US/China Relations Former Foreign Minister Comments | 20 May 2019

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There is a geopolitical contest being played out in The Bahamas and across world.  The United States has neglected the Caribbean with their governments only interested in stopping drugs coming into their country but not interested in providing assistance for wider development issues.  The Chinese Government as part of their foreign policy strategy for Latin America and the Caribbean, has set aside some 20 billion dollars of development money for the region. The United States has been unable to match it.  Recently, the President of the United States met with five leaders from the region including Prime Minister Hubert Minnis of The Bahamas. The meeting brought the promise of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation coming to the region and they have visited The Bahamas to divine what opportunities are available here. The U S is late to the game. That has not stopped their Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere from carping and complaining and warning the region not to embrace Chinese capital. The Chinese for their part issued a  statement saying that the U S ought to stop complaining and do more for the development of the region. The press conference held by former foreign minister and now Chairman of the PLP Senator Fred Mitchell is against that background. We repeat what he said in his own words as reported by Morgan Adderley of The Tribune:

PROGRESSIVE Liberal Party chairman Fred Mitchell yesterday asserted there is “no evidence” China has any “hegemonic desires” on The Bahamas or any military desire against the United States. In a press conference held yesterday, the former minister of foreign affairs said all of the investments from China in The Bahamas are simply commercial investments, as he implored Bahamians to avoid “dog-whistles and racism and xenophobia”.

Maintaining The Bahamas is firmly within the “geopolitical ambit” of the United States, Mr Mitchell said the country should stay out of US-China relations and instead focus on negotiating for the best interest of Bahamians — such as visa-free access to the US and the ability for Bahamian students to work up to 10 years in the US working on a reciprocal basis.

Mr Mitchell also addressed a viral clip from One America News Network (OAN) that speculated on Bahamian-Chinese relations.

 “This news organisation is simply connected with right-wing causes in the United States and therefore the authenticity and the truth of what they produce is suspect,” he said.

 “The plot which they say is coming at us is the Chinese have some hegemonic designs on the Bahamas and have some security challenge or threat to the United States. As far as we can tell, and as far as we could tell when the (PLP) was in government, all of the investments in The Bahamas by so-called China were actually through corporations that were simply in the commercial business of lending money.

 “Baha Mar, although the ultimate beneficial owner is a Chinese citizen, he’s also a private investor who actually runs and controls Baha Mar. And the company, if I’m not mistaken, is an American company which that investor owns. So if the Americans can allow the Chinese to own an American company, what then is the issue with the Commonwealth of the Bahamas?

 “You will note that when (Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis) met with (US President Donald Trump), one of the (outcomes) of that meeting was that the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, which is the export investment bank of the (US) would also be visiting the CARICOM region to talk about investments and joint ventures in the Caribbean. So the question is: What is the difference between one national export-import bank and another national export-import bank?

 “And to twist these facts together in this report which make it seem as if the hordes from the Far East are coming to take over the Bahamas is simply inaccurate.”

Mr Mitchell added China has about $20b set aside for capital expenditure in the Caribbean, on commercial terms. However he noted this is money that has to be borrowed and paid back. He added China is the only country giving Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries concessionary rates in spending.

Mr Mitchell went on to advocate for the Bahamas not being dragged into the “tensions” between the US and China.

 “So we are not in that fight, and try as people might to drag us into that fight, I think we ought to resist that. The fact is, we have, during our time, had excellent relations with both (China) and the (USA). And there is no evidence, as far as we can tell, of any hegemonic designs by (China) on the Bahamas or security threat to the (USA). And from the US side, as I said, the Bahamas remains firmly within its geopolitical ambit.”

When asked his perspective on whether the Chinese are too involved in The Bahamas, Mr Mitchell replied: “Show me the evidence … So far what we’ve seen is commercial investments. And so far what we know is the people who have been lending the money and investing the money have a different race than we are. And as I said, you have to be very careful how these buzzwords are being used. The question is whether it has damaged the economy.”