The Dragon in the Caribbean: China moves to deepen ties in the Caribbean
By Roy Lie A. Tjam.
China recently opened a Consulate-General in Willemstad-Curacao. Curacao is part of the Dutch Caribbean. China’s interest in the Caribbean region dates back many decades. In the summer of 2013, the Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Trinidad and Tobago and also met the leaders of Ten Caribbean Islands. The president came bearing some $3 billion in development loans, a hefty sum for a small region. Nearly every island in the Caribbean, from the smallest upwards, has received a substantial investment from the Peoples Republic of China.
In his welcome remarks at the 2014 National Day reception for the People’s Republic of China Ambassador Chen Xu observed that: “Just three days ago I attended the opening ceremony of the new Chinese consulate-general in Willemstad. The hospitality and friendship I received in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom are so touching, and local people’s enthusiasm and aspiration to strengthen exchanges and co-operation with China are so inspiring”.
This is the first ever Consulate-General of the People’s Republic of China in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Since 10 October 2010, the Kingdom of the Netherlands has consisted of four countries: the Netherlands, Aruba, Curacao and St Maarten. Aruba, Curacao and St.Maarten are autonomous countries with their own governments, whilst Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba: are all municipalities of the Netherlands, with the status of “special municipalities”. The newly inaugurated consulate-general in Willemstad also serves Aruba and St Maarten.
His Excellency Mr. Ivar Asjes, Prime Minister of Curacao officially inaugurated the consulate-general. In his opening address Mr. Asjes remarked that: “It is with great pleasure that I officially, on behalf of the government and people of Curacao, welcome the first Consul-General of the People’s Republic of China to Curacao, Mrs. Chen Qiman. I also would like to welcome Consul Zhang Huixan, Consul Xue and the rest of the staff of the Chinese Consulate General to our island. As the People’s Republic of China is a major player on the global scene and one of the world’s largest economies, both in terms of manufacturing and trade, we are delighted that its government has seen the merit of having an official presence in our country. The Chinese Government’s decision to formalize its relationship with Curacao is therefore further proof of the vast opportunities present here”.
As a historical aside, the first wave of Chinese nationals came to Curacao over one century ago. The travelers were on their way to Venezuela, however, they fell in love with the island and decided to make it their home. The community worked as cooks and opened the first laundries in Curacao, later diversifying their economic activities by opening restaurants and hotels, thereby being among the first entrepreneurs in the Curacao’s hospitality sector. Today the Chinese community dominates the island’s retail food sector and, as owners of small and medium-sized enterprises, contribute to the economic development of Curacao.
The recent bilateral cooperation between China and Curacao offers many possibilities. Tourism, trade, logistics, education, culture and the energy sector are some of the areas in which the two countries can work together and create mutually beneficial outcomes.