Caricom must exploit US, China geo-political rivalry

Caricom must exploit US, China geo-political rivalry

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

CLR James once described Caribbean peoples as being amongst the most modern, they having been at the centre of the 19th century industrial revolution in Britain. 

Over the last week, the Caribbean was again centre stage to an evolving international environment as the super power of the 20th century, the United States, and the emerging power of the 21st century, the People’s Republic of China, came to Port-of-Spain and by extension the Caribbean (English, Spanish, French and Creole-speaking) to undertake strategic geo-political jockeying for positions.

The US Vice President, Joe Biden, essentially said by his presence, that the Caribbean continues to be the American backyard, even if at times others are allowed to pass through. On the other side with a fair amount of quiet aggression, the emerging power came from the Far East to assert that “both China and Trinidad and Tobago belong to the developing world, we have similar views on international and regional issues and we hope to share views on the reform of the international system and climate change.”

What is more, President Xi Jinping made the point that “China always looks on its relationship with the Caribbean from a strategic perspective and we are committed to the building of a comprehensive and co-operative partnership.” Further, he pointedly sought to identify China as a developing country.

He did not elaborate on China’s “strategic perspective” in relation to the Caribbean but procuring raw materials for its industrio-techno machine would not be a bad guess. But even more significant is that part of the mission of the Chinese President was to gain vital geo-political support from Caribbean countries in the Western Hemisphere, a region once said to be off-limits to “foreign” powers.  

As a means of explaining his presence in the region, Vice President Biden said: “I’m here because President Obama wanted me to have an opportunity to dialogue with all of you and because our country is deeply invested and wants to become more deeply invested in a partnership with all the nations of the Caribbean.”

In his wake, the US vice president left the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement. The intention of this agreement is to build on the Caribbean Basin Initiative and to co-operate in security, immigration and other matters and to extend continuing goodwill to enhance traditional human and cultural relationships with the Caribbean on its Third Border.

In the instance of President Xi, it was decided that in addition to his stops in Central America on his way to a summit in Washington with President Obama, he could take along with him support from Caricom; perhaps as a means of impressing his US counterpart that China has friends in the Caribbean.

To ensure that his visit was not one of well-intentioned promises, President Xi left behind the commitment to provide US$3 billion in concessionary loans for infrastructure and other development works in the region, and US$250 million to build a children’s hospital and sport stadia here in Trinidad and Tobago.

Super power geo-political rivalry will play itself out at a level that Caribbean countries have no access to and can do nothing about. The challenge is for Caricom, in the first instance, and the wider Caribbean with the Dominican Republic giving the regional grouping some extension into what used to be called the Greater Antilles, to find working space to make use of its history, its critical geographic space and the cross currents of super-power manoeuvring.

All of this is needed if the region is to capitalise on this 21st century power re-alignment.  

The time is here for a Caribbean diplomacy of the 21st century. Caricom’s political leaders of the late 20th century did not come close to utilising the model left behind by Ramphal, Demas, Nettleford and others in the Time for Action report. For an even less-committed group of Caribbean presidents and prime ministers, an attempt will have to be made to do where their predecessors talked.  

To mount a new diplomatic initiative, the leaders must begin at once the implementation of the Caricom Single Market and Economy. They have to forget the semantics and equivocation and plunge deeply into constructing the CSME.

Already, 85 per cent of what is exported into the US under the CBI is without tariffs. Under the CSME new products and services must be developed on a regional basis to attract investment and eventually to export what is produced under the new TIFA. US and Chinese investments to produce goods and services in an internationally competitive market must be encouraged.   

Surely Caricom manufacturers and governments stand a much better chance of having projects funded by the development bank to be established by the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) on the basis of combined resources and production at a regional level rather than as individual producers.

So if Caricom governments, business community and people are to make use of the opportunities provided by this historic changing of the international guard, they must begin by fulfilling the outstanding agenda before they can begin to build on it.
( The Trinidad Guardian , Wednesday 5th, June 2013)

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