US President Joe Biden will unveil a comprehensive economic package for Latin America on Wednesday at a Los Angeles summit that has been beset by controversy over the exclusion of some countries. The package, known as the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity, aims to reinvigorate economic institutions, bolster supply chains, strengthen links between governments and their electorates, create jobs and boost trading links in the US’ backyard, according to a senior administration official. While the official did not mention China by name, the programme appears aimed at countering the growth of China’s regional footprint through its Belt and Road Initiative. It will be presented at the Summit of the Americas, which has been under fire since Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua were left off the guest list because of their history of human rights violations, jailing of political opponents and election interference. China – which enjoys strong relations with the three left-leaning nations – was quick to chide its rival. “The US, as the host of the upcoming summit, needs to stop going its own way or forcing its will on others. It should instead show due respect,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Monday. “Putting itself above and bullying other countries for the selfish interests of the US will not be well-received.” Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said last month he would not attend even if invited, accusing the United States of “brutal pressure” to make the meeting exclusive. And his Mexican counterpart Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced on Monday he would boycott the summit over the exclusions. “There can’t be a Summit of the Americas if all the countries of the continent don’t participate,” Lopez Obrador said. “That would be to continue with the old interventionist policy, of lack of respect for nations and their people.” Latin America has been a weak spot in Washington’s strategy to counter China’s growing military and economic power through the use of trade and military alliances, and this week’s summit represents an attempt to close the gap. The White House also plans to announce some US$300 million in aid to the region for food security and Covid-19 recovery – countering Beijing’s strong vaccine diplomacy campaign – along with help to reform the Inter-American Development Bank, a regional competitor to the China Development Bank. The senior US official did not provide details on the initiatives, which are expected to build on the 11 free trade agreements Washington has signed with Latin American countries, including the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. China, a US “strategic competitor”, is South America’s leading trade partner and a major source of foreign direct investment and loans for energy and infrastructure, much of it through the belt and road plan. China drums up support for global security push in Latin America Beijing has also poured money into Latin America’s space sector and strengthened military ties with several countries, especially Venezuela. White House officials expressed hope that the kerfuffle over who attends the summit would not undercut important issues on the agenda, including food insecurity, climate change, economic cooperation and pandemic recovery. Analysts said it was a good first start. “But to overcome Washington’s indifference towards the region and restore a measure of credibility will require sustained focus to follow through and build on this commitment,” said Michael Shifter, senior fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue (IAD), a Washington-based civic group. “The administration still needs to figure out how to compete effectively with China in the region, while understanding better how US-China tensions impact Latin America, where China is now a consolidated regional partner for many countries,” he said. Margaret Myers, IAD’s Asia and Latin America director, said she felt increasingly that “this is a friend summit, just those countries who feel it’s in their best interest, that align their interests with the US, even if they too are unhappy”. “The US approach stands in sharp contrast with China’s, which has engaged with everyone, for better or worse. Increasingly, China is a useful foil to the US,” she said. Last month, Washington launched the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and initiated talks with Taiwan on closer trade ties towards a possible free trade agreement. It has also reinvigorated the Quad grouping of the US, Japan, Australia and India, and created the Aukus regional military alliance with Britain and Australia. And in Europe, the administration has strengthened Nato following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, bolstered trade ties through a series of unified sanctions against Moscow, and pushed back against perceived Chinese overreach, state-run capitalism and intellectual property violations by forming the EU-US Trade and Technology Council. What is IPEF, the new US-led economic framework for the Asia-Pacific? Also on Washington’s radar is the prospect that China could convince more countries in the region, through incentives and pressure tactics, to recognise Beijing rather than Taipei, according to Bonnie Glaser, Asia director with the German Marshall Fund of the United States. China considers the self-governing island a renegade province. Eight of the 14 nations that still recognise Taiwan are in Latin America, making it a key point of focus in the geopolitical wrangling between Washington and Beijing. “Apart from its clear economic interest in the region, China is also determined to pursue a geopolitical strategy and press Latin American governments to no longer recognise Taiwan,” Shifter said, citing favouritism in how Beijing distributed masks, protective equipment and vaccines. “When it comes to Latin America, China’s interest is not limited to securing economic benefits for its own development. Increasingly, geopolitical concerns, dominated by the Taiwan question, also drive a number of relationships.” More than meets the eye with China’s diplomatic ties in Latin America? Critics say the US has too often taken Latin America for granted as China has offered trade deals and financed infrastructure, extracting resources and cementing ties with many leaders in Washington’s backyard, a region where it has exerted influence since the 1823 Monroe Doctrine. “The US is re-engaging, as well they should,” said Jorge Guajardo, senior director at the consultancy McLarty Associates and a former Mexican ambassador to China. “It’s not so much that China is helping, but that the US has retreated much faster. I’m all for the US going back in, but do they have the economic packages and trade packages?” Beijing has been happy to amplify the criticism. “The US will not find support when it clings to the Monroe Doctrine and interferes in other countries’ affairs or create division in the name of democracy,” Zhao said on Monday. “Latin America is not some front yard or backyard of the US.” Even as the US has organised the summit – the first held on US soil since it was inaugurated in 1994 in Miami – and unveiled a host of partner agreements in recent weeks, adversaries have been keen to show they too have friends and partnerships. Cuba invited regional allies to a rival meeting in Havana that includes Nicaragua and Venezuela. And this week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will attend a “C+C5” meeting with his counterparts from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to “further deepen good neighbourliness and mutually beneficial cooperation”. The Los Angeles summit comes as Washington, Beijing and Moscow increasingly frame their rivalry as a showdown between democracies and authoritarian states, and squabble over the definition of democracy. “The focus will be on building strong and inclusive democracy,” the senior administration official said on Monday in characterising the summit, adding that the US would also unveil initiatives promoting independent media, a digital transition and data protection. China’s FM in Kazakhstan as Ukraine, Afghanistan uncertainties rumble The US Covid-19 policy has also undercut its soft power in the region. While Beijing wielded vaccine diplomacy strategically, the US was slow off the mark. Although the US ultimately distributed 70 million doses in the western hemisphere, the delay contributed to Latin America’s chalking up 28 per cent of worldwide deaths from the pandemic despite holding only 8.4 per cent of global population. Also dulling Washington’s reputation: a US$4 billion aid package to ease poverty, violence and otherwise address the causes of migration from Central America that has stalled in Congress. On Tuesday, Vice-President Kamala Harris announced US$1.9 billion in new private sector investments to Central America, adding to the US$1.2 billion she announced in December.