As China celebrates its National Day, it is dealing with complicated challenges on multiple fronts. Much has been written by experts who have spent lifetimes studying China and its relations with the rest of the world so that anything that comes out of our little corner of the world is very much a subject of our own limited perspectives. The defining background, of course, is China’s development into a great economic and military power in the past thirty years. For Guyana, our relations with China began in 1972 when diplomatic relations were established. Even though courageous at the time, Guyana followed the United States and did not anticipate US hostility to its move. The PPP had relations with the Chinese Communist Party long before as fraternal parties, This was disrupted during the period of the dispute between the Soviet Union and China, but resumed later.
President Obama’s ‘pivot to Asia’ was seen as a thinly disguised attempt to ‘contain’ the growing military power of China, which the US presumably felt would later be a threat to its allies in the region, including Japan and South Korea. While controversy has existed for a long time about China’s claims to ownership of islands claimed by other countries, including Japan, in the South China seas, the heightening of tensions by increasing US military activities, is an integral part of the efforts of the West to ‘contain’ China. The latter’s interest in retaining influence or control over the South China seas is to protect its trade routes and its security.
So important has China become to the world economy that the reduced growth over the past few years that is currently being experienced, perhaps on a permanent basis as China’s economy is being readjusted, has had a negative impact on the world economic growth. Demand for raw materials, including petroleum products, have declined. Imports from industrialised countries have also reduced. Investment opportunities and growth of foreign owned businesses have been negatively affected.
China has been a responsible partner with other countries in relation to matters of international concern. It joined with other countries in imposing sanctions on its ally, North Korea, for its nuclear activity. It also similarly co-operated in relation to the nuclear issues surrounding Iran, which have now been resolved. China, therefore, plays a constructive role in international affairs. That constructive role can also be played in Asia if China is not made to feel that other countries are acting in such a way as to interfere with its vital interests and to ‘contain’ its development.
For developing countries, China has been good. Aid has been granted without suffocating strings. Investments have flowed and many developing countries have benefited enormously. Of course, there have been many criticisms of China’s aid and investment in developing countries by developed countries. There has been talk about exploitation of natural resources and the toleration of undemocratic practices. Such talk is of course ‘doublespeak.’ Countries which criticize cannot match China’s assistance which is sorely needed in developing countries. And developed countries have no basis to talk about exploitation or protecting undemocratic regimes around the world.
China has been good for Guyana. Aid and investment have flowed liberally and Guyana has benefited greatly. Unfortunately the present government, when in opposition, took a negative position on the activities of Chinese companies in Guyana and it has bought some of that sentiment in its policies. Of course, some Chinese companies have not adhered to investment agreements and this has resulted in the impression that all Chinese investment is questionable. The reputation of the Chinese has also suffered as a result of the Skeldon Sugar Factory, which they constructed, not living up to its expectations. Little has been said about possible design flaws of Skeldon, for which the Chinese were not responsible, which it is alleged may have been an important factor in its failure to produce. Little is said about the Marriott Hotel, which was built by the Chinese. The government’s hostility to this project may well have been responsible for their reticence in commenting on its quality.
Guyana has much to gain by consolidating and strengthening relations with China at this time when the economy is in serious difficulties with declining production and declining economic growth, except in mining. It is about time that the Guyana Government re-evaluates its attitude to Chinese investment. Chinese businesspeople are the same as any others anywhere in the world. Unless they are held to their contract and their activities are monitored, both for their benefit and for Guyana’s, the tendency would be that chances are taken. Given a free reign, as has happened with the past government, will result in constraints being challenged. China’s National Day is an appropriate occasion for the Government to make a determined effort to encourage Chinese investment in this ‘guava’ season.