Op-Ed

Let reason and logic prevail; China is a friend and an opportunity

Since I came to The Bahamas this year, I would often be asked, explicitly or implicitly, why would China be interested in The Bahamas? My instinctive answer would be, why not?

We live in a global village. It’s most natural for every country to want to have relations with everyone else. China is the largest trading partner to more than 120 countries in the world. We have friends all over the world. China is not new to the Caribbean either. Our oldest diplomatic relations with the region dates back more than six decades.

At the same time, China is often a poorly understood country. For one thing, China’s path to modernization is markedly different, and decidedly not western. Led by the Communist Party of China, the biggest political party in the world, we have developed our own style of socialism, achieving rapid growth and rising living standards while maintaining independence and our own culture and core values.

In 1978, 90 percent of the Chinese population lived on less than 2 dollars a day. In 2018, only one percent of the population still lived on less than 2 dollars a day. This year, we have lifted all those out of abject poverty.

Some in the West, who are too accustomed to centuries of Western dominance in international affairs, view China’s development with mixed feelings, from disbelief and suspicion to anxiety and fear. Some in the strategic circles try to depict China as a threat. They assign sinister intentions to China by claiming that China is trying to take over the world.

A regular tune in the political economy circles, on the other hand, is to suggest that China will collapse due to the weight of its contradictions.

Both of these contrived images of China are woefully wrong.

If we dig deeper, the lack of understanding about China is also the result of a knowledge gap and a belated academic interest in studying China. Our 5,000-year history is no more than a few pages under the section of East Asian history in a middle school textbook in countries that follow the Western education system so that there is not sufficient understanding about where China comes from, what the Chinese believe in, and what makes them tick.

Many people who actually visit China were amazed to find a country that is completely different from what they were told to believe.

As China grows stronger and better able to defend its sovereignty and dignity, there is less and less appetite for it to endure the moral grandstanding and lecturing by Western countries on how it should conduct its own affairs.

And the Chinese people, some of whom are convinced that the West is intent on holding China down and preventing China’s rise, have become ever more impatient with the unfair accusations and persistent negativity of a few Western media outlets and commentators.

China’s rapid development is a credit to its strong and consistent leadership that is capable of making long-term planning for five, 15, and even 30 years, a credit to the hard work and ingenuity of its people and a function of its embrace of globalization.

Through trade, investment and people-to-people exchanges, China’s development has been a net gain for the rest of the world.

China became number one globally in outward foreign direct investment last year. And according to a World Bank report, effective implementation of China’s Belt and Road initiative will increase global trade and incomes by 6.2 percent and 2.9 percent respectively and promises to lift 7.6 million people out of abject poverty and 32 million out of medium poverty in participating countries.

Of all countries, China’s symbiotic economic relationship with the United States has acquired a depth and an interdependence never witnessed before in human history.

For decades, China’s exports of high-quality yet inexpensive consumer goods have helped to keep inflation down in the US and China’s purchase of trillions of dollars of treasury bonds from the US has enhanced financial stability in the world’s largest economy.

According to a report by the US-China Business Council, in the decade between 2009 and 2018, exports to China have supported more than 1.1 million jobs in the US.

During the Cold War, trade between the US and former Soviet Union was 2 billion US dollars a year, now China-US trade is 2 billion US dollars a day.

Last year, even with the pandemic, China-US trade grew by 8.8 percent. In the first 8 months this year, China-US trade surged 36.6 percent, and the figure for the whole year is set to reach a new milestone of 600 billion US dollars.

We are already witnessing the disruptive effect of the artificial tariffs on Chinese imports in terms of rising inflation in the US, and we have seen how arbitrary decoupling is aggravating an industrial chain crisis whose repercussions are felt here in The Bahamas. Even the US trade representative is talking about “recoupling” with China.

If the US can have two-way trade and investment with China, why can’t The Bahamas?

China sees itself as a friend to The Bahamas. China is well-placed to offer things that are needed in this country in terms of trade, infrastructure, agricultural techniques, and renewable energy solutions.

All our past projects with The Bahamas, no matter government projects or private investment, were all negotiated and agreed on between the two sides and came with no political conditions. And whatever assistance we were able to offer, be it post-Dorian relief or seven batches of medical supplies and equipment, we offered them with sincere friendship.

In my conversations with Bahamians, I can sense a palpable, pent-up demand for greater business cooperation with China. Many of them want to discuss with us how to reduce logistics costs and increase direct trade. And others are excited about the prospect of bringing more Chinese tourists to these shores.

One of the advantages of economic cooperation is that it’s never a zero-sum game. It’s an all-win situation.

In building Baha Mar, CCA, a Chinese company based in the United States, worked with 40 US subcontractors and sourced 1 billion dollars’ worth of building materials, equipment, and services from 800 American suppliers. And Baha Mar is managed by an American company and American executives, so is The Pointe. Not to say these facilities are frequented by throngs of American tourists.

Such natural functioning of economic forces in an era of globalization doesn’t threaten anyone; it should be encouraged rather than feared or suppressed.

The Bahamas should be treated as a country with an equal capacity to determine its destiny. It is up to this country to leverage its foreign relations to maximize its own interests, rather than be a pawn to anybody.

The Bahamas could use whatever help that is available to energize its post-COVID recovery. We would welcome any assistance by any country for the development of The Bahamas. Reason and logical thinking should prevail over fear-mongering. China is an economic opportunity for countries around the world. Let’s work together for our mutual interest.

• Dai Qingli is the Chinese ambassador to The Bahamas.

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