China has unveiled a disaster relief fund for Caribbean countries as it tries to extend its political and economic reach into the strategically important region. The fund was announced during a virtual summit on Friday between Chinese Foreign minister Wang Yi and his counterparts from nine Caribbean countries – Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago as well as Barbados. “China will continue to provide economic and technical aid to Caribbean countries without any political strings attached,” the Chinese foreign ministry quoted Wang as saying, without giving details of the fund. Wang said Beijing would donate pandemic prevention and medical materials to the Caribbean states and the secretariat headquarters of the Caribbean Community, an intergovernmental organisation of 15 member states throughout the region. China will also continue to promote livelihood-related projects and practical technologies. The Chinese foreign minister called on all parties to strengthen solidarity and deepen cooperation amid a period of social, economic and security turbulence. “The future and destiny of all countries are linked together as never before,” he said. “The two sides should firmly grasp the historic opportunities, further unleash the potential of cooperation and build a higher level of partnership.” The ministry said the Caribbean foreign ministers responded by describing China as “a trusted and important development partner” and hailing support for “Chinese reunification”, an official term often used to emphasise integration of mainland China and Taiwan. Chinese embassy reopens after Nicaragua cuts Taiwan ties Beijing is seeking to extend its influence in the western hemisphere through infrastructure investment, Covid-19 aid and military assistance. Located between the southeastern United States and South America, the Caribbean sits close to several major shipping routes, with the Panama Canal connecting the western Caribbean Sea with the Pacific Ocean. It is an important voting bloc in the Organisation of American States and other regional bodies, which “increases its strategic value to China, which has sought to influence multilateral diplomacy in the region”, R. Evan Ellis, research professor of Latin American studies at the US Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, wrote in a 2020 report. It is also a key diplomatic battlefield between Beijing and Taipei, with four of Taipei’s 14 remaining diplomatic allies in the region. Nicaragua, El Salvador and Panama recently broke off diplomatic relations with the self-rule democratic island that China claims as its own. Taiwan’s foreign ministry has accused Beijing of using its coercive diplomacy to isolate Taiwan. According to the Inter-American Dialogue, a research organisation based in Washington, by 2021, China has provided as much as US$4.156 billion in low-interest loans to the nine Caribbean countries. That included US$2.1 billion loans to Jamaica to build new roads, bridges, a convention centre and a children’s hospital. Taiwan blasts Nicaragua for giving its assets to Beijing after cutting ties China’s increasing economic presence in the Caribbean has raised alarm in the United States, which now sees China as a biggest rival. In a Senate hearing focused on Latin America and the Caribbean last month, lawmakers and government officials in Washington warned that the US was increasingly outmatched, outfinanced and outmanoeuvred by China for influence in the Western Hemisphere. There had been 44 heads of state meetings between China and the region since 2015, while total Chinese trade with Latin America increased to US$318 billion in 2020 from US$18 billion in 2002, US lawmakers were told at the hearing on March 31. Over the past two decades Beijing has invested more than US$160 billion regionally and 25 out of the 31 of the nations are hosting Chinese-backed infrastructure projects. To counter China’s influence, the US House of Representatives passed the America Competes Act of 2022, which includes US$67.5 million for the State Department for military training in Latin America and the Caribbean, and US$500 million for US propaganda against China.