China continues Caribbean investment march
BERT WILKINSON Special to the AmNews | 12/21/2011, 6:57 p.m.
Last week, the Chinese government moved to further solidify its relations with the Caribbean trade bloc and the region in general by investing in a key American firm that supplies much of the natural gas needs of major eastern seaboard U.S. states.
The state-owned China Investment Corporation (CIC) has signed off on an agreement to buy 10 percent of Atlantic LNG, taking over shares once held by GDF Suez of France. The deal is said to be worth more than $5 billion.
To players in the international business community, the move could be regarded as a normal, sensible investment in a profitable venture, but to folks in the State Department and other federal agencies, it will be regarded as yet another move by Beijing to win friends and influence people in the Caribbean and cement its political and diplomatic foothold in the region.
The latest announcement comes just weeks after authorities in Guyana announced deals with China Harbor Engineering Company on major projects in the bloc headquarters, Guyana, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, Mexico and Suriname, among others. All of the deals run into the millions of dollars.
The United States has not been able to say much to China's economic and diplomatic march through Latin America and the Caribbean, nor do anything to stop the hemorrhage as some American firms are no longer as anxious to invest in this part of the world as they were in times gone by.
This year alone, the Chinese have picked up a $138 million deal to build a new airport terminal in Guyana, extend its runway and install modern jetways to accommodate the largest commercial planes currently in use. The airport will help Guyana with its long-held but flagging ambition to be the gateway to South America, as the country is just 30 minutes flying time to neighboring Brazil and 45 minutes to Trinidad, the most southerly of the Caribbean island chain.
China Harbor meanwhile, is the beneficiary of $400 million to rehabilitate Jamaica's road network over five years. It also has a $65 million agreement to fix the shoreline from Kingston airport to the city itself, an area that is eroded annually by hurricanes. Authorities say there is no need to state how important that particular coastal road is and the project is worth every penny to the national interest.
In the neighboring Bahamas, the firm has a $46 million assignment to build a major bridge over a waterway on North Abaco Island that completes its spread from South America through Mexico and the Caribbean.