Sun, Feb 20, 2005 - Page 5 News List

China woos Caribbean away from Taiwan

AP , SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO

China is waging an aggressive campaign of seduction in the Caribbean, wooing countries away from relationships with rival Taiwan, opening markets for its expanding economy, promising to send tourists and shipping police to Haiti in the first communist deployment in the Western Hemisphere.

And the US, China's Cold War enemy, is benignly watching the Asian economic superpower move into its backyard.

For decades China and Taiwan used dollar diplomacy to win over Caribbean nations with limited budgets where small projects building roads, bridges, wells and fisheries went a long way.

But Beijing's growing economic clout is tipping the scales in the region. Caribbean trade with China reached US$2 billion last year, a 42.5 percent increase from 2003, the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported.

The US has applauded China's economic offensive, seeing it as a herald of political reform.

"China's intensified interest in the Western Hemisphere does not imply a lack of focus by the United States," Roger Noriega, the US assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, said in a recent letter to the editor of New Jersey's Newark Star Ledger.

"The US has long stood for expansion of global trade and consolidating democracy," he said.

This year, two Caribbean countries -- Dominica and Grenada -- switched allegiance to China, abandoning Taiwan, which China calls "a renegade province."

Though democratic Taiwan is self-governing, communist Beijing insists the island is part of China. The two sides split amid civil war in 1949 and Beijing has since refused to have ties with any government that recognizes Taiwan.

"Democratic, market-oriented Taiwan is a thorn in its side," said Steve Johnson, senior policy analyst at the conservative Washington, DC-based Heritage Foundation.

Two weeks before Dominica changed sides, Taiwan gave it US$9 million. China promised Dominica US$112 million over the next six years.

"China is not only increasing its influence in the Caribbean, the region is opening up to China, realizing that Taiwan's money diplomacy is not working anymore," Guyana's Foreign Minister Clement Rohee said.

The Bahamas was one of the first in the region to abandon Taiwan, in 1997. The move came as Hutchisom Whampoa, a Beijing-allied Hong Kong company, opened a US$114 million container port in Freeport and bought three hotel resorts in Nassau. Since then, China has earmarked more than US$1 billion for projects ranging from maritime transport to a sports complex.

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