Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 8:41 AM

China Invading U.S. ‘Sphere of Influence’ in the Caribbean

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

Now I know what John the Baptist must have felt like when Jesus began preaching the same gospel he’d been preaching in the wilderness for so many years.

Because I’ve been writing about the geopolitical implications of China buying up influence throughout the Caribbean for years, but nobody seemed to care. By contrast, the New York Times publishes a report on these same implications for the first time this week, and everyone is reacting as if the region were suddenly being plagued by an epidemic of yellow fever.

Significantly, though, the U.S. government is reacting (officially) as if this report is full of sound and fury signifying nothing. A reaction that is frankly stupefying considering that China is not coming in concealed inside a proverbial Trojan Horse. Instead, to continue the analogy, it is straddling that horse and riding in like a conquering Caesar.

In any case, here is a little of what I wrote way back in 2005:

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…

However, Christopher Columbus might serve as a more analogous trailblazer for VP Qinghong than Santa Claus. Because China’s 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, doing business with China will soon become indispensable to the economies of the Caribbean. In turn, China’s ability to exercise unprecedented political influence will be assured…

What happens if China decides that converting the container ports, factories, and chemical plants it has funded throughout the Caribbean into dual military and commercial use is in its strategic national interest? Would these governments comply? Would they have any real choice? And when they do comply, would the U.S. then blockade that island – the way it blockaded Cuba during the missile crisis? Now consider China making similar strategic moves in Latin America where its purportedly benign Yuan diplomacy dwarfs its Caribbean operations. This new Cold War could then turn very hot indeed….

(“China Buying Political Dominion over the Caribbean,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 22, 2005)

Here is how I commented on the chicken’s coming home to roost in this respect 2010:

The Bahamas is having a precedent-setting dispute with China over a development agreement which calls for Chinese men to comprise the vast majority of workers on a $2.5 billion project (Baha Mar) that China is funding…

For over a decade now, China has been buying up influence throughout the Caribbean to enable it to exercise its economic, political, and, perhaps, even military power to further its national interests without question … let alone challenge. And nothing demonstrated its modus operandi in this respect quite like the way it allegedly bribed (or attempted to bribe) every nation in the region to sever ties with Taiwan: almost all of them, including The Bahamas, duly complied…

To those who may have thought that China would be a more benign hegemon than the United States, I offer yet another instructive cliché: better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

(“China Putting Squeeze on The Bahamas. Your Country Could Be Next,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 2010)

And here is how I warned about looking to China to help vindicate democratic freedoms or mediate regional disputes:

China acts like a parent who seems to think her only duty is to feed and clothe her child – all guidance about and regard for right and wrong be damned. The latest example of this is China’s refusal to even voice disapproval of the brutal crackdown Syria is now carrying out against pro-democracy protesters…

It behooves the black countries of Africa and the Caribbean that are sucking up to China these days as a more generous Sugar Daddy than the United States to appreciate that if the Apartheid government of South Africa were still in power China would have no qualms about doing business with it too.

(“China’s Deficit? No Moral Authority to Lead,” The iPINIONS Journal, November 16, 2011)

I have proselytized similar concerns over the years in South Africa Bans Dalai Lama to Appease China, March 24, 2009; World Beware: China Calling in (Loan-Sharking) Debts, February 3, 2010; and many other commentaries.

By comparison, here are excerpts from China Buys Inroads in the Caribbean, Catching U.S. Notice – the above-referenced Times report (published April 7) which paraphrases so much of what I’ve been writing about I’m actually flattered:

China’s economic might has rolled up to America’s doorstep in the Caribbean, with a flurry of loans from state banks, investments by companies and outright gifts from the government in the form of new stadiums, roads, official buildings, ports and resorts in a region where the United States has long been a prime benefactor.

The Chinese have flexed their economic prowess in nearly every corner of the world. But planting a flag so close to the United States has generated intense vetting — and some raised eyebrows — among diplomats, economists and investors…

“When you’ve got a new player in the hemisphere all of a sudden, it’s obviously something talked about at the highest level of governments,” said Kevin P. Gallagher, a Boston University professor who is an author of a recent report on Chinese financing, “The New Banks in Town.”

Most analysts do not see a security threat, noting that the Chinese are not building bases or forging any military ties that could invoke fears of another Cuban missile crisis…

“I am not particularly worried, but it is something the U.S. should continue to monitor,” said Dennis C. Shea, the chairman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a bipartisan Congressional panel. But, he added, “With China you have to be wary of possible policy goals behind the effort…”

The new stadium here, Bahamian officials said, was in part a reward for breaking ties with Taiwan in 1997 and establishing and keeping relations with China.

It is one of several sporting arenas that China has sprinkled in Caribbean and Central American nations as gratitude for their recognition of “one China” — in other words, for their refusal to recognize Taiwan, which Chinese officials consider part of their country…

“They are buying loyalty and taking up the vacuum left by the United States, Canada and other countries, particularly in infrastructure improvements,” said Sir Ronald Sanders, a former diplomat from Antigua and Barbuda.

“If China continues to invest the way it is doing in the Caribbean, the U.S. is almost making itself irrelevant to the region,” he added. “You don’t leave your flank exposed.”

I will only add this sobering thought:

The United States ended up on its costly 10-year misadventure in Afghanistan because it left its flank exposed in that region after helping the Afghan Mujahideen defeat the Soviet Union.  Now it seems doomed to end up on another costly, even if less bloody, misadventure in the Caribbean (to reclaim its sphere of influence from China) because it left its flank exposed in this region after winning the Cold War.

Stupid Americans … they’ll never learn.

In any event,  insofar as sounding the alarm on this issue is concerned, I hereby baptize the New York Times in the name of the Caribbean, influence and the Cold War.

Related commentaries:
China buying political dominion
China putting squeeze on The Bahamas
China bans Dalai Lama
China’s deficit

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