The Trump administration’s policy toward Latin America policy so far has been damaging at best. And this month, El Salvador found itself caught between the ongoing deterioration of US-China relations. Like many other Latin American nations in recent years, El Salvador has moved to sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan – a globally understood prerequisite for any concrete negotiations with China.
In response, the US considered levying serious penalties against the Central American nation, but eventually decided against it. By doing this, Washington narrowly avoided damaging a relationship with a key regional partner in stemming the flow of Latin American migrants – a key policy objective of the Trump White House.
“The threat set off a furious internal debate between the White House and State Department, and pit American diplomats focused on China against those working on issues in the Western Hemisphere. It also displayed the administration’s determination to challenge China beyond a growing trade war, even before it settles on a clear strategy.
At the United Nations on Tuesday, President Trump announced the State Department would undertake a thorough review of foreign aid, giving it only “to those who respect us and, frankly, are our friends.”
He also cited “the encroachment of expansionist foreign powers” in the Western Hemisphere.
Beijing has been quietly carrying out a wide-ranging effort to vastly expand its trade and influence in Latin America, and in 2015, China passed the United States to become South America’s largest trading partner. In a speech on the eve of a trip through Latin America and the Caribbean in February, Rex W. Tillerson, the secretary of state at the time, warned about the dangers of the region’s growing ties with China.
The proposed penalties were raised by John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, three American officials said, after El Salvador established sovereign relations with China in August. It was the third Latin American country over the last year to do so; the Dominican Republic cut ties to Taiwan in May and Panama in June 2017.“