China is waging an aggressive campaign of seduction in the Caribbean, wooing countries away from relationships with rival Taiwan, opening markets for its expanding economy, promising to send tourists, and shipping police to Haiti in the first communist deployment in the Western Hemisphere.
And the United States, China’s Cold War enemy, is benignly watching the Asian economic superpower move into its backyard. For decades China and Taiwan used dollar diplomacy to win over small Caribbean nations where small projects building roads, bridges, wells and fisheries go a long way.
But Beijing’s growing economic clout is tipping the scales in the region. Caribbean trade with China increased 42 percent from 2003, the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported. The United States has applauded China’s economic offensive, seeing it as a herald of political reform.
“China’s intensified interest in the Western Hemisphere does not imply a lack of focus by the United States,” Roger Noriega, the U.S. assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, said in a letter to the editor of New Jersey’s Newark Star Ledger. “The United States has long stood for expansion of global trade and consolidating democracy.” Recently, two Caribbean countries — Dominica and Grenada — switched allegiance to China, abandoning Taiwan, which China calls “a renegade province.”
Though democratic Taiwan is self-governing, communist Beijing insists the island is part of China. The two sides split amid civil war in 1949 and Beijing has since refused to have ties with any government that recognizes Taiwan. “Democratic, market-oriented Taiwan is a thorn in its side,” said Steve Johnson, senior policy analyst at the conservative Washington, D.C.-based Heritage Foundation.
Two weeks before Dominica changed sides, Taiwan gave it $9 million. China promised Dominica $112 million over the next six years. Chinese Vice President Zeng Qinghong visited Jamaica for a three-day China-Caribbean economic and trade forum attended by hundreds of Chinese and Caribbean government officials and business executives. Robert Stephens, chairman of Jamaica’s Fair Trade Commission and senior vice president of the Jamaican Port Authority, looks forward to future deals.
“The Chinese would distribute goods throughout the Caribbean. Any increase in business would benefit Jamaica as a logistic distribution hub,” he said. By the end of the forum, China added Antigua, the Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Jamaica, and St. Lucia to its approved travel destinations, promising the region a bigger piece of the fast-growing Chinese tourist market.
Caribbean governments had sought the approved status to boost a tourism industry hard hit by the September 11terror attacks in the United States. In the Caribbean, only five countries still maintain relations with Taiwan — the Dominican Republic, Haiti, St. Kitts and Nevis, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. But China has commercial missions in the Dominican Republic and in Haiti, where in October China dispatched 95 police officers to join a U.N. peacekeeping force. It is Beijing’s first contribution to a U.N. mission in the Western Hemisphere.