Sunday, March 16, 2008

"We Don't Want China to Bring Corruption and Deception to Existing Democracies"

"We Don't Want China to Bring Corruption and Deception to Existing Democracies"

Red China on the March
The People’s Republic moves onto Grenada.

By Steven W. Mosher

In January 2005, Grenada established diplomatic ties with the People's Republic of China, breaking off its longstanding relationship with Taiwan in the process. The sudden move followed a hotly contested election in which the ruling party won by the smallest of margins. The PRC has opened a substantial embassy in the tiny island nation — Ambassador Shen Hongshun and entourage arrived in April — and is rebuilding, at considerable expense, the national soccer stadium that was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in September 2004. Other aid has been promised, including funds for scholarships in China and the renovation of the main hospital.

China's move into Grenada clones a pattern it has followed elsewhere in the eastern Caribbean. Exactly the same scenario was played out last year in the neighboring island of Dominique, and some years ago in St. Lucia. Each of these island republics now has a full-scale Chinese embassy, a completed or promised national soccer stadium, and is receiving continuing aid. Dominica, for example, is slated to receive a staggering U.S.$112 million in aid, which works out to $1,600 for each of the island's 70,000 inhabitants. Some of this aid was cash, ostensibly to ease the government's cash flow problems. Coincidently, Chinese construction battalions have landed a number of government-funded infrastructural projects in the region, such as a contract to build a storm drainage system in Castries, the capital of St. Lucia.

Chinese immigration to the region is picking up, and a cultural offensive is underway. The relationships between China and the islands' ruling parties are increasingly cozy, with leading politicians regularly being invited to China for all-expenses-paid "familiarization" tours. Those not important enough for the "foreign guest" treatment receive their dose of propaganda in their own homes. Shows touting China's history, culture, and peaceful intentions are broadcast for hours on the islands' state-owned television channels — all paid for by Beijing, of course. Let a hundred flowers boom, one might say.

But Chinese moneybags-diplomacy is not cheap, and Beijing's rulers are not known for their largess — unless, that is, it serves their strategic interests. So what does Beijing hope to gain from its investments?

The immediate target is Taiwan, of course. By causing those few nations which still recognize the island-democracy to break off ties, Beijing hopes to undermine Taiwan's de facto independence and hasten the day of reunification — on its terms. The PRC is fighting the Chinese civil war even in the Caribbean. Look for St. Vincent and the Grenadines to break ties with Taiwan in the next year or two.

But this alone does not explain China's continuing aggressive and expensive efforts to bring these small nations — Grenada has less than 100,000 people — under its sway. With staffs ranging from five to ten people, these embassies are able to hold regular meetings and informal dinners with leading political figures, and to monitor the eastern Caribbean's political and economic environment on a daily basis. By way of contrast, the U.S. doesn't even maintain a single diplomat in any of these countries. Instead, the U.S. ambassador to Barbados is jointly accredited to the other island nations in the Eastern Caribbean and is a complete stranger to most eastern Caribbean figures in the public and private sector.

These islands are right in our backyard (the Caribbean has been called the soft and vulnerable underbelly of the United States), and China's actions in the West Indies are of a piece with their well known activities in Cuba and Panama. While none of these islands have any great military potential for electronic eavesdropping, and none sits aside a maritime choke point, it would be foolish to forget the lessons of the Cuban missile crisis of the early 1960s. Dealing with an expansive China in the Far East will be complicated enough without having a dozen aggressively pro-Chinese nations sitting in and around the Caribbean basin.

For now, however, it seems that China has a different purpose in mind. Recall that each of these independent nations is a member of countless international bodies, chief among them the general assembly of the United Nations and the World Trade Organization. In some of these organizations, their representatives hold considerable rank. The ambassador from St. Lucia to the U.N. actually presided over the general assembly during its 2004 session. If the nations of the Caribbean could be induced to vote consistently with China in either of these bodies, this PRC-led bloc could become a force to be reckoned with. It would prove especially useful to Beijing in the event of a future confrontation with the U.S. over Taiwan, for instance, or over trade.

China is widely believed to be flaunting WTO rules, in part by keeping its currency significantly undervalued. (The recent 2.1 percent revaluation of the yuan was insignificant.) Suppose that an unfair trade case were brought against China by the U.S. government in the WTO. Such cases are resolved, ultimately, by a vote, with WTO rules requiring a supermajority of 62 percent of the member states. Who knows if the governments of Grenada, Dominica, and St. Lucia, having been the beneficiaries of significant amounts of PRC largess, would vote with the U.S. or with China?

What should we do to counter China's moves in the Caribbean? First, we must stop taking the region for granted, reacting only after the fact, as we did after a communist coup in Grenada in 1983. That crisis, it is well to recall, would have been much worse if other Caribbean nations had not taken a firm stand against the Russian and Cuban-supported coup, and voted in favor of U.S. intervention. Would the new crop of politicians, so assiduously courted by China, come down on our side in the event of a similar problem?

To put it another way, can we allow China, an up-and-coming superpower, to replace the U.S. as the predominant political influence in the region? Opening embassies in each of these states, so that we are in a position to make America's case directly to local government officials, is essential. Thwarting China's efforts to buy friends and influence governments requires not just foreign aid — although this should be increased — but private investment as well. Increasingly, foreign investment is coming from everywhere but the United States. A Free Trade Zone for the West Indies would be a good first step toward fixing this.

China has a long history of establishing tributary relationships between it and lesser states, supporting local tyrants in return for their allegiance. While we work to bring transparency and openness to China, we don't want China to bring corruption and deception to existing democracies and international organizations. The Caribbean can't wait.

— Steven W. Mosher is the president of the Population Research Institute and the author of Hegemon: China's Plan to Dominate Asia and the World.



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