China Expands the BRI in the Caribbean: Jamaica on the Mind
In April 2019, Jamaica signed on to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The two countries have had a positive relationship in recent years, with Chinese companies and banks active in the Caribbean country through such actions as Jiuquan Iron and Steel (JISCO)’s acquisition of Alpart in 2016, the proposed development of an Industrial Park and Special Economic Zone, and the completion of two state-of-the art early childhood institutions.
In signing on to the BRI, Jamaica joins existing Caribbean “members” Barbados, Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago. As with most things, timing is an issue. By joining the BRI, Jamaica risks incurring the displeasure of the United States (US), which has warned Caribbean countries of the dangers of China’s “imperial” designs. At the same time, Jamaica has been one of a handful of Caribbean countries to take a critical stance against the dictatorial government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The US, Canada, Europe, and most of Latin America want to see Maduro step down, claiming his 2018 re-election was fraudulent and that his gross economic mismanagement has caused millions to flee his country. For its part, China, which has heavily invested in Venezuela, articulates a policy of non-intervention, backing Maduro, along with Cuba and Russia. While Russia’s dispatch of a small contingent of soldiers to Venezuela in March 2019 heightened tensions, China stresses economic statecraft and diplomacy to help prop up its ally. For many Caribbean countries, the advent of what some are calling a new Cold War between China and the US is a challenge. While economic links with China are very welcome, closeness to it must be carefully balanced with the return to the region of a more engaged US. The Caribbean’s political economy has changed, something Chinese and American companies and their local counterparts need to consider.