With more Guyanese living in USA than in Guyana and hardly any Guyanese residing in China, Guyana should seek to re-balance its (economic and other) relations with China and with USA and avoid entanglement with any anti-American powers especially that superpowers are at loggerheads in a relationship reminiscent of the cold war or US-Soviet rivalry.
Guyana has been vulnerable to cold war rivalry. One has not forgotten the impact of the US-Soviet duel on Guyana going back to the early 1950s. Guyana’s ongoing prosperity is linked with the US and the West. And almost every Guyanese I engaged in Guyana and in the diaspora and in surveys I conducted have wanted closer links with the USA, a democracy, where human rights are respected and where thousands of Guyanese visitors over the last couple decades engaged in short term employment off the books as their primary means of income; the latter is vital for economic survival of thousands of families in Guyana where local income cannot sustain livelihoods. Many Guyanese visit the US for short term employment working off the books to support their families.
Going back to Burnham and Jagan, Guyana has been favourably disposed towards Beijing rather than Washington except briefly (in the 1960s) under Burnham who needed the US to install him in power before turning ‘leftward’. While China was transitioning into a capitalist economy (from the 1980s) and producing ‘cheap’ goods for America and the West, Washington did not voice its concern against China’s rising status that emerged from rapid economic growth of almost double figures over a period of three decades. With its rapid economic rise and huge dollar surplus annually, China began spreading its presence in the global waters and on land. It also loaned over US$1 trillion to the USA, maintain trade surplus of hundreds of billions annually for over two decades. No corner of the globe was spared of China’s reach including the Caribbean and Latin America. China quietly acquired significant influence in Guyana (as is also the case in Suriname and several Latin countries) in the new millennium over the economy in particular, and this has been troubling. It has become a most sensitive issue for Washington.
China and USA are in a strategic global contestation across oceans and seas over the last decade. The U.S is concerned about Chinese aggressiveness in South Asia and the Pacific. Guyana should take note of the communique from the recent NATO summit last week in Vilnius, capital of Lithuania, the former republic of the Soviet Union: “The People’s Republic of China’s stated ambitions and coercive policies challenge our (read Western) interests, security and values.” Inevitably, the US is concerned about China’s presence in Guyana and the region although China itself is not a threat to Guyana.
Guyana, like all developing countries in America’s backyard, should stay far from the acrimonious struggle between the U.S and Chinese governments albeit several American cabinet members visited Beijing in recent weeks to work out differences. And our spokespersons should be very careful with their words – avoid diplomatic doublespeak. Business person should also take note of the above NATO communique and Washington’s concerns. Guyana must avoid diplomatic engagements, economic and political treaties, investments, and trade relations that raise geo-political (geo-strategic) concerns in Washington.
Guyana should pursue closer relations with the US. Guyanese in USA and Guyana should lobby their respective governments to cement ties and cooperation. Guyanese Americans and others in the diaspora should invest in their country of origin so that Guyana does not have to rely on capital from countries which raise geo-strategic concerns.
The US values closer links with Guyana. It is noted that there has been a lot of USA-Guyana engagements since President Ali took office in August 2020; and it was US intervention that led to Ali’s swearing in as President. President Ali met with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken a couple weeks ago in Guyana and in Trinidad. The Secretary made a special trip to Guyana having already met with the President in Port of Spain a day earlier. In June, the President met with Vice President Kamala Harris in Bahamas. The President was welcomed to Washington last year, and the year before he met President Biden in Los Angeles. The US has been sending a clear, unambiguous message of the importance of Guyana and for it to be wary of its relations with outside competitors. Guyana should and must pursue a comprehensive strategic partnership with Washington. All Guyanese should lobby for such a policy action.
*Dr Vishnu Bisram (Political Science)