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Southcom commander concerned about China

Warns that growing China influence in region results from growing impression that U.S. is disengaged


March 24, 2005
Copyright © 2005 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

China is increasing its influence among the military in Latin America and part of the blame is cuts in U.S. military aid to countries that refuse to exempt U.S. citizens from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Army General Bantz Craddock, commander of the Miami-based Southern Command, warned the House Armed Services Committee in Washington.

In offering an unusually sober assessment of the impact of U.S. policy requiring the exemption of U.S. citizens from the ICC (CB July 17, 2003), Craddock said "many nations in the hemisphere resent this as a heavy-handed U.S. imposition."

Twenty-two countries have had their military aid cut, of which 11 are in Latin America and the Caribbean. The cuts have resulted in officers from these countries not being trained in U.S. facilities.

The nations in the region excluded from the exchange program are Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago, Uruguay and Venezuela. Southcom is responsible for U.S. security interests in Latin America and the Caribbean, including the U.S. flag territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

"The concern is that there will be unintended consequences, that we lose contact, engagement, the opportunity to learn from them about the values, ideals and beliefs in democratic institutions," said Craddock, adding "there are others who will fill that gap."

The general told the panel that the Chinese military is reaching out to its Latin American counterparts, especially in the Pacific rim and Andean region. He pointed out that Chinese defense officials made 20 visits to Latin America and the Caribbean nations last year while nine high-level delegations from Latin America visited China.

The administration of President George W. Bush argues that countries could use the ICC, based in The Hague, Netherlands, to prosecute U.S. citizens for political reasons. By signing the exemption–known as Article 98–nations agree not to transfer U.S. citizens to the ICC without U.S. consent.

An emerging dynamic that can’t be ignored’

"China’s increasing influence in the region is an emerging dynamic that can’t be ignored," said Craddock. "China needs to protect its access to food, energy, raw materials, and export markets. This has forced a change in its military strategy, to promote a power-projection military, capable of securing lanes and protecting its growing economic interests abroad."

During the recent tour of Vice President Zeng Qinghong of China in Latin America and the Caribbean (CB Feb. 17, 2005), David Jessop of the London-based Caribbean Council for Europe observed that both the U.S. and Europe "remain curiously silent about developments that suggest the long-term strategic balance of power in the Americas is changing if, as seems likely, China emerges as a super power to rival the U.S. All of this is happening at a time when the U.S. seems to wish to define the world in absolute terms."

The dispute over the ICC has been one of the issues dividing the 15-member Caribbean Community (Caricom) in its relations with the U.S. Caricom collectively had supported the ICC before two of its member states–Antigua & Barbuda and Guyana–broke ranks and signed agreements with the U.S. on the handing over of U.S. troops so the ICC could prosecute them for war crimes (CB Dec. 23, 2003).

Some regional observers point out that action was before the Iraqi conflict, which was collectively criticized by Caricom and by most Latin American countries. In the entire hemisphere the only countries to join the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq were the Dominican Republic, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. At the time Bush administration officials said privately that those countries that stood with the U.S. on Iraq will always be remembered.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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