Wednesday, May 22, 2024

China’s Influence in The Caribbean: A Focus on The Bahamas

Dragon emblem over tropic Islands.

"Dragon Islands" - Bahamas AI art
©A. Derek Catalano

China’s Influence in The Caribbean: A Focus on The Bahamas


China's expanding influence in the Caribbean, and particularly in The Bahamas, has become a significant point of interest for geopolitical analysts and policy-makers. This report delves into the nature of China’s engagement in the region, examining the historical context, economic investments, strategic interests, and potential implications for both The Bahamas and the broader Caribbean, as well as for the United States.

Historical Context

China's engagement with the Caribbean began to intensify in the early 21st century, primarily through economic and diplomatic initiatives. The "One China" policy and efforts to reduce Taiwan's diplomatic presence in the region have also driven China's interactions with Caribbean nations.

Economic Investments and Projects

China's economic footprint in the Caribbean includes infrastructure projects, investments, and loans. Key projects include:

The Bahamas:

Baha Mar Resort: A $4.2 billion resort and casino funded by the Export-Import Bank of China and constructed by China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC). This project has been a cornerstone of Chinese investment in The Bahamas.

Nassau Airport Expansion: Another major infrastructure project involving Chinese financing and construction.

Other Caribbean Nations:

Jamaica: Investments in roads, bridges, and ports.

Barbados: Development of the Sam Lord’s Castle project and a new sugar cane processing plant.

Guyana: Infrastructure projects including roads and bridges, and exploration in the mining sector.

Strategic Interests

China’s interest in the Caribbean can be understood through several strategic lenses:

Geopolitical Influence: Establishing a foothold close to the United States and gaining influence in a region traditionally within the US sphere.

Economic Expansion: Accessing new markets for Chinese goods and services, and securing resources.

Diplomatic Leverage: Encouraging Caribbean nations to support China in international forums, particularly in reducing Taiwan's diplomatic presence.

Maritime Interests: Potentially securing strategic maritime routes and developing port infrastructure that could be dual-use (civilian and military).

Implications for The Bahamas and the Caribbean

Economic Development

China's investments have provided critical infrastructure and economic opportunities. These include job creation, improved facilities, and enhanced tourism potential. However, the reliance on Chinese financing raises concerns about debt sustainability and economic dependency.

Political Influence

China’s economic engagement often comes with diplomatic expectations, potentially influencing the foreign policy stances of Caribbean nations. This dynamic can shift the regional balance of power and create tensions with traditional Western allies.

Sovereignty and National Security

Concerns have been raised about the sovereignty of nations heavily indebted to China. There are fears that economic leverage could translate into political influence or control over strategic assets.

Concerns from the United States

The United States views China's growing presence in the Caribbean with apprehension, considering it a challenge to its traditional dominance in the Western Hemisphere. The key concerns include:

Strategic Security: Potential military and intelligence implications of Chinese infrastructure projects.

Economic Influence: Displacement of US businesses and economic influence in the region.

Diplomatic Shifts: Caribbean nations aligning more closely with China on international issues.

China's Objectives in the Caribbean
China's primary objectives appear to be multifaceted:

Expanding Economic Reach: Creating new markets for Chinese goods, services, and construction projects.

Securing Resources: Ensuring access to natural resources and agricultural products.

Political Leverage: Gaining support in international bodies and reducing Taiwan's diplomatic presence.

Strategic Positioning: Establishing a presence close to US borders, which could have long-term strategic advantages.

Future of China-Caribbean Relations

Economic Prospects

Continued Chinese investment is likely, potentially leading to further economic growth and development in the Caribbean. However, the challenge will be managing debt and ensuring that investments benefit local economies sustainably.

Political and Diplomatic Dynamics

Caribbean nations will need to navigate their relationships with both China and the United States carefully, balancing economic benefits with geopolitical considerations.

Regional Stability and Security

The growing presence of China could lead to increased geopolitical competition in the region. Caribbean nations might become arenas for proxy competition between major powers, affecting regional stability.


China's influence in The Caribbean, particularly in The Bahamas, is part of a broader strategy to expand its global reach. While this brings economic opportunities, it also poses challenges related to debt, sovereignty, and geopolitical balance. The United States is concerned about the strategic implications of China's presence in its near abroad. The future of the Caribbean will depend on how well it can balance these competing influences and leverage them for sustainable development.

©A. Derek Catalano/ChatGP