CIA focusing on Chinese influence in Guyana

Last Updated on Wednesday, 14 September 2022, 22:45 by Denis Chabrol

The United States (US) Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is paying close attention to China’s influence in Guyana and several other Caribbean countries as part of a US$67.1 billion authorised spending under the Intelligence Authorisation Act 2023.

“The Committee remains concerned, among other areas, about the People’s Republic of China’s intentions and influence in the Caribbean, including in Suriname and Guyana,” Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Senator Mark Warner said in his report.

Ninety days from the passage 0f the  Intelligence Authorisation Act 2023 on June 22, 2022, the Committee expected that by September 20, 2023 that the Director of the CIA would submit a report to the congressional intelligence committees regarding the threats and risks presented to United States national security and economic interests by People’s Republic of China investments in critical infrastructure, including energy and telecommunications infrastructure, in the Caribbean.

Guyana and Suriname are emerging as major oil and gas producers in the Caribbean and Latin America, and those countries also enjoy significant hydropower, wind and solar energy capacities.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence commended the Intelligence Community’s recognition of–and increased commitment of resources to–the threat posed by the People’s Republic of China’s long-term goals and intentions related to United States interests

The American majority-owned Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GTT) one year ago had said it had scaled back the use of equipment made by Huawei, a Chinese company that the US government had repeatedly cited as using espionage injection technology.

More recently, weeks after talks with US Secretary State Antony Blinken and other top American government officials, Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo had explicitly stated that “only Western technologies”- Siemens or General Electric (GE)-would be used to construct the gas-t0-energy plant at Wales, West Bank Demerara.

Guyana recently cancelled negotiations with China Railway Group that had been earmarked to possibly build the US$700 million Amaila Falls Hydropower plant.

Chairman of the US House Committee on Financial Services, Maxine Waters on Wednesday, in her opening remarks on a hearing titled “When Banks Leave: The Impacts of De-Risking on the Caribbean and Strategies for Ensuring Financial Access” said if the problems concerning correspondent banking relationships in the Caribbean were not addressed, there could be a greater shift towards pariah states. “Without action on this issue, we risk ceding our leadership in this region to countries like China and Russia which have been working hard in recent years to become more active in the Caribbean. It’s clear that combatting the loss of United States correspondent banking relationships in the Caribbean should be a mutual priority to both the Caribbean and the United States,” she said.

Republican Congressman Patrick McHenry also sounded a warning that over-reporting being required by US regulators was seeing more de-banked persons in the Caribbean doing business with China. “As a matter of American policy, why are we driving people away from our friendship, as a nation, and seeking a country that does no adhere to rule of law or our concept of human rights and our struggle with human rights to improve?,” he said.

Also addressing the hearing was Democratic Congressman Juan Vargas who pointed out that China has “used the US disengagement as an opportunity” to expand its Belt and Road Initiative and challenge American diplomatic and regional economic influence. He said recently seven Caribbean countries- Antigua and Barbuda, Bermuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago- have signed Belt and Road Initiative agreements with China which would see investments from that Asian country to the Caribbean totalling more than US$16 billion in infrastructure and financial partnerships over the next 25 years. He noted that the Caribbean Development Bank has stated that Caribbean governments have readily grasped Chinese funding as traditional US financing partners have pulled out of the region.

But Atlantic Council’s Caribbean Initiative Assistant Director Wazim Mowla  countered by saying that the US has the “upper hand” in its relationship with the Caribbean through politics, security and diplomacy while China has a “very one dimensional” relationship that focusses on infrastructure and economics. He recommended that the US should compete more in the area of economic cooperation with the Caribbean. He said the removal of correspondent bank restrictions on the Caribbean would be key for success of areas of cooperation that were agreed to earlier this year at the Summit of the Americas. “None of that will matter if correspondent banking is not available to Caribbean countries, their people and to their institutions,” he said.

Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley sought to make out a strong case for the United States as well as the Financial Action Task Force and the 38-nation Organisation for Cooperation in Economic Development (OECD) to cease blacklisting several Caribbean nations as jurisdictions that could easily facilitate money laundering and terrorist financing. She said if no resolution is found people, including the large Caribbean Diaspora in the US,  and businesses would go underground to do transactions. Ms Mottley hinted that eventually Caribbean nations might opt out of the SWIFT banking system and use the digital yuan. “For us in this region, it is not yet here but given long enough, nature abh0rs a vacuum and we’ll find a way,” she said.