In a tumultuous year marked by political and economic strife, Argentina on Nov. 19 elected Javier Milei — a staunch critic of Communist China — as its new president. Following the election, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) warned the South American nation against diminishing or breaking off ties with Beijing, saying that such a move would be a “serious mistake.”
At the same time, the PRC asserted its readiness to maintain relations and trade with Buenos Aires, which were strong under outgoing President Alberto Fernandez.
Milei, a right-wing libertarian known for his critical stance towards China and Brazil (Argentina’s top trade partners), has drawn attention for his unconventional political stance and outspoken criticism of major international players. According to Bloomberg, the president-elect previously likened the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to “an assassin” and protested the lack of civil rights and freedom in China.
He has also been given to criticism of Brazil’s left-wing administration under president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, calling him an “angry communist” and “socialist with a totalitarian vocation.” Lula took office this January, following a controversial election in October 2022 that saw the defeat of conservative populist Jair Bolsonaro.
President-elect Milei’s’s term will begin on Dec. 10.
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Despite the political shift in Buenos Aires, Beijing has emphasized the importance of Argentina, which is South America’s second largest nation and a major agricultural exporter. PRC Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning stressed the “sound momentum” in China-Argentina relations and expressed China’s intention to continue fostering these relations on a steady path.
“Bilateral relations between China and Argentina have shown a sound momentum of growth,” said Mao during a daily press briefing.
Mao also made note of the unfolding diplomatic landscape and addressed the complexities of international relations and trade. “No countries could step out of diplomatic relations and still be able to engage in economic trade and cooperation,” she said.
“It would be a huge foreign policy mistake for Argentina to cut ties with major countries like China or Brazil. China is Argentina’s important trading partner. The newly elected Argentine government values its relations with China, especially the business ties between the two countries,” Mao added.
A path forward
This approach contrasts sharply with Milei’s predecessor, Alberto Fernandez, who praised China as a “true friend” of Argentina during a recent visit to Beijing, and emphasized cooperation in international forums such as the G20 and BRICS.
The BRICS coalition is currently made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, and represents a loose grouping of emerging national economies known for their sizable influence on regional and global affairs.
In August, Argentina was one of six nations invited to join the alliance during the BRICS Summit held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in what China’s leader Xi Jinping called a “historic” development. Other countries that were invited included: Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
Diana Mondino, an economist poised to become foreign minister in Milei’s administration, reportedly told state-run Russian news agency, RIA Novosti, that Argentina would halt interactions with China and Brazil when it comes to business exports.
In a differing account, Mao Ning, the Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, claimed that Mondino’s remarks were portrayed as a misinterpretation — suggesting that cutting diplomatic ties with major countries like China and Brazil would be a “serious mistake” for Argentina.
According to Reuters, the outlet was unable to confirm the “exact nature” of Mondino’s comments and did not receive a response to other inquiries. Mondino previously remarked that Argentina, under Milei’s leadership, would not engage in opaque state-to-state deals and would avoid secret contracts — a practice she criticized as “prevalent” in the last 20 years.
Argentina could suffer serious economic losses, at least in the short-term, if it excludes the PRC from its market.
Meanwhile, Milei’s victory is reflective of souring international reception for the CCP, which has suffered significant economic, societal, and geopolitical setbacks in recent years as it cracks down politically at home and runs aggressive “wolf warrior” diplomacy abroad.
Grappling with various challenges in its national economy, China has focused on “significant restructuring and reform,” aimed at stabilizing growth, addressing the real estate and banking crises, and navigating the complexities of an evolving global landscape.