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”, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio said on Saturday.
“By targeting the Bahamian government in this period of crisis, Beijing would be making the same opportunistic play to access critical foreign infrastructure,” Rubio wrote in an op-ed in the Miami Herald.
“But in this case, the national security threat is especially perilous, as it would give China a foothold just 50 miles from the coast of Florida.
“We cannot allow this to happen. It is on us to take the lead in helping the Bahamian people with their near-term, life-or-death struggle as only the U.S. and our military can, but also to be reliable partners over the long term.”
Earlier this month, Dorian, a deadly Category 5 storm, tore through Grand Bahama and Abaco, leaving rubble and dozens of casualties in its trail.
Rubio wrote, “With 70,000 Bahamians made homeless by the hurricane’s terrible power, the island nation is in urgent need of the kind of logistical assistance that only the U.S. Defense Department can offer. By devoting available military and medical assets to the effort, we have the ability to help our afflicted neighbors and family members and save Bahamian lives.”
He continued, “I am advocating these measures because directing resources to assist Bahamians is the right thing to do. But there exists an additional imperative on the security national level, as well: if we fail to rise to the occasion, China will step in to seize the moment and exploit the recovery for its own nefarious purposes.”
The senator noted that China has attempted to expand its presence and influence in The Bahamas in recent years.
He said the devastation to ports and airports on impacted islands leads the post-Dorian Bahamas to be “tailor-made for China exploitation”.
In 2013, the Chinese government adopted a global development strategy called the Belt and Road Initiative which aims to assist with infrastructure development and investments in more than 140 countries and international organizations.
U.S. officials have frequently raised concerns about the initiative.
Rubio described the initiative as a “predatory mercantilist international strategy”.
He said China uses the initiative to “hijack” a country’s resources and infrastructure, “often dramatically ramping up the lending terms after initial negotiation”.
“After China worms its way in, it fuels corruption in domestic policymaking, as Beijing’s money lands in the hands of competing politicians,” the senator wrote.
“Past parties have also said that Chinese intelligence and strategic considerations have been on the negotiating table. The goal is to leave nations beholden to Beijing for decades to come. It’s debt-trap diplomacy.”
Rubio added: “Bahamians are fortunate to have a stable and capable government already working overtime on the recovery effort.
“However, the level of destruction that Dorian caused is unprecedented, and Americans, as regional partners and global leaders, have both moral and national security imperatives to lend our logistical resources to help the Bahamas and defend our own hemisphere from China’s encroachment.
“Together, the U.S. and the Bahamas will rebuild those communities left reeling in the hurricane’s wake, and, as a result, we will only strengthen our mutual interests and long-standing relationship.”