Overcoming problems, China and the Caribbean countries should grasp the historic opportunities so the Belt and Road Initiative can yield more fruits
International development cooperation has always been a key area for China to develop relations with the Caribbean countries. Since the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative, especially since Caribbean states began participating in the initiative in the past five years, China has actively developed cooperation with them and further promoted Belt and Road cooperation and development between the two sides.
First, policy communication has deepened. At the request of the Grenadian government, China helped the Caribbean country formulate its strategic plan for national development and delivered the document in 2017. Last year, the China-Caribbean Development Center, which coordinates personnel exchanges and projects of development cooperation, was established. So far, the center has offered anti-pandemic material assistance, training programs on juncao technology (a technology used to grow edible and medicinal mushrooms among other things) and caged fish farming to the Caribbean.
Second, facilities have been connected faster. The land-connected capabilities have been enhanced. China has taken part in renovating roads in the East Coast of Guyana's Demerara and an airport expressway project in Jamaica. Besides, with the help of Chinese enterprises, the international airport upgrading and renovation projects in Guyana and Grenada have been completed or are under construction. Furthermore, the completed renovation and expansion project of St Johns Deep Water Port in Antigua and Barbuda, undertaken by the Chinese side, is expected to make the port the largest shipping hub and freight distribution center in the eastern Caribbean region.
Third, smooth trade has been promoted. China has supplied container inspection equipment to assist Trinidad and Tobago and Suriname, accelerated customs clearance, and better cracked down on smuggling crimes. Meanwhile, China has launched multiple trade-related training projects for Caribbean countries, covering trade facilitation, trade and mutual investment, and helping coordinate the trade policies of the countries involved.
Fourth, financial integration has been deepened. China has strengthened cooperation with the Caribbean Development Bank to channel more capital inflows into infrastructure, environmental protection, health and other fields in the region. Meanwhile, international development financing has been encouraged to prioritize the Caribbean.
As construction under the Belt and Road Initiative between China and the Caribbean countries continues to deepen, their development cooperation has gradually entered the deep water area, and a series of internal and external challenges have begun to emerge.
First, the Caribbean countries have high debts. In recent years, due to the joint effects of external risk factors such as the pandemic, supply chain disruptions, the Ukraine crisis, and the United States Federal Reserve's interest rate hikes, the debts of Caribbean countries have continued to rise. According to statistics, as of August 2022, the average public debt level of Caribbean countries had reached 90.1 percent, far higher than the developing countries' average at 77 percent.
Second, China's design for assistance projects needs to improve. Caribbean countries are essentially small island developing states and attach great importance to green development issues such as climate change and environmental protection, making them sensitive to China's foreign aid projects, most of which were material assistance and did not pay enough attention to the recipient countries' main concerns on climate change adaptation and capacity building.
Looking forward, both sides should firmly grasp the historic opportunities, further unleash the potential of development and cooperation, and help the joint building of the Belt and Road Initiative to yield more fruits.
First of all, the China-Caribbean cooperation mechanism should be further intensified to play a leading role in their development cooperation. The Fourth China-Caribbean Economic and Trade Cooperation Forum should be held in advance, and mechanisms such as the Foreign Ministers' Meeting among China and the Caribbean Countries Having Diplomatic Relations with China should be further utilized to improve the "dual-wheel driving force" for both bilateral and regional cooperation. Special development cooperation plans targeting the Caribbean can also be formulated.
Second, in response to Caribbean countries' high debts and concerns on environmental protection and climate change, China's assistance should focus more on the demands of recipient countries and provide development public goods that are more in line with their characteristics and requirements. On the one hand, China should adjust the structure of development assistance, increase the proportion of development-oriented financing, and prioritize "small but beautiful" projects that benefit local people, further focusing on poverty, unemployment, health, education and other livelihood issues, creating more down-to-earth and well-received brand projects. On the other hand, China needs to attach importance to the Caribbean side's greater commitment to "adapting "to climate change, and design more popular public products for issues such as sea-level rise and the blue economy that the Caribbean countries are concerned about.
Third, tripartite cooperation should be strengthened. China should also value dialogue, exchange, and tripartite cooperation with the United Nations organizations, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the US and the West in the region, strengthen the openness of China-Caribbean cooperation, and consolidate a win-win situation among multiple parties.
The author is the 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.