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An about-turn on China

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If the developments in the Antigua Senate on which I commented last week could be considered surprising, (Government Senators voting with the Opposition to reject a government Bill), then more political surprises were in store for us in SVG, and the rest of the Caribbean, on Tuesday of this week.

The surprise was in the realm of foreign affairs, one of several in that area relating to both sides of the House of Assembly.

Before Tuesday’s grand announcement by Opposition Leader Hon Arnhim Eustace of an about-turn in his party’s China policy, {{more}}the Government itself had made news with shifts in diplomatic personnel and an “honouring” of all who have served as Foreign Ministers. But these developments were put in the shade by Mr Eustace’s announcement that his New Democratic Party (NDP) had reversed its long held position on diplomatic links with the Republic of China on Taiwan and had decided to adhere to the ‘One China Policy’ of recognition of the mainland People’s Republic of China.

I couldn’t believe my ears on hearing the statement. Should I applaud the NDP for at last beginning to demonstrate some maturity and independence in foreign policy positioning by taking a stand on principle? Or is it a tactical shift for reasons unknown to me? Reasonable questions, given the fact that it is the so-called “Communist China”, “Red China,” as the NDP rabid propagandists would put it, that the NDP has chosen to recognize.

In addition, Usain Bolt may have struck Rio, but the China announcement was like a bolt of political lightning striking SVG. Nothing which has come out from the NDP camp would have prepared its own supporters for such a shift. It is PM Gonsalves who has been constantly accused of trying to bring “communism” here, so how come he is supporting Taiwan, while the NDP is now on the side of “Red” China?

Such confusion is bound to surface if one bases one’s propaganda on cheap opportunism and does not take time to give one’s supporters a realistic and truthful view of the world. I listened to an exchange between supporters of both parties on the issue this week and, from it, one could gather that there was much confusion on both sides.

The ‘One China Policy,’ for example, was not understood in the context that as far as the People’s Republic is concerned, there is only one China, and that Taiwan is a renegade province. What emerged from the conversation I heard was that both sets of supporters felt that ‘One China’ referred to the Chinese policy of “One child per household,” which has now been amended. Clearly, there is need for clarity on the matter, much more public discussion in an enlightened context and not in that of any ‘War Room’.

This matter of China and Taiwan is becoming like a Trojan horse in our Caribbean. US Cold War support for Taiwan had seen us all lining up behind that country as we became responsible for our own foreign policy; after all, mainland China was “communist”, and we, as western “democrats,” would have nothing to do with it. It took the courage of the Burnham-Manley-Williams era in the seventies to begin the process of Caribbean recognition of China. Gradually, in spite of aggressive courting by Taiwan, this has continued until today, all but four Caribbean countries recognize the People’s Republic of China.

As it stands now, the Caribbean community remains very divided on the China/Taiwan issue. Regrettably, it is not principle which prevails, but what one can get out of the relationship. Taiwan has been generous to SVG, and for that we are grateful, but should that determine whether we also have relations with mainland China? That country in turn, has, among other things, built stadiums for Grenada and Dominica. But does that mean that those countries cannot also have relations with Taiwan?

These two countries are virtually holding small countries like ours to ransom because of their political differences; it is either one or the other. For years, the USA was implacably hostile to Cuba, but we opened diplomatic relations with our Caribbean neighbour, while maintaining our traditional friendship with the USA; so why do we have to choose between China and Taiwan? Where would we be when they patch up their differences?

Further, it is only small countries like ours which are being forced to choose. The USA continues to be the military bedrock on which Taiwan resists China, but the USA is in bed with China because of the economic powerhouse it has become.

It is good that Mr Eustace has taken that bold step, in that it opens the road for intelligent discussion on this and other important foreign policy issues. Whatever the motives for the about-turn, at least we are now broadening perspectives. Of course, his critics will talk of the sudden change, but for me the issues are beyond that. Now that the NDP is recognizing China, let’s cut the “communist” crap out; it poisoned our national discourse on much-needed constitutional change. If this step can lead to a modernizing of our view of the world, then it will at least have made a positive contribution towards our own development.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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