China is continuing its bold economic and geopolitical march through the Caribbean and Latin America, using its growing economic might to dole out grant aid and soft loans to win friends and influence governments, continuing its plans to displace the United States as the region’s major trading partner in the not-too-distant future.

For two days this week, a large Chinese delegation led by Vice-Premier Wang Qishan spent hours in talks with Caribbean leaders and business delegations. By the time the forum ended in Trinidad’s capital of Port of Spain, Beijing had unveiled measures worth $6.3 billion aimed at sealing better relations with the 15-nation Caribbean trade bloc.

Among the measures Wang announced were the aforementioned concession loans to support regional economic development, a million-dollar donation to the Caribbean Development Fund, support for building a seismic tsunami warning center, increased training of doctors and nurses and a plan to woo Chinese tourists to the Caribbean.

This week’s activities centered around the third China-Caribbean forum and attracted more presidents and prime ministers than any of the previous forums, as well as cabinet ministers and business delegations from nearly every country.

For its part, China brought 13 ministers and 80 high-level officials, some of whom sauntered off with various countries to sign bilateral agreements.

“China cannot develop itself in isolation of the world, and the world needs China for its development. The comprehensive economic and social development in China will not only benefit the Chinese people but also bring opportunities to the Caribbean and the larger world,” the vice-premier said.

In recent years, China has signed aid and trade packages with nearly every country with which it has diplomatic relations, barring those like Belize, Haiti and St. Kitts that still support and conduct business with Taiwan.

It has also been strategically setting up geographic bases, with Jamaica emerging as the location of choice for trading and other excursions in the northern Caribbean, and Guyana and Suriname fighting for the spot in the southeast.

Meanwhile, one Caribbean head of state says Chinese exports are growing so fast that it is accounting for the majority of regional international trade.

Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana told the forum, “In the last 10 years, China’s exports have consistently accounted for more than 70 percent of total trade. In 2008, 93 percent of Caribbean-Chinese trade consisted of China’s exports to the region. The region itself exported significantly-over $60 million in goods-to China in that year.”

Jagdeo said China wants Trinidadian gas and asphalt and timber and bauxite from Guyana and Jamaica, and that the Chinese are setting up bases in the Bahamas to assemble goods for export to the United States because of its proximity to the country.

“The opportunity we must seize now is one that goes considerably beyond merely forging business relationships and concluding business agreements and transactions for today,” Jagdeo noted. He suggested, “The opportunity before us is also to forge a model for long-term, mutually beneficial engagement between a large, global economic giant on the one hand and some of the world’s smallest and most vulnerable states on the other hand, based on a close alignment of shared interests and built on reciprocal respect and warm friendship.”