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232 10 Central America and the Caribbean’s Relations with China and the United States Contrasting Experiences! Converging Prospects? Richard L. Bernal The Issue The United States has been and continues to be the dominant and unchallenged global power in Central America and the Caribbean. American suzerainty has not been seriously challenged although there was U.S. concern over Soviet encroachment during the Cold War as manifested in the Cuban Missile Crisis and later on with the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua leading to U.S. support for the Contras. There was the perception of Cuban influence with the Bishop regime in Grenada eventually leading to a U.S. invasion of the island in 1983. The U.S. has at times not been comfortable with left-leaning governments such as Manley’s in Jamaica in the late 1970s and the self-style “cooperative socialism” of Burnham in Guyana. China’s economic, diplomatic, and psychological presence in the Caribbean and to a lesser extent in Costa Rica has increased during the last decade. This new development, termed “Dragon in the Caribbean,”1 is concomitant with the economic rise of China and its growing involvement in international affairs. This has prompted a discussion about whether China’s growing presence in the Caribbean is a trend about which the U.S. should be concerned and whether it portends a challenge by China given the way that it is jousting with the U.S. over influence in the Pacific Ocean and Asia. How this question is answered in Washington will determine U.S. reaction and how that response will be reflected in U.S. foreign policy. There are those who see China as a global competitor with the U.S. and see the Latin America as just another arena of rivalry. The media is prone to stories of China’s displacement of the U.S. Central America and the Caribbean | 233 as the largest trading partner of Latin America.2 More nuanced observers such as Farnsworth have suggested that the U.S. is being complacent about China’s economic activities in the hemisphere3 and Ellis argues that there are security -related implications beyond the economic realm.4 Paz has characterized China as a “hegemonic challenge”5 to the U.S in Latin America but the U.S. does not see China as a threat in Latin America. Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, at the Sixth China-U.S. Sub-Dialogue on Latin America in 2013 stated clearly: “We do not in any way see China as a threat. What we do see is the potential for greater partnership.”6 China in Central America and the Caribbean Relations between Central America and the Caribbean and the United States and between these counties and China are a story of contrasts. Given the countries’ small size and limited strategic importance to the U.S. and China the triangular conception for analysis of the interrelationships is not as useful as is when it is applied to Mexico or Brazil,7 which are much more important to both the U.S. and China. The direction of influence runs from the U.S. and China to Central America and the Caribbean, whereas what happens in the region, including shifting diplomatic allegiances, is not likely to have much impact on either the U.S. or China and is unlikely to affect the bilateral relationship between Washington and Beijing. What occurs between the U.S. and China elsewhere in the world could, however, have serious repercussions in Central America and the Caribbean. First, these relations differ significantly and in a variety of ways from those between the U.S. and South America and China and South America, and hence must be treated separately. This regional specificity is often subsumed or overlooked in the literature on Latin America.8 The former weakness is particularly the case for the literature on Latin America and China and the latter condition is characteristic of much of the literature on U.S.–Latin America relations. Both failures of omission are to be found even in the publications of institutions whose mandates encompass Latin America (inclusive of Central America) and the Caribbean. As egregious is that the general conclusions based on the China–South America experience are misleadingly applied to Central 234 | Richard L. Bernal America and the Caribbean. For example, exports of agricultural products from South America to China have grown dramatically in recent years, but exports of agricultural commodities are not significant...


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