He made this remark during an interview following his unexpected victory at the South American nation's Aug. 13 primary elections. The conservative-leaning Milei shook the country's political establishment after receiving more votes than the ruling Peronist coalition and a pro-business opposition bloc. If the independent Milei gets elected as president in October, it would generate shock waves across a region largely ruled by leftist leaders.
Milei told Bloomberg News on Aug. 16 that he plans to freeze relations with China once elected. He expounded: "People are not free in China. They can't do what they want and when they do it, they get killed. Would you trade with an assassin?"
Under the leadership of paramount leader Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party typically silences dissidents with lengthy prison sentences. Beijing has been accused of detaining more than one million members of the Uyghur minority inside concentration camps at China's western Xinjiang region. While the U.S. has called the campaign a genocide, Chinese authorities have downplayed criticisms by calling the camps "vocational training centers."
Severing ties with Beijing could have serious trade repercussions for Buenos Aires. China is the second-largest buyer of Argentine exports, and the South American nation's trade deficit with Beijing could widen if the latter stops imports.
Moreover, China provides a crucial $18 billion currency swap line with the Central Bank of Argentina (BCRA) that is being used to pay the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The BCRA has been increasingly reliant on the currency swap to support the Argentine peso. In July, Buenos Aires used Chinese yuan to repay some of the money it owes the IMF amid a dwindling supply of the U.S. dollar. (Related: Move over USD: Argentina uses Chinese yuan to settle IMF debt.)
Wang Wenbin, spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at an Aug. 17 press briefing that Milei "would have a completely different conclusion as to the freedom and security in China" if he visited.
Aside from severing ties with China, Milei also promised to pull out of the Mercosur trading bloc. The bloc established in the early 1990s lists Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil and Venezuela as its five core members. However, Venezuela's membership status was suspended in 2016 for failing to comply with Mercosur's rules.
Beset by internal divisions, the group has struggled to implement a free trade deal with the European Union agreed four years ago. Milei did not hide his dissatisfaction with Mercosur, disparaging it as "a customs union of poor quality that creates trade distortions and hurts its members."
The Argentinean presidential frontrunner has reiterated his blanket refusal to do any kind of business with "socialists" from inside and outside South America. Thus, he lumped Brazil – Argentina's biggest trade partner currently led by leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva – in the same category as China. Milei also called Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro a "dictator."
Milei's animosity toward leftist leaders also extended to Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Chilean President Gabriel Boric and Colombian President Gustavo Petro. Incidentally, these three countries are the top economies of Latin America.
But Milei doesn't care, saying: "I don't have socialist partners." In contrast, the candidate described his relationship with former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro – Lula's predecessor – as "excellent."
The candidate also put in his two cents on the 2024 elections in the U.S., where former U.S. President Donald Trump is leading in polls for the Republican Party nomination.
"That's up for Americans to decide," said Milei, who isn't keen on being compared to the real estate mogul-turned-chief executive. His remark followed a question about whether he would like Trump to return to the White House.
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Watch Javier Milei denouncing the socialism that has infected Argentinean society in this interview with America 24.
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