China’s Expanding Province in Caribbean Affairs: The Drivers of Port Infrastructure Development in the Caribbean Community under the Aegis of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative

  • Serena Joseph-Harris The China-Caribbean Observatory Sirius International Caribbean Defence Contractors Ltd. Port of Spain, Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
Keywords: China, Caribbean, China-Caribbean Economic Relations, Maritime Silk Road Initiative, port infrastructure development, Caribbean strategic sectors, China-Caribbean Observatory


Port infrastructure and its affiliated services are the key drivers of economic growth particularly when consideration is given to the reality that over 80 % of the world’s merchandize trade by volume is transshipped by sea. The status quo is especially relevant to Member States of the Caribbean Community (hereinafter, CARICOM). First and foremost, this region is comprised mainly of island states. Secondly, it is nestled at the intersection of the world’s primary North-South and East-West trade flows making it a key maritime highway. Thirdly, it is home to roughly 351 ports, 15 oil refineries and 51 tank terminals while hosting three separate categories of ports - specialized ports that cater for single commodities; public ports which are open to all types of cargo, and by no means the least, transshipment centers. Of late, increasing demands have been placed on the region’s port communities by the booming cruise ship and yachting industries. Nonetheless, despite the exceptional geographic providence of the region, across-the-board low growth rates, fiscal stress, elevated debt levels, and declines in international reserves have placed serious constraints on the economies of CARICOM Member States. Most importantly, inherent structural gaps in port infrastructure in tandem with the undercapitalization of port facilities have been identified as key constraints to trade performance impeding investment opportunities. The Maritime Silk Road Initiative (MSRI) promoted by China which is an integral component the country’s ‘Go Global’ policy is an ambitious trans-regional scheme that is specially configured to promote interconnectivity and economic agglomeration which are critical imperatives among Caribbean Community members at this juncture. What’s more, MSRI has a heavy infrastructural dimension. This study argues that MSRI holds reciprocal advantages for China and the Caribbean Community.   Among the advantages is development of port communities in the region which will fulfill China’s relentless drive for trade promotion, strengthened connectivity, access to strategically key resources, as well as enhanced regional and global competitiveness given the region’s proximity to the United States and Central and South America. The Chinese business model on which MSRI is built guarantees client governments ease of access to funding while building their respective domestic infrastructural capacities:  Chinese ground plans typically take the form of closely coordinated projects facilitated by clusters of inter-related state-controlled corporations and Chinese policy banks which are reputed for high-speed delivery untypical of Western multilateral bodies like the World Bank. The study concludes that if judiciously managed by Caribbean governments, port infrastructure development under the aegis of the Maritime Silk Road Initiative holds transformative potential for the region in light of the dire need for investment, diversification and trade facilitation which are indispensable to economic take-off.


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