China ready to work with Argentina despite president-elect Milei's criticism

China's foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning attends a press conference in Beijing
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By Ryan Woo

BEIJING (Reuters) -China is ready to work with Argentina to keep relations on a "steady" course, a foreign ministry spokesperson said on Tuesday, after the presidential election victory of a right-wing libertarian who said he will not deal with communists.

Argentinian president-elect Javier Milei has criticised China and Brazil, which are among his country's most important trading partners. A few months ago, Milei even likened the Chinese government to an "assassin" and said the people of China were "not free".

Milei's tough talk on China stands in sharp contrast with a vow of cooperation by the outgoing president, Alberto Fernandez, who visited Beijing last month and hailed China as a "true friend" of Argentina.

Fernandez also pledged coordination with China under frameworks such as the G20 and BRICS.

"Bilateral relations between China and Argentina have shown sound momentum of growth," said Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning.

"China stands ready to work with Argentina to keep our relations on a steady course forward," she said.

But Diana Mondino, an economist tipped to become foreign minister in the Milei government, was quoted as saying by Russian state-owned news agency RIA Novosti that Argentina would "stop interacting" with the governments of China and Brazil, when asked whether Argentina would encourage exports and imports with those countries.

Mondino has previously told Reuters that Argentina under Milei had no intention of joining the BRICS grouping, which includes China and Russia. Argentina was among six countries invited to become new members of BRICS, a bloc whose members also include Brazil, India and South Africa.

Mao, asked at a regular news conference about the comments attributed to Mondino, said the characterisation of Mondino's comments was different from the interview published by RIA Novosti.

"Mondino said in the interview that some in the world misread President-elect Milei's foreign policy," Mao said.

"No countries could step out of diplomatic relations and still be able to engage in economic trade and cooperation. It would be a huge foreign policy mistake for Argentina to cut ties with major countries like China or Brazil," Mao said.

The Chinese foreign ministry said later on Tuesday that Mao was citing Mondino as saying it would be a mistake to cut ties with China or Brazil.

Reuters could not immediately find a version of the interview containing those comments. Mondino did not respond to a Reuters request to clarify her comments to RIA Novosti.

Earlier this month, Mondino said Argentina had no problem trading with Brazil, and as for China, Milei would seek to end opaque state-to-state deals.

"What we are not going to do are secret contracts. Argentina, this government, in the last 20 years, has had multiple secret negotiations," she said. "That is not normal and it is what we have said we are not going to do."

Chinese state media has so far played down Milei's comments but said it would be Argentina's loss if it were to shut China out of its market.

(Reporting by Ryan Woo; Editing by Alex Richardson and Grant McCool)