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THE US/CHINA RACE FOR THE CARIBBEAN
Some time ago the United States endorsed the Caribbean Third Border Initiative which was essentially a reaffirmation of the commitment of the US in treating the region as a major focus for foreign policy and national security.
In 2015 the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Caribbean Community (Caricom) signed agreements representing US$165 million in development assistance support from the United States Government to the Eastern and Southern Caribbean.
USAID’s 2015-2019 Regional Development Co-operation Strategy covers youth, HIV/Aids and climate change programming in Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Kitts and Nevis, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, and Guyana. An estimated US$89 million will target the reduction of youth involvement in crime and violence in target communities, while US$52 million is designated to achieving epidemic control of HIV/Aids among key populations. An additional US$31 million is being directed toward reducing the risks to human and natural assets from climate vulnerability.
This initiative, among other things, targeted programmes designed to enhance diplomatic, economic, health, education, law enforcement co-operation, and collaboration with Caribbean nations. While emphasising that the Caribbean lies on its southern border, it also recognised that this concept was sometimes overlooked, relegating issues such as regional democracy, trade partnerships, health and education in the region to a low priority status in US foreign policy in times when the US did not need to defend its interests from external incursion.
Importantly though, the impact of threats to regional security posed by illegal drug trafficking, human trafficking, migrant smuggling, financial crime and transnational organised crime has always been of sufficient importance for US policy makers to appreciate that they pose more than a minimal threat to US security and interests in the region.
Although there continued to be a vested interest by the US to the Caricom, the interests out of the Asian continent, mainly China subsequently increased.
In recent years, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) expanded its economic relations with Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.
In addition to diplomatic and economic activities, China increased co-operation and assistance programmes with the region’s militaries and has even conducted several high profile military exchange visits.
In the last decade, for the first time in modern history, China deployed military police to the region as part of a United Nations (UN) mission to Haiti. The greater part of China’s expansion within the Caribbean occurred in a period where some analysts reported a simultaneous shift in US foreign policy away from the region.
Even to the casual observer, it is clear that this represented a shift in focus away from hemispheric affairs to one centred around the war on terror and other activities in the Middle East. Even so, the confluence of these two events has given rise to a broad range of issues signalling a period of uncertainty regarding the extent of US interests in the Caribbean.
As this geo-political gap was created by the US and its allies, the PRC increased and enhanced its footprint in the Caribbean with a dominating effect on technology, ICT, energy, agriculture and telecommunications.
In the context of regional hemispheric security implications, how does a real or perceived decline in US interest in the Caribbean and the simultaneous growth in China’s relations with almost all of the island states affect current regional security arrangements? Will the expansion of China and the perceived erosion of US geopolitical influence in the Caribbean region pose any real threat to the current security landscape?
The leaders of Caricom need to pay specific attention to the outcomes and pronouncements of the recently concluded G20 Summit.
I guide the perusal and attention to the escalated and amplified focus on cyber security and preventions of cyber attacks, as a renewed priority for our regional heads.
(Garvin Heerah is a senior researcher and module leader with the Anglia Ruskin University UK and School of Accounting and Management T&T, as well as a subject matter expert in Homeland Security and the Safe City Concept)