China watches nervously as Trump, conservatives hail Milei's win

China watches nervously as Trump, conservatives hail Milei’s win

China reacted warily Monday while former President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans celebrated the news that firebrand libertarian conservative Javier Milei had scored a decisive victory over an establishment candidate in Argentina‘s presidential run-off Sunday.

According to Argentina‘s electoral authority, Mr. Milei won 55.7% of the 99.7% votes cast to Economic Minister Sergio Massa’s 44.3%, the widest margin of victory in a presidential race since the country returned to a democracy in 1983.

The sharply divergent reactions underscore the uncertainty and disruption the outsider Mr. Milei is likely to bring to Buenos Aires, defeating traditional political rivals as the country faced surging inflation, economic stagnation and rising social problems.

“Congratulations to Javier Milei on a great race for president of Argentina. The whole world was watching!” Mr. Trump posted on his Truth Social platform Sunday night. “… You will turn your country around and truly Make Argentina Great Again!”

Mr. Milei‘s raucous celebration Sunday night in downtown Buenos Aires included supporters waving both Argentine flags and the yellow Gadsden flags emblazoned with the words “Don’t Tread On Me,” which Mr Milei‘s movement adopted.

Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican, called Mr. Mieli’s win and his agenda an “existential threat” to progressives everywhere: “If Argentina can elect a government with a mandate to restrain and downsize government, so can we.”

Mr. Milei drew comparisons to Mr. Trump on the stump, bringing a chainsaw to rallies and promising to slash the size of the government, ditch the peso in favor of the U.S. dollar and ease restrictions on guns. He criticized sex education in schools, feminist ideology and abortion.

The former lawmaker and television personality also pushed fiercely anti-communist rhetoric during the campaign, promising at one point that if elected he would freeze relations with China, which is now the top trading partner of South America’s second-largest economy, China has offered billions in Belt and Road development loans to Argentina, cut major deals to sell weapons to the country and opened a secretive, Chinese military-run deep space station there.

Beijing responded cautiously on Monday to Mr. Milei‘s victory, congratulating the winner and saying it plans to maintain close bilateral relations.

China “stands ready to work with Argentina to continue nurturing our friendship, contribut[ing] to each other’s development and prosperity through win-win cooperation,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning told reporters in Beijing.

Global Times, a media outlet of China‘s ruling Communist party, had a more sobering take, citing experts who said Mr. Milei‘s victory “will pose some challenges for the country’s ties with China as bilateral relations may enter a trial period until both sides find more common interests.”

The Biden administration also took a measured view of the momentous shift in Argentina. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement Monday hailed the “robust democratic process” in the campaign.

“We look forward to working with President-elect Milei and his government on shared priorities that benefit the people of both countries, including protecting human rights and democracy, addressing climate change, and investing in the middle class,” Mr. Blinken said in a statement.

Mr. Milei‘s victory comes amid mounting concern in U.S. national security circles over China‘s growing investments in critical infrastructure in several Latin American nations, including Argentina.

U.S. Army Gen. Laura J. Richardson, who heads the Pentagon’s Southern Command told the House Armed Services Committee in May that Beijing has built the capability to “advance its brand of authoritarianism, and amass power and influence at the expense of the existing and emerging democracies in our hemisphere.”

More recently, Gen. Richardson highlighted China‘s investment in “space infrastructure” in Argentina, which is currently playing host to one the three “deep space stations” controlled by Beijing.

When asked about the issue last month, Diana Mondino, a top adviser to Mr. Milei, also expressed concern about the facility.

“If it is really a space station, why keep it secret?” Ms. Mondino said at an event hosted by the Wilson Center. At the same time, she suggested a Milei government would honor existing agreements with China.

Many American conservatives Monday said Mr. Milei‘s victory was a clear vindication of their principles and policies.

Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, the Florida Republican who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Western Hemisphere subcommittee, called the vote a crucial victory for freedom over Peronism, the long-dominant authoritarian political movement in Argentina.

“I will ensure that the Biden administration treats Mr. Milei with the respect he deserves,” she said in a statement. “Long live freedom!”

Rep. Mike Collins, Georgia Republican, also welcomed Mr. Milei‘s decisive win.

“Hopefully, this will be the first of many wins for freedom and democracy against socialism in Latin America,” Mr. Collins said.