary agreements of 2015 and 2018.

Moreover, if Argentina had a trade deficit with China it was because its market demanded goods that China could supply, while the Chinese market had a lesser need for goods that Argentina could supply. Had Argentina not purchased from China the goods that its market demanded, it would have bought most of them elsewhere. Give or take a smallish percentage, the overall deficit would still have been there.

For example, if the PC I use to write this were not a Chinese Lenovo, it would have to be imported from somewhere else. The trade deficit that I generate using a state-of–the-art PC would still be there, so long as Argentina did not produce equivalent equipment. To suggest that Argentina’s trade deficit with the PRC is caused by China’s demand for Argentine soy beans is sublimely ludicrous.

Finally, Oviedo’s anti-China manifesto reaches a ludicrous extreme when he closes his article saying that “the Belt and Road Initiative offers opportunities to diversify exports. (…) However, the development of infrastructure does not solve structural problems, and contrariwise, can increase and accelerate economic inequities, center-periphery exchanges, and the asymmetries that accompany North-South relations.” 20

All this means is that all positive contributions can have negative counterparts or unwanted effects. So what are we to do? Close our eyes to opportunity? Oviedo kills all hope.

In regard to China, his intentions are clear. It is also clear that he is not operating in an Ivy League environment and that (due to an excess of politesse or to a lack of careful reading) most of his Argentine colleagues will let him get away with this anti-China ideological mumble jumble.

In contrast with his good 2016 paper mentioned in our Introduction, the 2018 article we analyze here is a typical product of cultural underdevelopment. If Argentina is to advance and the principles of good global governance are to be promoted, this sort of manipulation must be unmasked and weeded out.

Notas

1 Published in Global Americans, https://theglobalamericans.org/2018/02/timethink-strategically-countering-chinese-advances-latin-america/ . See also Evan Ellis, “Washington Should Take Note of Chinese Advancement in Brazil,” Newsmax, October 9, 2017, https://www.newsmax.com/evanellis/china-brazilinvestment-washington-dc/2017/10/09/id/818644/ ..

2 “Chinese engagement in Latin America and the U.S. response: taking off the gloves?,” published in the February 8, 2018 issue of the same publication, https://theglobalamericans.org/2018/02/chinese-engagement-latin-america-u-sresponse-taking-off-gloves/

3 http://www.vocesenelfenix.com/content/las-relaciones-argentino-chinas-dos-a%C3%B1os-de-la-alternancia-pol%C3%ADtica

4 Published in Carlos Moneta y Sergio Cesarín (eds.), La tentación pragmática: China-Argentina/América Latina, lo próximo y lo distante, Buenos Aires: Eduntref 2016.

5 Oviedo, op.cit., p. 97.

6 Noemí Brenta and Juan Larralde, “La internacionalización del renminbi y los acuerdos de intercambio de monedas entre Argentina y China, 2009-2018,” Ciclos, Vol. XXV, No. 51, 2018, p. 57. http://ojs.econ.uba.ar/ojs/index.php/revistaCICLOS/article/view/1332 4 that the MM

7 Carlos Escudé, “China y la inserción internacional de Argentina,” August 2011, UCEMA Working Papers Series No. 462. https://ucema.edu.ar/publicaciones/download/documentos/462.pdf

8 “Del alto nivel de cooperación desarrollado durante la presidencia de Cristina Fernández de Kirchner se pasó a la discordia y tensión cuando la coalición Cambiemos decidió revisar los acuerdos firmados por el gobierno anterior (…). La diplomacia presidencial resolvió la discordia a través del proceso de coordinación política desarrollado entre el inicio de la alternancia y la visita de Estado del presidente Mauricio Macri a China. Desde entonces, las partes restablecieron la cooperación, con contenido similar a la anterior y consolidación de un esquema desigual en las relaciones bilaterales. El esquema desigual consiste en asimetrías Norte-Sur e intercambios centro-periféricos, con déficit comercial y requerimientos de capital.” Oviedo, op. cit., p. 96.

9 “Tras la alternancia, la administración Macri retornó al sistema financiero internacional y licuó la dependencia financiera en China, pero mantuvo su dependencia multilateral del capital extranjero, así como la fuerte influencia de China en la economía local.” Oviedo, op. cit., p. 96.

10 “La herencia del gobierno de Fernández de Kirchner no se limitó a los acuerdos firmados, también dejó ocho años perdidos en el intercambio comercial e inauguró la dependencia del capital chino.” Oviedo, op. cit., p. 96.

11 “Por eso, mientras estos países disponían de divisas para superar la inestabilidad financiera mundial iniciada en 2008, la Argentina –parcialmente aislada del sistema internacional– debió recurrir a préstamos chinos con los que, a través del swap de divisas y acuerdos intergubernamentales, logró, desde 2014 hasta las elecciones presidenciales de 2015, estabilizar su débil situación financiera, a costa de depender del capital chino.” Oviedo, op. cit., p. 96.

12 See, for example, Carlos Escudé, Realismo periférico: fundamentos para la nueva política exterior argentina, Buenos Aires: Planeta 1992, especially the section titled “Hacia una teoría de la autonomía nacional de los países dependientes,” pp. 126-136.

13 “El comercio a corto plazo, las necesidades financieras y políticas limitaban el cambio radical de la orientación hacia China, sobre todo cuando el país aún estaba inmerso en situación de default y necesitaba del swap chino para eliminar el control de cambios. Es aquí donde el presidente Macri toma conciencia de la alta dependencia de la Argentina respecto de China.” Oviedo, op. cit., p. 96.

14 “El presidente Macri logró sacar a la Argentina de la dependencia del capital chino, aunque el gobierno de Xi Jinping todavía tiene alta injerencia en la economía argentina y es fuente alternativa de capitales en un mundo financiero inestable. (…) La Argentina cortó la dependencia de China y aumentó su autonomía, pero siguió dependiendo del capital internacional. Así, la administración Macri redujo la dependencia en el nivel bilateral, aunque no en el ámbito general de la política exterior.” Oviedo, op. cit., p. 98.

15 “Basados en los consensos alcanzados por los dos presidentes en las reuniones de Washington (2016), Hangzhou (2016) y Beijing (2017), las relaciones argentinochinas giraron hacia la cooperación. Ahora bien, esos consensos no modificaron la estructura, asimetrías y tendencia de las relaciones económicas y financieras.” Oviedo, op. cit., p. 99.

16 “Los capitales chinos continuaron arribando a la Argentina como flujos de IED, préstamos y swap. La Agencia Argentina de Inversiones y Comercio Internacional informa 19 proyectos con origen en China por valor de U$S 1.413 millones desde el inicio del gobierno de Macri hasta el 31 de diciembre de 2018. Si bien las condiciones macroeconómicas para las inversiones extranjeras son más favorables que en el gobierno anterior, estas cantidades son irrelevantes para las necesidades de capital de la Argentina.” Oviedo, op. cit., p. 99. 9

17 “La Argentina sigue una política irrestricta a favor de China en la cuestión de Taiwán. (…) El gobierno argentino ‘reafirmó el invariable apego a la política de una sola China’ en el comunicado conjunto suscripto durante la visita del presidente. (…) Aquí se desvanece el pragmatismo enunciado por la ex canciller Susana Malcorra ante el ‘principio de una sola China,’ pues el gobierno de la RPC no cuestiona a aquellos países que tienen relaciones económicas y culturales con Taiwán, siempre que las mismas se mantengan en esos ámbitos y no se trasladen al plano político.” Oviedo, op. cit., p. 100.

18 “La relación con China debe pensarse como una de las causas de los problemas de la economía argentina.” Oviedo, op. cit., p. 101.

19 “Mientras la Argentina perdió una década de comercio con China (ocho años con Cristina Fernández y dos con Mauricio Macri) y fue dependiente del capital chino, otros países de América del Sur, como Brasil y Chile, tuvieron amplios superávits comerciales y no necesitaron del aporte financiero chino. Es decir, el comercio con China generó un ciclo desfavorable para la Argentina, cuyas consecuencias financieras adversas, en parte, fueron subsanadas con el aporte de los capitales chinos.” Oviedo, op. cit., p. 101.

20 La Franja y la Ruta ofrece una oportunidad para diversificar las exportaciones, tanto en mercados como productos, y contribuir a la seguridad alimentaria de sus integrantes. (…) Sin embargo, el desarrollo de infraestructura no soluciona los problemas estructurales, por el contrario, puede acrecentar y acelerar las desigualdades económicas, los desequilibrios en los intercambios centroperiféricos y las asimetrías en las relaciones Norte-Sur.” Oviedo, op. cit., p. 101.

 

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