The Chinese Surveillance State in Latin America? Evidence from Argentina and Ecuador

Maximiliano Vila Seoane & Carla Álvarez Velasco


Western academics, policy analysts and pundits fear that Chinese exports of surveillance technologies to global South countries may lead to reproduction of the problematic surveillance practices that the Chinese state practices within its borders. However, much of this literature is not based on empirically-grounded research. To examine such concerns, this paper investigated two surveillance projects built in Argentina and Ecuador in cooperation with Chinese state-owned enterprises.

Based on empirical evidence, the paper argues for a more situated and differentiated approach to examine such projects. Indeed, the studied projects were not just limited to a surveillance function nor were they entirely Chinese. In fact, the agency in these projects is distributed among local and Chinese actors. Moreover, much of the criticisms against the expansion of Chinese firms selling surveillance technologies is a-historical, since it disregards the previous role of non-Chinese suppliers in deployment of such systems. The procurement of Chinese surveillance technologies does not depend on the political affinity of the local ruling party with China, but on the cost advantages offered by Chinese suppliers in comparison to others. Finally, foreign criticism, which has mainly reproduced the US government view about the threat posed by Chinese firms, does not match the issues prioritized at the local level.

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