Tags: China | Displaces | Taiwan | Caribbean

China Displaces Taiwan in Caribbean

Friday, 11 January 2002 12:00 AM

According to a Jan. 5 Taiwanese Central News Agency report, the industrial zone, founded in 1995 to solidify the diplomatic ties between the two countries, has turned into a white elephant and Taiwan has asked its embassy in Panama to explore handing the zone over to the Panama government.

Dan Fisk, deputy director for foreign policy research at the Heritage Foundation, a longtime Caribbean watcher, predicted a year ago: "Taiwan has diplomatic relations with only some two-dozen countries, most of them in Central America and the Caribbean ….

"[China’s] aim is to displace Taiwan in the region, and this comes at a time of [China’s] aggressive reach across the Pacific and into the Caribbean, marked by massive investment and development less than 100 miles off the coast of Florida.”

That "massive Chinese investment and development” is synonymous with one Chinese industrial giant: Hutchison Whampoa Ltd.

The Panama government granted concessions to Hutchison for port operations at both ends of the canal in the controversial 50-year China-Panama Canal Treaty of 1999.

Hutchison quickly followed up on this strategic victory by launching an aggressive salient into Freeport, Bahamas, creating the largest shipping terminal in the world. One of Hutchison Whampoa’s most important hubs is on Grand Bahama Island, just 55 miles from Palm Beach, Fla.

The Bahamas was one of the countries that had diplomatic relations with Taiwan but switched to Beijing in 1997. A number of China watchers suggested at the time that the massive Hutchison investments in Grand Bahama Island was a payoff for that diplomatic action.

An October 1999 intelligence assessment by the U.S. Southern Command Joint Intelligence Center was a prescient as Fisk in predicting that an on-the-move Hutchison Whampoa deserved close scrutiny.

"For example,” the assessment said, "Hutchison Whampoa could threaten to shift some business from Panama to its Free Trade Zone in the Bahamas, thus giving the company additional leverage over the Panamanian government" to drop its diplomatic recognition of Taiwan.

However, in the current development, Taiwan is apparently being turned out of the key Panamanian industrial zone by the sheer weight of Hutchison’s economic dominance in the region.

In the meantime, Taiwan has been scrambling to get even more footholds in the ROC-friendly Caribbean. In September, Taiwanese Premier Chang Chun-hsiung visited Dominica, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Vincent and Grenada.

The charge d’affairs at the Taiwanese Embassy in Dominica said the history-making high-level visit was aimed "at strengthening relations.” The two nations established formal diplomatic ties in 1983. Taiwan is Dominica’s biggest single aid donor.

The island leaders are seeking technical and financial aid from Taiwan, which has invaded the region, taking advantage of falling U.S. support.

American aid to the Caribbean region has dropped from $225 million 10 years ago to $120 million today. About 60 percent of this sum is tagged for Haiti alone, with 13 other states vying for the rest.

John Meredith, the group managing director for Hutchison Port Holdings, told NewsMax.com in an exclusive interview in 2000 that comments made about Hutchison have often been erroneous and "outrageous.” He said the company's involvement at the port in the Bahamas was simply a trans-shipment service.

"We have no pilots. We have no tugs. We have no boats. We have no ships. We have no containers. All we have is cranes,” he said. Meredith angrily denied any connection between the company and the Chinese government.

"We’re a public company in Hong Kong. We’re not an arm of anybody,” said Meredith. He pointed out that less than 1 percent of all Hutchison investors are Chinese.

But the Southern Command assessment did not see the Hutchison infiltration as benign and exclusively commercial: "Hutchison’s containerized shipping facilities in the Panama Canal, as well as the Bahamas, could provide a conduit for illegal shipments of technology or prohibited items from the West to the PRC, or facilitate the movement of arms and other prohibited items into the Americas.”

As events develop, Caribbean watchers will watch with interest if Hutchison moves to fill the latest potential vacuum in Panama as Taiwan concedes another economic battle lost in the Davis Fort Industrial Zone.

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According to a Jan. 5 Taiwanese Central News Agency report, the industrial zone, founded in 1995 to solidify the diplomatic ties between the two countries, has turned into a white elephant and Taiwan has asked its embassy in Panama to explore handing the zone over to the...
China,Displaces,Taiwan,Caribbean
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2002-00-11
Friday, 11 January 2002 12:00 AM
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