While noting that China continues to undermine US influence globally, a four-star US general recently warned that China is also attempting to use influence in The Bahamas by offering large-scale economic investments and material support for infrastructure projects.
General Glen VanHerck, who serves as US Air Force commander for the US Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) and North American Aerospace Defense Command, made the comment while testifying before the US Senate Armed Services committee last month.
“Senator, we look closely at China’s influence,” he said.
“They are absolutely in the NORTHCOM AOR (area of responsibility), attempting to influence in The Bahamas, working through 5G, for example, the same thing in Mexico. We continue to defend all domains.”
VanHerck said China continues to pursue “an aggressive geopolitical strategy that seeks to undermine US influence around the globe and shape the international environment to its advantage”.
“In the USNORTHCOM area of responsibility, China has made deliberate attempts to increase its economic and political influence with our close partners in Mexico and The Bahamas,” he said.
“While the United States remains the economic and military partner of choice in the region, China is seeking to grow its trade and investment in Mexico and, over the past few years, has invested in The Bahamas’ vital tourism sector through marquee infrastructure projects.
“Militarily, China is rapidly advancing a modernization program that seeks to erode our military advantages and deter us from intervening in a regional conflict.”
Several projects have come from The Bahamas’ good relations with China.
Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium was a gift project of China and the Airport Gateway expressway was constructed by a Chinese company using China’s low-interest loan.
Baha Mar resort, which is one of the largest private employers in The Bahamas, is owned by a Chinese entity, and was built by the Chinese, as was The Pointe in downtown Nassau.
The North Abaco Port was also built by the Chinese.
In his testimony, VanHerck noted that The Bahamas remains “an important partner” of the United States.
He added that The Bahamas has faced “extraordinary challenges over the last 18 months”.
“The Bahamas continues to address the severe economic impacts resulting from Hurricane Dorian in 2019 and markedly decreased tourism resulting from the coronavirus pandemic,” VanHerck said.
“Even so, we continue to work closely with our Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) partners to improve regional maritime security in the southeast approaches to the United States.
“USNORTHCOM directly supports RBDF efforts by enhancing their domain awareness with maritime surveillance system radars currently being deployed across The Bahamas’ island chain.
“USNORTHCOM is firmly committed to our lasting collaboration with the RBDF and will continue to support our neighbors and valued partners.”
He noted that USNORTHCOM worked with The Bahamas to address shared challenges in responding to the impact of the pandemic.
VanHerck said USNORTHCOM has been actively supporting response efforts to COVID using Overseas Humanitarian Disaster Assistance and Civic Aid funds, which were approved by the US Congress.
“To date, we have conducted 63 projects in support of the Mexican and Bahamian COVID-19 response, totaling $7.29 million,” he said.
“A portion of that amount consists of reprogrammed CARES Act funds, which Congress approved for that purpose.
“USNORTHCOM and US embassy support to Mexico and The Bahamas solidifies our position as the partner of choice for these nations and is critical to countering nation-states, especially China, which continues its attempts to make inroads in both countries through offers for COVID-19 medical support, large-scale economic investments, information campaigns, and material support for infrastructure projects.
“Our relationships with Mexico and The Bahamas enhance regional security and stability and directly strengthen our ability to defend the homeland through continued close cooperation with these key partner nations.”
US Senator Tommy Tuberville, who sits on the committee, also raised concerns about China’s presence in the region.
“I hope that it will not take a Chinese aircraft carrier sailing between Florida and The Bahamas for Americans to wake up to the fact that the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) wishes to dominate the world stage,” he said.
“I hope it does not take something like that.”
Over the last two years, US officials have continued to raise concerns with regards to China’s involvement in the Caribbean.
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 Dorian for its own nefarious purposes and gain “a foothold just 50 miles from the coast of Florida”.
Earlier this year, two US academics, who served as assistants to US President Bill Clinton during his tenure in the White House, said 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”.
They said a lack of an ambassador sends “the wrong signal”.