As is to be expected, a complete reorientation of US-Guyana relations took place with the visit of Secretary of State Pompeo in September last year. With the emerging importance of Guyana as a petroleum producing state, it was natural that the US would want to place greater emphasis of its relations with Guyana. The critical role of the US Government in promoting free and fair elections resulting in a change in government provided the opportunity for the unusual high level visit of Secretary of State Pompeo. It could be that the Secretary’s visit reflected deep US concern at the Venezuelan Decree that Guyana’s maritime space, including the area covering the Stabroek Block, was under its military jurisdiction., thereby posing a significant threat to US economic interests.
But there were other factors. There were substantial opportunities for US investments in Guyana and with China knocking on the door, the US did not want to lose out. At the same time, in the US campaign against China around the world, Secretary Pompeo was publicly critical of China. The Shiprider Agreement and an agreement relating to investments were signed. A high-powered US investment team visited Guyana. No one knows the genesis of Guyana’s decision to allow a Taiwan trade and investment office to be opened in Guyana. But with the announcement by the US Embassy in Guyana, and not the Government of Guyana, there is a suspicion that the idea may have emerged in September 2020.
The Chinese Government and people take great pride in the fact that Guyana was the first Caribbean country that opened diplomatic relations with it, on June 27, 1972, at the time when it was just emerging from diplomatic isolation. President Nixon had visited China in February 1972. At that time relations between China and the Soviet Union had deteriorated sharply and observers saw the US opening to China, albeit initiated by China when it invited a US table tennis team to visit in 1971, as a diplomatic maneouvre directed against the interests of the Soviet Union, which China was happy to go along with.
The Shanghai Communique, signed during the visit of President Nixon in 1972, paved the way for the opening of diplomatic relations. This occurred in 1979 after negotiations which resulted in the official adoption by the US of the One China policy which was then and now, the cornerstone of Chinese foreign policy. Even though the US Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act which allowed economic and cultural relations and the supply of defensive arms, China’s resistance otherwise to the encroachment of Taiwan into countries with which it has diplomatic relations has been relentless.
US relations with China has traversed the spectrum. As China’s economy grew, providing many opportunities for US investors, relations were good. The US placed the issue of human rights, selectively applied in its relations with other countries, on the back burner and encouraged and assisted China. But as the economy and military grew and China’s influence in other countries expanded, the US became wary. China was accused of currency manipulation, violating intellectual property rights, maintaining restrictive trade policies, unlawful territorial expansion and exploiting developing countries. Then came President Obama’s pivot to Asia which had as important elements the military and economic ‘containment’ of China.
As China’s growth defied expectations, President Trump set in motion a trade war thereby making hostile competition official US policy. President Biden intends to maintain Trump’s orientation towards China and has intensified the human rights campaign by accusing China of genocide in relation to China’s campaign against alleged Islamic extremism in Xinjiang Province. As long as China’s economic and military might advance, relations with the US will become increasingly troubled.
Guyana does not want to be in the middle of this developing cold war between one superpower and an emerging one. We now have excellent relations with both countries and should seek to maintain those relations. In the past Guyana had some ideological affinity with China which undergirded its earlier relations. While the PPP took the side of the Soviet Union in the ideological differences with China, which affected relations, these were resumed long before President Nixon visited in 1972. That history no longer has any resonance in the PPP but China is not going to relent in its opposition to any relations with Taiwan.
It is difficult to imagine what Taiwan can offer Guyana at the present time. Guyana needs infrastructure development. While it cannot be denied that Taiwan has a large economic capacity, China is the leading provider of infrastructure development the world over and a large aid donor to Guyana and the developing world, which will certainly dry up, including the promised 20,000 vaccines. When Secretary Pompeo was in Guyana he said that the US could provide whatever China can. Competition between US and Chinese companies will benefit Guyana.
The Government terminated the agreement with Taiwan on the ground of ‘misstatements.’ It is not quite clear if this refers to the premature disclosure by the US. If so it means that Guyana is not in principle opposed to a Taiwan office in Guyana. Can we therefore expect that this issue will emerge in the future once again to cause contentious relations with a tried and tested friend?