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China, CELAC, CARICOM and Guyana in the Year of the Rabbit

THE Caribbean Community (CARICOM) made history at the seventh Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), held on January 24 in Argentina, where the bloc’s longest-serving Head of Government, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, was elected Chair of the 12-year-old regional grouping.

Also, the longest-serving re-elected Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. Gonsalves is the first CARICOM leader to lead CELAC, which comprises 34 nations — including all 14 Caribbean Community (CARICOM) nations — covers 7.88 million square miles (20.41 square million kilometres) and is home to some 651.13 million people.

Prime Minister Gonsalves will serve in the rotating chairmanship for one year and is expected to bring CARICOM issues to the CELAC table, including pursuit of reparations from Europe for slavery and native genocide in member-states.

The reparations issue has taken centre stage in CARICOM and globally since 2013 and increasingly in a growing number of South American states, especially since the election of Colombia’s Vice President, Francia Marquez, a woman of African descent.

The reparations issue was also raised at CELAC’s Tuesday summit by Antigua & Barbuda’s Ambassador.

Prime Minister Gonsalves, regarded as the Father of the CARICOM Reparations Movement for his role in giving birth to the CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) in 2013, also has a leading role in a similar Africa-Brazil-Caribbean (ABC) initiative that encourages inclusion of the continent and Brazil — with the most people of African descent outside Africa — in the international reparations debate.

The presence of Brazil’s President ‘Lula’ Da Silva also marked Brazil’s return to CELAC after being pulled out by his predecessor Jair Bolsonaro in 2018; and with over half of his nation’s 215 million inhabitants – 56 per cent or about 120 million people — being mainly poor and historically marginalised Afro-Brazilians, he’s unlikely to oppose or discourage discussion of reparatory justice for them.

Another highlight at the CELAC Summit was the video-link address by China’s President, Xi Jinping and his reiteration of Beijing’s willingness to continue working with CELAC and member-states, collectively and individually, to strengthen bilateral and South-South co-operation.

The Xi address, days after China welcomed the 2023 Spring Festival in the ‘Year of the Rabbit’, also came during the 50th anniversary of the birth of diplomatic ties between China and Caribbean nations, starting with Guyana and Jamaica in 1972.

China now has ties with most CARICOM nations and since Xi’s first Caribbean visit (to Trinidad & Tobago in 2013), a comprehensive, cross-sector China-Caribbean partnership has kept deepening.

Indeed, that much was stated at an April 28, 2022 online meeting between Foreign Ministers of China’s nine CARICOM allies, during which then Foreign Minister Wang Yi promised closer policy communication between the two sides.

Yi said Beijing was also ready to hold the eight Round of Consultations between China and Caribbean countries “as soon as possible” — and to arrange a Special Envoy for Caribbean Affairs to visit Caribbean countries, “as early as possible”.

He pledged continued economic and technical assistance to Caribbean countries, “without any political strings attached” and focusing on “vigorously developing projects that benefit the people and promote practical technologies.”?

President Xi said “Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries are important members of the developing world that also take an active part in global governance and make important contributions to it” and acknowledged the region “has grown to be an indispensable driving force behind global South-South co-operation” while “playing an important role in safeguarding regional peace, promoting common development and advancing regional integration.”

He said China regards CELAC as “our key partner in enhancing solidarity among developing countries and furthering South-South co-operation” and “building a China-LAC community with a shared future.”

Chinese descendants are very present in all CELAC member-states and are one of Guyana’s six original ethnic groups.

There’s also a significant Chinese presence in Suriname, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago – and the Lunar New Year is a holiday in Suriname and Trinidad & Tobago, even though not yet in Guyana.

Guyana’s President, Dr. Irfaan Ali, in a message welcoming Year of the Rabbit, said: “Chinese have long contributed to the development of Guyana and continue to do so now,” especially as it’s “experiencing significant transformation.”

Guyana and China share “imperishable relations strengthened by ties of blood, history, friendship and shared interests,” President Ali said, and the Year of the Rabbit “offers the promise of enhancing co-operation” between the two nations and people.

LAC states face tougher times in 2023, with international agencies indicating that 131 million (or 40 per cent of the region’s population) opened the year without access to nutritious meals, while the world’s richest countries continue failing to deliver on promises of North-South assistance.

The China leader says Beijing is willing to further and deeper engage with CELAC and CARICOM “to together forge new ties of mutual benefit” – and it can.

In 2022, China’s economy remained the second largest in the world; and its GDP exceeded 120 trillion yuan (around $17.5 trillion USD), representing a three per cent growth rate increase over 2021.

And predictions are for five per cent growth in 2023, which would represent a 30 per cent increase in China’s contribution the global economy.

Beijing’s growing engagement with the LAC region will continue to attract the usual American and European attention, including accusations of “luring” developing nations into so-called long-term “debt traps”.

But only time will tell when Reparatory Justice for South Americans of African Descent becomes an official agenda item in South America; and how CELAC and CARICOM will respond to President Xi’s latest invitation to become “key partners in enhancing solidarity among developing countries and furthering South-South co-operation.”

Meanwhile, with Cuba in the presidency of the G-77, CARICOM’s elder statesman chairing CELAC, Guyana opening 2023 as the world’s fastest-growing economy and fourth-largest oil supplier and China anxious to closer embrace LAC nations in the Year of the Rabbit, South-South co-operation can get added meaning in this part of the developing world, in the near future.



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