Can China’s foot­print in the Caribbean last?

Global Times US Edition - - FORUM -

Ire­cently vis­ited the Do­mini­can Re­pub­lic as part of a Chi­nese me­dia del­e­ga­tion. In the Caribbean is­land coun­try nearly 14,000 kilo­me­ters from China, the en­thu­si­asm of lo­cals to de­velop re­la­tions with China was pal­pa­ble.

At a sem­i­nar on the Belt and Road ini­tia­tive at the con­fer­ence hall of the Do­mini­can Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs, Ed­uardo Klinger, a pro­fes­sor at the Academy of Sciences of the Do­mini­can Re­pub­lic, en­vis­aged con­nec­tiv­ity of the Caribbean re­gion dur­ing a Pow­er­Point pre­sen­ta­tion. It’s not only his per­sonal vi­sion, but shows what Do­mini­cans ex­pect from the Belt and Road ini­tia­tive.

The scholar who knows the con­di­tion of the re­gion en­vi­sioned the pos­si­bil­ity of greater con­nec­tiv­ity among Caribbean is­land na­tions in­clud­ing the Do­mini­can Pub­lic, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Ja­maica and the Ba­hamas.

He did not ig­nore the US. The Caribbean is the back­yard of the US. The Ba­hamas is only a lit­tle over 200 kilo­me­ters from Mi­ami.

“The con­nec­tiv­ity in the Caribbean re­gion cer­tainly needs US sup­port,” Klinger said.

In his vi­sion, Mi­ami plays a piv­otal role in fa­cil­i­tat­ing re­gional con­nec­tiv­ity and can ben­e­fit from it.

Klinger was full of ex­cite­ment while talk­ing about his idea, re­veal­ing the as­pi­ra­tion of the Caribbean coun­tries for de­vel­op­ment by ben­e­fit­ing from China-US co­op­er­a­tion.

“Our coun­try is small, but we are am­bi­tious,” he said.

We felt his pas­sion in his de­sire for ac­cel­er­at­ing de­vel­op­ment of the coun­try and the en­tire re­gion.

The re­gion needs de­vel­op­ment. In the Do­mini­can Re­pub­lic, we saw old roads with pot­holes and vast pud­dles of wa­ters ac­cu­mu­lated af­ter rains. In­ter­net speed is slow.

Sev­eral lo­cals told us that Do­minica needs to im­prove its trans­porta­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion net­work, re­build ports and con­struct rail­ways so as to play its role as a trans­porta­tion hub in the Caribbean.

The poli­cies of the Do­mini­can govern­ment are also in sync with changes in po­lit­i­cal thought in Latin Amer­ica. On the sur­face, right-wing pol­i­tics is on the rise in Latin Amer­ica while the left is in re­treat across the re­gion.

But from elec­tions in some coun­tries and gov­ern­ing poli­cies adopted by some new gov­ern­ments, pop­ulism is ris­ing. It seems eco­nomic plans in the fu­ture will cater more to or­di­nary vot­ers, at­tach more im­por­tance to em­ploy­ment and bet­ter wel­fare. This gives China an op­por­tu­nity to co­op­er­ate with coun­tries in the re­gion.

How­ever, there are myr­iad dif­fi­cul­ties ahead to im­prove con­nec­tiv­ity in the re­gion. It re­quires more rail­ways, bridges, tun­nels and ports, but more im­por­tantly, de­pends on the de­gree of mu­tual trust and co­op­er­a­tion be­tween China and the US and how Wash­ing­ton po­si­tions China and the Caribbean coun­tries in its strat­egy.

Dur­ing his re­cent tour of Latin Amer­ica, US Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo warned coun­tries in the re­gion to have their “eyes wide open” when deal­ing with Chi­nese in­vest­ment. He ac­cused China of en­gag­ing in “preda­tory eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity” there.

Pom­peo’s re­marks re­flect in­creas­ing US anx­i­ety over ex­pand­ing Chi­nese in­flu­ence in its back­yard. But they will ex­ert lit­tle in­flu­ence.

Many Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries have gained tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits from their co­op­er­a­tion with China and more co­op­er­a­tion in the fu­ture is in line with the needs of gov­ern­ments and peo­ple in the re­gion.

Puerto Rico, which is con­sid­ered a po­ten­tial 51st state of the US and can­not es­tab­lish diplo­matic re­la­tions with­out the ap­proval of the US Congress, is also in­ter­ested in de­vel­op­ing more co­op­er­a­tion with China.

Juan R. Mele­cio, head of Puerto Rico’s Trade Of­fice in the Do­mini­can Re­pub­lic, told us that de­spite di­ver­gences be­tween China and the US, Puerto Rico hopes to strengthen co­op­er­a­tion with China in terms of peo­ple-to-peo­ple ex­changes and tourism.

“This to some ex­tent re­flects the at­ti­tude of all Caribbean coun­tries to­ward China,” he said.

The US has de­fined China as the main strate­gic ri­val. This will cer­tainly put ob­sta­cles in the path of Chi­nese en­ter­prises to en­ter the Caribbean. But as long as we ad­here to the prin­ci­ples of peace­ful de­vel­op­ment and win-win co­op­er­a­tion, China will even­tu­ally gain a foothold in the re­gion. The au­thor is a se­nior ed­i­tor with the Peo­ple’s Daily, and cur­rently a se­nior fel­low with the Chongyang In­sti­tute for Fi­nan­cial Stud­ies at Ren­min Univer­sity of China. ding­[email protected]­al­times.com.cn. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @ding­gangchina

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