China announced earlier this month that it would give $1 billion in preferential loans to Caribbean countries to support economic development. In an email interview, R. Evan Ellis, an assistant professor at the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies of the National Defense University, discussed China-Caribbean relations.
WPR: What is the history of China's relations with the Caribbean?
R. Evan Ellis: China's relationship with the Caribbean has historically been colored by politics, and in particular the politics of diplomatic recognition. Ideological affinity between mainland China and the new regime in Cuba led Havana to diplomatically recognize the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1960, the first nation in the hemisphere to do so. While most other nations worldwide changed their diplomatic posture over the next 40 years, by 1997, half of the Caribbean continued to recognize Taiwan. This made the region a focus of China's efforts to diplomatically isolate Taiwan -- a struggle waged by both sides through a combination of aid, political pressure and courtship of leaders. Recognition of the PRC by the Bahamas and St. Lucia in 1997, Dominica in 2004 and Grenada in 2005, were each accompanied by significant Chinese aid packages, including roads, clinics and sports stadiums. (In 2007 St. Lucia switched back to recognizing Taiwan when the government changed hands.)