Gov. Ron DeSantis was right Monday when he said Bahamas hurricane response and recovery are not Florida's responsibility, they're the federal government's.
But the federal government had better come through with more than food and temporary shelter. These long-neglected neighbors of ours need leadership. And if they don't get it from us, China is more than willing to step in and take it over.
The fact is, helping Bahamians put their country back together again is very much a national security issue for the United States.
Estimates of property damage in the islands go as high as $7 billion. Certainly the U.S. can't be responsible for footing that bill, but the State Department can direct traffic for the recovery -- take Bahamian officials by the hand and lead them through this massive crisis so close to our shores.
China is the worry.
If we don't call the shots in the months and years ahead, we help the Bahamas let China further in than they are already.
As National Public Radio reported last weekend, China will, if it's allowed, "use international aid efforts as a Trojan horse to establish a key player in a base of influence," and that would put a major communist power within striking distance of the Florida coast.
For more than eight years, the Bahamas has gone without an American ambassador. In 2017 President Donald Trump nominated San Diego publisher and hotel developer Doug Manchester for the job, but Congress couldn't stop squabbling long enough to confirm him. So, for years now, while His Excellency Huang Qinguo, ambassador of the People's Republic of China to the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, parades in and out of the offices and homes of prominent Bahamian officials, the American Embassy is the responsibility of Chargé d’Affaires Lisa A. Johnson. Chargé d’affaires sounds like a great title probably because it's French -- certainly not because it carries anything like the same heft as an "ambassador."
"We're not important enough to the United States to have our own ambassador," a Nassau policeman told a British newspaper reporter.
True, the Bahamas is small, with a population of only about 400,000. But it's smack in the middle of one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. The Chinese certainly picked up on that. China has invested billions of dollars in building new infrastructure and industry across the islands.
"New roads, new businesses, new hotels, and booming Chinese immigration has led to many companies being staffed with more Chinese workers than local Bahamians," claims a story in Virgin Islands News Online. "Reports show that more than 200,000 Chinese are illegally smuggled into the Caribbean every year to open their shops or work at Chinese businesses, with many sending their money back to China."
The Chinese government even gifted a new $50 million national stadium to the Bahamas. And China’s state-owned Export-Import Bank forked out nearly $3 billion to build the luxurious Baha Mar Resort in New Providence thanks to investments like these.
Some analysts go as far as to say China now owns The Bahamas.
What few Americans realize is, China built a port on one of the more remote Abaco islands some 180 miles off the U.S. coast. It's not exactly a secret, it's just something the American government doesn't crow about. Even the locals have been concerned about China’s potential military ambitions. Before Dorian, the port was empty, unused, and surrounded by barbed wire. How much storm damage it sustained is not known.
During the port's construction, a top official with the Bahamas’ then-ruling progressive party vowed that “China will actively provide military assistance to the Bahamas and defense dialogue.”
Sen. Marco Rubio is well aware of China's presence in the neighborhood. He is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues. Fancy committee title, but all it means is, there isn't much going on in this hemisphere Rubio doesn't know about.
Rubio, like Sen. Rick Scott, is pushing a strong American presence in the Bahamas' recovery effort. Now you know why.
Here's what we know about the Chinese investment in the Bahamas and the Caribbean in general:
The China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) began construction on the port in North Abaco in 2014. “The port will be used to store a variety of building materials including steel, limestone and cement and other items, up to 10,000 tons,” reported the Jamaica Observer.
“The project is valued at $US49M which will be funded by the EXIM Bank of China and the Government of the Bahamas,” the China Harbour Engineering Company said on its website. Locals and officials of CHEC also discuss the port on this Bahamian fishing-industry website.
In 2016 the government of the Bahamas promoted the Chinese port as one of its own and as a welcome sign of a bright future for the nation.
"Bahamas North Abaco Wharf Project is a new port constructed in North Abaco Island by the government of Bahamas to relieve the pressure of Marsh Harbour and meet the constantly increasing demand for passenger and cargo handling capacity in the context of constant development of North Abaco Island," said the press statement. "It is the first people-benefiting project undertaken by CHEC in Bahamas."
One skeptical commenter's posting sums up the local lack of confidence: “I just can’t wait until the U.S. media and U.S. public wake up to the fact that their government (the Obama/Hillary/Kerry government) has permitted Red China to set up shop (including deep water stealth submarine operations) in the Bahamas only a few short miles away from Florida and the entire Eastern Seaboard. I imagine most Americans will want all senior officials of the U.S. embassy in the Bahamas, the Dept of State in the U.S. and the NSA over the past decade or so to be drawn and quartered for high treason because of their serious failure to gather and act on intelligence information in order to protect the national security interests of the U.S.”
The Progressive Liberal Party in the Bahamas, which was in the majority until the 2017 elections when it became the second most-powerful party, oversaw construction of the port during its five years of governance.
Latrae Rahming of the Progressive Liberal Party and senior Chinese Caribbean Government consultant, said in a speech in Nassau on April 9, 2016 that the Bahamas is committed to a pro-China policy.
“China will actively provide military assistance to the Bahamas and defense dialogue,” Rahming said. “China donated $1.2 million to the Bahamas to purchase military equipment so as to improve jointly the capacity to respond to non-traditional security threats. Without a doubt, the Bahamas must prudently manage the complexities within the relationship. China’s growing presence in the Bahamas warrants active policy consideration. The Bahamas continues to be courteous to the advancement of China’s political, economic, social and cultural integration with the view of safeguarding its country’s long-term interest.”
None of this can come as a surprise to Rubio, because China's menacing approach to U.S. shores has been going on for so long. Here's what reporter Bill Gertz wrote in the Washington Free Beacon in 2013, in an article headlined, “China encircles U.S. by sailing warships in American waters, arming neighbors”:
“China has been quietly taking steps to encircle the United States by arming western hemisphere states, seeking closer military, economic, and diplomatic ties to U.S. neighbors, and sailing warships into U.S. maritime zones,” Gertz wrote. “The strategy is a Chinese version of what Beijing has charged is a U.S. strategy designed to encircle and ‘contain’ China. It is also directed at countering the Obama administration’s new strategy called the pivot to Asia. The pivot calls for closer economic, diplomatic, and military ties to Asian states that are increasingly concerned about Chinese encroachment throughout that region.”
The Obama administration may be gone, but Chinese encroachment remains.
The diplomatic relationship between the U.S. and the Bahamas has been described as "warm but not well-watched."
As China prepares to open its checkbook, point its rescue ships and submarines toward the Caribbean and cash in on its close relationship with an island people in desperate need of a new start, America needs to make a priority of being a real friend to The Commonwealth of the Bahamas. That's for us to do, not a communist country half way around the world.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423.