EDITORIAL: Will the Bahamas become America’s Taiwan?

THE fiery response from the Chinese Embassy to the White House Press Secretary’s statement that President Trump “looks forward to working” with The Bahamas and other Caribbean countries to “counter China’s predatory economic practices”, should at last open the eyes of the American government to what we have been predicting for some time in this column - China is flexing its muscles in the Caribbean basin - America’s security moat, both on the Atlantic and Pacific side.

According to Mr Haigang Yin, Chargé d’Affaires at the Chinese Embassy in Nassau, the United States is attempting to “disintegrate solidarity and cooperation between China and other developing countries… based upon contradictory facts, fabricated lies and irresponsible accusations.” It adds that [China] has “faith in the people of The Bahamas”. Yes, but what China must not forget is the Bahamian people have faith in themselves. “From time”, as the old people would say, Bahamians have known what side their bread is buttered on.

Unlike Taiwan in relation to China, Bahamians are quite happy to be at the toe of Florida with Dadeland its shopping outpost, and the vast United States its security blanket. After all we are a tourist economy and, the vast majority of our visitors are just a hop, skip and jump away — the United States.

There can be little doubt that China has planted its flag, flexed its economic prowess and bought influence in an effort to undermine the democratic partnerships situated on the United States’ very doorstep. Sadly, until very recently no diplomat, economist and/or investor raised an eyebrow to an emerging superpower stepping into the vacuum of the void left by America’s abandonment, neglect, scant interest or highly patronizing approach to our nation and Caribbean region.

However, after a flurry of loans, financial assistance from EXIM Bank of China, China Construction Bank; investments from China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC); China Construction America (CCA) and outright “gifts” from the Chinese Government in the form of new stadiums, roads, official buildings, ports and resorts in the Caribbean area, our sleeping colossus appears to have arrived at the same conclusion as Antigua and Barbuda diplomat, Sir Ronald Saunders: “If China continues to invest the way it is doing in the Caribbean, the U.S. is almost making itself irrelevant to the region…You don’t leave your flank exposed.”

While most analysts note the Chinese are not building bases or forging any military ties, they may not be aware of the concerns raised by Abaco residents after Mr Latrae Rahming, PLP and Senior Chinese Caribbean Government Consultant, said in a speech in Nassau on April 9, 2016 that “China will actively provide military assistance to The Bahamas and defense dialogue.” It was also reported: “Recently through its agreed obligations, China donated 1.2 million dollars to The Bahamas to purchase military equipment so as to improve jointly the capacity to respond to non-traditional security threats.”

“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.”

So the question that remains: Why did China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) build a 45 acre port financed by the EXIM Bank of China in the settlement of Coopers Town, Abaco – total population: 676— a mere 180 miles off the U.S. coast?

If one listens to the suspicions from local residents concerned about China’s potential military ambitions in our nation, “There is no reason at all for the port,” one local resident told Big League Politics. “Why the Chinese have been investing heavily….. and the port is currently empty, unused, closed and surrounded by barbed wire? Submarines?”

Or as another commentator posted “…I just can’t wait until the U.S. media and Bahamian public wake up to the fact that….. Red China has been permitted to set up shop in the Bahamas, only a few short miles away from Florida and the entire Eastern Seaboard, … without anyone considering the national security interests of the U.S.”

As American officials finally express alarm at Beijing’s ambitions in the U.S.-dominated Western Hemisphere and US Chargé d’Affaires, Stephanie Bowers’ recent comments encouraged leaders to be “wary with whom they get into business with” the US State Department has launched a unique charm offensive of issuing crime warnings on places long closed down.

In response to the White House Press Secretary’s statement that President Trump “looks forward to working” with The Bahamas and other Caribbean countries to “counter China’s predatory economic practices”, Mr. Haigang Yin, Charge d’Affaires at the Chinese Embassy in Nassau, fired back accusing the United States of attempting to “disintegrate solidarity and cooperation between China and other developing countries.” He said that the accusations “...are completely baseless, unreasonable and contradictory to the facts and that facing the fabricated lies and irresponsible accusations,….we [China] have faith in the people of The Bahamas... and confident that the Bahamian government will not be misled by others.”

As the Council on Hemispheric Affairs web site states in addition to an expanded economic engagement, China has also increased its diplomatic and military outreach to the Caribbean. Enroute to the high-profile 2013 Sunnylands Summit with Barack Obama, President Xi Jinping paid a visit to Trinidad & Tobago. Xi struck substantive deals with the Trinidadian Prime Minister regarding natural gas, telecommunications, and healthcare. Xi’s visit to Trinidad during the first year of his administration indicates a growing Chinese political attention to the Caribbean.

In contrast, wrote Ben Tannenbaum, extramural contributor at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, Xi’s predecessor Hu Jintao did not visit any nation in the region until his second term. Similarly, in January 2018, Foreign Minister Wang Yi held a summit with diplomats from nine Caribbean nations. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did not travel to the area until a February 2018 visit to Jamaica, well over a year after his appointment. By contrast, his counterpart Wang Yi, has met with more Caribbean foreign ministers than has Secretary Tillerson. Tillerson’s successor, Mike Pompeo, has expressed little interest in the region aside from a negative reaction to any engagement with Cuba.

The fact that we cannot recall a US President ever visiting The Bahamas on a State Visit or our nation being invited to join NFTA, speaks volumes. Would not U.S. diplomatic outreach, a state visit or EXIM bank involvement counter concerns that the region “is receding from America’s priorities.”

We agree that the U.S. cannot continue to ignore China’s expanding Caribbean role. A reduced role for U.S. trade challenges America’s economic goals in the Caribbean. China’s alternative leadership model stands as an obstacle to America’s presentation of its values as a democratic role model. If the United States continues to ignore its vital leadership role in the Caribbean, China appears more than ready to fill the void.