Is China Buying Land in the Bahamas? A Hong Kong-based corporation has spent almost $3 billion creating and extending a deep-water container port on Grand Bahama Island, about 55 miles off the coast of the United States.
The Chinese and Bahamian promoters of the Freeport Container Port anticipate greater shipping through the region as a result of the Panama Canal extension, as well as overall growth in trade between China and Latin America, and the Caribbean.
However, considering what happened in Sri Lanka in 2017, US analysts are looking at China’s financial ties to the site, which date back two decades. The Sri Lankan government secured a 99-year lease on the port after falling behind on debt payments for a determined Chinese-financed port project in Hambantota that fell sadly short of economic forecasts.
This gave China possession of a crucial piece of real estate along a major shipping and naval seaplane in the Indian Ocean. As well as a strategic location from which to project military force.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a well-known China hawk who also chairs the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, says he is “very concerned” about China’s efforts to expand its influence in Latin America and the Caribbean, especially in terms of gaining access to strategic assets like ports. He believes the US should do more to warn its regional allies against doing business with Beijing
“We keep a close eye on it,” Rubio said of China’s Caribbean port presence in CQ. “It’s a major issue.” We’re absorbed in it.”
The Caribbean has been an afterthought for successive US administrations. Who has concentrated their attention on security concerns in the Middle East, East Asia, and Europe? Experts have regarded the Caribbean as “too democratic and not poor enough” to justify continuous US government attention.
Chinese investors are flocking to the Caribbean islands
Meanwhile, China has strengthened its economic, diplomatic, cultural, and security influence in the region, mostly unrecognized.
President Donald Trump met with the leaders of five Caribbean countries the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, and St. Lucia on March 22 at his Mar-a-Lago Florida club to discuss trade, energy investment, and security challenges. It’s unclear whether the high-profile summit will kick off a period of continuous regional involvement for the administration or if it will be a one-time event.
After the meeting, a White House spokesman, Hogan Gidley, said, “They discussed the importance of supporting a peaceful democratic transition in Venezuela, disaster resilience, investment opportunities, and ongoing security cooperation”, adding that a high-level delegation would be sent to the region in the next three months.
The Belt and Road Initiative of Chinese President Xi Jinping, as well as related soft power programs, increased China’s involvement in the Caribbean in areas such as substructure investment, climate change mitigation, security support, cultural exchanges, and news consumption.
“Chinese money became available, and these countries were extremely glad to be able to borrow this money because they used it to develop clinics and roads”; says Richard Bernal, a former ambassador to the US and a longstanding Caribbean trade negotiator. “It has produced a lot of goodwill in general.” Bernal is now the University of the West Indies’ pro-vice-chancellor for global affairs.
Is China Buying Land in the Bahamas? China’s foreign policy is well recognized for following multiple long-term goals at the same time, most notably through the Belt and Road Initiative. To improve trade and diplomatic ties between China and underdeveloped nations. The global development campaign has contributed hundreds of billions of dollars in state investment for structure projects across Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America.
Inattention in the West
According to former diplomats, economists, academics, and security experts, aside from Cuba and a few high-profile natural disasters like the 2010 Haiti quake, Washington has largely ignored the Caribbean’s roughly two-dozen island nations and foreign territories sometimes referred to as America’s “soft underbelly” and “third border” and has treated the region with benign neglect over the years.
But, they argue, that needs to change, and China is a big cause for it. While Western, English-speaking countries regard the Caribbean as a major tourist destination, they have done little to improve the infrastructure of the islands.
Taking Advantage of Opportunity
In many ways, China is pushing on an open door when it comes to seeking areas for increased foreign policy meetings with Caribbean nations, in addition to filling an investment and funding vacuum left mostly empty by the West.
According to a May 2014 study by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Xi visited the Caribbean in June 2013, during his first year in office, implying that the Chinese Socialist Party has likely increased the region’s strategic importance.
For years, China’s principal regional foreign policy activity has been its on-again, off-again checkbook diplomacy efforts to persuade Caribbean countries to swap diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing. In recent years, both Panama and the Dominican Republic have formally established diplomatic connections with China, which has aided their efforts.
What should I do?
Despite China’s growing footprint in the Caribbean, regional analysts concur that the influence game is still the US’s to lose but only if it participates.
In 2016, Obama signed the US-Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act, a bipartisan bill introduced by California Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman and Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
The statute instructed that the State Department draught a comprehensive Caribbean engagement strategy. The policy, dubbed “Caribbean 2020” by Foggy Bottom, lays forth goals for stronger diplomatic and security initiatives, as well as additional economic development support. Sherman described the strategy as “ambitious and outstanding” in the summer of 2018, but expressed disappointment that it had yet to be implemented.
Is China Buying Land in the Bahamas? According to a representative for the State Department’s Western Hemisphere Bureau, the government is making progress in implementing the strategy. This month, a roundtable conversation involving financial regulators, bankers, and technology corporations from the United States and the Caribbean was convened to examine Caribbean banking challenges.
Since 2017, $6 million has been set aside for energy diversification initiatives, and emergency relief supplies are being pre-positioned throughout Latin America and the Caribbean in preparation for the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season.
The absence of confirmed ambassadors has hampered diplomatic relations with the region. No ambassador has been appointed to Cuba, the Bahamas, or Jamaica.
Is China Buying Land in the Bahamas? Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat and a leading advocate for boosting US development financing to better compete with China, is keeping a close eye on the administration’s creation of the new financial institution, particularly in terms of loan access for the Caribbean countries.
“I look forward to working closely… with my colleagues to ensure that we have given it the variety of capabilities and possibilities to invest in ways that both compete with China and contribute to more transparent infrastructure projects around the world,” Coons said.
The White House declared on March 22 that it has directed OPIC to give the five Caribbean countries whose leaders met with Trump at Mar-a-Lago “priority status.” “We have a good relationship with the Caribbean,” Gidley remarked.