China's President Xi Jinping speaks at the opening ceremony of China-CELAC in Beijing

(Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged on Thursday $250 billion in investment in Latin America over the next 10 years as part of a drive to boost resource-hungry China’s influence in a region long dominated by the United States.

Leaders of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, or CELAC – a 33-country bloc that does not include the United States or Canada – gathered in Beijing for the first time for a two-day forum on Thursday.

Xi said two-way trade between China and Latin America was expected to rise to $500 billion in 10 years.

“This meeting will … give the world a positive signal about deepening cooperation between China and Latin America and have an important and far-reaching impact on promoting South-South cooperation and prosperity for the world,” Xi said.

China and Latin America are cooperating on energy, infrastructure construction, agriculture, manufacturing and technological innovation, Xi said.

Deng Yuwen, a Beijing-based political analyst, said China was interested in the region’s resources and markets.

“Obviously, China has the intention to compete with the U.S. for a greater sphere of influence in the region,” said Deng. “But whether this strategy will weaken U.S. influence now is hard to judge.”

Matt Ferchen, resident scholar at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, said China’s push would not alarm Washington with improving U.S.-Cuba ties set to boost U.S. influence.

“The reality of economic-social ties, people-to-people ties, between any country in the region and the United States are so much deeper than anything that exists with China,” Ferchen said.