As the People’s Republic of China (PRC) continues its cultural and economic expansion in Barbados and the Caribbean, there is concern about that global power’s motivation. The question is whether those concerns are justified.
China has been on the charm offensive for several years. It has engaged in partnerships with the Barbados government for major infrastructural projects included the Wildey Gymnasium, the failed Four Seasons Project, expansion of the Barbados Community College, the Barbados Tourism Investment Inc multi-storey car park and offices on the Princess Alice Highway in Bridgetown, and the controversial Warrens Office Complex (aka Barrack Building) to name a few.
One of the largest projects supported by Chinese funding and labour is the soon-to-be-completed 420-room Sam Lord’s Castle Resort in St Philip.
Billed to be a major economic accelerator for the parish and the island, the Five Diamond resort to be operated by the Wyndham Grand Resort, is set to hire at least 300 beginning next month for a winter season opening. That number is expected to rise to about 1,000 when the hotel is fully operational.
For this near US $200 million project, Chinese company, COMPLANT (China National Complete Plant Import and Export Corporation was engaged.
China is a member of the global community that uses its dominance in manufacturing, science, sports, economic wealth, and military might, to have its way on several issues.
There is much more to this East Asian country that needs to be acknowledged and factored into debates on China’s economic and cultural expansion in Barbados, the Caribbean, and Latin America.
China’s government is a one-party, communist dictatorship that is ruled by the Communist Party of China. Those are simple facts. China is not interested in Western democracy.
China has been providing low-interest development loans, scholarships to Barbadians, hosting annual all-expenses paid trips to China for members of the local media, hosted spectacular cultural events over the years, and provided Barbados with generous donations of the Chinese-made Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine.
The Chinese, along with the United States, Canada, Italy, Germany, and the United States of America, are non-borrowing members of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).
In many ways, China is an enigma, and few have fully understood all its intentions for Barbados and the region, despite its long association and diplomatic engagement in this region.
When our government announced recently that it was securing more loan financing from China to rehabilitate road in the Scotland district, there was some unease from regular folk.
Not only are Barbadians worried about the island’s rate of borrowing and the burden to be left on the shoulders of our children, they worry too about the growing influence of China in our economy.
There is unease about the relative secrecy surrounding many of the Chinese-backed projects, and the insistence by China, that its citizens be ones doing the construction when infrastructure is involved.
A recent publication of commentary by Dr R Evan Ellis on China’s role in Latin America and the Caribbean, states: “At the core of the PRC pursuit of its economic objectives . . . is “multidimensional connectivity,” as reflected in China’s use, since 2013 of the “Belt and Road initiative” to both shape and explain the nature of its economic engagement with the world in terms of mutually beneficial flows of goods, money and ideas, and the Chinese construction of infrastructure to enable them.”
Ellis also revealed that China-based companies were involved in at least 40 major port facility projects in the region, including in Mexico, three in The Bahamas, three in Panama, and one in Argentina, four ports in Brazil, and the US $3 billion Chancay mineral port in Peru.
Also note-worthy that the China Merchant Port Holdings acquisition of full ownership of the Port of Kingston, Jamaica in April 2020. China-based investors are also involved in the expansion of the Port of Berbice in Guyana.
There has never been anything called a free lunch and at some point, somebody has to pay.
Chinese companies have invested more than US$160 billion in Latin America and the Caribbean with the two major banks – the China Development Bank and China Export-Import Bank lending US$136 billion for projects in this part of the world.
It seems that while our economic and political significance has waned in the eyes of the USA, our star is rising with the Chinese.
What we in Barbados have to figure out is how do we tactically manoeuvre through the politics and intrigue to ensure that we do not become helpless pawns.