By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Minnis administration has not discouraged China from helping this country recover from Hurricane Dorian, Haigang Yin, charge d’affairs of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, said yesterday.
His comment followed a US media report that The Bahamas does not want China’s help reconstructing Abaco and Grand Bahama.
The Palm Beach Post reported on Friday that Linda Mackey, consul general to Florida, said that when President Donald Trump hosted a summit last March at the Mar-a-Lago resort, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis pledged to keep China’s influence out of the Bahamas and that this pledge still stands after Hurricane Dorian.
The report alarmed Bahamian government officials over the weekend, eventually prompting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to issue a statement on Sunday saying Ms Mackey’s comments were taken out of context.
The Tribune obtained a transcript from the Palm Beach Post of its interview with Ms Mackey.
A reporter asked her: “Is there any concern about who does the reconstruction? I remember that President Trump met with the prime minister in the spring and there were some concerns about Chinese influence in the Bahamas.”
According to the transcript, she responded: “Well, in Abaco, locals are doing the actual work, the construction work. The NGO is only supplying the building supplies. So, we are empowering the locals to do the actual work. So, there will be no Chinese with what I’m referring to.”
She was later asked: “But what the prime minister talked about with Trump for keeping Chinese influence out, that still stands?”
She responded: “Yes, yes, yes. I know in Abaco, Baker’s Bay, they’ve gotten some permission to bring in Mexico to help with the rebuild.”
Nonetheless, Mr Yin said any suggestion The Bahamas has declined Chinese assistance is “fake news”. He said it would be irresponsible for any diplomat to make such an ungrounded claim.
Before last year’s meeting with President Trump, the White House said participants would discuss how to counter China’s “predatory economic practices” in this region. Bahamian government officials, however, have never affirmed an intention to decline China’s assistance and or halt its influence. Following his meeting with President Trump, Dr Minnis told reporters he informed American officials that China and the Bahamas are allies that enjoy a good working relationship and that this will not change.
The Chinese government has donated more than $500,000 after Hurricane Dorian. Its donations do not represent a decline compared to China’s assistance after past hurricanes. After Hurricane Matthew in 2016, China donated $50,000 while China Construction America, a subsidiary of the state-owned Chinese State Construction Engineering Corporation and developer of The Pointe, donated $100,000.
Mr Yin said National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) officials are planning to take the Chinese ambassador on a tour of Abaco. He noted that the government recently signed an agreement for China to import Bahamian lobster and for air transportation cooperation between the two countries.
“I see the bilateral relations are on the rise, not the contrary,” he said. “We have never heard anything from the foreign minister, from the prime minister, from other ministers that the Bahamian government don’t want China’s help.”
After Hurricane Dorian, Florida Senator Marco Rubio said China would step “in and seize the moment to exploit the recovery for its own nefarious purposes” if the US didn’t help.
In 2016, then US President Barack Obama suggested to students at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica that they should be no more concerned about China’s influence than they are for any other country.
“If China is making investments that are building up infrastructure or improving education or helping the people, then we welcome that, we think that’s great,” Mr Obama said. “The only thing is you have to look at what strings are attached. If the investments are made and it’s solely to build a road to a mine to extract raw materials that are going to then immediately go to a port and shipped to China and if Chinese workers are shipped in to build the road and if you don’t know exactly what the deal is with the government that led to China getting the contract, in those circumstances, it might not in fact be serving the long-term interest of your country. And by the way I would say the same thing about the United States. If we come in with an aid package to your country and we say we are gonna give you $100 million for such and such and when you evaluate the benefits, it’s US companies that are disproportionally benefiting from it and it’s creating a situation where the United States is making a lot of profits but it is not leaving behind a sustainable industrial base or ways in which that country could develop, then you have to evaluate that and try to get a better deal.”
Former Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell has said the Obama administration encouraged the Bahamas’ relationship with China, seeing the country as a reliable source of capital.
In a statement yesterday, Mr Mitchell said: “The PLP accepts the clarification of the report in the Palm Beach press issued yesterday by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on our relations with China, the United States and hurricane relief. The original report that our country would exclude any assistance from China seemed out of line with the facts on the ground. It is incumbent that notwithstanding the facts of geography, culture and trade, there is sufficient room for the Bahamas to be friends with all nations that wish to be friends with us. We are now assured that all of our representatives overseas understand that policy.”