Chinese influence in the Caribbean

Image of a Chinese dragon
Image of a Chinese dragon (Photo credit: Til Man)

The US Government has warned for years that products from China’s Huawei Technologies Co., the world’s biggest maker of telecommunications equipment, pose a national security risk for countries that use them and has waged a global campaign to block the company from supplying state-of-the-art 5G wireless networks. According to Bloomberg News, investigation has found a key piece of evidence underpinning the US efforts — a previously unreported breach that occurred halfway around the world nearly a decade ago. In 2012, Australian intelligence officials informed their US counterparts that they had detected a sophisticated intrusion into the country’s telecommunications systems. It began with a software update from Huawei that was loaded with malicious codes. The breach and subsequent intelligence sharing was confirmed by nearly two dozen former national security officials who received briefings about the matter from Australian and US agencies between 2012 and 2019. The incident substantiated suspicions in both countries that China used Huawei equipment as a conduit for espionage, and it has remained a core part of a case they’ve built against the Chinese company.

Across the oceans in the US, Congress is now on the hook to find billions of dollars to help some 200 small US telecom carriers to finally rip out risky Chinese equipment. According to Politico, US security officials have warned that two Chinese companies in particular — Huawei and ZTE — are beholden to China’s government and pose a major national security risk. They have pointed to a potential for spying and foreign meddling if their routers, antennas, and radios aren’t yanked out of US cell phones and internet networks.

Quite recently,  A Chinese company purchased hundreds of acres of North Dakota farmland mere minutes from a major US Air Force base, prompting national security fears as the communist country adds to its nearly 200,000 acres of US agricultural land worth $1.9 billion. The move could give China unprecedented access to the goings-on at the Air Force base, which also has a space-networking centre that’s been characterized as the backbone of all US military communications across the globe. This property is at just the right location for the company to intercept communications coming from the Air Force base where some of the most sensitive national security intelligence exist with the digital uplinks and downlinks inherent in unmanned air systems and their interaction with space-based assets. Such interceptions would present a costly national security risk causing grave damage to United States’ strategic advantages.

China has also called for the disarming of Haiti and has urged all countries to strengthen arms export controls on the island. China’s greater interest in the country may have arisen due to the fact that the previous Haitian leaders recognized Taiwan, speculating that Beijing could try to influence any political transition to convince the country to change its stance on the Taiwan issue.

China has offered Jamaica loans and expertise to build miles of new highways. Throughout the Caribbean, it has donated security equipment to military and police forces and built a network of Chinese cultural centres and provided financial support to governments during the pandemic. The initiatives are part of a quiet but assertive push by China, in recent years, to expand its footprint and influence in the region through government grants and loans, investments, and diplomatic, cultural and security efforts. We should keep in mind, the region has strategic importance as a hub for logistics, banking, and commerce, and could have great security value in a military conflict because of its proximity to the United States.

Meanwhile in Trinidad and Tobago, The University of the West Indies (UWI), yesterday signed a two-year Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Chinese technology giant, Huawei, which will strengthen the local talent pool in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) field. The MoU will allow the participation of UWI St Augustine students and staff in the four programmes that comprise Huawei’s ICT Talent Development Plan. I’m not sure of how much consideration the university has put into this decision, but we must keep vigilant, as a region, not to become pawns by foreign forces amidst ongoing trade and military escalations which we stand to win nothing but lose everything.

Subrina Hall Azih is a Trinidadian educator residing in New York.

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