Argentina’s presidential frontrunner Javier Milei would freeze relations with China and pull South America’s second-biggest economy out of the Mercosur trade bloc with Brazil, foreign policy proposals that are as radical as his economics.
In an interview following his unexpected primary victory August 13, the outsider candidate has given international policymakers the biggest insight yet in how he would conduct Argentina’s affairs on the world stage.
“People are not free in China, they can’t do what they want and when they do it, they get killed,” he told Bloomberg News on Wednesday, referring to Beijing’s government. “Would you trade with an assassin?”
Milei shook Argentina’s political establishment last weekend after receiving more votes than a pro-business opposition bloc and the ruling Peronist coalition, putting him in the lead to be the country’s next president. His election in October would generate shock waves across a region largely ruled by leftist leaders.
In his blanket refusal to do any kind of business with “socialists,” he lumped Communist China in the same category as Argentina’s biggest trade partner, Brazil, led by leftist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. China is the second-largest buyer of Argentine exports and provides a crucial US$18-billion swap line with the Central Bank that’s being used to pay the International Monetary Fund.
He described his foreign policy proposals as a global “fight against socialists and statists,” and revealed that he would appoint Diana Mondino, a trusted economic adviser, to be his top diplomat. She’s a former Standard & Poor’s director for Argentina and is running for Congress.
Brazil’s Foreign Affairs Ministry didn’t immediately comment on Milei’s remarks and calls put to China’s Embassy in Buenos Aires went unanswered.
He later clarified that it’s up to the private sector to decide whether to maintain commercial relations with China and other countries whose leaders he has a strong distaste of.
“I don’t have to get involved, but I won’t promote ties with those who don’t respect freedom,” he said, adding that he’d respect deals already signed in Argentina by Chinese companies, which include a contract to build twin dams in Patagonia and an agreement to set up a nuclear plant.
The biggest geopolitical beneficiary of Milei’s ideology would clearly be the United States. He was adamant he would work with any president elected in 2024, regardless of their political stripes, though he has a preference for a conservative.
Right now Donald Trump is ahead in the polls to secure the Republican nomination but Milei isn’t especially keen on being oft-compared to the former US president. Asked if he would like Trump to return to the White House, he said cautiously: “That’s up for Americans to decide.”
“I may like the profile of Republicans better than that of Democrats, but that doesn’t mean I don’t consider the US as our big strategic partner,” he said.
Meanwhile, he’s put Lula, Mexico’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Chile’s Gabriel Boric and Colombia’s Gustavo Petro, the leftists who run Latin America’s top economies, on guard. Asked about how his relations with them would be, he said: “I don’t have socialist partners.” In the meantime, his relationship with Lula’s predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro, is “excellent.”
Milei was disparaging of the trade alliance that Argentina founded with Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay more than three decades ago. The group, beset by internal divisions, has struggled to implement a free-trade deal with the European Union agreed four years ago.
“Mercosur is a customs union of poor quality that creates trade distortions and hurts its members,” he said.
Unsurprisingly, Milei was equally critical of Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, who he called a “dictator,” as well as the governments of Nicaragua, Cuba, North Korea and Russia. Argentina would again condemn Venezuela for its violation of human rights if he is picked president, Milei said, returning to the hard-line policy the country had until 2019 with then-president Mauricio Macri.
by Walter Brandimarte & Manuela Tobias, Bloomberg