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U.S. fears growing Chinese influence

The United States has serious concerns about the growing influence of China on The Bahamas, and is questioning if the Chinese engagement with the country is part of a wider strategy to control the Caribbean, confidential U.S. State Department cables reveal.

“The Chinese appear committed to establishing a firm financial hold on projects, such as the Baha Mar(project), that will have a major impact on the Bahamian economy and leave the Government of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas indebted to Chinese interests for years to come,”said the cable published yesterday by the British newspaperThe Guardianfrom Wikileaks.

The Guardianreleased three cables yesterday on China-Bahamas relations. All three were categorized as confidential.

The September 2009 cable,classified by Charge d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Nassau Timothy Zuniga-Brown, was titled,’Chinese Offer Golden Opportunities to The Bahamas’. The cable focused on the$2.5 billion Baha Mar project.

Chinese influence in The Bahamas has grown in recent years. As a part of the Baha Mar deal, the Export-Import Bank of China is lending Baha Mar$2.45 billion the largest loan for a single resort development in Bahamian history. China State Construction Engineering Corporation is an equity partner with Baha Mar and it is also the lead contractor for the resort.

The China Eximbank is also lending the government nearly$58 million to finance a new highway from Lynden Pindling International Airport(LPIA)to Thompson Boulevard; the Hong Kong-based firm Hutchison Whampoa is an owner of the Freeport Container Port; and China is building a$30 million stadium for The Bahamas as a gift.

American concerns with the Chinese presence in The Bahamas predates Baha Mar.

“For their part, the Chinese in The Bahamas may be a strategic move preparing for a post-Castro Caribbean,”said a 2003 cable titled,’Prime Minister Christie’s China Trip, the Latest in a String of Visits.’The cable was classified by thenCharge d’AffairesRobert Witajewski.

The U.S. has keen interest in the work of Bahamian diplomats regarding China.

In a 2004 cable,’Sidney Poitier is’Star Attraction’for Bahamas trip to Japan,’U.S. diplomats pressured Bahamian diplomats for details on their trip to China.

“[Dr. Patricia]Rodgers, and other Bahamian officials, are reluctant to discuss the details of their relationship with the Chinese,”said the cable, which detailed the efforts of Witajewski to press Rodgers and then Bahamian Ambassador to CARICOM Leonard Archer for details regarding China.

Rodgers is a former permanent secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The U.S. Embassy in Nassau added:”The Bahamian Foreign Ministry has been unwilling to provide details about the delegation’s itinerary, schedule or meetings, or the purpose of the trip.”

The U.S. was able to secure some information after pressing.

“The United States has a very aggressive diplomatic service. They’re a large country with important economic and political links with The Bahamas and security concerns. So, you wouldn’t be surprised that they would want to find out what The Bahamas is doing or what we are thinking. That’s the role of their diplomatic service,”said Opposition Spokesman on Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell yesterday.

“So I wouldn’t take exception or umbrage to the way they approach things or what they ask.”

Mitchell was foreign minister when the 2003 and 2004 cables were written.

Foreign Minister Brent Symonette had no concerns about U.S. concerns about China-Bahamas relations.

“The Chinese people through Eximbank and others, as you well know, are going to invest in Baha Mar. They are invested in the Port Authority in Grand Bahama and we maintain good relationships with both the United States and China. I see no difficulty with that,”he said.

Symonette added that The Bahamas will continue to nurture its relationship with China.

“Because, as you know, China is a very large economy. Their nationals have invested in this country and I see no reason why we should not continue to nurture a relationship for which we have had diplomatic relations with them for quite a number of years,”he said.

Wikileaks has said it has 394 cables in its possession on The Bahamas. Thus farThe Guardianhas released seven cables.

The U.S. Embassy in Nassau has confirmed toThe Nassau Guardianthat it has been in contact with the Government of The Bahamas about the documents.

Symonette confirmed that the government has spoken with the embassy. He would not comment on whether or not the U.S. shared with The Bahamas the details of the leaked cables.

Mitchell also said he has no concerns about furthering the China-Bahamas relationship.

“I don’t have any concerns about China. I don’t see anything sinister about China’s involvement in The Bahamas. The Chinese, as far as I’ve seen, are very transparent about what their interests are in Latin America and the Caribbean,”he said.

“They published a paper last year, which indicated that they are interested in the raw materials that are available in the Latin America region. And they are interested in our support in the Caribbean for their position on One-China at the United Nations.”

The 2004 cable indicated that the U.S. had an idea of why The Bahamas had an interest in China. At the time, however, it was unclear of the motivations behind China’s keen interest in The Bahamas.

“…a Chinese presence does even if symbolically serve as a counterbalance to the U.S. The interest of the Chinese is more complex, however, and we defer to Embassy Beijing for its analysis of Chinese strategic goals underlying its major presence in a country where apart from geography, there would seem to be few mutual cultural, tourist, economic, or political interests,”said the cable.

The Bahamian media is perceived by the U.S. as helping to push a pro-China agenda.

“The Bahamian press gives generally positive and extensive coverage to China and interprets the growing China-Bahamas relationship as a sign of The Bahamas’increasing importance in the world and friendship with a potential superpower,”said the 2003 cable.

In that cable, the U.S. also urged The Bahamas to press China on the issue of Chinese human smuggling operations through The Bahamas to the U.S.

In a statement last night, Baha Mar officials said,”We are not going to comment on Wikileaks or what is published about what it carries.

“As has been noted in previous press reports about Wikileaks its content is raw data reflecting statements and or opinions but often lacking the context or conditions in which this content is made or presented. With respect to Baha Mar, Chinese-based entities are making a minority investment and participating in certain aspects of the project’s financing and construction. The project is not controlled by these parties and the Baha Mar project is meant to create for The Bahamas a world-class destination resort.”

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