China set to move into United States’ backyard with national development plan for Grenada
Tiny Caribbean nation considering Beijing blueprint produced 34 years after being invaded by US troops
China is helping the government of Grenada prepare a national development plan 34 years after the Caribbean island nation was invaded by US-led forces due to concerns in Washington that its government was too close to the Soviet and Cuban communist regimes.
The country is best known for its spices and beaches, but if the Grenadian government accepts the multibillion US dollar plan it would become the first in the world to opt for the wholesale adoption of a Chinese development blueprint – increasing Beijing’s influence in the region.
The Chinese foreign ministry told the South China Morning Post this month that “China Development Bank, at the request of the Grenadian government, is helping them draft a national development strategy”.
It said the Grenadian government “assumed the primary responsibility for the development of their own country” and that China was “willing to provide necessary assistance to their economic and social development upon request”.
Wang Yingjie, a lead researcher involved in the drafting of the Grenada national development strategic plan, told the Post this month the plan had been finished recently and “should be in the hands of the Grenadian government already”. The Grenadian government announced its national strategic plan 2030 in November 2014.
Beijing’s blueprint envisions the construction of massive infrastructure projects in the small tropical nation, which has a population of about 100,000. They include the construction of a highway connecting the major towns on its main island, which is about four times the size of Hong Kong Island, and a railway line encircling it. The plan also calls for the building of deepwater ports that could accommodate a large number of cruise and cargo ships, a large wind farm to replace diesel-fuelled generators and a modernised airport with more, longer runways. It also sees a future for Grenada as an offshore tax haven for foreign companies or individuals.
The website of the economic and commercial counsellor’s office at the Chinese embassy in Grenada says Chinese experts involved in the project visited Grenada in August last year and met government officials in charge of diplomatic relations, economic development, tourism, agriculture, industry and education.
Chinese companies have already been involved in many infrastructure projects on the islands, including the construction of the national sports stadium and government-subsided housing and work to repair the damage caused by hurricanes.
Wang, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources in Beijing, said the blueprint was based on Grenada’s current level of economic development, and most of its goals were attainable in about a decade.
But some parts of the plan were confidential. “The details cannot be discussed in public without clearance by the governments,” he said.
The Grenadian foreign ministry and the Grenadian embassy in Beijing did not reply to queries from the Post.
A Grenadian hotel manager said there were not many Chinese tourists on the islands, with most guests coming from Europe, the United States or Canada. But Grenadians generally had a positive impression about China because many of the country’s infrastructure projects involved Chinese investment.
“We need development,” he said. “For development we need investment. It can come from China or any country.”
He said local people just wanted any bilateral deal to be transparent and fair, and most had no idea China was drafting a national development plan for Grenada.
“We can’t accept an agreement unless it is made on the basis of mutual respect to achieve mutual benefits,” he said.
The US-led invasion was still a vivid and painful memory for older Grenadians, he added, “but life has to continue.”
“We treat America as well as we treat other countries,” he said.
Documents from the Chinese team working on the development blueprint that have been shared at domestic academic conferences show Grenada’s main island divided into seven different zones.
An economic centre would be built around its capital, St George’s, with a central business district, industrial zone and cargo transport hub.
The central mountainous area would be left alone as a national park with limited human activities, mostly for ecological tourism and education.
The five other districts would be dedicated, respectively, to renewable energy, agriculture and fruit processing, fishing, general tourism and medical tourism.
The Chinese team warned in one document that the development envisioned by blueprint would not be achieved unless the Grenadian government took strong, effective measures to ensure and protect the interests of foreign investors.
China has been an active participant in infrastructure projects in other Caribbean countries.
Earlier this year, state-controlled China Communications Construction signed a US$1 billion contract with the government of Panama to build a deepwater port, while China Harbour Engineering and the Jamaican authorities struck a deal last year to build a US$1.5 billion mega port.
Guyana, Barbados and the Bahamas have also received aid or direct investments from China in recent years.
Dr Tan Daoming, an assistant researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of Latin American Studies in Beijing, said Grenada had played a sensitive role in regional politics.
“Grenada is one of the worst victims of US military intervention in recent decades,” he said. “It spurred the rise of left-wing parties and anti-American sentiments which swept across almost all Latin America.”
In 1983, the Reagan White House viewed the construction of a new airport on the southern tip of Grenada’s main island, more than 2,500km southeast of Miami, as a threat to US national security.
The project had been proposed by Britain, Grenada’s former colonial ruler, and designed by Canada, but it was being built with the help of Cuban construction workers.
The US government worried the 3km runway would be long enough for large Soviet cargo aircraft to land with strategic payloads, which would help expand the Soviet Union’s influence in the region.
Six days after the execution of Grenada’s leftist prime minister Maurice Bishop in a military coup, US president Ronald Reagan launched Operation Urgent Fury on October 25, 1983, saying he wanted to protect American students and citizens on the island.
More than 7,000 troops invaded Grenada in the US-led operation, which also involved troops from other Caribbean nations. They overwhelmed defending Grenadian and Cuban forces in just a few days.
More than 100 countries, including many long-term US allies such as Britain and Canada, “deeply deplores the armed intervention” in a resolution passed at the UN general assembly in November that year.
Wang said it was a textbook example of American chauvinism and “one of the most important reasons behind the dramatic change in the political landscape of Latin America since the 1990s”.
China had now come along with money and a promise not to interfere in domestic politics and was offering to share the lessons of its recent rapid economic development with Latin American countries, Wang said.
A China-drafted development plan for Grenada would give Chinese companies better access to future investment and infrastructure projects, he added.
But Jared Ward, a historian at the University of Akron who has studied China’s Caribbean relations during the cold war, warned that China’s increased presence in Caribbean affairs could be a subtle jab at US dominance of the Western Hemisphere at a time when Washington was pushing Beijing in the South China Sea.
“At a time when Washington is accusing China of bullying smaller countries in the South China Sea, Beijing has repeatedly held the Caribbean up as an example of America’s history of big-power chauvinism,” Ward wrote in an article published on the website of the Jamestown Foundation in July.
“However, China has also been the target of criticisms common to its efforts elsewhere in the developing world. Local companies are often shut out of projects; all contracts are awarded to Chinese companies through a secretive bidding process. Furthermore, Chinese job creation promises often fall short and rely primarily on Chinese nationals.”