'The US should re-engage the region'
FOREIGN-POLICY experts are suggesting that the strengthening of relations between Caribbean countries and China could offer an excellent opportunity for regional leaders to press home to the United States (US) that it needs to re-engage the region in a meaningful way, and that this week's meeting with US President Barack Obama could be an excellent platform for the renewal.
"It is interesting the time at which the president is visiting Jamaica and the region is the same time at which we are having infrastructural expansion under the auspices of the Chinese. It is interesting to the extent that I think the US certainly wants to maintain its geo-political dominance in the region and this is competitive and it could bode well for Jamaica and the region," said Jermaine McCalpin.
The associate director of the Centre for Caribbean Thought, and lecturer in transitional justice in the Department of Government at the University of the West Indies, Mona, was a guest at a Gleaner Editors' Forum held to discuss the impending visit of Obama.
China has, in recent times, been investing heavily in the region, particularly Jamaica. There has been multibillion-dollars worth of Chinese investment in the sugar industry; more than US$1.3 billion in road infrastructure, and planned mega investment by way of trans-shipment ports. There are even plans by China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) to create three hotels on Jamaica's north coast.
In addition, the Chinese government, in 2011, announced it would be giving a US$1-billion loan to CARICOM.
Recently, Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne, at a two-day summit, thanked Venezuela, China and Taiwan for their support to the region, saying "we will not forget".
"Even though we are small and vulnerable, the international community treats us as if we enjoy the resources, the populations, the land mass and the wealth of the United States or the European Union.
"The special and differential treatment to which our small size, high transactional costs, and openness of our markets should have entitled us, is denied us," Browne said at the opening of the CARICOM Heads of Government Meeting In Nassau, Bahamas, in February.
"In this regard, I take this opportunity to thank the people and government of Venezuela for the special arrangements rendered to many CARICOM countries under PetroCaribe. I also thank the governments of China and Taiwan for their support as well. While others were neglectful of the adverse impact on our economies of the financial crisis that originated in the US and Europe, the governments of Venezuela, The People's Republic of China and Taiwan extended a hand of help," he added.
a changing world
Audrey Marks, Jamaica's former ambassador to Washington, said it is not the case that Jamaica and the region fell off the radar as it relates to US foreign policy over the last three decades.
"About four years ago, President Obama did visit Trinidad in the same context. The Caribbean did not really fall off the agenda. Over the past three decades, per se, since the last visit, we have been a changing world. We have had the end of the Cold War, the rise of the BRIC economies ... . The Caribbean's ability to be of influence diminished among those competing priorities," Marks said.
She said that the Caribbean governments dropped the ball in putting together a strategic approach to remain important.
"If the CARICOM heads of governments came up with a strategic plan on how to engage the US government on some strategic initiatives, it would be something that would be entertained," Marks said.
"We have to get out of this thing, it is either China or the United States. We can do a number of initiatives with China and still pursue aggressive bilateral relations with the USA, because we are of some value," she said.
According to Marks, China's approach in terms of getting involved in areas that impact day-to-day life such as roads and infrastructure is sometimes seen as "more appealing than the wider USA relationship in the region".
She stressed that the US has "always been here and has always been doing things, though not as immediately impactful".
"I am thinking that part of what the USA is doing to counteract that rising influence of China in the Caribbean, Latin America and Africa, through big projects, is by recalibrating some of these relationships and becoming more hands-on in some of those initiatives," Marks said.
Meanwhile, McCalpin said he is not overly optimistic that the Obama visit will work magic for Jamaica and the region.