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Xi flies to Mexico as China battles US for influence in Latin America

Chinese President Xi Jinping is on a four-country tour as China tries to bolster its economic influence in Latin America.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping (L), accompanied by Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, waves upon leaving Costa Rica, in San Jose, on June 4, 2013. The president of China begins a visit to Mexico on Tuesday. (HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)

Chinese President Xi Jinping is making the most of his four-country tour of the Americas to position China as a competitor to the US and Taiwan's economic influence in the region.

Xi arrives in Mexico Tuesday for a three-day visit in which he and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto are expected to discuss their economic ties.

The two nations are economic partners but also competitors, particularly when it comes to exports to the United States.

Mexico and China both enjoy strong exports to the American market but Mexico itself has been flooded with cheap Chinese goods that are displacing domestic goods.

"China is a complicated case" for Mexico, Aldo Muñoz Armenta, political science professor at the Autonomous University of Mexico State told USA Today.

"It's not the healthiest (relationship) in diplomatic terms because the balance of trade has been so unequal."

When it comes to economic influence, China may be gaining the upper hand in Latin America.

China is increasing its funding to the region just as the US has been coming under pressure to cut aid and investment.

"If I’m a Latin American leader, I’m very happy because I now have more chips to play with," Kevin Gallagher, author of the 2010 book "The Dragon in the Room," about China’s inroads in Latin America, told Bloomberg.

"The onus is on the US to come up with a more flexible, attractive offer but that’s not so easy because it doesn’t have the deep pockets like it used to."

Latin America's growing economy makes for an attractive investment.

The International Monetary Fund forecasts the region’s economies will expand 3.4 percent this year, almost three times the pace of growth in the developed world.

Xi's tour of Trinidad, Costa Rica and Mexico are setting the stage for his visit to California later this week, which will be his first face-to-face talks with Obama since taking office.

That Xi's Latin America trip came so early into his presidency is a confident approach that shows little concern for American reaction, Evan Ellis, a professor at the National Defense University in Washington told Bloomberg.

"In the past Chinese presidents were very deferential to the US., always making reference to Washington’s backyard," Ellis said. "You don’t hear any of that from Xi’s team, though you don’t find any threatening rhetoric either."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/china/130604/xi-flies-mexico-china-battles-us-influence-latin-ame