Argentine Head of State and Government Alberto Fernández confirmed a Presidential Tour that will take him to the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China. The president also reported that, upon returning from this trip, he will visit Barbados. In an interview on January 30, Deputy Eduardo Valdes reported that Fernández will meet with his counterpart there, Pedro Sánchez.
Meeting with Vladimir Putin
Fernández will hold a bilateral meeting with President Vladimir Putin on February 3. Among the possible topics of interest are the purchase by the Argentine Air Force (FAA) of Russian MiG-35 fighter planes, as well as the training of Argentine soldiers in the Russian Federation.
In this regard, on December 10, the Argentine Ministry of Defense and the Russian Defense Ministry signed an agreement so that officers of the Argentine Armed Forces can receive training in Russian military centers.
Similarly, Moscow is likely interested in the international tender for the reconstruction of the railway line between the port city of Bahía Blanca in the south of the province of Buenos Aires, and the Vaca Muerta geological formation of oil and gas in the province of Buenos Aires. Neuquén and other Argentine Patagonian provinces. The electric trains would be produced and marketed by the Russian company Transmashholding (TMH).
This will be the first face-to-face meeting between Fernández and Putin after various telephone conversations and unsuccessful attempts to meet in 2021. The visit will take place within the framework of an escalation of tension in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine due to the sustained expansion of NATO in Eastern Europe, as well as the possible incorporation of Kiev into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization: the context and situation of said conflict could be discussed by the leaders.
Regarding the bilateral relationship with Russia, the Argentine president said: “the Argentine people have discovered in Russia a supportive people, for this reason, we now have a great opportunity to exchange everything with Russia, from culture to trade, and most crucially, technology. It is a relevant fact that Sputnik V is being used in Argentina.” In addition, Fernández called for a de-ideologizing of the country’s relationship with Russia: “In Argentina, many media sources believe that the Berlin wall still exists, and that is not the case. The Russians have the government that the Russians have chosen,” he concluded.
Meeting with Xi Jinping
From February 4 to 20, 2022, the XXIV Winter Olympic Games (JJOOII) will be held in China, for which President Xi Jinping extended a special invitation to his Argentine counterpart. To this end, the Casa Rosada and the San Martín Palace have organized a series of activities within the framework of what constitutes the first official visit and presidential meeting between both leaders.
Fernández will arrive in Beijing on February 4 from Moscow, and will remain in China until February 6. He will participate in the inauguration of the Olympic Games, which will take place at the National Stadium (commonly called “The Bird’s Nest”), along with other leaders invited by Xi Jinping, among which are: Russian President Vladimir Putin, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, Kazakhstan’s President Kasym Jomart Tokayev, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, and the Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman.
On February 4, Fernández is scheduled to receive an Honorary Doctorate, awarded by the prestigious TsinGhua University. The following day, the bilateral meeting between the leaders will take place in the Great Hall of the People. On February 6, Fernandez is scheduled to visit the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) History Museum. Other activities would include greeting Argentina’s athletes, seeing the Great Wall of China and visiting the Mausoleum of Mao Tse Tung.
It should be noted that part of the official Argentine delegation has an alternative agenda to that of President Fernández: attracting potential Chinese investments.
The New Silk Road
A topic that will certainly be on the official agenda is the incorporation of Argentina into the New Silk Road. However, it seems unlikely that a Memorandum of Understanding will be signed during this visit promising adhesion to the Chinese initiative of investments in infrastructure, among other strategic areas.
The Argentine president explained that: “Chinese investments in Argentina are important. One of the largest cereal companies today is in the hands of Chinese capital and companies such as PowerChina have already developed solar parks. […] There is development of investments in energy matters in terms of food production and infrastructure, which we are very pleased to see China carry out.”
For Fernández, “the Silk Road is a call from China to the world, which aspires to build better trade channels, better trade links, based on good trade rules. We, from Argentina, are studying the possibility of joining the Silk Road. This trip seems like a good opportunity to see the possibility of Argentina signing up.”
It is worth noting that, based on the initiative launched by Xi Jinping in 2013, Latin America and the Caribbean have become a maritime extension of the Strip and the New Silk Road in the 21st century. Currently, China has signed the Memorandum of Understanding with 19 countries in our region: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Chile, Dominica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Granada, Guyana, Jamaica, Panama, Peru, Dominican Republic, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
Extension of the Swap with China
The Swap is an instrument through which the governing bodies of the monetary policy of Argentina and China exchange their respective currencies.
This agreement was signed between the central banks of both countries in April 2009, for around 70 billion yuan and 38 billion pesos (approximately 10.2 billion USD). Currently, Argentina has 130 billion yuan in its holding (equivalent to 20 billion USD). The intention of the Central Bank of the Argentine Republic (BCRA) is to expand the Swap by 3 billion USD. This January 29, the president of the BCRA Miguel Ángel Pesce stated:
“From the beginning, Argentina promoted the possibility of the yuan being incorporated into the basket of currencies of the International Monetary Fund. We have worked on it. For this reason, a first swap to the order of 10 billion dollars was signed, which is now 20 billion dollars. The idea is that we can use the swap to support the growth of Argentina and in some way also work toward addressing the trade imbalance that we have with China through that financing. That is what we have been working on permanently with colleagues from the People’s Bank of China. During President Alberto Fernández’s visit, it is certain that this most important instrument will be discussed,” Pesce said.
The Casa Rosada aspires to, prior authorization from Beijing, use the funds from the Swap with China to meet the next maturities with the IMF. The negotiations are not yet closed. President Fernández’s trip could facilitate further negotiations.
Possible stop in Spain
A possible meeting between Alberto Fernández and his Spanish counterpart Pedro Sánchez has also been unofficially revealed. So far, there are no further details about this meeting. However, it must be taken into account that on June 29 and 30, 2022, the Summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will be held in Madrid, Spain, during which Fernández’s impressions of his meeting with Putin on the situation of the Ukraine-NATO-Russia conflict will likely be discussed.
Meeting with Mia Amor Mottley, Primer Minister of Barbados
On February 7, to close his first presidential tour of 2022, Fernández will visit, again, for the first time, Barbados, the youngest republic in the world. On November 30, 2021, the island formally became independent from the UK.
The Argentine president will meet with the Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Amor Mottley, who also chairs the Barbados Labor Party (BLP), a propitious opportunity for Fernández to personally and officially congratulate the great victory of the sovereign Barbadian people, as well as to share positions on the process of decolonization of Barbados itself, on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the Malvinas War, which pitted Argentina against the United Kingdom in April 1982.
Other possible topics of conversation between both high leaders are the climate crisis that has hit the Caribbean and Antillean region hard, an issue that occupies a prominent place on the agendas of both Fernández and Mottley, and projects of mutual interest within the framework of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), whose Pro Tempore Presidency as of 2022 is held by Argentina.
Fernández’ tour will take place a few days after Argentina reaches an agreement in principle with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which indirectly implies that the Argentine government had the necessary support of the Biden Administration in the negotiations with the IMF. The Argentine president is, in fact, deploying a multipolar approach to strengthen ties with the countries who are not geopolitically and economically aligned with the traditional hegemonic powers.
Here we see another example of Fernández’s political pragmatism, now applied to Asia, Eurasia and the Caribbean, a political position that has already begun to bear fruit in the international arena. In this case, he is taking a stand that will make the United States, the UK, and Europe as a whole, quite uncomfortable.
The Argentine president will undoubtedly return to Buenos Aires reaffirmed of the merits of his idiosyncratic leadership strategies at the regional and global level.