By ADRIAN GIBSON
OUR increasing dependence on China is sure to undergird their brand of economic colonialism, deepening the notion that The Bahamas is hardly independent – ie only paper independence – and, moreover, that we are in line to be – lock, stock and two smoking barrels – beholden to China and Chinese interests. Due to its close proximity to the United States, The Bahamas – in its relations with the US – used to be referred to as the 51st state but, more and more, these days we’re progressively appearing to be the 23rd province of China (though they claim Taiwan as the twenty-third).
Locally, China’s ballooning presence is becoming representative of neo-colonialism at its finest, especially as our clueless leaders travel to China with hat in hand to beg. Seemingly they think that China is a place with streets paved with gold, even though that country has its own problems with unemployment, pollution, shortages of power, instances of corruption by government officials, regional income inequality between the developed south and the rural agricultural north of China and a purportedly inefficient banking sector where, due to government intervention, bad loans have been made to government affiliated businesses without much observance or regard for proper banking/financing guidelines (much like what has allegedly occurred at our very own Bank of the Bahamas).
The Chinese government has not ventured to these shores because they love and admire us or because they are doing things in our interest. China is pursuing a colonialist path in The Bahamas and, by extension, the wider Caribbean. Strategically, it is in their own best interests that they have made the trek to The Bahamas; that they have muscled into our (and the wider Caribbean’s) economic marketplace. Surely, by now we should know that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Even the Bible says that the borrower will be slaves to the lender.
A week ago, Prime Minister Perry Christie announced plans at the first ministerial meeting of the CELAC-CHINA (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) Forum in Beijing that they were proposing to request funding from China to support our national budget, in order to refinance and restructure the country’s debt. He said his ministry had been given a mandate to find new capital for the country as traditional sources were winding down on lending.
According to an official statement, Mr Christie also gave assurances that The Bahamas’ government will promote opportunities for investment in the energy sector, gas exploration, mining, forestry, tourism, airline services, financial services, agriculture and fisheries. The government’s travelling party to last week’s event also said that they were pursuing a number of projects and initiatives on behalf of the Bahamian people, namely a reciprocal air services agreement involving Air China and Bahamian registered airlines; an indoor stadium for youth development; an agreement on technical and research co-operation between the Bahamas Agriculture Marine Science Institute (BAMSI) and China’s Ocean University and other investment opportunities.
At this rate, before long, the Chinese will be selling and renting cars, building private schools, owning radio stations and having a few seats in the House of Assembly, where they will deliver their contributions in Mandarin.
It was also announced last week that following a 30-minute meeting between Mr Christie and the Chinese president, the Chinese head of state approved The Bahamas becoming the third jurisdiction to trade in Chinese denominated currency, the Renminbi (RMB) Chinese yuan. Whilst the details remain unknown, prima facie, this appears to be an opportunity for the country to highlight its financial services acumen. Yes, this appears to be an example of an attempt to diversify; unfortunately, it is not based on indigenous activity. One waits to see what impact it will have.
Don’t get me wrong. This column is not so much about China as it is about the propensity of our leaders to happily hawk and barter our national patrimony – our precious land resources – and their inclination towards developing a dependency on Chinese largesse, a dependence that could result in economic enslavement and that may come back to bite us in the rear end.
In a 2014 Global Policy Journal article entitled “The New Neo-Colonialism in Africa”, Adam Tiffen wrote: “Corruption and graft, rampant throughout African politics, has also enabled Chinese government-backed businesses to influence political decision makers in their economic favour. Needless to say, Chinese construction on the African continent is also undertaken with little regard for environmental and cultural sustainability. The resultant destruction of rainforests, unrestricted mining, and pollution of fresh water supplies will have a lasting negative impact on the economic and security situation.”
“In extractives, however, the trade imbalance is even starker. Across the continent, Chinese demand for iron ore, copper and timber has led to trade agreements in which Chinese government-owned companies are granted rights to huge tracts of land for timber or exclusive access to copper and iron ore mines. In exchange, the Chinese government has authorised billions of dollars in loans to African governments. However, these loans often come with a catch: until this year, development work paid for by these funds were typically open only to tenders by Chinese companies,” Tiffen wrote.
Frankly, we have seen it even here in The Bahamas, where China loaned billions of dollars to the Baha Mar developers but insisted on the work being carried out by Chinese government-backed construction companies. This seems to be the modus operandi and could be of little benefit to local contractors.
According to Tiffen: “Rather than infusing local African economies with cash, stimulating growth, and increasing local capacity, the main benefit has been to Chinese enterprises. These companies, financed by their own government, systematically import cheap Chinese labour to staff their construction projects. As a result, for many African countries, the exchange of valuable natural resources for critically needed infrastructure has had limited impact on unemployment and little corresponding development of a vast African unskilled labour force. Today, there are an estimated one million Chinese living and working in Africa.”
He went on to say: “Chinese interests in Africa are motivated solely for China’s benefit; by combining government action with corporate interests, the Chinese are locking up rights to billions of dollars of valuable commodities. African nations, facing political pressure to show some development progress, are induced to barter what are often their only significant sources of potential wealth for mediocre infrastructure that does little to develop their economies and is worth a tiny fraction of the total value of the resources they sign over to the Chinese. The lack of sustainability in this trading partnership creates an inevitable African dependence upon Chinese largesse for future maintenance and rehabilitation of this infrastructure.”
And so, why does it appear that The Bahamas’ government is approaching its relationship in the same way as so many African countries have done? Are these examples not patently obvious enough for the government to at least temper its request for financing, among other things, and at least project itself as negotiating from a position that seeks to be seen as somewhat equal? After all, the Chinese do have a strategic interest in the Bahamas.
In an interview with Chinese state television, Mr Christie – who was obviously pandering – referred to China as a natural partner.
What else do the Chinese want? Certainly, we would have to support their position on Taiwan with the United Nations. Moreover, we know that the Chinese aren’t merely coming here because we’re having a love fest – we must remember that we our geographic location and the influence that we have on the rest of the Caricom. We know that China already has significant interest on the Cable Beach strip, downtown Bay Street and in Grand Bahama, where they own at least half of the shares in the port. The port in Grand Bahama is a major entry point, it is a strategic point in international trade since it is on one of the biggest shipping lanes in the world.
We are laying ourselves bare to being manipulated and controlled by a foreign government. When I heard that our government was likely to seek to have the Chinese pay off our national debt (which they can do with ease) and we then pay the Chinese at a favourable rate, I declared then that our leaders had lost their doggone minds. It’s one thing to owe a number of financial institutions; it’s another thing to owe a particular country all this money and essentially be owned by that country. I waited to hear more about this from official channels, but I have not and I hope that I never do.
We must remember that the US can afford to have lots of bonds owned by the Chinese. They are an equal power. We do not have equal bargaining power and, frankly, would only be seen as a pimple on China’s backside. We would merely be seen as a footstool at the table.
It is clear that we have simply traded Euro-American colonialists for Asian colonialists. It speaks about our level of national self-worth and says that we are fundamentally servants who can hardly see ourselves in any different light.
As has been seen in Africa, much of the people’s birthright is sold for the benefit of the few. The lamentable problem is that, notwithstanding all the rhetoric, we continuously arrive at one solution – that we need a saviour. Whatever we have to sell for that saviour to keep us afloat, we will sell.
When the PM jetted off with a contingent to beg for currency, he did so knowing that the average Bahamian is more focused on a salary of $300 per week than control of our own destiny. The overwhelming reliance on foreign saviours confirms a lack of national self-esteem. It is clear that we don’t really believe in ourselves, although it sounds really good to say that we do and that we are prepared to take the country back to an era of colonialism. If this is the legacy of the leadership of this country, then they should be ashamed.
Unfortunately, the disturbing light is being shed on just how shallow the political directorate’s outlook and vision for The Bahamas seems to be. Those making decisions today are now attempting to preserve their short-term political face at the cost of selling away our independence.
It does not matter who we’re selling to – it could be Americans, Brits, Japanese, the French, Australians, Russians or whoever – but the fact is that our attempts to sell our energy company, our national airline and much more to the Chinese is evidence, yet again, of another example of us kicking national introspection and correction down the road and, in so doing, with each kick, we are magnifying the problem.