Countries and Firms Vie for Influence in Rebuilding the Caribbean
Every once in awhile, our media seems to remember that they’re supposed to be actual reporters, and they write surprisingly good articles. This piece in Salon is one of those, and talks about the various countries and businesses who are competing to cut deals with the Caribbean for rebuilding.
Of special interest to me is the growing Chinese interest in the Caribbean:
According to The Economist, damage from Irma alone tallies up to US$13 billion. Totals for the entire 2017 hurricane season remain unclear, but Puerto Rico Gov. Roberto Rosello’s recent request for $94.4 billion in aid gives some sense of Maria’s toll.
No matter the final price tag, recovery is sure to be unpayable in a region where 30 percent of people live in poverty and the per capita gross domestic product averages under $9,000 a year, versus $57,000 in the United States.
For China, the crisis in the Caribbean is an opportunity to expand its influence in an area where it already has deep historic and economic ties.
This economic superpower also came to the assistance of Grenada in 2004, after more than 90 percent of the island was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan. The 351 housing units China promised to build for those left homeless by the storm opened in late 2012.
China’s interest in the Caribbean goes beyond disaster aid. During his 2013 visit to Trinidad and Tobago, President Xi Jinping reportedly promised Caribbean nations a total of $3 billion in loans.
His country has also financed infrastructure and industrial projects across the region. In Jamaica, Chinese state money built the $600 million, 42-mile “Beijing Highway” connecting Kingston to the tourist hub of Ocho Rios. China has also invested $3 billion in Jamaican alumina plants.
This follows a pattern of Chinese diplomacy in Africa, as the article above notes. While the Chinese never made open demands of the countries they aid, the implications of them feeding so much cash into these countries is rather obvious – they are trying to buy influence.
This is particularly concerning when you consider the Caribbean is America’s back yard. Africa, at least, is a continent away, but are we really okay with the Chinese pouring money into our neighbors?