Antigua and Barbuda PM's visit injects impetus into China-LAC cooperation
Caribbean country highlights Global South's call for development
Published: Jan 22, 2024 08:59 PM Updated: Jan 22, 2024 09:44 PM
National flags of China and Antigua and Barbuda Photo:VCG

National flags of China and Antigua and Barbuda Photo:VCG

Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne arrived in Beijing on Monday for his weeklong China visit, marking the first by a leader from Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) region in 2024.

The Caribbean country, a long-time China partner which faces great challenge of post-pandemic recovery, hopes to ride the tide of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to leverage its economy and become a gateway of China cooperation in the Caribbean region, analysts said on Monday. 

They believe Browne's visit, against the backdrop of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi's recent visit to LAC region following the routine New Year African tour by a Chinese foreign minister, highlighted the trend of enhanced China-LAC exchanges, which lead not only to deepening mutual trust but also to extensive development opportunities.

Role as example 

Upon his arrival, Browne told the media that he expected his China trip to further elevate bilateral relations - one of the closest relationships between a large and a small country. He also hailed China's role as an example to advocate peaceful coexistence and global prosperity. 

During Browne's visit, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Qiang and Chairman of the National People's Congress Standing Committee Zhao Leji will meet with him. Browne will also visit Zhejiang Province and Shanghai, both in East China. 

Over recent years, China and Antigua and Barbuda have achieved steady progress in the bilateral relations and set an example of countries of different sizes respecting each other, carrying out equal-footed and mutually beneficial cooperation and achieving common development, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at Friday's routine press briefing. 

The just-concluded year of 2023 marked the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries. China believes that this visit will further promote political mutual trust, deepen practical cooperation in various areas, consolidate the traditional friendship, and bring bilateral relations to a new level, Mao said. 

Establishing diplomatic ties with China within two years after its 1981 independence from the UK, Antigua and Barbuda has always been a firm supporter of China's core interests, including the Taiwan question. Soon after the Taiwan regional elections on January 13, Antigua and Barbuda reaffirmed on January 14 its long-standing support for and commitment to the one-China policy, which is a universal consensus of the international community.

"The outcome of the elections held in the Province of Taiwan should not alter the dynamic process and future direction of cross-Straits relations," read a statement issued by the country's Prime Minister's office. 

With deep mutual trust and long-time mutual support, China and Antigua and Barbuda push forward practical bilateral cooperation in various fields on a solid political foundation, analysts said. 

China has contributed two health clinics that serve a significant fraction of the local population. China also built classrooms and administrative blocs that now form the core of the University at Five Islands, the Caribbean News Global reported Monday. 

China's funding facilitated the completion of the rehabilitation of St John's Cargo Seaport and the modernization of the VC Bird International Airport terminal. 

Antigua and Barbuda has the ambition to be the pioneer in the Caribbean region in bridging with China's investment and serves as a gateway of China-Caribbean cooperation, Pan Deng, director of the Latin American and Caribbean Region Law Center of China University of Political Science and Law, told the Global Times on Monday. 

Among the 12 countries which maintain the so-called diplomatic ties with the island of Taiwan, four are in the Caribbean region and three in Central and South America. 

Pan believes China-Antigua and Barbuda relationship, with their sound development, could set an example for other countries in the LAC region.  

New opportunities 

During Browne's visit, the two sides are expected to sign agreements including on BRI cooperation, climate change response, water rehabilitation and mutual visa exemption, according to the country's Prime Minister's office.

Caribbean economies are small in size and rely largely on a few sectors, meaning less economic resilience.

Antigua and Barbuda, with its pillar sector tourism suffering heavy blows in the past few years, faces great pressure of post-pandemic recovery and seeks to diversify its economic structure with China's assistance, Pan said. 

Noticing Browne's destinations include Zhejiang and Shanghai, Wang Youming, director of the Institute of Developing Countries at the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing, told the Global Times on Monday that more and more leaders of developing countries chose to visit, in addition to Beijing, China's economic and technology hubs to enrich the channels of mutual exchanges and learn from China's development experience. 

According to Caribbean News Global, Antigua and Barbuda will sign with Hangzhou-headquartered Alibaba an agreement for the provision of equipment for early cancer screening and digital health and to provide doctors with AI-powered tools.

Antigua and Barbuda's effort to upgrade from a vacation destination to a country with smart wellness industry epitomizes the country's ambition to upgrade and diversify its economic structure, Pan said. 

Antigua and Barbuda's post-pandemic development challenge is one shared by the Caribbean region, and even the entire LAC region. 

The LAC countries want to ride the tide of the BRI and welcome China's investment on key projects, eye the Chinese market for their agricultural products and seafood and hope to, through cooperation with China, catch the trend of green and digital economy, Wang Youming said. 

Their quests for growth again prove that "development" is the joint call of the Global South, rather than geopolitical games or bloc confrontation which the West is enthusiastic about. That explains why the China-proposed Global Development Initiative and other governance visions are embraced globally, analysts said.