The discourse on China has continued in prominent segments of our media. It is regrettable that these analyses receiving so much space in Guyana’s public discourse, have such little depth.
Chinese engagement in the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region predates the post-Cultural Revolution economic reforms that have fueled China’s contemporary rise; having looked to our region for legitimacy on the global stage since the Declaration of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949. We must remember that in 1972 Guyana was the first Caribbean state, and only mere months behind Peru, Mexico and Argentina in the hemisphere, to recognize the PRC as the legitimate representative of the Chinese nation. China was an early friend to Guyana when in 1971 it agreed to purchase USD $15,000,000 in sugar, adjusted for inflation this would be valued at just under USD $95,000,000 today. Note that this occurred at a time when development levels (and therefore financial uncertainty) were similar in both countries. Indeed, the historic nature of relations, Guyana’s unwavering commitment to the One China Policy, and our status as an all-weather friend since independence, are aspects of the Sino-Guyanese relationship that our nation must reassert as we seek to position Guyana as a leader within the Caribbean Community, especially against a backdrop of the development opportunity presented to us in the coming years.
During the 1980’s China accounted for 1% of total global trade, a different reality from the 12% it commands today. It is inarguable by economic measures, that China is an emerging great power at a time of growing multipolarity and the decline of American leadership within international relations. China’s Foreign Direct Investment across the LAC region now averages approximately USD $10 billion annually and accounts for 35% of the region’s export performance. Yet at present only 3% of Chinese exports are destined for Latin America and the Caribbean, and 4% is imported from the region to China in turn. Within our national context, under 2% of Guyana’s exports are destined for the PRC, while China accounts for under 8% of our imports. If trends continue as expected within the PRC, rapid urbanization, increases in the cost of labour and insufficient water supply will mean China remains a net importer of food and raw material in our lifetime. Furthermore, China’s halt to financial support in neighbouring Venezuela due to the breakdown of order in that state, and our own growing investment potential should be viewed from a less alarmist lens. It would be a disservice for Guyana to not cultivate our already amicable relationship with the PRC, at this juncture in our development.
As concern is growing within states across the LAC region from segments of academia, labour, civil society and the press regarding the scope of Chinese influence in domestic affairs, there is a need for China and the region’s governments to assuage these sentiments. The Chinese post-commodity boom will eventually reverberate across the Global South, and it is therefore true that the region’s states should recognize the limitations of the ongoing Chinese impact on development. The importance of strengthening capacities to monitor and evaluate our bilateral agreements with China should not be undervalued, this is the case however for the totality of our diplomatic efforts in the coming years.
The Sino-Latin American relationship promotes a South to South win-win development agenda, yet we should not shy away from the growing disparity between rhetoric and the reality of the region’s dependence on China. This can only be achieved by discourse that is rooted in fact as well as the shaping of a robust foreign policy by Guyana’s government and civil society. This will not be achievable via the semantics of fear, xenophobia towards the Chinese community or by reiterating in our own newspapers the self-interested hand-wringing of publications abroad who condemn the rise of China in one article and lament the end of their own imperialist colonial past in another.
Brandon Francis Cheong