The Bahamas should take a “cautionary note” in its dealings with China as Chinese intentions “have not been so clear”, a high-ranking official at the United States State Department warned on Friday.
“…It’s not up to us to say what the government of [The] Bahamas should or should not take from the Chinese in terms of any kind of business or investment or assistance,” Julie Chung, principal deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, told The Nassau Guardian.
“That is up to the sovereign decision of the Bahamian government. What I would say is that in many, many cases—and there’s a long history of this—China’s role, Chinese investment, and Chinese intentions have not been so clear.
“And so, when you do take any kind of assistance or infrastructural project, make sure those are viable, ask the right questions and make sure to do the due process. We have seen many countries who have not done that and have fallen into debt-trap diplomacy; have resulted in faulty infrastructure projects that are not sustainable and frankly not good for the people of that country.
“So, it is, I think, in the interest of The Bahamas’ people and the Bahamian government what is in the best interests of your people.”
So far this year, U.S. officials have raised concerns at least twice with regards to China’s involvement in the Caribbean, particularly The Bahamas.
In March, prior to U.S. 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”.
In response, the Embassy of The People’s Republic of China in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas accused the United States of attempting to “disintegrate solidarity and cooperation between China and other developing countries”.
A few months later, U.S. 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”.
On Friday, Chung advised The Bahamas to look for countries that share the same priorities of anti-corruption, transparency and good governance.
“There are some countries that are not models of that,” she said.
“I wouldn’t say that they are the poster child of anti-corruption, and you look at countries like China, it’s another cautionary note of what are the values they are espousing and what the values that our countries share. I gave examples of debt diplomacy and some of the faulty infrastructural projects.
“You know, there are many, many examples of how the Chinese have built projects that are not viable, that bring in Chinese workers when there could be local labor and local content that should be used.
“And so, it’s up to each country to determine what is in the best interests of that country when looking at these kinds of investment and make sure it’s in the best interests long term and it’s sustainable for that country.”
Chung said U.S. concern for China goes “beyond just economics and business”.
“…I think when people think of Chinese projects don’t think of it just as a bad deal,” she told The Guardian.
“That’s a short-term way of looking at it. What I would really look at is national security and that’s a broader issue, right?”
The Bahamas maintains good relationships with both the U.S. and China and hosts embassies for both countries.
However, Chung advised the Bahamian government to determine which country’s values aligned the most with The Bahamas.
“I talked about values a lot today because for me that is the most important thing,” she said.
“I mean there’s economics or security, but it’s our principle values that we share between the United States and [The] Bahamas. And so, the area of human rights and democracy I think is so critical. I mean that creates a foundation for a transparent, good governance government and a civil society. So, we’ve seen now scenes in Hong Kong where there has been a lot of suppression of the protestors there.
“And we’ve also seen the evidence of Xinjiang and I don’t know if many Bahamians even know what Xinjiang is. It’s not something that people normally talk about, but this is something that’s going on.”
Chung noted that she visited a province in China where more than 1.4 million Muslim Chinese “are being gathered and put into detention camps”.
“That is frightening to me and that should be frightening to everybody because this is 2019, almost 2020 and this is going on,” she said.
“And I know that it seems far away for [The] Bahamas or the Caribbean or the Western Hemisphere but these are values that China promotes. And we certainly don’t think this is something that we want to have them export to our region and our Western Hemisphere and the Caribbean. And, as neighbors, we are on guard for that because those are not the shared values that you and I share.”
China assisted the Christie administration with the completion of the Baha Mar resort. It also granted The Bahamas the Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium which is used for international and national sporting events.
Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar has said that up to 80 percent of foreign visitors to The Bahamas come from the United States.