EDITORIAL: Beware of Greeks bearing gifts!

The title of today’s piece is an English translation of a line from Virgil’s AENEID. The original Latin reads, “Timeo danaos et dona ferentes” or “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts!” A more actual translation is, “I fear the Greeks, even those bearing gifts!” For those not so familiar with Greek literature, here is a synopsis of the story of a people who blithely accepted a gift, notwithstanding words of warning. According to Virgil, the Greeks were intent on capturing the prized city of Troy. Since they could not breach the formidable walls of the city by military force, they decided to resort to subterfuge. They built a huge, hollow, wooden horse, filled it with top military personnel and presented it, with much fanfare (signing ceremony, Memorandum of Understanding and the usual sweet-sounding speeches), to the fawning and gullible people of Troy.  Of course, there were some Trojans, like Laocoon and Cassandra, who urged caution in the accepting of the gift. But the Trojan leaders were giddy and reckless (perhaps greedy and desperate, as well), and they refused to hearken. The rest is history: that night, the Greek soldiers inside the horse came out and opened the gates of Troy to the waiting Greek army.

Naturally, our readership can see where we are going with this. After all, there was much fanfare surrounding the Chinese gift of EC$100 million for the construction of 150 affordable homes at Booby Alley in Point, 50 in Bolans and 50 in Barbuda. All well and good! We certainly thank the Chinese for their generosity and the magnanimous way in which they have opened the purse strings to help us here in Antigua and Barbuda. Much like our brothers and sisters in other Caribbean islands and many African countries, we can easily point to any number of projects that have been funded, and are being funded, by Beijing. Many of these projects are massive undertakings that have proven to be a boon rather than a bane to many of our economies. This is especially so, since the Chinese are filling the investment vacuum left by the withdrawal of many of our traditional sources of funding.

Nonetheless, the watchword ought to be “Caveat emptor!” (Latin) (Buyer beware)! Notwithstanding the fact that our Prime Minister seemed to be quite cavalier about proceeding with caution when entering into long-term relationships with the Chinese (see Yida), we are still suggesting that we avoid loan agreements that are beyond our means to repay, such as is now the case with many countries in Africa.  We ought to be careful not to eat the sour grapes and set the teeth of future generations on edge. Yes, never mind the Prime Minister’s breezy, dismissive (and some say joking) response to the legitimate concerns of many about “a new Chinese colonialism,” and Chinese funding becoming millstones around the necks of Third World peoples, we ought to remain vigilant. And we ought not to be afraid to voice our concerns!

Interestingly, Chinese funding activism is on the minds of think tanks, economists, political scholars and journalists, as is evidenced by the plethora of writings on the matter in our region and elsewhere. Here are a few of the recent headlines from notable sources having to do with the actions of the Chinese in our region: China Makes Inroads in Caribbean Nations Through Aid, Trade (Dan Southerland for Radio Free Asia). Chinese Rise In The Caribbean: What Does It Mean for Caribbean Stakeholders? (Mark Wenner and Dillon Clarke for the Inter-American Development Bank) Filling The Void: China’s Expanding Caribbean Presence (Ben Tannenbaum, extramural contributor at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs). China Buying Control Of The Caribbean (Callum Wood in The Trumpet). Why Is China Spending Billions In The Caribbean? (Ezra Fieser in the Global Post) Making Sense Of China’s Caribbean Policy (Jared Ward for The Jamestown Foundation). And so on and so forth! So when Antiguans and Barbudans urge caution and prudence, they ought not to be dismissed with a flippant wave of the hand and a remark about bringing on Chinese colonialism. After all, we are not too far removed from the horror and indignities of British colonialism. In any event, we would do well to heed the words of our elders, to wit, “Those who pay the Piper call the tunes!”

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