So why's China setting up shop in the Caribbean?
China has a secretive new "development plan" for Grenada, putting down for itself a big footprint in the Caribbean. What they have in mind probably has a lot to do with what is going on in their own "backyard" and their relationship with the U.S.
According to a front-page above-above-the-fold report in yesterday's South China Morning Post, the extensive plan is a clear bid to increase the Asian superpower's "influence" in the region. The Post reports:
Beijing's blueprint envisions the construction of massive infrastructure projects in the small tropical nation, which has a population of about 100,000. They include the construction of a highway connecting the major towns on its main island, which is about four times the size of Hong Kong Island, and a railway line encircling it. The plan also calls for the building of deepwater ports that could accommodate a large number of cruise and cargo ships, a large wind farm to replace diesel-fuelled generators and a modernised airport with more, longer runways. It also sees a future for Grenada as an offshore tax haven for foreign companies or individuals.
And we suppose China will claim it wants nothing in return...
What this is really about is a likely retaliation for the U.S.'s attempt to reassert its naval presence in the South China Sea, standing up for and reassuring our democratic allies in Southeast Asia, most of which rim the South China Sea. Up until President Trump took command, China had been brazenly seeking to extend influence there, building illegal atolls for military purposes in the maritime region, much to these countries' dismay.
Now that the U.S. is back, China is back, this time seeking to set up a foothold in the U.S.'s traditional sea of influence, the Caribbean. It's somewhat similar to Vladimir Putin's Russian lunge into Ukraine, which some say was retaliation for provocative U.S. naval maneuvers in what Russia considers its own swimming pool of power projection, the Black Sea.
What's more, China's original Caribbean strategy, which was to increase economic interdependence with Venezuela, hasn't worked out. Its main activities with Venezuela these days is trying to collect on its debts owed, given that Venezuela is bankrupt and collapsing in the wake of its slavish imitation of the Cuba model. What's more, Venezuela hasn't worked out for the Caribbean, either, including Grenada, which has seen its cheap and on-credit Venezuelan oil supplies drying up.
Robert D. Kaplan, in his excellent book Asia's Cauldron, writes at length about the symmetry of significance of the Caribbean and the South China Sea. Here is an interview with Kaplan describing the issue:
Why do you consider the South China Sea one of the world's more important pieces of geo-political real estate?
The South China Sea is to China what the Greater Caribbean was to the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The United States became a great power, geopolitically, by dominating the Caribbean. Once it could do that, it could dominate the Western Hemisphere, and once dominating the Western Hemisphere, it could affect the balance of power in the Eastern Hemisphere, which was what the world wars and Cold War were all about.
The South China Sea is no less important for China. If China can gain dominance, it then can have access to the wider Pacific and, through the Strait of Malacca, into the greater Indian Ocean, which is the global energy interstate, bringing all the oil and natural gas from the Middle East to the population zones of Asia. So this is really big stuff. Also, if China can dominate the South China Sea, then it will, effectively, "Finlandize" countries like Vietnam and the Philippines, which would affect the entire balance of power in Asia.
In his book, Kaplan, who talks to Chinese government officials, notes that the Chinese read this part of U.S. history closely.
And now, as the U.S. extends its traditional influence in the South China Sea, as it has historically done for decades...suddenly China turns up bearing gifts in the Caribbean, a place where, as one St. Vincent resident once told me, "no one turns down a favor."
Stay tuned for more action on this one.