China has offered Jamaica loans and expertise to build miles of new highways. Throughout the Caribbean, it has donated security equipment to military and police forces, and built a network of Chinese cultural centers. And it has dispatched large shipments of test kits, masks and ventilators to help governments respond to the pandemic.
The initiatives are part of a quiet but assertive push by China in recent years to expand its footprint and influence in the region through government grants and loans, investments by Chinese companies, and diplomatic, cultural and security efforts.
But while governments in the region have welcomed Beijing’s interest, the Trump administration has viewed China’s growing presence — and its potential to challenge Washington’s influence in the region — with concern and suspicion.
The Caribbean markets are generally small, and most of the nations there lack the sizable reserves of minerals and other raw materials that often draw Chinese attention. But the region has strategic importance as a hub for logistics, banking and commerce, analyst say, and could have great security value in a military conflict because of its proximity to the United States.
“There are a lot of reinforcing reasons that go beyond balance sheets,” said R. Evan Ellis, research professor of Latin American studies at the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute. “China understands intuitively the strategic importance of that space.”
China’s efforts in the region are part of its global strategy to forge deep economic ties and strong diplomatic relationships around the world, in part through the building of major infrastructure projects under its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative.
A crucial motivation for China’s Caribbean strategy also is winning over the remaining nations that officially recognize Taiwan instead of China, most of which are in the Caribbean and Latin America, said Richard L. Bernal, a professor at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica and former Jamaican ambassador to the United States.
China considers Taiwan to be part of its territory and has long sought to reduce the number of countries that recognize it. But recently Taiwan’s international stature has grown with its aggressive response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“China’s objective is to gradually eliminate the recognition of Taiwan,” Mr. Bernal said.
China’s growing interest has come as much-needed help for Caribbean nations that have serious infrastructure needs but whose status as middle-income countries complicates their access to financing for development.
Low-interest loans by the Chinese government totaling more than $6 billion over 15 years have financed major infrastructure projects and other initiatives throughout the Caribbean, according to the Inter-American Dialogue, a research organization based in Washington. The total climbs by $62 billion with the addition of assistance to Venezuela, much of it given in return for long-term oil supplies.
Click here to read more.