China is making big moves to unlock that potential. The Asian tiger is investing heavily in the region, edging out the US and boosting ties with leaders such as Brazil's new president. Ms. Rousseff, on her first foreign trip since taking office in January, is reportedly accompanied by some 300 business leaders on a visit that will include meeting with President Hu Jintao and participating in a summit of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa).
With new investments of nearly $30 billion in Brazil focused in the energy and mining sectors, China last year surpassed the US as the South American giant's biggest trading partner. The Monitor has tallied at least $65 billion in Chinese deals throughout the region since 2010.
To be sure, there is much apprehension over China's aims. "We don't want to be China's next Africa," a Mexican official told a US embassy economics officer, according to a February 2009 cable published by WikiLeaks, referring to the criticism that China has taken advantage of Africa's natural resources without developing the continent. Another cable two months later quoted the Brazilian consul general in Shanghai saying that "China's strategy in Latin America is clear: it wants to 'control the supply of commodities.' "