Negotiate what is in our best interests
A very interesting story appeared in the newspaper recently highlighting the lack of a United States (U.S.) ambassador in The Bahamas and the increase in Chinese influence in The Bahamas. Some back and forth ensued as the U.S. cautioned the Caribbean about Chinese inroads through gifts and building projects; China countered with jabs at the U.S. for not doing more to help Caribbean nations. This leads to the question of how we as a country should respond to the world’s superpowers.
We were born as a colony of the British Empire but over time we gravitated to our closest neighbor and natural trading partner, the U.S. Bahamian culture and operations are much more closely aligned to America than any other country at this point. Our children go to school in the U.S. in great numbers. We travel to the U.S. routinely. There is even a joke that Bahamians know Miami and Fort Lauderdale better than most Florida residents. Suffice it to say we are closely connected.
Despite our close connection to the U.S., China has in recent years come bearing gifts. Some view China with suspicion while others are of the view that China is genuine in their benevolence.
What is the truth and how do we as Bahamians handle the competing interests of these two superpowers?
Do we take sides and favor one or the other?
Do we maintain good relations with both and leave them to fight over who is encroaching on the other’s territory?
To answer this, we must begin with the fact that we are a sovereign nation. We are a small – and in the eyes of the world, a somewhat insignificant – nation, but we are an independent nation with our own interests to look out for. We should be careful of taking sides, because before we do anything, we must determine who and what are in our best interests. Our interests should be the primary deciding factor – and whenever we make a decision, the interests of The Bahamas should come first. We can maintain good relationships with both countries even if they are having difficulty in their bilateral relationship.
China has been accused of predatory practices and a lack of transparency about their motives, and at times the same can be said of the United States. The United States has been a true friend to The Bahamas probably since its inception and our proximity almost requires we maintain this friendship. Bahamians are more interwoven with the U.S. than any other country and this is something we should always protect.
Is there room for China at the table?
But it must be from a mutually beneficial perspective. We must be careful as a country that due diligence is exhibited in every transaction to ensure that we are not disadvantaged by either country.
It would be naive to believe that China has come to The Bahamas because they want to be good to us only and that they are not seeking their best interest first. If they give us a gift, we must ask what is the motive and back end cost to us. If everything checks out, then we receive the gift. If it does not pass the “smell” test, we pass on it.
Some of the deals involving the Chinese in the Caribbean have been questionable. Demands for high levels of Chinese labor and even materials have been an integral component in many deals. The bottom line is we must negotiate with our eyes open and not ignore obvious anomalies. Sometimes we lack leverage because we are heavily in debt and end up compromising because we see an opportunity to be bailed out.
I believe our position should be we welcome friendship, help, investment and good relations but it must begin with our interests being served first. There is a saying that says you do not get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate. I believe this is true for The Bahamas. We must listen, research and review all offers and then negotiate according to what is in our best interests.
The U.S. is still our most valuable friend and trading partner and we should never forget that. According to the Central Bank, at least 85 percent of our business (tourism, etc.) comes from U.S. sources. We have a long history of cultural and social ties to the U.S. and these are factors we should always keep in mind. China has come along and made offers and investments that appear favorable to us. Proper research of their track record around the world will reveal what the outcome has been for others and help us to make critical choices. We do not have to choose one or the other; we negotiate with both and make sure that we get the most favorable deals we can.
• Pastor Dave Burrows is senior pastor at Bahamas Faith Ministries International. Feel free to email comments, whether you agree or disagree, to [email protected]. I appreciate your input and dialogue. We become better when we discuss, examine and exchange.