Over the past six weeks since my arrival as the ninth Chinese ambassador to The Bahamas, I have felt for myself the amazing scenery and rich, natural endowments of this country. And I am deeply thankful for the warm welcome of Bahamian colleagues and friends that made me feel at home.
In the eyes of the Chinese, The Bahamas is much more than an acclaimed tourist destination. The Bahamas has unique strengths in its geographical location, the financial sector, ship registry and a vibrant local culture.
I was greatly encouraged by the commitment to China-Bahamas relations reaffirmed at the highest levels of political leadership in this country. I learned a lot about the enormous potential for China-Bahamas cooperation in wide-ranging areas from my meetings with Cabinet ministers.
China and The Bahamas cannot be more different in size, population and living conditions, and we are separated by vast oceans. Yet over the years, we have become good friends and cooperative partners respecting each other and treating each other as equals and with sincerity.
Many of the people I met warmly recalled their visits to China. Some others have either a family member or friend who studied or visited China. Many more pointed to major projects of cooperation such as the Thomas A. Robinson Stadium, the Airport Expressway and Baha Mar as symbols of China-Bahamas friendship.
The past couple of years have been extraordinarily challenging for The Bahamas due to the dual disasters of Hurricane Dorian and the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the spirit of solidarity and partnership, China delivered help to The Bahamas as fast as we can following the hurricane. And our two countries fought the virus together.
We will always remember The Bahamas government’s expression of sympathy and support for China’s battle against the virus early last year. On our part, China has provided five batches of medical supplies to The Bahamas since last year.
In a few weeks’ time, we will be celebrating the 24th anniversary of our diplomatic relations. For China, this year marks major milestones as we embark on a new journey of comprehensively building a modern socialist country.
The year 2021 is the first year of the 14th Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development and the Long-Range Objectives Through the Year 2035. And it will be the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China.
China-Bahamas relations are poised for a new start, with fresh opportunities and broad prospects.
First, we need to continue deepening mutual understanding and mutual support.
China appreciates The Bahamas’ adherence to the one-China policy, which is the foundation of healthy development of China’s relations with any country. We look forward to continued support by The Bahamas in this area both bilaterally and in the international arena.
Exchanges and mutual visits between the two governments, parliaments, and political parties should be promoted once things go back to a more normal footing to enhance friendly exchanges in state governance.
Both our countries adhere to the principles of independence, non-interference, and equality in our foreign policy. We share similar views on many international issues, not least on climate change.
The two sides may deepen cooperation within the UN and regional frameworks such as the China-CELAC (Community of Latin America and Caribbean Region) Forum and China-CARICOM cooperation.
China harbors no geo-political designs in this country. We are here for friendship; we are here for commercial and cultural exchanges; and we are here to seek cooperation for advancing shared interests and addressing common challenges. We are here because the world is increasingly a community with a shared future.
Second, we need to ramp up anti-pandemic cooperation to save lives and livelihoods. We have nothing but best wishes for the government and people of The Bahamas in this vital battle.
While racing to vaccinate its own people, China has been working to fulfill the promise made by President Xi Jinping of making vaccines a global public good.
Rejecting vaccine nationalism, we have actively facilitated vaccine accessibility and affordability for developing countries, including by pledging to donate 10 million doses of vaccines to the COVAX Facility. Such donations will soon be delivered following the upcoming approval of China’s vaccines by the WHO for emergency use.
China will continue to support The Bahamas in its anti-pandemic efforts, including by providing a new batch of medical supplies. The two sides will keep in touch regarding possible further cooperation.
Third, we need to enhance practical cooperation. We can easily put together a long list of promising areas.
Take tourism, a pillar sector in this country. Even with the current low numbers of Chinese tourists, China, who has more than 100 million outbound visitors every year, can be a good growth market. Better tapping these potentials requires better promotion, innovative approaches and facilitation measures.
In addition, the two countries can potentially cooperate in the fields of agriculture, renewable energy, climate change and disaster mitigation, and traditional herbal remedies, to name but a few.
Chinese companies are here for the long term. They are prepared to work with local partners in accordance with local laws and regulations, and are already doing so.
Their continued presence in this country will not just bring more jobs for Bahamians, but also more possibilities for ownership by Bahamian partners in line with commercial principles.
Fourth, we need to actively promote cultural and people-to-people exchanges. Performances by the Junkanoo artists and by Chinese art troupes are highly popular in each other’s countries.
We support exchanges and cooperation between research institutions, experts and media outlets. China will continue to provide The Bahamas with scholarships and training opportunities.
We are ready to help interested Bahamian students with learning mandarin. The Confucius Institute at The University of The Bahamas can continue to play an active role in this area.
Spring is a time of hope and of sowing the seeds for the future. And the Year of the Ox symbolizes hard work and sacrifice. With concerted efforts of both sides, I am optimistic that China-Bahamas friendly cooperation will yield more fruits to the benefit of both our peoples.
• Dai Qingli is the ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to The Bahamas.