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Julie J Chung, the principal deputy secretary at the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, has warned the Trinidad and Tobago Government and private sector companies to stay alert to the dangers of China's debt diplomacy, which will result in disrespect for transparency and even national sovereignty. (Graphic: Chris Lewinson)

US diplomat raises concern about China’s ‘debt diplomacy’ in the region

Julie J Chung, the principal deputy secretary at the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, has warned the Trinidad and Tobago Government and private sector companies to stay alert to the dangers of China's debt diplomacy, which will result in disrespect for transparency and even national sovereignty. (Graphic: Chris Lewinson)

In her address at the Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) American Chamber of Commerce Annual General Meeting last week, United States diplomat Julie J Chung raised concerns about China’s economic influence in the Caribbean.

Chung, who is the principal deputy secretary at the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, while outlining how her country’s Growth in the Americas Initiative can benefit the Caribbean in general, and Trinidad and Tobago in particular, noted, “I would also like to lay out our priorities and concerns regarding China and Venezuela.”

Julie J Chung, principal deputy assistant secretary, Bureau Of Western Hemisphere Affairs (Photo: Channel 5 Belize)

However, she was quick to explain that the US is not averse to doing business with China, neither is it encouraging companies in Trinidad and Tobago not to do so. In fact, she noted that her country’s largest companies have global supply chains that include China.

Long-standing partnerships

“I am here to emphasise the partnership between the United States and T&T. That we are your largest trading partner shows the strength of our relationship,” the diplomat pointed out further.

“As Trinidad seeks to modernie its physical, digital and energy infrastructure, it is important for both the Government and private sector companies to stay alert to the dangers of debt diplomacy and a disrespect for transparency and even national sovereignty.”

— Julie J Chung, principal deputy assistant secretary, Bureau Of Western Hemisphere Affairs

With this, Chung underscored that the US has a strong interest in the well-being and prosperity of the Latin America and the Caribbean region. As such, the superpower is partnering with countries in the hemisphere to increase responsible governance, promote transparency, and ensure respect of human right.

“Unfortunately, Chinese State-owned enterprises do not abide by these values that we share,” Chung said, adding that her Government has concerns about its Chinese counterpart’s approach to lending and development.

Again, highlighting that the United States engages in business with Chinese entities, Chung said that her country questions the motives of China. In fact, she suggests that the East Asia country is using “debt diplomacy” to establish its hegemony in the region.

Threat to sovereignty

To this end, the US diplomat warned that dependence on Chinese aid may threaten transparency and national sovereignty of countries in the region.

“A region hungry for infrastructure investment and short on finances finds Chinese concessional loans attractive, but the opacity of Chinese deals threatens to reverse the region’s hard-won gains for transparency, the rule of law, labour rights, and the environment,” Chung argued.

“As Trinidad seeks to modernie its physical, digital and energy infrastructure, it is important for both the Government and private sector companies to stay alert to the dangers of debt diplomacy and a disrespect for transparency and even national sovereignty,” she added.

An aerial view of Port of Spain Trinidad and Tobago. (Photo: london.ac.uk)

Chung reiterated her country’s commitment to the region as well as working with partner nations to promote pro-market economies, open societies, and uphold global best practices. She said, further, that the US hopes to see businesses engagements between China and other countries conducted in a spirit of fairness and reciprocity, which allows people to prosper.