I cannot decipher the intent or objective of the interview of Guyana Vice President Jagdeo by a female reporter of Vice media last February 1. From what is released, the focus is on China – with an assertion that the government favors investment from Chinese (state and or private) companies. Several issues were raised focusing on relations with a globally assertive China. The VP wisely stated that Guyana is not interested in getting caught up in the US-Chana cold war type battle for world domination. I endorse that position. It is unwise to side with China in a rivalry with America. Jagdeo understands international relations and geopolitics and will not put Guyana through any global conflict. I will like to examine the implication of Guyana’s very close relations with China.
Growing Chinese influence in Guyana, Latin America, and the Caribbean has not gone unnoticed by the US. Once a peripheral presence in Guyana and the greater Latin/Caribbean region, China has a dominant presence in several countries and probably dominate construction projects in Guyana as well as in so many other countries. This would have been of serious concern to the USA that is watching on with eagle eyes as Chinese companies bid for projects and offer large amounts of loans and as China snubs its fingers at America. This is one of the reasons why Secretary Mike Pompeo made a special visit to Guyana, Surinam, and Brazil in September 2020. The rivalry between the world’s two largest economies will only continue to escalate in the region, and Guyana has to be tactical and strategic in its foreign policy. Our government must remain vigilant and carefully navigate US-China tensions on trade and investment and foreign borrowing and alignment with a power that serves political survival, national development goals, and long term strategic interests.
As someone with a doctorate in International Politics and who studied US foreign policy, it is not wise for Guyana to irritate its giant partner on the North. Early Guyanese politicians didn’t understand the consequences of being perceived as anti-American and paid a price. Jagdeo is smarter. Since independence in 1966, we have been tied at the navel with USA. The Guyanese diaspora in America has grown from a few hundred in the early 1960s to larger than the population in Guyana and hundreds of thousands more reside in Canada and the Caribbean basin region that allies with the USA. Almost every Guyanese desires a visa or wants to immigrate to USA. Only a handful of Guyanese reside in or visit China whose border is not open to Guyanese. And the diaspora in the US and other countries have a preference for closer ties with USA, a bastion of democracy.
Guyana ran into very serious trouble as a result of its favored relations with the Soviet Union between 1953 and 1992, and we are yet to recover from that cold war era issues. This time, there is a new cold war type rivalry between the US and China. Guyana, the ruling party, would be wise, not to get caught up in that conflict or else it would be to our detriment. The party is reminded of what happened in 1953, 1964, 1992, 2015, and 2020. The US determined government formation. And Guyanese political leaders routinely visited USA going back last forty years to seek support from Washington and the large diaspora.
I encourage the government to seek greater investment from North America, Europe, and India and other like-minded democratic countries. The reality is most investors coming to Guyana are mostly Chinese with few takers from among the others. Investors from others must be encouraged.
As Jagdeo said, and is the case with countries in Latin America and the Caribbean with a few exceptions, Guyana does not desire to choose between the U.S and China when it comes to trade and investment. As he stated in press conferences, Guyana welcomes American and Canadian investors. The VP knows that Guyana’s geo-strategic interests are tied with USA. And thus, where practical, preference must be given to neighbors from the north as opposed to those in the Far East. Guyanese remember all too well it was the US, Canada, and European countries that ensured democracy prevailed in the 2020 elections.
Economically and politically, it behooves Guyana to work with the US and democratic countries in areas of shared interests through a practical and proactive strategy. It is best that we never get smack into USA vs China trade or foreign relations squabble. Litttle Guyana will get trampled by giants fight wars. Guyana’s economy is susceptible to trade and geo-strategic wars between other countries. By heeding the lessons of the last seventy years, the current government can better position itself to succeed over the next three years of its term and beyond. Tensions between the US and China will remain in the foreseeable future. Guyana will not be able to completely insulate itself from that rivalry. But the more we do business with America, the more our democracy will be protected.