Antigua & Barbuda rubbishes US story about its relationship with China

Prime Minister Gaston Browne and Chinese President Xi Jinping. (File Photo: Office of the Prime Minister).

The Antigua and Barbuda government has brushed aside a report by a US publication that the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country had become the “front yard” for China with Beijing being able to exert undue influence on the Gaston Browne administration. 

In its article, Newsweek Magazine said its investigation highlighted China’s increasing involvement on the island through diplomacy and state-owned companies, the signing of a private company deal in January for a new Chinese “Special Economic Zone,” and agreements that among other things would encourage Antiguan officials to study the thoughts of Chinese leader Xi Jinping. 

In the April 19 edition, the US publication said it had reviewed documents showing that the zone will have its own customs and immigration formalities, a shipping port and a dedicated airline and will be able to issue passports. 

“ It will establish businesses offering everything from logistics to cryptocurrencies, facial surgery to virology. 

“China, its state-owned companies and aligned private businesses are expanding rapidly in the island nation of Antigua and Barbuda and in other Caribbean countries in this strategic region long known as “America’s third border,” according to a Newsweek investigation of government and corporate documents as well as interviews with Antiguan leaders,” the publication added. 

But Prime Minister Gaston Browne in rubbishing the claim said “this cold war rhetoric going back to the relationship between the USSR and the USA, they are now trying to create and trying to use this sensational speculation that the PRC (People’s Republic of China) is now trying to use Antigua and Barbuda as a base… 

‘This is utter nonsense,” Browne said, insisting “we will never ever enter into any arrangement with any country to hurt another. Much less to hurt a country like the United States in which we are so dependent on their tourism, we are dependent on their trade and investment. 

“It will be like hurting ourselves. So protecting the US is protecting our own national interest, Browne added. 

Meanwhile, the Chief of Staff in the Office of the Prime Minister, Ambassador Lionel Max Hurst, in a letter to Newsweek Magazine said that the article by the US publication regarding China’s relationship with St John’s “seems to reflect the thinking of a by-gone age. 

“Antigua and Barbuda is a modern country barely forty years independent and sovereign. China has a civilization that reaches back five thousand years. Antigua and Barbuda continues to seek friends among all the nations of the world and rejects the notion that it is in any country’s “backyard”. 

Max Hurst in his April 19 letter said that China has proven to be a reliable developmental partner and “a good friend to many small and large states around the globe”. 

He said that the rivalry between China and the United States shall not be deemed a replay of Cold War practices and that St John’s “is also a great friend of the United States. 

“Our soldiers are trained by SouthCom, our security is bolstered by US Coast Guard and other branches of the US military, and our number one trading partner is the United States,” Max Hurst wrote, adding “this journalistic tendency to harp backwards on a Cold War paradigm is hurtful to the people of Antigua and Barbuda, as we turn to making friends that will respond to the needs of a small island-State like ours.” 

Max Hurst recalled there was a time when the United states “was exceedingly generous and helpful in engineering a sustainable future for its friendly neighbours in the Caribbean; its diplomats complain bitterly and publicly that the US Congress deprives the State Department of the resources needed to continue to win friends and influence leaders. 

”We completely reject your characterization of the friendship between Antigua and Barbuda and the People’s Republic of China as being somehow sinister and dangerous to the United States and its interests. Our hope is that your readers will not be afflicted with the same harmful disease that plagued US/USSR relations and citizens of both States prior to 1989.” 

Max Hurst told the US publication that “our leaders are smart, have access to the same information as many of yours, and certainly are more clever that the journalists who deliberately choose to mischaracterise the foreign relations of friendly States”. 

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