A strategic challenge for the US: China and The Bahamas


By Patrick J. Griffin and William Danvers, Opinion Contributors, The Hill



Griffin, a professor at American University, worked as an assistant to President Clinton and was secretary to the Democratic Conference in the U.S. Senate. Danvers is an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s Elliott School and worked on national security issues for the Clinton and Obama administrations. The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill.


A primary focus of the Biden administration’s national security policy has been the great power relationship between the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). That relationship is multifaceted. As Harvard professor and former Defense Department official Joseph Nye points out in a New York Times article, “Competition with China is a three-dimensional game. And if we continue to play two-dimensional chess, we will lose.” Nye’s three dimensions are military, economic and social, but there is an important subset to the three — regional concerns. 


PRC activity in The Bahamas is an example of the three dimensions plus regional activity coalescing in a direct challenge to U.S. interests. This challenge is not theoretical; it is existential. A recent article in the Bahamian paper, The Nassau Guardian, lays it out clearly: “Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism, Investments and Aviation Chester Cooper is inviting Chinese investors to take advantage of opportunities in the tourism, agricultural and renewable energy sectors and to partner with the government on projects such as the upcoming public/private partnership (PPP) airport redevelopment project.”


Specifically, over the past dozen years, China has made a number of investments in The Bahamas, including a $30 million grant to build a national stadium; preferential loans to build a $3 billion megaport at Freeport; and $40 million to build a port off the Bahamian island of Abaco. Further, the China EXIM Bank provided over $54 million in preferential loans to build a four-lane highway and loaned nearly $3 billion to build the Baha Mar Resort. The China State Engineering Corporation purchased the British Hilton Colonial as part of a $250 million construction project.


PRC involvement in The Bahamas is not simply about its willingness to invest in the island nation. It is focused on moving The Bahamas away from the U.S. and toward China. Because of recent crises, The Bahamas, a longtime U.S. ally, is more vulnerable to PRC overtures. The Bahamas was devastated in 2019 by Hurricane Dorian. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) estimates that the hurricane cost The Bahamas $3.4 billion, approximately one-fourth of its GDP. Adding economic insult to injury, the World Bank estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic caused an economic contraction of approximately 16.2 percent in 2020.


In addition, unemployment and poverty levels increased as a result of these two crises. It is worth noting that, according to the U.S. State Department, “Despite its World Bank designation as a high-income country, income inequality is higher in The Bahamas than in other Caribbean countries.”


There are also strategic considerations for the U.S. with The Bahamas. For example...


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