Caribbean reacts to US pressure to lessen relations with China

The Prime Ministers of Antigua and Dominica, Gaston Browne and Roosevelt Skerrit, in separate interviews have reacted strongly to remarks made by Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, about the region’s relations with China.

Speaking to the Antigua Observer following comments made by Pompeo, in which he said that the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, was trying to buy an “empire” through predatory loans to poor countries around the world, Browne said that China had gone beyond the call of duty to assist Caribbean countries.

“Under-privileged countries do not have the luxury to align based on geography, ideology and the narrow nationalistic ideals of the mighty.  They ally with those countries that treat them with respect and support their developmental agenda,” he told the publication in a strongly worded statement.

Separately Skerrit described Pompeo’s comments as “foolishness”.

Without specifically naming the US Secretary of State, Dominica’s Primer Minister said that China had not made “any undue demands on Dominica”. “China”, he said, “has not sought to, as some others have done, impose its will on Dominica”. “What China has been doing is every step of the way assisting this country with its economic and social development.”

Browne and Skeritt were responding to remarks made by the US Secretary of State during a visit to Panama and in a subsequent US television interview. In Panama he said that countries should have their “eyes wide open” when it came to Chinese investment. “It’s simply the case that in parts of the world China has invested in ways that have left countries worse off, and that should never be the case,” he told the media.

His comments there were then followed by others on the Hugh Hewitt Show, a conservative radio programme broadcast on the Salem Radio Network. In answer to questions Pompeo said: “When China shows up with bribes to senior leaders in countries in exchange for infrastructure projects that will harm the people of that nation, then this idea of a treasury-run empire build is something that I think would be bad for each of those countries and certainly presents risk to American interests and we intend to oppose them at every turn.”

Speaking to the Antigua Observer, Browne did not mince his words.  He said that the US should be ashamed for criticising a country that is assisting in the development of the Caribbean countries and that those opposed to China’s deepening influence in the hemisphere needed to deliver impactful development assistance. “There has been a void created by the benign neglect of the powerful states,” he said.

The Prime Minister’s remarks came just days before the President of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina, left Santo Domingo on a three-day state visit to China during which he is expected to sign several multi-million-dollar deals.

Cuba’s President, Miguel Díaz-Canel, is also expected to visit Beijing at around the same time.

In China, Medina is to meet with President Xi Jinping, as well as with the Chinese Prime Minister, Li Keqiang and the Chairman of the National People’s Assembly of China, Li Zhanshu. The Dominican President is also expected to hold high level discussions with leading figures in the Chinese public and private sectors with the aim of identifying future opportunities for cooperation and to discuss his country’s possible participation in China’s Belt and Road investment and trade programme. Medina is to also visit the China International Import Fair in Shanghai.

According to the President’s office, the areas in which agreements are expected to be signed include tourism, agriculture and free zones. Discussions are also expected to focus on trade and the development of infrastructure and logistics projects that might facilitate this. Announcements are also likely relating to Chinese support for the Dominican police through the creation of a 911 emergency response system and separately on arrangements to facilitate the arrival of greater numbers of Chinese tourists.

During his time in Beijing, the Dominican President will officially open his country’s new embassy. Until May of this year the Dominican Republic formally recognised Taiwan, but in a long-expected decision ended its relationship with Taipei by recognising China (Caribbean Insight Vol 40 Issue 8).

El Salvador, Panama, and the Dominican Republic recently switched diplomatic ties from Taiwan to Beijing. In the Caribbean, only Belize, St Lucia, St Kitts, St Vincent, and Haiti recognise Taiwan.

The comments and visits come at a time when the US is formulating a new strategy towards China’s presence and growing influence in the Caribbean and Latin America.

 

This is a lead article from Caribbean Insight, The Caribbean Council’s flagship fortnightly publication. From The Bahamas to French Guiana, each edition consists of country-by-country analysis of the leading news stories of consequence, distilling business and political developments across the Caribbean into a single must-read publication.

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