Caribbean still a pawn in Chinese politics

Peter Richards

Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit could hardly contain his joy. Late last month his administration had been lambasted for its decision to end 27 years of diplomatic relations with Taiwan in favour of Mainland China, even though Beijing had promised more than 100 million US dollars in aid to his cash-strapped island. Skerrit said he would use the money to fund the construction of a sports stadium, a highway linking the capital, Roseau, with the second city of Portsmouth, and to expand the main hospital and build schools. As he received the first payment of six million dollars on Tuesday, the leader took a swipe at, “many people who have been questioning the relationship, (and) whether the Chinese Government will fulfil its commitment to Dominica”.

Dominica has emerged as the latest pawn in the continuing expansion of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the Caribbean and Central America at the expense of Taiwan.

In fiscal year 2003, the Caribbean island had a budget of 123 million US dollars with a deficit of 14 million dollars. The shortfall is predicted to grow to 24 million dollars in this fiscal year.

Only 26 countries in the world still recognise Taiwan and almost half of them are in the Caribbean and Central America. Since it was expelled by the UN in 1971, successive Taiwan governments have spent millions of dollars in aid to persuade countries in the region to support their struggle with China for international recognition.

That policy has borne fruit for Taiwan over the years, with seven nations in Central America, including the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and El Salvador, still preferring to recognise the country that the PRC maintains is a renegade province. Taiwan has also been able to count on the support of some members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), namely Grenada, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Haiti, Belize and St Kitts-Nevis.

But their efforts have been strongly opposed by other Caribbean states, such as Barbados, which enjoy diplomatic relations with the PRC. When he announced the decision to enter into diplomatic relations with Beijing, Skerrit said Dominica’s existing policy towards Taiwan was based on unrealistic and fallacious historical interpretations. Dominica and Taiwan established diplomatic ties in 1983. Dominica’s main opposition United Workers Party (UWP) also maintained ties with Taipei while it was in office (1995-2000), and is severely critical of the switch by the Skerrit administration, describing it as “a kiss of deception”, particularly after the island had recently received 3.5 million dollars in budgetary support from Taiwan.

The China dispute has surfaced elsewhere in the Cari-bbean. During last month’s election campaign in Antigua and Barbuda, Prime Minister Lester Bird said Beijing had promised 20 million dollars to build a new stadium for the 2007 World Cup of cricket. He called on the opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) to admit that it had received 1 million dollars from Taiwan during the 1999 election.

The Bahamas, another CARICOM member state, appears to have benefited tremendously from its decision in 2001 to switch allegiance from Taiwan to the PRC. The island has been able to attract the Honk Kong-based shipping conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa, whose owner Li Ka-shing is known to have close connections with the political and military leadership in Beijing. University of Miami’s Anthony Brian say Dominica’s situation underscores the fact that the Caribbean cannot afford to ignore China’s growing influence in global trade and international relations. — IPS