Front Porch | China is an essential economic partner and ally
The rabid attack on Labour Minister Dion Foulkes in one of the dailies this week regarding comments he made about The Pointe development downtown Nassau is another example of the virulent anti-Chinese rhetoric resident in various quarters.
Some of the rhetoric is driven by xenophobia and racism. Some of it is driven by the self-interested who, at one time enamored with the Chinese, or at least Chinese investment, now attack their erstwhile backers out of pique.
Some of the very same people who loathe the Chinese swoon around the Americans and the British, colonial masters who raped their colonies, invaded sovereign nations and plundered with zeal in service of their imperial interests.
Having previously abandoned their high commission in Nassau, the United Kingdom is set to reopen the commission. With the British economy in trouble post-Brexit few buy the self-serving balderdash about Commonwealth solidarity.
The default position of many Bahamians is that the United States of America is a naturally benevolent power in The Bahamas and in the Caribbean. Some of this is based on a shared history and culture, including religious affiliations and immigration flows.
Still, the default position is often blinkered, aided and abetted by U.S. official propaganda and various U.S. and Bahamas press and media over many decades. Such a viewpoint endures despite considerable evidence to the contrary.
This evidence includes centuries of crony capitalism and widespread misadventure, including: colluding to destroy the Haitian revolution; backing despots and coups in the Dominican Republic; the rape of Cuba by U.S. corporations and the longstanding blockade against the country.
The English-speaking Caribbean has typically been viewed as the U.S. backyard, often treated with benign neglect and sometimes outright hostility as evidenced by the destruction of the banana industry in favor of U.S. conglomerates.
The U.S., like most powers, is happy to be a friend when it serves the country’s interests.
The economic relations between the U.S. and the Caribbean, including in tourism, is not a matter of benevolence on the part of the former. The relations are about shared interests that have resulted in tremendous economic outflows and benefits to the U.S.
Like most powers, the United States of America is a mixed bag. While there is much that the U.S. offers to the world, it is not as often simplistically stated, “the shining city on the hill”, as propagandized by those convinced of American exceptionalism.
Bahamas-U.S. relations should not be seen through rose-colored glasses. Still, the two countries enjoy friendly relations. The Bahamas benefits from geographical proximity and longstanding ties to our larger neighbor. Bahamians – black and white – have familial and cultural ties to the U.S.
Bahamians are inundated by U.S. media and culture. We are highly Americanized. Most of us have travelled fairly widely and frequently throughout the 50 states. But familiarity with certain aspects of the United States often leaves us oblivious to various aspects of U.S. history and culture.
Our familiarity with the U.S. and ignorance of and unfamiliarity with other civilizations helps seed our prejudices toward other countries, including our new major foreign ally, the People’s Republic of China.
The relationship with China has developed exponentially since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1997.
Increasing involvement of the Chinese in The Bahamas has resulted in increased xenophobia and racism on the part of some Bahamians, much of it fueled by ignorance, religious prejudice and antipathy toward what some view as too much Chinese economic investment in the country.
Chinese foreign investment in The Bahamas and the Caribbean, and grant of loans for infrastructural development throughout the region and the world, are part of a broader political and economic strategy of the world’s second-leading economic power.
The Bahamas should exercise its relations with the U.S. and China with pragmatism, and not allow prejudice to blindside us to our interests. We must be on good terms with both powers.
In a commentary last year, diplomat and author Sir Ronald Sanders described the ongoing emergence of China as a world power.
Sir Ronald wrote: “A leading academic at the Chinese University of Hong Kong reckons that: ‘By the middle of this century or before, China aims to close the gap economically and militarily with the United States and become the ultimate arbiter in the Asia-Pacific region’.
“But while consolidating China’s powerful place in its own region, according to experts on China’s politics, Xi is also determined to return China to its ‘rightful’ place as the world’s dominant economic and cultural power…
Sir Ronald continued: “So, what does all this mean for the Caribbean region? One sure thing is that China is now a real player in the area and one that intends to stay. In this regard, both Caribbean countries and those powerful nations with a vested interest in the region had all better factor China into their military, strategic, economic and political thinking.
“When President Xi Jinping took power in 2012, he made Latin America and the Caribbean the location for his first overseas trip. And on that visit, in June 2013, it was on Caribbean soil – in Trinidad and Tobago – that he made his first landing to meet all the Caribbean leaders.”
Sir Ronald also noted: “That, in itself, should have sent a strong signal to the United States and the nations of the European Union (EU) that, while they may pay marginal attention to a Caribbean over which they once held sway, China has recognized importance in not overlooking it.”
The Bahamas has over many decades benefitted as a safe and attractive place for foreign investment which, in turn, has enabled this former small colony of Britain to achieve a relatively high standard of living as compared with other developing countries. We continue to be dependent on foreign investment as indeed are many other countries, developed and developing.
After World War II The Bahamas benefitted from an influx of money seeking refuge from high taxes in Britain. Then an American named Wallace Groves led the investment which gave us Freeport, our second city.
For the most part from then until the 1990s our development was dependent mostly on American investors.
Then, Sol Kerzner, a South African, led the biggest single investment up to that time, pouring billions of dollars into the creation of Atlantis, which became the hub of our tourism infrastructure. There was talk in some quarters about Kerzner’s South African nationality but they did not gain traction.
From time to time, Bahamians had reason to comment on the character and reputation of certain investors but there has never been, until now, such a sustained and pained outcry about the origin of investment money, namely, “the Chinese”.
No doubt this jeremiad is due, in some cases, to abysmal ignorance about how the world is changing in terms of economics and politics. Some of it may be due to a hankering for the old colonial days but, sadly, some of it seems due to downright racism.
China will become the world’s leading economic powerhouse. Since the 1980s, according to the World Bank, China has lifted 500 million of its people out of poverty, a feat unprecedented in human history.
China is not rising. It is rising again. China is not emerging. It is re-emerging. In 18 of the last 20 centuries, noted Henry Kissinger in his book “On China”, “…China produced a greater share of total world GDP than any Western society… As late as 1820, it produced over 30 percent of world GDP – an amount exceeding the GDP of Western Europe, Eastern Europe, and the United States combined.”
Chinese investment, state and private, is spreading across the world, and pouring into developed as well as developing countries.
Chinese money continues to flow into the United States, the most developed economy in the world. Some of America’s iconic corporations are now owned by Chinese investors.
The Chinese approach to investment in other countries is to deal with what they find and not to export ideology along with their money.
Quite a number of Bahamians have outdated notions about the world’s most populous country. Upon returning from a visit to China, one Bahamian expressed surprise at how modern much of the country is.
One commentator asked whether “the Chinese”, an ancient continuous civilization, have a sense of the aesthetic.
The Bahamas should welcome Chinese investment and assistance just as we have welcomed investment and assistance from other countries.
Each proposed investment entity, whether state or private, should be regarded as such, and each investment proposal should be negotiated to benefit the Bahamian people as well as the investor.
If we are to continue to develop in the 21st century, we will need both the U.S. and China as economic partners and political allies.