Developing and Securing the U.S. 'Third Border' | Opinion

Democrats and Republicans may not agree on a wide variety of issues, but as congressmen from both parties, we agree with Ambassador Espina on one: We need to contain the influence of China in the Western Hemisphere. Our friends and allies in the region are under siege by Chinese debt-trap diplomacy and the lure of the Belt and Road Initiative—while their democratic systems and values are eroded by the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) ideology.

In the current global power struggle, the United States needs to secure the Western Hemisphere while promoting development and prosperity across the region. The U.S. can, and must, be a better ally and neighbor while achieving its national and homeland security goals. A key step forward should be securing what some have referred to as "the third border": the Mexico-Guatemala border.

The Mexico-Guatemala border is 541 miles long, and it represents much of the western and northern boundary of the Central American isthmus. Across this border, most of the commerce between Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries takes place. Clearly, this region is quite relevant from a strategic standpoint—not only for the U.S., but also for the entire Western Hemisphere.

Two of the three countries that make up the Northern Triangle (Guatemala and Honduras) are Taiwan's allies and have no diplomatic ties with China. This geopolitical situation gives the U.S. an advantage over China and the possibility of making an economic growth pole out of the Northern Triangle—while holding the line and curtailing the expansive CCP's influence in the region.

However, this region faces a set of challenges that make its control difficult and hinder its development. Low investments rates and neglected infrastructure prevent the Northern Triangle from reaching its full potential. Some authorities are also blocked from properly exercising full control of a region that serves as a "natural bridge" for the whole hemisphere.

Chinese President Xi Jinping
Chinese President Xi Jinping GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images

As in the past, attempts to secure the Northern Triangle region will keep failing without properly promoting development. There are no shortcuts: Development and prosperity come with jobs, and jobs will only come with investments flowing into the region at a fast pace—when certain conditions are met, such as economic stability, internal security and adequate infrastructure.

The U.S. has built and managed strong and long-lasting bilateral relationships with its allies in the Western Hemisphere, such as Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. This successful model of diplomatic, economic and hemispheric collaboration must be replicated to identify private companies with strong track records of transparency and business ethics to build stable and long-term partnerships with the U.S. government.

One good indicator could be the degree of knowledge these companies have of the way business is conducted in the U.S. or in other developed nations. For instance, "cbc" is PepsiCo's oldest bottler in the world, and "Cementos Progreso" is one of the largest cement companies in Latin America. Both companies are headquartered in Guatemala and have continuous presences in the region of over a century.

Nowadays, with the International Development Finance Corporation fully operational, the U.S. has a powerful tool to bring prosperity to underperforming regions while building strong relationships with the private sector. The U.S. has a great opportunity in the Northern Triangle to show the world what its development model is capable of—especially in contrast with the negative impact the CCP's model is having in Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela.

If the U.S. wants to contain the CCP's increasingly obnoxious influence in the Northern Triangle, a key step forward requires the participation of the private sector to help bring prosperity and jobs to the region.

Manuel Espina is the former ambassador of Guatemala to the United States. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez is a Democratic congressman from Texas. Rep. Matt Gaetz is a Republican congressman from Florida.

The views expressed in this article are the writers' own.