The unrest in our neighbouring island of St. Kitts over the Christmas holidays, got us to thinking about the increasing Chinese footprint here in our fair State. The latest Citizenship by Investment (CIP) figures released by our administration indicate that the Chinese were, by far, the largest number (71) of people to become Antiguan citizens in the first half of 2019. The Chinese were followed by the Bangladeshis with 19. Yes, folks. The Chinese have fallen in love with our bit of paradise, and they are flocking here in droves to live and work and set-up businesses and carve out communities and become citizens. They recently opened a Confucian center with headquarters at the UWI Five Islands campus. They are serious.
But let us ponder what happened in Basseterre this past Christmas. According to the video footage, seems a number of Chinese had erected barricades and taken over a road in St. Kitts. As you can imagine, Kittitian road-users were hardly amused, and they could be heard voicing their annoyance. Needless to say, the Chinese protesters were also quite vocal in their protestations, and they appeared to be quite belligerent and uncompromising. It is not clear how the stand-off ended.
Naturally, the Chinese protest in St. Kitts conjured up images of what could happen here in Antigua and Barbuda if our increasingly large Chinese presence were to take over, say, Market Street, over a perceived slight, or the denial of what they might consider to be a right. Good grief! We believe that it would be a helluva demonstration, and authorised or not, there is not a blessed thing that we could do about it. Such is the power (and it is growing exponentially) of the Chinese.
Recently, the Chinese Ambassador to our fair State, Mr. Sun Ang, made peevish remarks about the slow pace of the recovery effort in Barbuda; he even threatened to visit the sister isle on a fact-finding mission. He was clearly annoyed at this administration’s stewardship of the funds donated, never mind the unfocused approach to the rebuilding. Naturally, Antiguans and Barbudans held their breaths; they expected the administration to heap scorn on the Chinese Ambassador and read him the diplomatic ‘riot act.’ They expected the administration’s spokespeople, they of bellicose and aggressive responses to criticisms that they deem unflattering, to rebuke the good Ambassador and denounce him for interfering in our internal affairs. (See the administration’s response to the IMF and its reports). Curiously, instead of the usual hostility, this administration took the Chinese chiding ‘like a chile.’ As a sheep being led to the slaughter is dumb, so too this administration meekly took its reprimand and uttered not a bleet. It was a telling moment, to say the least.
Clearly, when the Chinese speak, this administration listens. After all, there is nothing to concentrate the mind of an unfocused administration like a threat, or a scolding, from the Chinese. Such is our insidious relationship with the Chinese. That is how beholden we are to the Chinese. Much like one of the co-hosts of our VOICE OF THE PEOPLE broadcast, when the Chinese make a request or a demand, we will simply genuflect and say, “Yes dear!” Sigh! Poor us!
Which brings us to the monstrosity-of-an-embassy that is being constructed by the Chinese at Marble Hill. Inquiring Antiguan minds want to know why the embassy has to be so big? To what end? And what purpose will be served by the underground caverns which resemble bunkers? What do the Chinese know that we don’t? Or what do the Chinese have in mind that we are not privy to? Many persons are scratching their heads at the incongruity of an over-sized embassy on a tiny dot of 100,000 souls in the Caribbean Sea. Of course, the mammoth Chinese embassy here, brought to mind a New York Times article on the construction of the largest US embassy in the world in Iraq in the aftermath of the invasion of that country. (This embassy was stormed by Iraqi protesters a few days ago, after a US airstrike killed 25 militants in Iraq and Syria). Anyway, back then in 2005, according to the Times, “Many Iraqi officials saw the embassy building as more than just an embassy. ‘The US had something on their mind when they made it so big. Perhaps they wanted to run the Middle East from Iraq, and their embassy would be a base for them here,’ said Nahidi al Dayni, an Iraqi lawmaker.” Hmmm! Food for thought!
To be sure, it is important to remember that, while the Iraqis had no choice but to acquiesce to the demands of the invading foreign superpower (the US), and allow them to build a gargantuan embassy, many Antiguans and Barbudans are wondering what the hell it is that the Chinese have over us? To be fair, this administration is not the only craven administration when it has to do with the Chinese. Ours is not the only government that is in danger of falling inextricably into a “Chinese debt-trap” – becomingan occupied country without a shot being fired. We are not the only ones playing dangerously into the Chinese “chop-suey” and “soy sauce.” According to a March 7, 2018 article by a Mr. Tim Fernholz entitled, EIGHT COUNTRIES IN DANGER OF FALLING INTO CHINA’S DEBT TRAP: “Last year, with more than I billion in debt to China, Sri Lanka handed over a port to companies owned by the Chinese government. Now, Djibouti looks about to cede control of another key port to a Beijing-linked company.” Fernholz then quotes the then-US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, as cautioning: “Beijing encourages dependency using opaque contracts, predatory loan practices, and corrupt deals that mire nations in debt, and undercuts their sovereignty, denying them their long-term, self-sustaining growth . . . Chinese investment does have the potential to address Africa’s infrastructure gap, but its approach has led to mounting debt and few, if any, jobs in most countries.” Hmmm!
And this Fernholz was not done. He opined, “Some call this ‘debt-trap diplomacy:’ offer the honey of cheap infrastructure loans, with the sting of default coming if smaller economies can’t generate enough free cash to pay their interest down . . .” Folks, check out Kyrgyzstan, Laos, the Maldives, Mongolia, Montenegro, Pakistan and Tajikistan. They are hopelessly indebted to Beijing. Just ask a number of African and Caribbean countries. They are rushing headlong down the road to indebtedness perdition.
Make no mistake, the Chinese are not handing out money like candy to desperate (see the American aid pullback under Trump) developing countries like ours because of altruism and beneficence. The Chinese are not serving-up the wonton soup with the spicy dumpling because they love us. No. It is because it serves their Belt and Road initiative. It furthers Chinese hegemony and their effort at a massive expansion of Chinese global trade and reach.
The handwriting is on the wall, and we would do well to take heed. After all, we just might fall into the duck soup . . . especially if we’re only using chop-sticks. Then again, as Confucius say, “If man see handwriting on wall, man already in toilet.” Good grief! Go easy on the pork fried rice and the chicken lo mein!