China 'Debt-Trap Diplomacy': Dominicans Beware


"The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything" - Albert Einstein

For some time now, many have taken note of the style of diplomacy practiced by China. However, it was last month that the world really began to take note when it was widely reported that Zambia had to relinquish control of its media station and International Airport to China.  This story prompted Zambia's Minister of Finance to quickly put out a statement refuting that the Zambian Government had offered state-owned enterprises to settle national debt to China. Sound like 'pawning' to the ordinary person! Is Zambian Government really Speaking the truth? What exactly is Zambia's debt to China? What are the terms of those debts? The Zambian Finance Minister's statement did not offer such specifics.

It is a fact that since China gained economic influence it has been trying to maintain this status at all cost; a thriving country suddenly began needing more and more natural resources. If it could secure such resources and at the same time acquire geopolitical power that would be a 'win win'. So, it is no wonder they set there eyes on a Continent with massive underutilized resources.  Africa is estimated to contain 90% of the entire world's cobalt and platinum,  half of the world's gold supply, two-thirds of the world's manganese and 35% of the world's uranium. It also accounts 75% of the world's coltan, an important mineral used in electronic devices including cell phones. What a prize? Now, all they needed was to convince some incompetent and crooked leaders that massive infrastructure projects would create wealth and the bait was set. China has been using unscrupulous investment strategies to secure critical raw materials which allows it to maintain its growing economy for decades to come.

Zambia is just one of the examples where political leaders have fallen prey to China's honey-trap. The escalating news of leaders in Africa who have abused their countries' resources for personnel benefit is not new. They have chosen to be reckless with their country's monies, incurring large debts to China and agreeing to massive infrastructure projects, with little or no input from the population. Most of it done to curry votes and to remain in power.  It also should not be accepted by the populace who have placed these crooked politicians in-charge of their countries' resources. What is most disturbing about the trend, is the emergence of a new colonizing nation, China. Some of these African countries emerged from prior colonization by Europeans (UK, France, Portugal, Italy) and others from Apartheid. Notwithstanding. the current crop of leaders have not learnt from history or are just downright corrupt.

Nevertheless, the aforementioned was not China's only initiative. It had bigger ideas. In 2013, President Xi Jinping envisioned something he called the Belt Road Initiative. That was a plan to link Asia, Europe and Africa with a network of ports, trains and railways. Unfortunately, one of the ways that this was going to be accomplished, entailed hoodwinking some developing countries in the targeted area to invest in massive infrastructure projects funded  by China. Basically, the plan was to increase China's market reach. Nonetheless, China was able to convince those cash-strapped countries that somehow such projects would be beneficial and would create jobs despite the fact that most of  projects went to Chinese-based companies.  Sri Lanka was one such country. They built a massive Seaport in Hambantota even though feasibility studies revealed that the port would be a failure. Imagine, along one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, the completed port only attracted 34 ships in a year. After the government in Sri Lanka changed in 2015, the new government could not meet the payments and ended up handing over the seaport to China along with 15,000 acres of surrounding land for a 99 year lease. Sri Lankans were saddened, but China was ecstatic, because they now controlled a strategic military and commercial Corridor off the coast of India.

Pakistan found itself in a similar situation where it undertook a massive project which would link Western China with the Indian Ocean. Nevertheless, the project became over leveraged and expensive.  Therefore, after a new government took over in August 2018, they decided they would not able to continue with the project and would seek a bailout from the IMF. However, one of the conditions from the IMF was that the Chinese agreement would have to be examined. China seems to be able to convince countries that those grandiose ideas would translate into a solid economic advancements with lots of jobs and prosperity. The whole arrangement seems bizarre. Disappointingly, the only beneficiaries appear to be China and Corrupt politicians in the target countries.

China has also set its sights on The Caribbean and Latin America with different initiatives.  Who would have thought that China would be able to build a Space Station in Argentina? But they have! Right in the Americas! China claims that it was built to enable it to explore the far side of the moon. Really! Does anyone believe that this is the only reason?  The Argentinian Government is now having second thoughts about the whole affair.  Argentina does not want to be seen as assisting China to spy on the US and other western countries. Despite China's denial and its promise that the Space Station will not be used for military purpose, no one can be certain they won't. Recall that the Trump Administration is now quipping about an American 'Space Force'. the butt of many comical satire. China takes this seriously and they will be trying to compete with America's space advantage. By coming right into the Americas with their giant antennas they can scoop up far more intelligence than if they were on the other side of the world. Why spend time developing your own ideas if it is easier to steal what is already in existence?

Many Caribbean islands have also been targeted by China. It is believed that their ultimate plan is to control the Gulf of Mexico and make life difficult for the US. In the meantime, Chinese entrepreneurs are rapidly establishing themselves on many Caribbean islands.  Maybe,  pretty soon many of those who have bought second passports through CBI programs, will decide to come and take residence in their second home. Dominica has not seen an extensive level of projects like the other islands. For that matter, Dominicans have no idea what debts are owed to China at this time as all Memorandum of understanding, MOUs, are secret. Since 2004, following Skerrit's clandestine rendezvous with Chinese envoy in Barbados,  China has increased its presence on the island. Based on China's past behavior, Dominica may also have something valuable that China needs. For example, due to its massive industrial and population growth, China is running out of fresh water.  The country is under a serious stress for fresh water! China has about 20% of the world population and only 7% of fresh water, and the water that it possesses is being constantly polluted. Guess which island in the Caribbean is known as the land of Waters? Dominica. It has the most water and rainfall in the Caribbean.  Could it be that, instead of paying Dominica for its natural resources like water,  China may soon demand some of the country's  "fresh water" as payment for unpaid debts?  Or, as in the case of Argentina, demand a Chinese port or base be located on the island? 

At this time, only China knows its objective in the Caribbean. Many of the projects it has funded turn out to be 'white elephants' for the target country! History is prologue! So, the people of Dominica and other Caribbean islands, whose governing Administrations have signed secretive MOUs with China, had better wake up before it is too late. The nascent Imran Khan's Administration has had this rude awakening in Pakistan. Caribbean people need to awake from their stuporous slumber before they one-day awake to flying Chinese Flags and being forced to speak mandarin. Step number one is to demand the details of MOUs signed by their governments with China. If not produced by their 'elected officials', then step number two should be to do whatever it takes legally to rid their countries of these selfish politicians and their new masters.



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