By Ray Chickrie
Caribbean News Now contributor
PARAMARIBO, Suriname — The president of Suriname, Desi Bouterse, and the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, met in Paramaribo on Sunday and both sides pledged to improve ties between the two countries. Prior to his arrival in Suriname, Wang Yi visited neighbouring Guyana where the two countries also signed agreements.
The Surinamese government and China are embarking on some major infrastructure projects to boost aviation and tourism. Suriname will modernize the Johan Pengel (JAP) Airport and the two countries are working on an air agreement to connect Paramaribo by air to China and to the rest of the Caribbean and Latin America.
China, Guyana and Suriname have strong historical ties. Guyana was the first country in the English-speaking Caribbean to recognize China in 1972. This was the first visit by a Chinese foreign minister to Suriname.
These three countries share a historic friendship. Guyana and Suriname highly value this relationship, which goes back about 160 years when the first Chinese settled in the Guianas.
“Suriname is prepared to maintain close communication and coordination with China under the framework of South-South cooperation on important multilateral agendas such as development assistance, climate change and human rights,” Bouterse said.
In pushing back against negative media reports of “China’s control” over developing countries like Guyana and Suriname by offering them large loans, Wang emphasized that, in its cooperation with Suriname, Beijing seeks no domination and control.
In addressing this issue, former Suriname ambassador to the United Nations, Henry MacDonald said, “Since the spectacular oil and gas findings in Guyana three years ago, the biggest development players have been visiting Guyana and Suriname to promote increased cooperation. For many years now developing countries like us have been calling for increased South-South cooperation. It is now our time to think, plan, and strategies how to put development on a fast track in our countries.
“The big difference in this is that the leaders of the raw material possessing and producing countries in the South nowadays have a free choice to do business with the Chinese, the Turks, the Indians and all other upcoming economic powers or not.”
Wang Yi highlighted the example of China’s investment in upgrading Suriname’s international airport and plans to open an air bridge between the two countries to boost aviation, tourism and trade.
In Suriname, Wang Yi also met with the minister of foreign affairs, Lydia Pollack-Beighle, and the vice president, Ashwin Adhin.
Meanwhile, Guyana and China signed two agreements on economic and technological cooperation in Georgetown on September 22.
The two agreements include a framework agreement for the provision of a concessional loan between the governments of Guyana and China and an agreement on economic and technical cooperation between the countries.
President David Granger told Wang Yi that Guyana is “ready to work with China to turn bilateral consensus into actions by taking the opportunity of jointly building the Belt and Road.”
The government of Guyana has also come under attack for borrowing from China. There was also hysteria on social media over the visit by Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, last week to Suriname, equating it to bringing “terrorists, Muslims, Isis, and al Qaeda” to Suriname. Both countries are also borrowing from the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) to fund various developmental projects.
MacDonald added, “When the leaders sincerely engage the Chinese counterparts with mutual benefit in the interest of their countries and people, I see no problem whatsoever.
“The historic global economic powerhouses and previous colonial powers from Europe, later supplemented by the USA should not pretend to protect poor developing countries from what they now refer to as the new Chinese imperialism.”
In defence of the Chinese, MacDonald said that the Chinese have introduced a totally different way of economic power expansion and the traditional economic powers in the north view this shift as a degradation of their own economic sphere of interest.
“However, they can no longer grasp their weapons, take over or colonize developing countries by force as they did centuries ago, so they are warning us now against supposed Chinese imperialism,” he added.