FRONT PORCH: Finding the balance in relations with the US and China

CHINA is obviously not attending the 2022 Summit of the Americas currently being hosted by the United States in Los Angeles. But the country of 1.4 billion looms large as a competitor to the US for the interests, investment needs and geopolitical considerations of the Caribbean and Latin America.

With seeming lightning speed over the past several decades, China moved beyond its interests in the Indo-Pacific region making quick diplomatic and economic inroads in Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America.

China’s rise and the extent of its global reach appear inexorable. This does not mean China is devoid of serious and deep-seated domestic challenges, including on the economic front. China’s relations with various countries are mixed, including concerns about how it structures its lending and investment portfolios.

Developing states across the world, including The Bahamas, are negotiating how to balance relations with the United States and China. Countries should not demonise nor sentimentalise either of these two powers.

Some will naturally gravitate toward one or the other. But we must be on good terms with both, because it serves our needs and interests. America’s and China’s relations with other states are similarly not marked by sentimentality, despite the oft-repeated assurances of friendship and mutuality by both.


This does not suggest there are not historic ties between certain countries. Still, nation-states are driven by hard facts and clear-eyed interests, which go beyond diplomatic expressions and pleasant words at receptions and banquets toasting good relations.

Of the 33 countries in the Caribbean and Latin America, only eight still have diplomatic ties with Taiwan: Belize, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Paraguay, St Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Paraguay is the only country in South America that maintains ties with Taiwan. In the Caribbean, all of the major or larger countries have diplomatic ties with the People’s Republic.

It was in 1997, under Hubert Ingraham and the FNM, that The Bahamas wisely established ties with China. Before the 1992 general election, the PLP was scheduled to send a former cabinet minister to Taiwan as ambassador.

In recent years, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Panama switched their diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China. In the 21st century, it makes more geopolitical and economic sense to have diplomatic ties with China not Taiwan.

In a 2021 article, Time reported: “Gaining... alliances in Latin America offers Beijing invaluable votes at the UN and backing for Chinese appointees to multinational institutions.

Already, 19 governments across Latin America and the Caribbean have joined Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a $1 trillion transcontinental trade and infrastructure network.

“Shanghai-based China Cosco Shipping is building a new $3 billion port at Chancay in Peru, while there are ambitious proposals for a transcontinental railway linking South America’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts from Brazil to Chile.”


Many in the US are often exercised by what they term “Chinese influence”, though US influence should supposedly never be questioned. They arrogantly and dismissively speak of and treat the countries of the Americas as if we are fools, toadies or supplicants unaware of our interests and needs.

It is an extension of the Monroe Doctrine mindset that the region should supposedly be controlled by an imperial America through some sort of divine or “manifest destiny”. Criticisms of China are often replete with racist innuendos and attacks.

The Baha Mar project, which was necessary for The Bahamas economy, would likely have withered were it not for Chinese funding, especially as the US and the world were reeling from the Great Recession of 2008.

China has invested heavily in infrastructure throughout The Bahamas and the region. The Bahamas would be keen to have more US investment in the public and private sectors. We have many historic and familial ties with the US, our close neighbour and one of our closest allies.

Bahamians are grateful for the public and private sector assistance of the United States over many decades, including in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.

As with many other Caribbean countries, most Bahamians would like to see more investments of both sectors in infrastructure. Bahamians are grateful for the many tourists who travel the archipelago. But we want to be treated respectfully, and not as an appendage and mere security buffer.


ZEINAB Badawi and Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley.

The Sudanese-British BBC presenter Zeinab Badawi has covered many global issues with aplomb and insight, including the history of Africa. She has explored and exposed the effects of colonialism, imperialism and slavery on former colonies.


It was therefore surprising during an interview for an edition of Global Questions in Barbados with Prime Minister Mia Mottley entitled Lessons from Barbados, that the seasoned Badawi would repeat certain simplistic and offensive tripe in questions posed as Barbados was preparing to remove the British monarch as head of state.

Ms Badawi referred to the Caribbean as being in “America’s backyard”. She apologised for this wording after Ms Mottley noted this image “gives the wrong impression” arguing that “neighbourhood” would be more appropriate.

Ms Badawi asked a question that was sent in for the interview suggesting that Barbados was being “ingratiating” toward China and that Mottley had been “very complimentary” about the People’s Republic.

As The National reported: “The line of questioning was to suggest the nation’s relationship with one superpower – the US – was being traded for another – China. The PM calmly pointed out that she’d made similar remarks about the UK and United States.

“Badawi continued: ‘But it’s not just Barbados that’s moving closer to China, it’s the whole of the Caribbean – I mean, investment from China has gone up many folds in the last few years.’ Mottley was having none of it. She replied: ‘It’s the whole world’.”

Prime Minister Mottley, who was recently named one of Time’s 100 most influential people of 2022, schooled Badawi and the world on the interests and needs of small island nations and former colonies seeking to remove the last vestiges of imperial rule, as well as the hypocrisy of some other states and commentators: “If I look correctly, I think the Chinese hold a large, large percentage of assets within the United States of America and a large amount of their treasuries as well.

“So for you to focus on the Caribbean or Africa with China, without recognising the role that China is playing in Europe or the north Atlantic countries, is a bit disingenuous and really reflects more that we’re seen as pawns, regrettably, rather than countries with equal capacity to determine our destiny and to be part of that global conversation to fight the global issues of the day such as climate and the pandemic.”

Badawi replied: “That’s put me in my place.” Mottley generously responded: “Not at all, my dear.”

Mottley, a Queen’s Counsel, was educated at the United Nations International School, and Queen’s College (Barbados), and has a law degree from the University of London.

Mottley can go head-to-head with any world leader on topics ranging from foreign policy to trade economics to the history of colonialism to international finance and subjects ranging from world and regional history to climate change and development economics.

Note to international media, bureaucrats and political leaders in various world capitals: Stop taking us as fools who do not recognise our national interests and deepest longings.


After the visit to ten Pacific nations by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi last week, the leaders of the Pacific Island Forum have engaged in intense dialogue about regional needs and international relations.

The Forum is comprised of three main ethnogeographic groups, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia, excluding Australia and New Zealand, which are also Forum members. The region is diverse in terms of history and political ties, with some enjoying closer historic ties to various world powers.

The Forum was founded in 1971 and its members include: Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu. Only the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau and Tuvalu still retain ties with Taiwan.

China successfully signed multiple bilateral agreements, mostly on economic and trade matters during Minister Wang’s tour. Many of the leaders expressed concerns about China’s request for various security agreements, which most rejected.

The President of Palau, Surangel Whipps Jr, emphasised this week: “We are peaceful countries and we want to live in peace and harmony. That’s the value of the Forum. It’s the Pacific coming together and sharing the same values and I think we all want peace and prosperity in the region.”

The main message to China was that the Pacific states do not want to be caught up in the military rivalry between the United States and China. But the countries do want mutually beneficial economic partnerships, investment and trade, as well as action and assistance on climate change.

Bahamian leaders should strive to be on good terms with both China and the United States, and careful about cutting off our proverbial nose to spite our face. We need to be good neighbours to both the United States and the People’s Republic of China, both of whom have been generous to The Bahamas.

Pacific and Caribbean small island nations share a similar existential threat in climate change and a shared message about our desire for prosperity and peace: We want to be good neighbours with all, but please do not suffocate or entangle us in your superpower rivalries.


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