Chilean President Michelle Bachelet will meet with President Barack Obama on Monday, June 30th, as part of her brief visit to Washington. She will also speak at several organizations while in the U.S. capital.
Consolidating Washington-Santiago relations will apparently be a priority for President Bachelet during her second presidential term. The two governments certainly have plenty of issues that can bring them together.
Points of discussion
One way to view the upcoming encounter is by briefly looking at how the event has been reported in both countries.
On the one hand, the White House released a (very) brief press release on May 8. The document explains how Presidents Bachelet and Obama will discuss “[United Nations] Security Council matters, other multilateral and regional issues, and ongoing negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.” Apart from the UNSC and the TPP negotiations, the press release is vague about specific topics as it simply mentions global security, social inclusion and free trade.
On the other hand, the Chilean media has gone to greater lengths to stress the importance of this meeting and the possible conversation points. A June 26 commentary in the Chilean daily El Mercurio explains that the meeting will allow President Bachelet to discuss her vision of Chile’s future foreign policy, broadly speaking. The commentary also examines the Trans Pacific Partnership, which will “strengthen [Chile’s] relations with Asia on the long term.” Moreover, El Mercurio highlights how, in order to decrease its oil-dependency, Chile aspires to increase import shale gas from the U.S.
Apart from her meeting with President Obama, President Bachelet will have a busy time in Washington.
On Monday, she will appear at the Brookings Institution, a major DC think tank. The following day, in a keynote presentation at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, she will discuss “current changes in Chile’s economic policies,” as well as Chile-U.S. commercial relations. Additionally, the Organization of American States will host a Protocol Session in its DC headquarters in her honor – she will likely meet with the OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza, also a Chilean national.
Interests and counter interests
President Bachelet’s visit to Washington occurs at an interesting time. At the foreign policy level, Chile could become Washington’s new best friend in South America (Colombia notwithstanding), considering Washington’s tense relations with Brazil since the 2013 NSA revelations.
The Chilean leader recently attended a fairly successful summit of the Pacific Alliance, a group of Latin America’s most vibrant economies. By following up her trip to Mexico with another to Washington, Chile’s international pedigree will only grow.
However, while the U.S. is focused on Russia and the destabilization of Iraq, it would be shortsighted to assume that Washington does not have its own interests to bring up regarding Chile’s role in the global arena.
Chile is a non-permanent member of the UNSC until December 2015 and hence, should the U.S. want to push for a resolution within the next year and a half (i.e. regarding Syria, Iraq, or Ukraine), it would be helpful for Washington to have several UNSC members, like Santiago, on its side.
Additionally, while Chile is interested in the TPP, Santiago has resisted some of Washington’s requirements. Specifically, Chile is concerned about the TPP’s stance on copyright, patents, and intellectual property ownership. The Chilean media speculate that the TPP in its current form could mean more expensive imports of U.S. medicines.
When asked by the Washington Post about her stance on the TPP, the Chilean head of state remarked, “we don’t have much information on the process regarding the scope and limitations of the TPP…. We will protect all the agreements we already have established with the U.S.”, reflecting a diplomatically neutral answer.
Timing is not on the side of the White House as mid-term elections are set to occur this November. It would be ideal for the Obama administration to send a TPP agreement to Congress before then. In other words, President Obama will likely pressure the South American leader to support the TPP when they meet on Monday.
Finally, it will be interesting if President Bachelet discusses more sensitive issues during her time in Washington, besides U.S.-Chile relations. These include ongoing protests from the Mapuches, an indigenous group of Chile, the territorial dispute with Bolivia, or the situation in Venezuela.
Lots of praise
President Bachelet will receive a VIP treatment during her upcoming trip to Washington, including a meeting with President Obama, numerous engagements and a reception at the OAS.
Moreover, there is a positive attitude towards Chile’s current situation. For example, the Center for Strategic and International Studies explains, “Chile is one of two Latin American countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and is poised to become the first developed nation in South America.”
With this ideal momentum, President’s Bachelet trip to Washington will hopefully conclude with some positive agreement. Bolstering her country’s image is always beneficial, but it is not necessarily enough.