Tuesday, February 22, 2005 at 2:47 AM
In 1962, when the Soviet Union threatened America’s sphere of influence by basing missiles in Cuba, President John F. Kennedy threatened nuclear confrontation if they did not retreat. They did and, thankfully, the Cold War remained cold. Today, however, China poses a similar threat. Although the Chinese weapons of choice are not missiles but money and people – and lots of both.
As the United States, Europe and Japan are anxiously monitoring China’s flexing of her rapidly increasing military and economic muscle in Asia, China is strategically basing state-controlled enterprises (and operatives) throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. With relatively unlimited cash and human resources, China is becoming a major player in the pharmaceutical, petroleum, machinery and equipment, engineering and construction, textile, telecommunications, electronic, financial services and transshipment fields. Nevertheless, the Americans remain preoccupied with potential military threats and regard this Chinese economic infiltration as rather benign…so far. (Recall that Troy regarded the infiltration of Sparta’s wooden horse as rather benign as well – until it was revealed as the proverbial Trojan horse.)
This week, at the China-Caribbean Economic and Trade Co-operation Forum in Jamaica, Vice President Zeng Qinghong is expected to consolidate China’s geopolitical strategy of co-opting the economies of the Caribbean. He reveled in the Santa Claus-like reception he got at every port of call during his tour of the region prior to his arrival in Jamaica. After all, the locals were understandably giddy with glee when Qinghong showed up bearing gifts of unparalleled capital investments and glad tidings of future tourist visits in the tens of millions – which is no exaggeration coming from China.
Christopher Columbus, however, might serve as a more analogous trailblazer for VP Qinghong’s than Santa Claus. Because the Chinese search for new markets is really a pretext for their quest for dominion over this region. And with massive direct investments and Chinese tourists boosting visits to unprecedented levels, China’s trade with the Caribbean will soon become indispensable to national economies throughout the region. And, as a geopolitical fringe benefit, China’s ability to exercise unprecedented political influence will also be assured.
To be fair, however, China has made no attempt to disguise its political strategy. Because in each case, China has demanded that Caribbean governments sever all ties with Taiwan as a condition of its largesse. For example, in 1997 The Bahamas was the first Caribbean country to abandon its US-led policy on Taiwan after Hong Kong based Hutchison Whampoa invested hundreds of millions of dollars in a container port and several hotels in that country. Today, this Chinese company is fast becoming the largest employer in The Bahamas.
In fact, China’s “benign infiltration” throughout the Caribbean has become so pervasive that only five countries still maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan — the Dominican Republic, Haiti, St. Kitts and Nevis, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. And, it seems only a matter of time before they abandon ship.
Of course, no one can blame these countries for acting in their perceived national (economic) interests. After all, their political allegiance to America was more like a lilliputian chord of obligation. And, as China looms as a more reliable and generous benefactor, it seems reasonable that they would all welcome the severing of that chord – if only as matter of national pride. Besides, there is also palpable sense – worldwide – that China, not the United States, will be the most dynamic and powerful country of the 21st Century.
Therefore, America’s indifference to the Caribbean is clearly not without consequences. Yet, in a recent interview with BBC America, Roger Noriega – the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs – blithely dismissed any potential challenge by China to America’s influence in the region. Nevertheless, there seems no doubt that China is engaged in a Cold War strategy of buying-up political influence. And, Caribbean countries have been extremely solicitous of China’s attention. Perhaps when the Chinese summon Caribbean nations to support their international agenda – like voting at the UN for a Chinese Resolution to deploy any means necessary to bring Taiwan under its national flag – only then will America realize the threat posed by China’s Caribbean offensive.
Post Iraq, however, few Americans might care what China does in Taiwan (or anywhere else for that matter). But consider international developments that might lead China, for strategic reasons, to base missiles in Jamaica or convert its container ports, factories and chemical plants in the region to dual military and commercial use. Would the governments in the Caribbean comply? Would they have any real choice in the matter? And, would America then blockade the entire region – as it blockaded Cuba during the missile crisis? Now, consider China making such strategic moves in Latin America where its benign economic infiltration dwarfs its Caribbean operations. This Cold War could then turn very hot indeed….
But don’t worry man, be happy!