Tewarie: Caribbean important to China

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Former minister of planning Dr Bhoendradatt Tewarie. –

FORMER government minister Dr Bhoendradatt Tewarie says the Caribbean is one of many places in the world which China views as important to the advancement of its global agenda.

But he wondered whether Caribbean leaders would grasp the opportunity to strengthen their ties with China. He made this observation during a virtual seminar about economic relations between China and the Caribbean on Thursday.

Tewarie recalled that in 2008, China’s ruling Communist Party published a paper with respect to its outlook on Latin America and the Caribbean in relation to Chinese foreign policy. “That was the beginning, you might say, of a very focused interest by China in our part of the world. Today, China is a major presence in the Caribbean and Latin America in trade, investment, and development.”

Tewarie said this relationship continues to grow. He recalled a major step in the advancement of China-Caribbean relations was made in 2013 when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the Caribbean. During that visit, Xi held talks in Port of Spain with then prime minister (now Opposition Leader) Kamla Persad-Bissessar. Tewarie said Xi used that visit to “meet with every leader of Caricom that was not-aligned to Taiwan and each engagement was reported on the Chinese government website.” Those countries are St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

TT has had diplomatic ties with China since 1974. Xi’s visit to TT saw the signing of a memorandum of understanding which would see TT and China partner in areas of mutual interest such as energy and infrastructure. In 2013, Tewarie continued, Xi did not only visit the Caribbean but also Costa Rica, Mexico, and the US. “The Caribbean visit, you might say, was a kind of initiation for Xi Jinping to this part of the world, but to also give him a sense of the countries that China considered important in the (Western) Hemisphere.”

Tewarie said China’s investments in different Caricom countries today are approximately over US$10 billion. “There can be no question (that) China’s interest in the region in trade, investment, finance, and projects has increased.” Tewarie said that interest is visible “from Cuba, Jamaica, and the Bahamas in the north to TT, Guyana, and Suriname in the south and every country in between.”

He said China has surpassed the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and the International Monetary Fund combined as Latin America’s top (financial) lender for energy and infrastructure projects.” Tewarie said China is also the major export market for nations such as Brazil, Chile, Cuba, and Uruguay. He added these are developments the Caribbean must pay attention to.

Tewarie said it is possible for the Caribbean to strengthen ties with China while maintaining relations with traditional international partners such as the US and Europe. While the Caribbean has opportunities for development through the US’ Caribbean Basin Initiative and similar avenues through agreements with the European Union, Tewarie does not believe the region has made the best it could of those arrangements.