Saturday, April 20, 2024

BEHIND THE HEADLINES: China sees one Caribbean

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WITH CHINA VIEWING the Caribbean and Latin America as a single “strategic” area in which Beijing has deep and continuing interests, it makes eminent sense for CARICOM countries to articulate a common strategy that brings the region together in a partnership with the second most economically powerful nation on the planet, after the United States.

That urgent call came from Dr Chelston Brathwaite, Barbados’ Ambassador in China, one of about seven top CARICOM  diplomats in Beijing.

“China sees the region – the Caribbean and Latin America – as one region and it is saying ‘look Latin America and the Caribbean is one strategic area in which we have a keen interest, a strategic interest,’ leaving out the United States and Canada and viewing the countries of our region as a whole,” said Brathwaite, a former two-term Director-General of Inter American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture.

“That is going to generate some very interesting geo-political dynamics going forward.”

chelstonbrathwaiteAs the envoy sees it, the absence of a coordinated strategy was standing in the way of the island-nations and coastal states reaping more benefits from China’s goodwill.

“There is a need for Caricom to begin to articulate a relationship with China. It is in our interest to begin to articulate strategies and projects that are of a regional nature which the Chinese may wish to consider,” he added.

Reasons abound for such an approach. At the top of the list is China’s offer of a “substantial financial window of opportunities, a mix of loans and concessional financing” to the Caribbean, said the ambassador.

It was placed on the table in 2013 by China’s President Xi Jinping and if the various countries are to seize the opportunities then they should address them in a united way and with projects that would have an impact across the area.

“If we are to take advantage of the offer in a strategic way then we must have projects that would help to strengthen CARICOM and our relationships in negotiations with China,” Brathwaite said.

Next is China’s continuing expansion. The country began 2015 as the world’s largest economy when measured in terms of purchasing power.

Despite soft-peddling its economic success story, China is likely to end the year with a seven per cent spurt in its gross domestic product and an expansion of Chinese investment abroad that, for the first time, surpasses the amount of foreign private sector investment flowing into the country.

“Given the tremendous economic resources and the tremendous growth that have occurred in China, we as a small country recognise there is a changing global political scenario and that world power is no longer a bi-polar situation and that we must recognise a multi-polar development of the world,” said the Barbados envoy.

A key change is the plan for a New Development Bank, commonly referred to as the BRICS Bank, which Brazil, South Africa, Russia, India and China are planning to create with an initial capital of US$50 billion.

Russia is likely to up the ante by putting in US$100 billion.

“We must see the (proposed) establishment of the BRICS Bank as a very important initiative, that will represent an important source of financing, especially for infrastructural development in the region,” insisted Brathwaite.

Train young people

With Barbados, the Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago already graduated by the World Bank because of their relatively high per capita incomes, the BRICS Bank may turn out to be a source of new development financing for the island-states.

Then, there are the galloping advances China is making in the area of science and technology and its willingness to help train young West Indians, so they can ensure their respective birthplaces don’t lag too far behind the developed world.

“Last year China offered to Barbados 10 scholarships and we have 15 Barbadians now studying in China at different universities,” Brathwaite pointed out.

“A lot of them [are] studying science and technology, ecology, actuarial science and computer science.”

With the cost of education skyrocketing across CARICOM at a time of economic stagnation or decline in almost every country, the scholarship must be viewed as being crucial to the region’s long-term future.

Another consideration is that the Caribbean was among the first countries at the United Nations (UN) that stepped out of the diplomatic box and recognised the People’s Republic of China in the late 1970s as the legitimate representative of the Chinese people, replacing the Republic of China on Taiwan on the UN Security Council and in other international fora.

“Barbados has a good name in (China’s) Ministry of Foreign Affairs but less known in the rest of the country,” explained the ambassador.

“In the context of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs we are recognised because we established diplomatic relations (with Beijing) in 1977 and when we did that China didn’t have the tremendous economic prospects that it has today.

“In a real sense, supporting the one-China policy at that time has created for us in the context of the Ministry a very favourable opinion of Barbados. We are seen as a country of long standing friendship and long-standing relations.”

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