China says it stands ready to work with Argentina despite Milei criticism

Argentine presidential candidate for the La Libertad Avanza alliance Javier Milei speaks to supporters after winning the presidential election runoff at his party headquarters in Buenos Aires on November 19, 2023.

Luis Robayo | Afp | Getty Images

China on Tuesday said it stands ready to work with Argentina, shortly after right-wing libertarian Javier Milei — who has been critical of Beijing — secured victory in the South American nation’s presidential runoff.

Milei, who on Sunday comfortably beat Peronist Economy Minister Sergio Massa, had been vocal on China on the campaign trail and pledged to freeze relations with one of Argentina’s most important trading partners.

The president-elect said Argentina would no longer work with “communist” regimes, reportedly likened Beijing’s government to an “assassin” and said the people of China were “not free.” Milei’s four-year term will begin from Dec. 10.

More recently, Diana Mondino, an economist tipped to become foreign minister in Milei’s administration, was quoted as saying Argentina would stop interacting with the governments of Brazil and China, according to Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti news agency.

Mondino had been asked whether Argentina would continue to encourage imports and exports with its main trading partners. Mondino was not immediately available to comment when contacted by CNBC.

Why China has its eye on Latin America

Asked on Tuesday about Mondino’s comments, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Mao Ning, disputed the summation of Mondino’s remarks and said Mondino had said in her interview “that some in the world misread President-elect Milei’s foreign policy.”

“No countries could step out of diplomatic relations and still be able to engage in economic trade and cooperation,” Mao 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.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry told CNBC later Tuesday that Mao was citing Mondino when saying it would be a mistake to cut ties.

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Mao said that bilateral relations had shown “sound momentum,” adding that Beijing “stands ready to work with Argentina to keep our relations on a steady course.”

‘A true friend’

The views of Argentina’s incoming government on China appear to reflect a stark change from the outgoing Alberto Fernandez administration, with Fernandez describing China as a “true friend” during a visit to Beijing last month.

Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Argentine President Alberto Fernandez at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, Oct. 18, 2023. Fernandez is in Beijing for the third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation.

Xinhua News Agency | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images

Fernandez also pledged to strengthen collaboration within the frameworks of the G20 and BRICS cooperation mechanism.

The BRICS coalition is currently composed of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Argentina was recently among six countries invited to join the alliance, alongside Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

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