China's Growing Influence in America's Backyard

China's Growing Influence in America's Backyard

The United States should expand and develop its relationships with countries in the Western Hemisphere amid heightened competition with China.

With a relative absence of the United States, China has invested over $10 billion in mainly six Caribbean countries—Jamaica ($3.16 billion), Guyana ($3.01 billion), Trinidad and Tobago ($2.28 billion), Antigua and Barbuda ($1 billion), Cuba ($740 million), and the Bahamas ($350 million)—between 2005 and 2022, focusing on tourism, transportation, extractive metals, agriculture, and energy sectors. 

Beijing’s investment plan for small island nations has decisively played into a successful diplomatic strategy for China to isolate Taiwan and to internationalize its “one China principle” in the Caribbean as opposed to the “one China Policy” pursued by the United States. The former phrase affirms that Taiwan is part of the PRC; the latter is a more ambiguous U.S. policy of merely acknowledging but not supporting Beijing’s position.

The credibility of the United States now depends on its ability to deliver and compete successfully with China in the “American backyard.” Beijing’s signature projects—especially in Argentina, Cuba, and Venezuela—as well as China’s small island nations strategy, are a wake-up call for America to reengage with the region, particularly through the “Ds” reflecting development and diplomacy. 

President Joe Biden’s belatedly created “Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity” with the eleven Western Hemisphere leaders in November 2023 is a good start; however, it must be strategically expanded to other Caribbean small island nations to preserve and protect America’s partnership with the region. The stronger the partnership that the United States is willing to develop, the more it will challenge Beijing’s risk-benefit calculus to compete with the United States in its backyard.

About the Authors

Dr Patrick Mendis, a former American diplomat and military professor in the NATO and Indo-Pacific Commands during the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations, is a distinguished visiting professor of transatlantic relations at the University of Warsaw in Poland and an honorary research fellow of the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies at the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica.

Dr. Holger Henke, the former vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost at Wenzhou-Kean University in China and the assistant provost at York College (CUNY), is the director of the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies at the University of the West Indies (Mona). The views expressed in this analysis are of the authors; they neither represent their affiliated institutions nor governments in the past or present.

Image: Shutterstock.