Can Countries Overcome Political Divide between Left and Right?

Leaders of 12 South American nations have met at a summit in Brazil and agreed to promote regional integration with a view to creating a free trade zone. These countries will be tested as to whether they can overcome the differences in their political stances.

South American countries share an array of common challenges, such as sustainable economic growth, environmental issues, organized crime and disparities between rich and poor. In recent years, however, the conflict between left- and right-wing administrations in these countries has hindered efforts to address such issues in a unified manner.

The summit meeting of South American leaders was the first to be held in almost 10 years. While most of the major countries, including Brazil, Argentina and Chile, are led by leftist administrations, right-leaning presidents from countries such as Paraguay — the only South American nation that maintains diplomatic relations with Taiwan — also participated.

The leadership of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who hosted the meeting, played a role in achieving this, but it also can be seen as evidence of the growing concern in many countries about the need to solve various problems. There was also a hint of the region’s desire to strengthen its voice in the international community.

The countries will formulate a roadmap for how to integrate the region through discussions at the foreign ministerial level, but a concrete vision for the future is not yet clear. It will be important to create a framework that will allow talks to continue even if certain countries see a change of government.

There was also a regional integration movement in South America in 2008, led by leftist forces, aimed at countering the United States. However, this initiative lost momentum because a number of countries saw right-wing administrations come to power one after another, due to the failure of their economic policies.

As to why integration is necessary now, Lula said, “We can either unite and fight for our own interests or continue to be puppets of the economic superpowers.” He is likely aware that the monopoly on wealth held by the United States, Europe and other industrialized nations is preventing the growth of developing countries.

However, simply emphasizing an “anti-U.S.” stance will probably lead to a repetition of the same mistakes. Already, South American countries have differing opinions over how to deal with the administration of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose country is under U.S. sanctions.

China is trying to penetrate South America, seemingly to take advantage of the growing number of leftist regimes that are distancing themselves from the United States. China’s excessive lending to developing countries could put them in “debt traps” and fuel a movement to expand China’s interests.

If South American countries hope to pursue stable integration of the region, shouldn’t they adopt a stance that is not overly bent toward China?

Japan and South America have maintained good relations through the achievements of Japanese descendants in South America and years of economic and cultural cooperation. Rich in natural resources, South America is also an important region for Japan’s economic security.

Japan should continue to support South America so as to realize the region’s integration based on universal values such as the rule of law.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 11, 2023)