The recent diplomatic flap involving China and St. Lucia has brought to the forefront the need for the Caribbean to develop a comprehensive regional foreign policy on Asia and the deep gaps in their commitment to synchronize and coordinate the region’s foreign policy so as to pose a united front. This disunity has allowed China and Taiwan to create two camps in the region as the political struggle between the two Asian countries play out in the Caribbean. Today, the region is a study in divided loyalties and what passes as a foreign policy is nothing more than a slap-dash, higgledy-piggledy set of make-it-up-as-we-go-along motions that change literally from week to week.
Five CARICOM countries recognize and have diplomatic relations with Taiwan. They are Belize, Haiti, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and recently St. Lucia that under the opposition United Workers Party (UWP) led by Dr. Kenny Anthony broke diplomatic relations with Taiwan and established ties with China. The Sir John Compton government re-established ties with Taiwan on May 7.
Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago all have formal diplomatic ties with China. The most recent addition was Grenada that like St. Lucia was in the Taiwanese camp. But the political brouhaha and fallout over the St.Lucia/China issue has brought the question of what should CARICOM do in relation to both China and Taiwan to the front.
Since there is no coherent, well-thought out Asia policy it appears that each CARICOM country is simply allowing domestic issues to drive foreign policy decisions. Moreover, these decisions also appear to be made with very little consultations with either the regional or sub-regional groupings in the region. Simply put there is no harmonization of foreign policy, at least on China and Taiwan, that is driven by some coordination and regional economic policies.
Indeed, the China, Taiwan and St. Lucia issue has helped to expose the dysfunctionality within CARICOM when it comes to foreign policy issues. For example, there is little evidence to suggest that before Grenada jumped from Taiwan’s bed to China’s anybody was consulted and that the Keith Mitchell Administration simply exercised its independent and sovereign state status to “go it alone.” Likewise, St. Lucia simply upped and reverted to ties with Taiwan without any consideration for the country and the wider Caribbean region.
Both these member states of the regional sub-grouping the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) have signed articles of understanding that clearly state that they will seek to achieve the fullest harmonization of foreign policy. That is simply just words because in reality this almost never happens simply because foreign policy is driven by domestic considerations to the exclusion of all else. Bi-lateral agreements always trump unity any day.
And just as in CARICOM there are sharp divisions within the OECS when it comes to both China and Taiwan. China has the support and diplomatic ties with Antigua and Barbuda and Grenada and Taiwan has St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. This of course, creates a climate of strained relations within the OECS grouping that cannot speak with one voice on foreign policy issues, especially when it comes to China and Taiwan.
Still, there is time for CARICOM and the OECS to take an objective look at the China and Taiwan issue and decide on a progressive, principled foreign policy that will govern their dealings with Asia as a whole. St. Lucia has had its pride shattered when China decided to stop funding some key infrastructural developments on the island including a much-needed 140-bed hospital and drew some very bellicose statements from China that is fast becoming a major player in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Grenada is also suffering the consequences of its new love affair with China. The government has been sued in a New York Court for US$21 million by the Export-Import Bank of Taiwan for principal and interest payments on loans the bank made to the government for project development before it dumped Taiwan. Such punitive measures would never have been contemplated had Grenada remained in Taiwan’s column.
These consequences and the split alliances are the issues that have compounded and retarded any meaningful foreign policy initiatives by either the OECS or CARICOM on the China/Taiwan issue. But these circumstances have also made it clear that these two groupings in the Caribbean are going to have to come up with progressive, innovative ways and means to improve relationships with both Asian countries.
Politically, China is the officially recognized representative of the Chinese people – including Taiwan – at the United Nations and China is a permanent member of the Security Council that has veto powers. China is no ordinary bit player in world affairs.