A strategic challenge for the US: China and The Bahamas


A primary focus of the Biden administration’s national security policy has been the great power relationship between the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). That relationship is multifaceted. 

As Harvard professor and former Defense Department official Joseph Nye points out in a New York Times article, “Competition with China is a three-dimensional game. And if we continue to play two-dimensional chess, we will lose.” Nye’s three dimensions are military, economic and social, but there is an important subset to the three — regional concerns.


Miami  -  Bimini Bahamas = 55 Miles

Palm Beach -  Grand Bahama = 66 miles

Key West - Havana Cuba = 100 miles

PRC activity in The Bahamas is an example of the three dimensions plus regional activity coalescing in a direct challenge to U.S. interests. This challenge is not theoretical; it is existential. A recent article in the Bahamian paper, The Nassau Guardian, lays it out clearly: “Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism, Investments and Aviation Chester Cooper is inviting Chinese investors to take advantage of opportunities in the tourism, agricultural and renewable energy sectors and to partner with the government on projects such as the upcoming public/private partnership (PPP) airport redevelopment project.”

Specifically, over the past dozen years, China has made a number of investments in The Bahamas, including a $30 million grant to build a national stadium; preferential loans to build a $3 billion megaport at Freeport; and $40 million to build a port off the Bahamian island of Abaco. Further, the China EXIM Bank provided over $54 million in preferential loans to build a four-lane highway and loaned nearly $3 billion to build the Baha Mar Resort. The China State Engineering Corporation purchased the British Hilton Colonial as part of a $250 million construction project.

PRC involvement in The Bahamas is not simply about its willingness to invest in the island nation. It is focused on moving The Bahamas away from the U.S. and toward China. Because of recent crises, The Bahamas, a longtime U.S. ally, is more vulnerable to PRC overtures. The Bahamas was devastated in 2019 by Hurricane Dorian. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) estimates that the hurricane cost The Bahamas $3.4 billion, approximately one-fourth of its GDP. Adding economic insult to injury, the World Bank estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic caused an economic contraction of approximately 16.2 percent in 2020.


In addition, unemployment and poverty levels increased as a result of these two crises. It is worth noting that, according to the U.S. State Department, “Despite its World Bank designation as a high-income country, income inequality is higher in The Bahamas than in other Caribbean countries.”


There are also strategic considerations for the U.S. with The Bahamas. For example, the Coast Guard has been working with The Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos (British) for a number of years on a program countering the flow of drugs through the region. The Navy has a submarine testing center in The Bahamas. The U.S. government this year gave $5.9 million in boats and communications equipment to the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF). The Bahamian government has been supportive of U.S. policy toward Venezuela and Nicaragua at the United Nations and Organization of American States.

The threat that China poses to U.S. interests in The Bahamas was not lost on Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander, United States Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command (USNORTHCOM). In testimony before Congress this year, he stated: “China continues to pursue an aggressive geopolitical strategy that seeks to undermine U.S. influence around the globe and shape the international environment to its advantage. In the USNORTHCOM area of responsibility, China has made deliberate attempts to increase its economic and political influence with our close partners in Mexico and The Bahamas.” 

The Biden administration has shown a consistent, strategic effort to deal with the China challenge. In his recent European trip, President Biden lifted steel and aluminum tariffs that the previous administration imposed. As part of the arrangement, European Union exports would have to be entirely domestically manufactured with no inputs from China. There also was an agreement to restrict imports contingent on how much carbon is involved with their production, which would have an impact on China. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo recently announced that the U.S. would work to use European and Asian supply chains, rather than those of the PRC.

USAID and the Development Finance Corporation (DFC) can work with investors and aid donors to help The Bahamas to rebuild its economy. The IDB and World Bank have the resources and expertise to complement U.S. bilateral economic engagement with The Bahamas.


As Gen. VanHerck pointed out, the U.S. has strategic issues it must consider with respect to The Bahamas. Increased engagement with the RBDF, as well as increased drug interdiction engagement, would help strengthen the military side of the U.S.-Bahamian ledger.

Tourism is a primary source of income and job creation for The Bahamas. The Department of Commerce, in particular, should work with the Bahamian government to rebuild this essential part of its economy in the wake of Hurricane Dorian and the pandemic. Emphasizing creative approaches such as eco-tourism could help with this undertaking.

It has been over a decade since the U.S. has had an ambassador in The Bahamas. This sends a negative signal that the relationship is not important to the U.S., playing into the hands of China. The U.S. needs an ambassador who not only knows The Bahamas but also understands the complicated political environment of Washington, and those in the Senate holding up nominations must cease and desist. Our national security is at stake.

The Biden administration has an opportunity to continue with its policy toward the PRC by engaging The Bahamas as a counter to China’s efforts to expand its influence in the backyard of the U.S.

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With China, a ‘Cold War’ Analogy Is Lazy and Dangerous

BY JOSEPH S. NYE JR - NYT.  11/02/21

A new idea is gaining currency among some politicians and policymakers in Washington: The United States is in a cold war with China . It’s a bad idea — bad on history, bad on politics, bad for our future.

The Biden administration has wisely pushed back on the framing. But the president’s actions suggest that his strategy for dealing with China may indeed suffer from Cold War thinking, which locks our minds into the traditional two-dimensional chess model.

Competition with China, though, is a three-dimensional game. And if we continue to play two-dimensional chess, we will lose.

While neither the conflict with the Soviet Union nor the current competition with China has led to all-out combat, the games are very different. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was a direct military and ideological threat to the United States. We had almost no economic or social connections: Containment was a feasible objective.

Because the game was based on a simple two-dimensional premise — that the only fight was between their respective militaries — each side depended on the other not to pull the trigger. But with China, the three-dimensional game features a distribution of power at each level — military, economic and social — not just one.

That is why the Cold War metaphor, although convenient, is lazy and potentially dangerous. It obscures and misleads us by underestimating the real challenge we face — and offering ineffective strategies.

On the economic level, the United States and China are deeply interdependent. The United States had more than half a trillion dollars in trade with China in 2020. While some voices in Washington talk about “decoupling,” it would be foolish to think we can separate our economy completely from China without enormous costs. And we should not expect other countries to do so either, since China is reportedly now the largest trading partner of more countries than the United States.

The social fabrics of the United States and China are also deeply intertwined: There are millions of social connections, from students and tourists and others, between the two countries. And it’s physically impossible to decouple ecological issues like pandemics and climate change.

Interdependence is a double-edged sword. It creates networks of sensitivity to what is happening in another country that can encourage caution. But it also creates vulnerabilities that both Beijing and Washington can try to manipulate as tools of influence.

Despite the above factors, a two-dimensional mind-set assumes the United States can take on China largely because of its military superiority. While China is modernizing its forces , the United States is still the only truly global power. (Though it’s unclear how long that will last .) We must carefully plot our horizontal moves — like improving relations with India and reinforcing our alliance with Japan — on the traditional military board of chess to maintain the balance of power in Asia. At the same time, we cannot continue to ignore the different power relations on the economic or transnational boards — and how those levels interact. If we do, we will suffer.

On the economic board, the distribution of power is multipolar, with the United States, China, Europe and Japan the largest players. And on the transnational board, when it comes to issues such as climate change and pandemics, nongovernmental actors play powerful roles and no country is in control.

And yet, the United States has an inadequate trade policy for East Asia , which leaves the field to China. On transnational issues, the United States risks letting sour relations with Beijing jeopardize climate goals. China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases . Foreign Minister Wang Yi has warned America not to expect climate negotiations to remain an oasis in a desert of overall relations.

No country can solve transnational issues like climate change and pandemics alone. And so the politics of ecological interdependence involve power with as well as over others.

The political competition today is also different. The United States and its allies are not threatened by the export of Communism in the same way they were in the days of Stalin or Mao. There is less proselytizing; few today take to the streets in favor of “Xi Jinping thought.”

Instead, China manipulates the system of deep economic and political interdependence to support its authoritarian government and to influence opinion in democracies to counter and pre-empt criticism. For evidence of that, we just have to look at China’s economic punishment of our allies Norway and Australia for daring to knock China on human rights . A three-dimensional strategy would recognize and respond to the fact that these actions taken by China create opportunities for us to take supportive steps that will in turn increase our influence. Trade agreements would help, as does the recent agreement to export our nuclear submarine technology to Australia.

For better and worse, we are locked in a “cooperative rivalry” with China that requires a strategy that can accomplish those two contradictory things — compete and cooperate — at the same time.

At home, the United States must reinforce its technological advantages by increasing support for research and development. On the military board, this means restructuring traditional forces to incorporate new technologies and strengthening the aforementioned alliances.

On the economic board, American withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership left a gaping hole in an important area of trade. And on transnational issues we need to strengthen and develop institutions and international treaties — such as the World Health Organization and the Paris climate accord — to cope with health and climate issues.

Pessimists look at China’s population size and economic growth rates and believe they will prevail. But if we treat our allies as assets, the combined military strength and economic wealth of Western-aligned democracies — the United States, Europe, Japan — will far exceed that of China well into this century.

President Biden is correct that Cold War talk has more negative than positive effects. But he also needs to ensure that his China strategy suits the three-dimensional game.