Monday, June 3, 2013

Editorial - CARICOM Must Fix China Policy

Should there have been need of further evidence that the Caribbean is important to China's global political and economic strategy, we need look no further than Trinidad & Tobago this weekend.

Xi Jinping, China's new president, in one of only a handful of trips abroad since assuming the top job, is in Port-of-Spain for a summit with several regional leaders. It is President Xi's second visit to the region in four years. The previous one in 2009, when he was vice-president, also took him to Jamaica.

What is surprising in all this is the failure of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) - the 15-member regional economic and political bloc - to arrive at a common China policy. Our fear is that in this circumstance, and in the absence of the insulation afforded by their number, these small, poor and vulnerable regional states could find themselves buffeted by powerful geopolitical forces.

To put President Xi in context, it is worthwhile to note that over the past decade, several top Chinese leaders have visited the Caribbean, and vice versa. There is also a biennial China-Caribbean economic forum at which both sides discuss economic and investment issues.

The results of these discussions, which have intensified China's growth as an economic power, are evident across the Caribbean, not least in Jamaica.

A Chinese firm, for instance, is spending US$600 million on highway expansion in Jamaica and is considering investing a further US$1.5 billion on port and other infrastructure development. Beijing has loaned, or has promised to lend, Kingston another US$700 million for the rehabilitation of roads and bridges.

Chinese firms have also invested in, or have won construction contracts for, projects as far north as The Bahamas, and to the south in Trinidad & Tobago, as well as Guyana, the latter an English-speaking member of CARICOM on the northern shoulder of South America.


Yet, a number of CARICOM states are locked out of this economic and political engagement with Beijing. The leaders of Haiti, St Lucia, St Vincent & the Grenadines and St Kitts & Nevis would not have been at that summit with President Xi. Their governments recognise Taiwan, which Beijing views as a breakaway province. The UN recognises Beijing.

Such a long-standing divergence among member states on a fundamental foreign policy issue is unusual for CARICOM, which, more than most regional groups, has been adept at coordinating political policy.

Especially surprising is the fact that St Vincent and St Lucia stand with the minority on the issue, with leaders who are considered to have expansive and progressive views on global affairs. In the case of the latter, it might be argued that Prime Minister Kenny Anthony has not had time to reverse the diplomatic changes instituted by his predecessor when the St Lucia Labour Party was in Opposition.

But Dr Ralph Gonsalves, who led St Vincent into ALBA, the political and economic grouping engineered by the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, is in his third term as prime minister. He, perhaps, has practical political considerations, so far publicly unexplained, for his inaction.

Given Jamaica's lead role in CARICOM for foreign affairs, sorting out this China matter is one that Kingston should attack. For part of the legitimacy of CARICOM is the fact that its sum is potentially greater than its constituent parts.

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai