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Editorial: Caribbean sexy again

Published:Thursday | October 1, 2015 | 12:00 AM

The fact that he was in the area made it easy for Shinzo Abe to drop by. But a few routine agreements for the delivery of gifts, or the issuing of a communique with few hard specifics, would hardly have been reasons for the visit by the Japanese prime minister.

It was, for now, we believe, largely about the optics. Mr Abe wanted to be seen - a parade for Jamaica and its Caribbean Community (CARICOM) partners. Just ahead of Mr Abe, David Cameron, the British prime minister, came courting, loaded with economic enticements and promising a reset of UK-Caribbean relations. Earlier this year, it was the turn of America's Barack Obama.

For this attention, Jamaica and the rest of CARICOM need primarily to thank the Chinese, and, to a lesser extent, Venezuela. They have made the Caribbean sexy again - as it has not been since the end of the Cold War, when a unipolar environment and a single superpower meant there was no need to compete for the region's political affection.

The emergence of China as the world's second-largest economy and the increasing confidence with which it is exerting its influence, not least in the Caribbean, is changing all that. In Jamaica, for instance, Chinese state companies and banks have invested or loaned more than US$1 billion in infrastructure projects, with other initiatives for perhaps double that on the drawing board. In The Bahamas, they are spending more than US$3 billion. Elsewhere in the region, several smaller Chinese investments are in train. At the same time, a preferential oil facility by Venezuela's radical government has helped to shore up Caribbean economies.

The region's traditional partners, such as the United States and Britain, have been jolted out of their post-Cold War complacency for fear of losing their presumed primacy in the region. The specifics of the dynamic may be different for Japan, but Tokyo is no less driven by geopolitical considerations. It wants friends, or at least to neutralise Beijing's perceived advantage, in its often fraught relations with China.

China does not believe that Japan has adequately atoned for its wartime aggressions, including the Nanjing Massacre. It is concerned, too, that Tokyo's reinterpretation of its post-war constitution that would allow its defence force, under specific circumstances, to operate overseas, could lead to a remilitarised Japan.


growing military strength


Tokyo harbours similar fears regarding China in the face of its growing military strength and their rivalry in the East China Sea, where Beijing has been pressing its claims to the group of islands that the Chinese call Diaoyu, and the Japanese, Senhaku. Further, Abe is keen that CARICOM, with its 14 votes, hold its position on overhauling the United Nations, including the Security Council, of which China is one of the permanent members, in order to establish a larger and more representative body.

Jamaica is CARICOM's political leader, which, in the context of geopolitical considerations, is not the kind of beauty easily lost on the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, or Mr Abe, or be taken lightly by the region's leaders. We don't expect it to be huckstered; but neither ought it to be frittered away. There has to be a happy marriage of principle and advantage.