September 27, 2020

US trade protectionism threatens to hurt its influence in Caribbean ‘backyard’


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By Hu Weijia From

The has been unable to hinder ’s presence in the region, which to some extent has long been seen as the US’ backyard.

Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela was quoted by Reuters as saying that the country is considering building a passenger train to Costa Rica with Chinese help, a sign of China’s increasing presence in the region.

The 450-kilometer railroad is likely to promote connectivity in the Caribbean region and give a significant boost to tourism.

In an interview with the Xinhua News Agency, Varela said he is satisfied with progress in bilateral ties after the establishment of formal diplomatic relations with China in June 2017. Over the past few months, Panama has worked with China to strengthen high-level contacts and promote cooperation in trade, investment, finance and infrastructure.

Panama’s diplomatic links with China have brought lasting economic benefits to the Caribbean country, while injecting new momentum into economic integration in the region.

Varela said Panama was a “firm believer” in the China-proposed Belt and Road initiative, according to Xinhua. Fruitful bilateral cooperation can set an example for Caribbean countries’ cooperation with China.

With the rise of trade protectionism in the US, China’s closer exchanges with Caribbean countries may shift their focus from Washington to Beijing, although this will be a slow process with twists and turns.

The US extended its sphere of influence in the Caribbean during the last century, but now the administration of US President Donald Trump lacks the ability to bring benefits to the region while pursuing trade protectionism.

Last week, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross touted the benefits of US trade with Latin America and said Washington had no intention of ceding its leadership in the region. At the very least, Panama’s attitude toward China shows that Ross’ rhetoric, which seeks to describe the competition between China and the US as a zero-sum game, has not been widely accepted in Caribbean countries.

With “America First” as Trump’s guiding principle, US influence is shrinking in the international arena. If the US wants to close its door to China with a looming trade war, that’s Washington’s choice. But all of this will be in vain, if Washington wants to persuade Caribbean countries to adopt similar practices. The US will have to pay the price of its trade protectionism. If Washington tries to hinder China’s increasing presence in the Caribbean region, the US will risk losing influence in its backyard.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times. [email protected]

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IMAGE: Lincoln-Douglas

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