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As the US Naps, China Doubles Down on Caribbean Policy


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]

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  • Anthony

    Interesting take WRM from both regional policy point of view and potential global developments via China.

  • jeburke

    Well, we have one kind of engagement with the region that China won’t be making. There will be no hoards of dirt poor refugees from the DR, Haiti and Panama welcomed to Beijing anytime soon.

    • douginsd

      I don’t think there are many dirt-poor refugees from Panama right now. GDP growth was over 10% in 2012 due to the canal expansion and other construction projects.

  • Corlyss

    “Chinese interest and investment in the Caribbean is not all bad from an American point of view.”
    Surely WRM is havin’ us on. The Chinese are not interested in stability because they’ve decided to assume the international role the world has been trying to thrust them into for the last 40 years. They’re interested in military installations, most likely naval and they need “someone they can deal with” in each of those blighted tropical cesspools.

  • Jim Luebke

    How much longer could Castroism last in Cuba, given another Great Power patron like China?

  • Luke Lea

    How about they take on Haiti.

  • tombeebe

    Brilliance at State; and she wants to be President!

  • douginsd

    The biggest interest for China is to pry away all the small Central American and Caribbean countries that recognize Taiwan vs. the PRC:

    Central and South America, and Caribbean Community (12 states)
    Belize* (1989)
    Dominican Republic* (1957)
    El Salvador* (1961)
    Guatemala* (1960)
    Haiti* (1956)
    Honduras* (1965)
    Nicaragua* (1962–1985,1990)
    Panama* (1909)
    Paraguay* (1957)
    Saint Kitts and Nevis* (1983)
    Saint Lucia (1984–1997, 2007)
    Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (1981)

    Of these, all can potentially be flipped. Panama would be more complicated, because of huge trade and investment by both Taipei and the PRC. For instance, Hutchison Whampoa does run some of the major ports, while both Evergreen and Cosco push a lot of tonnage through the canal.

    If the PRC is successful, the number of countries that recognize Taiwan would be cut in half, to as few as a dozen, with small populations, midget economies, and almost insignificant strategic value.

  • Randall Bielke

    The game of GO continues.
    One day China will flip over all her chips and…………….?

  • gs

    How far back does the neglect go? It might have started with the Bush 41 administration. I remember being exasperated while GWB did nothing useful to prevent Chavez from consolidating his power.

    • Steve Neely

      Bush did it!

  • DvoraChesed

    As they do in all matters domestic, if a foreign policy will put America at a disadvantage count on the 0bama Regime to pursue it.

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