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Senator Fred Mitchell with Progressive Young Liberals Chair Duran Saunders at the Bahamas Embassy in Beijing, China and at the 5th annual China/ Latin American and Caribbean Think Tank 28 October 2019 at the St Regis Hotel in Beijing.

Here is his full statement to the conference:

Statement from Senator Fred Mitchell
Chairman The Progressive Liberal Party
And Opposition Spokesman on Foreign Affairs of The Bahamas
Opening Statement At 5th Annual China/LAC Conference
Beijing, People’s Republic of China

27 October 2019

Honourable Gentlemen and Ladies, the Vice Minister and other distinguished guests, excellencies all.

It is my distinct honour and privilege to be back in China. I last visited here as Foreign Minister and did so also on a state visit here with our then Prime Minister. We were all impressed by the rapid progress that this society made in the forward development of its people. We have watched with studied interest how this country has broadened its footprint across the international stage. There is much to be said for the discipline and fortitude of your people.

I wish on behalf of all of the distinguished visitors that you have so kindly invited to this forum to thank you first of all for the kind invitation and say how much we look forward to the dialogue. 

The arrangements are excellent.

The region, as you know, encompasses hundreds of millions of people from the small developing island states of the Caribbean sub region to the Central and South American countries. 

We are different, divergent, diverse. We have many different political systems, but we are all united in the just quest for the development of our people.

This then is not ideological but practical. It is what you  have described in your treatises on the subject as a “ win win”. 

Our  region is in need of development. To do so, it requires development money. There are only a few regions in the world today where there is excess capital for development, buttressed by a desire to help.  One country  that is a repository of capital, goodwill and expertise is China. Another area for excess capital and development goodwill is the Middle East. 

All of our countries are in various stages of outreach to these areas in search of capital development.

That we are faced now with the urgent need to mitigate the effects of climate change, something which is existential for us small island developing states, makes this task more important. It underlines for us the need to press on with relations with countries that might not on the face of it seem to be traditional partners.

I speak most plainly about the Caribbean subregion which every year faces whether in The Bahamas, or Bermuda in the north of it, or in the Leewards and Windwards including Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, existential threats related to climate change. We are called middle income countries by the World Bank and other International Lending Agencies and therefore do no qualify for the loans at concessionary rates with the exception of Haiti to defend our countries against the existential threats of the climate. They use the nefarious and I would say irrelevant measure of GDP per capita.

This comes with what  I have described before in China as the “Robinson Crusoe problem”. The problem is stated like this. Two men on the island: Robinson Crusoe and his man Friday. Robinson Crusoe is worth one billion dollars and Friday is worth one dollar. What is the GDP per capita of that island? It is 500 million dollars and fifty cents, except that does not in anyway describe the reality for Friday.

The Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Motley so eloquently put the case for The Bahamas on our behalf at a recent forum and made the case against GDP per capita.

So the short story is that we welcome the availability of the interest of China in friendship and as evidenced in its willingness to share its wealth, knowledge, expertise and capital with the countries of the region and sub region.

Some years ago as Foreign Minister, I led an internal group of Foreign Service Officers to examine China’s Foreign Policy. China spoke to its interest in the raw materials of the continent and the support of the One China Policy at the United Nations by the countries of the sub region.

I have met your President now on three or four occasions. Once he visited Nassau  as a Vice Premier and I met him in Nassau and then at a heads of government summit in Trinidad and Tobago, he actually as President called me for a private meeting to say that he had been to Nassau as Vice Premier and how much he enjoyed the visit. It demonstrated to us that this was not just  a passing whim but seemed to be a genuine human moment.

The point I wish to stress though is that our traditional partners are somewhat nervous about the outreach of your country in our area. Our own Ministry of Foreign Affairs in The Bahamas had to recently issue a statement to reassure those partners that this was no ideological battle for us but existential. 

We need capital. We need development.

My own party issued a statement saying that we found no evidence of hegemonic designs on our country or indeed on the region.

I say that all by way of background. That is the context within which I am sure much of the dialogue will ensue during these two valuable days that you have asked us to examine in your fair capital.

I am sure all of us look forward to hearing what your views are about these important questions. I am sure that you will appreciate a frank dialogue with us.  I think that we will benefit from the views that are exchanged. I will on a personal level be happy to meet and talk with old friends.

I am happy to be here with colleagues from across the region, some of whom I have worked with before. I have brought from home one of the next generation of leaders so that he can experience this early and get a sense of where our countries are headed in the years long after I am off the stage.

I look forward to the win win and on behalf of us all I thank you very much indeed.