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Debunking of zero-sum


China and the Caribbean countries should counter the US' attempts to sow division by strengthening their pragmatic cooperation

China and Guyana established diplomatic relations in June 1972, ushering in a new chapter of friendship between China and the Caribbean countries. Over the past five decades, eight more Caribbean countries -- Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, Barbados, the Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica and Grenada -- have successively established diplomatic ties with China.

Political mutual trust between the two sides has strengthened as time goes by. In particular, following Chinese President Xi Jinping's historic visit to the Caribbean region in 2013, the network of China-Caribbean partnership has kept expanding, with Suriname, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago taking the lead, by establishing a strategic cooperative partnership, strategic partnership and comprehensive cooperative partnership, respectively, with China.

Pragmatic cooperation between the two sides has yielded fruitful results. The volume of trade in goods between the two sides hit $3.8 billion in 2021. China's outbound foreign direct investment going to Caribbean states had accumulated to about $2.41 billion by the end of 2020. China joined the Caribbean Development Bank as a formal member; and Suriname has signed a currency swap deal with China twice. In development cooperation, China has provided assistance for the construction of an array of landmark infrastructure projects in Caribbean states, such as the Guyana International Conference Center; agricultural cooperation between China and such Caribbean countries as Grenada is flourishing; and the China-Caribbean Development Center has been launched recently.

In tackling climate change, China has decided to set up the China-Caribbean disaster prevention and mitigation fund to help Caribbean countries improve their capacity to respond to natural disasters.

Public support for closer China-Caribbean ties has grown more solid. The two sides have always been the first to render each other support and assistance, standing together through thick and thin. China dispatched its first medical team in the West Hemisphere to Guyana in the 1990s. Over the past 30 years, in addition to the tens of medical teams dispatched to the Caribbean region, China has also dispatched short-term ophthalmology expert groups and hospital ships to the region many times.

When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in the Caribbean countries, China shared its experience in fighting it without reservation, and dispatched batches of vaccines and anti-pandemic goods to the region.

People-to-people exchanges between the two sides have continuously deepened. Over the past 50 years, tens of thousands of students and government officials from Caribbean countries have studied in China. To date, China has signed mutual visa exemption agreements with a number of Caribbean countries such as Barbados and the Bahamas. In cultural exchanges, the Chinese Spring Festival has become a national holiday in countries such as Suriname and a number of Confucius Institutes have been set up in the Caribbean region.

However, China-Caribbean cooperation is currently faced with challenges in some fields such as the inter-regional cooperative mechanism development and economic cooperation.

With regard to investment and financing, the high indebtedness of some Caribbean countries has gradually become a stumbling block to the business of Chinese banks and companies. Statistics show that the average level of public debt of Caribbean countries has reached 90.1 percent of their GDP, much higher than the average level of developing countries (77 percent).

On top of that, some hawkish US politicians think China is paying "special attention" to the Caribbean region compared with other parts of Latin America, resulting in continuous "securitization" of China-Caribbean cooperation by the United States. With regard to the Taiwan question, the US has attempted to help China's Taiwan region maintain the so-called diplomatic relations with some Caribbean countries by recalling US ambassadors from countries that had newly established diplomatic relations with China, such as the Dominican Republic. In economic and trade areas, the US has been focusing on obstructing China-Caribbean cooperation on 5G.

For instance, the US ambassador to Jamaica once made a ridiculous argument that "the island's financial sector would be hit hard if the government engages 5G technology from a Chinese source". In the area of cultural exchanges, the US has claimed that the number of Confucius Institutes in the Caribbean has far exceeded what is needed.

Nonetheless, China-Caribbean relations have entered a new phase of all-round development, and the two sides should firmly seize the historic opportunity and unleash the potential of cooperation at an accelerated pace.

First, China and Caribbean countries should have closer policy communication. The two sides should strengthen high-level exchanges as well as meetings or other forms of communication between the two sides' representatives on multilateral occasions. Currently, the political environment in Latin America is changing, with intra-regional cooperation once again gaining fresh momentum. China and Caribbean countries should, on the basis of making the utmost of existing bilateral cooperation mechanisms, bolster the China-Caribbean inter-regional cooperative mechanisms, injecting new impetus into their close ties.

Second, mutually beneficial cooperation should be bolstered. The two sides should join hands to advance the implementation of the Global Development Initiative, and more explicitly place the development issue at the center of the bilateral cooperation agenda to gather stronger power for growth. On top of that, greater attention should be paid to the Caribbean side's demands in climate action, green development, the digital economy, food security, pandemic response and COVID-19 vaccines; the role of new cooperative mechanisms such as the China-Caribbean Development Center should be fully exerted; new cooperation models in such areas as the blue economy and digital currency should be vigorously explored; bilateral cooperation on financing for development should be further advanced; "small and beautiful "projects aimed at improving people's livelihoods should be vigorously developed; and capacity building cooperation such as vocational training should be strengthened to promote post-pandemic economic recovery.

Finally, external interference should be properly handled. China and the Caribbean countries should debunk the US' "zero-sum game "with concrete, tangible cooperation outcomes. The two sides should explore new ways of cooperation and the possibility of collaboration with a third party in the Caribbean region such as the United Nations, member states of the European Union and the US so as to reinforce the openness of China-Caribbean cooperation and consolidate multi-win outcomes. However, in the meantime, the two sides should sternly reject the groundless accusations and false charges from the US side and clarify the facts.

The author is deputy director of the Department for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the China Institute of International Studies. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

Contact the editor at editor@chinawatch.cn