COMMENTARY: Dodging the China question


By Sir Ronald Sanders 

(The writer is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the U.S. and the OAS.  He is also a senior fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London and at Massey College in the University of Toronto.   The view expressed are entirely his own) 

Of all the questions that both Kamala Harris and Mike Pence dodged during the U.S. Vice Presidential debate on October 7, the most revealing concerned China.

Susan Page, the moderator, from the publication, “USA Today”, put a clear question to Pence and Harris in turn: “We have no more complicated or consequential foreign relationship than the one with China. It is a huge market for American agricultural goods. It’s a potential partner in dealing with climate change and with North Korea; and, in a video tonight, President Trump again, blamed it for the Coronavirus saying China will pay…  how would you describe our fundamental relationship with China: Competitors? Adversaries? Enemies?”.

Apart from being very categoric, in keeping with President Trump’s position, that “China is to blame for the coronavirus”, and “China had been taking advantage of America for decades”, Vice President Pence did not say whether China was a competitor, adversary or enemy of the U.S.

Senator Harris was no clearer in her response. She said President Trump’s trade war with China “resulted in the loss of over 300,000 manufacturing jobs and a manufacturing recession, and the American consumer paid thousands of dollars more for goods because of that failed war”.  She added that, “Pew, a reputable research firm has done an analysis that shows that leaders of all of our formerly allied countries have now decided that they hold in greater esteem and respect Xi Jinping, the head of the Chinese communist party, than they do Donald Trump”.

From these answers, it is little wonder that people in the U.S. have no clear picture of their country’s relationship with China. The real situation is far more complex, and both Pence and Harris know it.

The U.S. and China are the two largest economies in the world.  They have an inter-dependent relationship not only in bilateral trade and investment, but in the maintenance of a stable global economy that serves both their interests for markets and supply of raw materials that neither of them has.

Both Pence and Harris know that it is not in the interest of the U.S. to encourage hostility with China.  They both dodged the question because they each weighed their answers on a narrow, ‘political opportunity’ basis.

Pence’s response fed prejudice against Chinese, and Harris’ answer nurtured a sentiment of horror that an American leader could be less respected than a Chinese ‘communist’.   Neither of them set-out a clear and constructive strategy for relations with China.

The absence of a China strategy is also obvious in the 15-nation Caribbean Community (CARICOM) whose membership is divided between recognition of China and Taiwan.   Nine of the 14 independent CARICOM states have diplomatic relations with China, and five others with Taiwan.

Once this division remains, there can be no “CARICOM Strategy” on China.  Although, as I have argued in other writings, CARICOM, by now, should have negotiated a formal collective partnership with China that covers the terms of trade, investment, labour practices (including the use of imported Chinese workers for projects); competition; and dispute settlement through independent machinery.

Instead, the nine CARICOM countries have an ad-hoc relationship with China that is characterised by Chinese investment and loans, as well as a trade surplus in China’s favour.  The increased presence of Chinese companies in the 9 CARICOM countries as well as their importation of Chinese labour for their projects have caused resentment in local populations. These concerns have not been adequately addressed.

The ground for growing anti-Chinese sentiment has been fertilized recently by statements from high representatives of the U.S. government.  These include questioning the value of Chinese money if it “feeds corruption and undermines your rule of law”, and calling for investments to be examined “if in fact they ruin your environment, and don’t create jobs for your people”. Ahead of the March 22 meeting between President Trump and leaders of five Caribbean countries – Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and St. Lucia –  a White House spokesperson said one of its aims was to “counter China’s predatory economic practices.”

Within CARICOM countries, these unsubstantiated statements appeal to prejudiced-thinking in certain sections of the societies.  This thinking could be tempered by better information.  Misapprehension lingers because governments have failed to inform their people fully. For example, the amount of money borrowed from China to finance much-needed infrastructural projects, is considerably reduced by using Chinese labour.

It is also little known that China, as a donor state, contributes to regional economies through its membership of the Caribbean Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, and as a Permanent Observer to the Organization of American States.  Its investment outreach to the Caribbean is not only bilateral; it is also multilateral.

Many – if not all – of these matters could be addressed in a transparent and balanced manner if CARICOM countries could jointly negotiate a partnership agreement with China as they have done with the European Union.  Further, joint CARICOM negotiations, using the leverage available to the entire region would be more advantageous than national bargaining where China would be in a much stronger position.

This observation equally applies to the CARICOM relationship with the U.S. which is no less ad-hoc and lacking in regional strategy. The U.S. enjoys a perennial trade surplus with Caribbean countries that topped $4 billion in 2019, notwithstanding preferences for a narrow range of goods exported by some CARICOM countries.

While the U.S. has withdrawn from offering loans and investments to the majority of Caribbean nations, and International Financial Institutions have disqualified many of them from concessional financing, China filled the gap with soft loans and, in some instances, grants particularly in the struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic.

From 2006 to 2015, under the George W. Bush and Barack Obama Administrations, while expressing concern about China’s influence in the region, the U.S. generally viewed China’s engagement with the region positively, regarding it as a contributor to economic growth. Such collaboration with Caribbean participation would be beneficial to all.

CARICOM countries need joint strategies toward the U.S. and China. They should be based on being partners not pawns in any game of competition, rivalry, or enmity.

Response and previous commentaries: 

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  1. I agree, the China issue is indeed complicated. In my opinion, China is predatory and only out to serve it’s own interests. After you shake their hand you better count your fingers.

    • Will, Aren’t you the yankee who is a strict follower of the American “constitution”? Antigua and the rest of the Caribbean will decide who our friends are, and not depend on others. The Antiguan philosophy is to be friends of all and enemies of none. By the way, your wonderful “constitution” in its’ original for allowed for human slavery and did not recognize any woman’s right to vote.

      • @Maynard
        I’m not tell anyone who their friends should be Maynard. And yes, I am the constitutionalist and by the way, I’ve always been referring to the Antigua & Barbuda constitution so cool your jets mate about that Yankee BS.

        You obviously don’t remember your own history. Some black Antiguan’s owned slave too.

    • Notes From A Native Son Of The Rock! “Everything can be explained to the people, on the single condition that you want them to understand.” ― Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth!

      LEST WE REMEMBER! Under State Capitalism, In 2019, The number of wealthy Chinese people has overtaken the number of rich Americans for the first time, according to a report by Credit Suisse, which found there were 100 million Chinese people among the world’s top 10% of richest people, compared with 99 million in the US! Second in the world in total number of billionaires and millionaires—there were 373 Chinese billionaires and 4.4 million millionaires! In terms of Purchasing Power the PROC is number 1 in the World! Notwithstanding “Covid and Rona” wantonly running rampant and lay wasting people and economies on this Planet, the PROC will continue to lead the Earth’s Economic Growth while the Belt and Road Initiative continues a pace!

      Quo Vadis!

      “The basic confrontation which seemed to be colonialism versus anti-colonialism, indeed capitalism versus socialism, is already losing its importance. What matters today, the issue which blocks the horizon, is the need for a redistribution of wealth. Humanity will have to address this question, no matter how devastating the consequences may be.” ― Frantz Fanon, 1960!

  2. I concur that the lack of a cohesive CARICOM interface with Beijing leaves us fragmented and prone to divide and conquer tactics. You have however glossed over one of the major contributing factors to this discord, namely the recognition of Taiwan. As former colonies of subjected peoples it should be our imperative to recognise the inalienable rights of people to self-determination anywhere inthe world. This should extend to Taiwan, and if denying the Taiwanese people their birthright is prerequisite to negotiations with Chinese, it is our moral imperative to seek out other investment partners.

    • Both the People’s Republic of China and the government of Taiwan are both agreed there is only ONE China, not two.

      • @Maynard
        What a stupid comment. Taiwan does not recognize themselves as being part of China… they never have and never will.

        Do you just make is rubbish up or are you just ignorant and uninformed?

        • I note your terms like “rubbish” and “mate” are very BRITISH and not local or Antiguan at all. Where do you really live?

          • @Kristi
            None ya business. You sound like a person who divides according to race and nationality. Not going to play that game.

      • Notes From A Native Son Of The Rock! “Everything can be explained to the people, on the single condition that you want them to understand.” ― Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth!

        Your clear and eagle eyed flight with open barbed talons is desperately needed to provide teachable moments and learning opportunities to the masses! One People! Two Systems!

        All A&B Governments since 1981, especially when they teeter tooter from “entrepreneurial socialism to empowerment capitalism,” have not educated the population as to their political, socio-cultural, technological and legal national development intersection with their social, environmental and financial self interests and an examination bathed in an accompanying and resultant model or framework to evaluate their intersection with either Western/North Atlantic – Buccaneer, Middle East/Arab – Trader or Eastern/Asian – Privateer Ecology in Time and Space! This mere voice will not attempt to understand what happens within the English Speaking Caribbean much less CARICOM, but is tempted to say that the same lack of analysis and education pertains!

        “The unpreparedness of the educated classes, the lack of practical links between them and the mass of the people, their laziness, and, let it be said, their cowardice at the decisive moment of the struggle will give rise to tragic mishaps.” ― Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth!

        Go Well!

  3. In the meantime, the PM selling us and our lands off to China which is part of his retirement plan. All while screwing us and our heritage.

    China has literally built islands in their territorial waters and have already installed military bases on them. Word is the Chinese have already built underground bomb shelters here on Antigua. They are already destroying the mangroves by Guiana Island in an area that has been protected. All this complimentary of the PM. You think he serving us? Not one iota, he looking out for himself only.

    To the people who continue voting for him, go ahead and continue keeping the dictator in office. You are selling out yourselves and your descendants. Jamaica has already been taken over. Sea ports on Africa have been taken over. Dominica and Antigua are in the works. Partially thanks to the “gifts” the PM is getting while we are being disserviced by him. Slavery of a different kind on the horizon.

  4. Thank God for freedom of expression enjoyed here in our beloved democratic Antigua and Barbuda that allows even the most ignorant, e. g. certain Antiguan Citizens, to pollute intellectual airspace by regurgitating on a regular basis the sour and stale diet s/he obviously consumes on a daily basis.
    Of course the Chinese connection in Antigua and Barbuda merits close inspection and discussion, but by truly committed citizens who have a real interest in national development irrespective of the political party that forms the government. Resorting to wild, baseless rantings about military stations and underground bombs and personal gifts to Government officials merely provide fodder for those who thrive on hallucinations and the-sky-is-falling crap. Wake up (wo)man! The intellectual level of even the average Antiguan Citizen has soared way above the level you think and hope to keep us. Stop abusing our dearly cherished freedom of expression!!!

    • @Anon the 1st
      That freedom of expression you enjoy now might be short lived if the Chinese encouraged by Gaston Browne’s Cabinet has anything to do with it…..

    • Notes From A Native Son Of The Rock! “Keep On Keeping On!” “Each One Teach One!”

      “The unpreparedness of the educated classes, the lack of practical links between them and the mass of the people, their laziness, and, let it be said, their cowardice at the decisive moment of the struggle will give rise to tragic mishaps.” ― Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth!

      The Good Ambassador has laid out the financial development arguments and the “niggardliness” of ancienne Buccaneers and Traders versus the “resentiment” (Dr. Charles Ephraim) of grant in aid state Privateers! Since 1951, the year of Adult Suffrage, when the People of African Descent attained the right to vote for the Executive Administration of their choice without let or hindrance, the People have elected two intertwined Governing Philosophies, notwithstanding the noises, dissonance, colourful manifestos and individual peccadilloes of the politicos which are more similar than divergent, to legislate and administer their affairs! Friends, Country WoMen, Rastas, the People while maintaining their Agency recognize that Government under the Executive Political Structure and System is Continuous! The people in exercising their Agency expect that GoAB, no matter the artificial colour of Blue, Green or Red, must always act to protect their Interests, be they engaged with the old colonial buccaneers or the new neo-colonial privateers!

      “A bourgeoisie that has only nationalism to feed the people fails in its mission and inevitably gets tangled up in a series of trials and tribulations. If nationalism is not explained, enriched, and deepened, if it does not very quickly turn into a social and political consciousness, into humanism, then it leads to a dead end. A bourgeois leadership of the underdeveloped countries confines the national consciousness to a sterile formalism. Only the massive commitment by men and women to judicious and productive tasks gives form and substance to this consciousness.” ― Frantz Fanon, 1960!

  5. The pain and simple truth is the Communist Chinese government has unleashed the worst Virus
    in resent history and Murdered millions,crashed the world Economy”s.

    How third countrys choose to deal with them is your call.
    Just remember the Chinese are never giving they are BUYING.

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