China made its intentions clear enough back in 2008. In a first-of-its-kind policy paper that drew relatively little notice at the time, Beijing argued that nations in Latin America were “at a similar stage of development” as China, with much to gain on both sides.

Leaders in the region were more than receptive. The primacy over Latin America that Washington had largely taken for granted since the end of the Cold War was being challenged by a cadre of leftist presidents who governed much of the region — including Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Ecuador, Uruguay and Bolivia — and wanted a more autonomous region.

Beijing’s invitation came at a fortuitous time: during the height of the financial crisis. Latching onto China’s voracious appetite for the region’s oil, iron, soybeans and copper ended up shielding Latin America from the worst of the global economic damage.

Then, as the price of oil and other commodities tanked in 2011, several countries in the region suddenly found themselves on shaky ground. Once again, China came to their aid, striking deals that further cemented its role as a central player in Latin America for decades.

Even with parts of Latin America shifting to the right politically in recent years, its leaders have tailored their policies to fulfill China’s demand. Now Beijing’s dominance in much of the region — and what it means for America’s waning stature — is starting to come into sharp focus.

“It’s a fait accompli,” said Diego Guelar, Argentina’s ambassador to China.

Back in 2013, he published a book with an alarming-sounding title: “The Silent Invasion: The Chinese Landing in South America.”

“It’s no longer silent,” Mr. Guelar said of China’s incursion in the region.

Trade between China and countries in Latin America and the Caribbean reached $244 billion last year, more than twice what it was a decade earlier, according to Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center. Since 2015, China has been South America’s top trading partner, eclipsing the United States.

Orignially published in NYT.

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