The deployment of a US ambassador to The Bahamas by US President Joe Biden would be “a useful step in meeting the challenge the Chinese pose in The Bahamas and globally”, according to two US academics, who served as assistants to US President Bill Clinton during his tenure in the White House, adding that a lack of an ambassador sends “the wrong signal”.
The comments were made by Patrick Griffin, who served as Clinton’s assistant for legislative affairs, and William Danvers, who served as Clinton’s special assistant for national security affairs, in an op-ed published in the Miami Herald earlier this month.
“The concern is not that China is about to take over or colonize The Bahamas, but that the important US-Bahamian connection is eroding and, over time, could be permanently hurt,” they said.
“This would certainly have an impact on US standing in the region. A case in point is that there has been no US ambassador to The Bahamas since 2011. That sends the wrong signal to the Bahamian government, particularly post-Dorian and during the pandemic.”
Griffin and Danvers said that competition between the United States and China will be one of the most important national security issues confronting the Biden administration.
They said the issue of competition with China in places like The Bahamas is “not about ideology”, adding that it is about “engagement”.
“The Chinese have resources they are willing to invest to establish a connection to a region, whether it is in the Caribbean, Latin America or Africa,” Griffin and Danvers said.
“Their development tools are an extension of their foreign policy. The United States might not have the development-assistance dollars it once did, but there are other ways to let nations like The Bahamas know they matter.
“Trade, technical assistance, working through NGOs and encouraging private-sector involvement would show that the US wants to strengthen its relationship with The Bahamas.
“A positive first move would be to send an ambassador who wants to work with the Bahamian government and people as they rebuild from the dual tragedies of the hurricane and the pandemic. This could also be a useful step in meeting the challenge the Chinese pose in The Bahamas and globally.”
Over the last two years, US officials have continued to raise concerns with regards to China’s involvement in the Caribbean, particularly The Bahamas.
In March 2019, prior to then-US President Donald Trump’s meeting with Caribbean leaders, the White House Office of the Press Secretary said Trump was looking forward “to working with countries in the region to strengthen our security cooperation and counter China’s predatory economic practices”.
A few months later, US Senator Marco Rubio said the United States cannot allow China to exploit the recovery and rebuilding of The Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian for its own nefarious purposes and gain “a foothold just 50 miles from the coast of Florida”.
Nicole Avant was the last US ambassador to The Bahamas. She served from 2009 until 2011.