To the casual observer, Barbados appears to be the latest country to fall prey to increasing Chinese influence. Two years after signing up for China’s Belt and Road Initiative in 2019, the Commonwealth nation declared itself a republic, replacing Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state. Connecting these dots, the prestigious Sunday Times of London ran an article titled, “How Barbados went from Little England to Little China.”
The piece noted that Barbados was flush with cash from China and implied that dropping the queen as head of state was the condition Beijing had set for further financing. A pharmaceutical salesman in Bridgetown, the capital, was quoted as saying he feared the country would soon “fall into a debt trap.” In reality, Barbados’ problems with debt have nothing to do with China, nor does its decision to become a republic.
In some ways, the paranoia is understandable. Chinese lending to developing and emerging economies is notoriously nontransparent regarding terms and obligations, generating many conspiracy theories regarding Beijing’s motivations and objectives. Because Chinese programs are also evolving to avoid many of their earlier shortcomings, there is often a lag of perception behind reality.