China is beefing up its presence in the Caribbean and making it clear that the region is a strategic priority going forward. Over the past few months, Beijing has begun investing hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure investment in countries very much in need of that money, still recovering from Hurricane Sandy. And in addition to the monetary aid, President Xi Jinping will be visiting Trinidad and Tobago next week as part of a tour of the Caribbean and Latin America. That visit will mark the first time a Chinese president will have toured an English-speaking Caribbean country.The US, meanwhile has become largely disengaged from the region as its focus turns farther afield to places like Syria and Iran. This is a significant reversal for a region that for obvious reasons has traditionally had much closer relations with the US than with China. The FT reports:
China’s growing presence in the Caribbean stands in contrast to the seeming lack of interest of Washington…the US disengagement has frustrated local politicians, given that many Caribbean countries are mired in severe economic and financial difficulties. […]Much of the US’s activity has been driven by private sector investment or tourism, both of which collapsed after the global financial crisis struck in 2008. But China’s involvement has been on a state-to-state level, and Beijing’s growing interest in the Caribbean has baffled some observers.
China isn’t matching its funding with political demands yet, but it isn’t hard to imagine this influx of money swaying the minds of Caribbean people frustrated with a lack of US engagement. Greasing the struggling economies of the region is a quick way to build up Beijing’s soft power there. This is significant because, in addition to increasing China’s global clout, having friends in the Caribbean is useful in international organizations. Like states in the US Senate, countries in the UN get a vote no matter how large or small their size.Chinese interest and investment in the Caribbean is not all bad from an American point of view. Anything that can help stabilize the sometimes shaky governments and goose the sluggish economies of the neighbors helps us. So the real problem here isn’t Chinese activism; it is American neglect.One approach that we support here at Via Meadia: the US should do more to enable older Americans to retire to neighboring countries where costs are low. There are many excellent health care facilities in the Caribbean where costs are considerably lower than in the US. Allowing retired Americans to use Medicare to pay for services at certified health care facilities and negotiating treaties to cover the issues raised if large numbers of Americans move south would help US retirees live better on fixed incomes, boost economic growth and employment in the region, and reduce the costs of the Medicare program here at home.An absence of creative statesmanship in the region is one of the signs that America’s globalist foreign policy elite has lost touch with the country’s core interests. Promoting the welfare and development of our neighborhood may not be as glamorous as making speeches about human rights in the eastern Congo, but neglecting our own region is not a smart thing to do. We hope that Secretary Kerry will find time in his busy schedule to visit some of the neighbors and listen to their needs.[Chinese flag image and Caribbean beach image courtesy of Shutterstock]