Power Play in Latin America: US and China Duke it Out Over Argentina’s Fighter Jet Deal
In America’s strategic “backyard”, the global influence struggle between the United States and the People’s Republic of China discreetly continues, with the primary battlefield being an emerging military alliance with Argentina. The ongoing global competition between these powerhouses rides on a crucial choice – whether Buenos Aires will opt for second-hand Danish F-16 A/B Fighting Falcons from the United States or newly-built Chengdu JF-17 Thunder Block Three fighters from China.
Evaluating Options for Modernizing Argentine Armed Forces
In its quest to modernize, the Fuerza Aérea Argentina (Argentine Air Force or FAA) had been considering three alternatives for their next-generation fighter aircraft. The shortlisted options included the India-built Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) alongside the U.S. and Chinese offers. Local outlets, however, have reported the elimination of the LCA from this race.
According to news reports, the ultimate decision will rest with a team of experts from the Argentine Defense Forum. These experts are entrusted with the task of analyzing all the brought-forward options for upgrading the Argentine Armed Forces.
U.S. Proactive to Ward Off Chinese Influence in Latin America
Local reports suggest that Washington is putting vigorous pressure on Buenos Aires to select the U.S.’s F-16 to avert the risk of an expanded Chinese military footprint in Latin America. Gen. Laura J. Richardson, the leader of the U.S. Southern Command, warned about the Chinese investments in the region, comparing it to the proximity of the Chinese influence to the U.S. homeland.
In an alarming expression, Richardson professed fears about China possibly establishing a base in the Western Hemisphere, thanks to its heavy stack of critical infrastructure investments in the region.
China Turns the Heat with its Chengdu Offer
China’s Chengdu JF-17 fighter, designed at the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation (CAC) in Sichuan Province, is being aggressively pitched against the U.S. F-16. Argentina has reportedly been offered 15-20 units of the JF-17.
China’s proposal stretches beyond the fighter jet offering. Negotiations are reportedly underway for co-production rights in Argentina, offering an attractive proposition for the Argentine government. This deal also includes infrastructure, such as training and development facilities, a prospect that is bound to expand China’s footprint in Argentina further.
Potentials and Hurdles in the Prospects of Both Jets
While the acquisition of the F-16 would forge stronger ties with Washington, complications arise when attempting to thwart the Chinese offer. The F-16s are 40-year-old planes, compared to the newly-built JF-17s offered by China. Also, the U.S. bifurcates the total proposal into separate packages for aircraft and weapon systems, which can be a hassle for Argentine officials.
On the contrary, the Chinese proposal is an all-encompassing package with a grace period for payments. However, concerns remain over Argentina possibly falling prey to China’s “debt traps” and the possible realignment of Argentina away from traditional U.S. and European alliances.
Complex Balancing Act for U.S.
The U.S. has to deal with its own challenges too. Argentine Armed Forces historically have been mostly aligned with the U.S., giving an advantage to Washington in this procurement. But according to a La Nacion report, the unspoken agreement is that Buenos Aires expects Washington’s support over its International Monetary Fund (IMF) debt issues in return for their preferred selection.
In this global tug of war, Argentina stands at the crossroads, being the potential touchstone for the international balance of power.
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