By Elena Chuquimarca
QUITO, Aug. 17 (Xinhua) -- China's Belt and Road Initiative proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013 opens opportunities for sustainable development in Latin America, experts have said recently.
"The initiative is important because it proposes a means of global connectivity by building and strengthening infrastructure in strategic and needed sectors," Asia expert Santiago Orbe told Xinhua.
The Belt and Road Initiative aims to drive global growth by promoting the infrastructure, connectivity, financial mechanisms and public policies needed to spur trade, especially between the world's emerging and developing regions.
For South America in particular , it is "fundamental and beneficial" to join the initiative, since China is the region's second leading trade partner, said Orbe, also a professor at Ecuador's Police Academy.
In addition, while all countries need basic infrastructure to thrive, some lack the resources needed to develop it.
That's why it makes sense "to take advantage of this initiative to consolidate those weak areas," said Orbe.
According to figures from Chinese customs authorities, China-Latin America trade reached 260 billion U.S. dollars in 2016, marking an 18.8 percent increase over the year before.
China's Ministry of Commerce reports direct Chinese investment in Latin America has surpassed 200 billion U.S. dollars, turning the region into the second-leading destination for Chinese overseas investment.
Milton Reyes, coordinator of the Chinese Studies Center at the National Institute of Higher Studies of Ecuador, agrees with Orbe that regional leaders need to take a more proactive approach to ensure their participation in the initiative.
However, their reticence may have to do with the novelty of the idea, he said.
"It's a topic with a lot of potential for development and we hope it begins to take off this year," said Reyes.
Orbe said it is unfortunate that only two Latin American leaders, the presidents of Argentina and Chile, attended the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, held in Beijing in May last year.
"We are living in an era of greater opening and globalization" best reflected by China and the Pacific Rim region in general, and that is where the opportunities lie for Latin America, he noted.
Both Reyes and Orbe see the initiative as positive and dismiss statements by some U.S. officials who call it the "geopolitical" bluster because of China's more active presence in Latin America.
"China has been peacefully pursuing closer ties (with Latin America) and does not expect any country to follow its development model ... it expects each country to pursue its own interests," Reyes said.
China has clearly spelled out its economic and trade interests in a 2008 policy paper on Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2016, the Chinese government issued a second policy paper, calling for closer ties and friendly cooperation for mutual benefit.
China's global vision may eventually benefit the United States as well, said Orbe.
"The United States cannot conquer the whole world, but neither can it get away from it ... sooner or later, the cooperation promoted by China's initiative could even be beneficial for the North American region," Orbe said.