Sitting under a tree in Woodford Square, Port-of-Spain, secretary of Fisherman and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) Gary Aboud made a tearful plea to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to mediate with
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T&T to open embassy in China
Within a month T&T will open its embassy in Bejing, China, more than 30 years after China established its embassy here in T&T. On June 20, 1974 China established diplomatic relations with T&T and in April of 1975 the embassy was established. Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran sees no issue in the delay in reciprocating. “It is all a matter of timing,” he said.
However, opposition member and foreign affairs minister under the PNM government Paula Gopee-Scoon claims the groundwork for the embassy was completed during her time in office. From his Tower C, Hyatt office, Minister Dookeran welcomed enquiries about the project. “There is no question that China is emerging as a leading economic power in the world, expecting to rival even the United States. It is also a leading nation of the BRICS,” which he said is viewed as the “new political fraction”.
BRICS is an acronym for the economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and since 2010, South Africa combined. The general consensus is that the term was first prominently used in a Goldman Sachs report from 2003, which speculated that by 2050 these economies would be wealthier than most of the current major economic powers. The setting up of the T&T Embassy in China is meant to ready this government to “make the shift in its global positioning from the traditional models.
“We are living in a world of shifting global political powers and we must adjust to deal with the shift, without negating the relationships we enjoyed with our traditional partners; this is multitracked diplomacy,” he said. The minister also sees the concretising of the T&T/China dynamic as good strategy to get into the Latin American market, anticipating that the Chinese presence in Latin America will increase.
It may prove to be a good strategy, since, it is believed that the Latin American/China affair is waxing warm. Javier Santiso, chief economist and deputy director of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Development Centre observes that “Latin America is looking towards China and Asia—and China and Asia are looking right back.
This is a major shift: for the first time in its history, Latin America can benefit from not one but three major engines of world growth. Until the 1980s, the United States was Latin America’s major trade partner. In the 1990s, a second growth engine emerged with the European investment boom in the region. Now, at the dawn of the new century, the emergence of Asia, and in particular China, has the potential to act as a third engine of growth.”
Outside of the global positioning and strategising, there is also the fact that this county already enjoys a good relationship with its soon-to-be Asian partner. According to a document from the Foreign Affairs Ministry, since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1974 T&T has entered into 40 bilateral agreements with China, where, “many of these agreements have included financial arrangements in the form of grants and interest-free and concession loans.”
To forward the county’s interest in strengthening bilateral relations, Dookeran said the Government is about to send two “young diplomats” to study and learn the diplomacy requirements of China. The Chinese are known to be very particular about protocol. “Within a short time they will go to physically establish an office, the preparatory work is being done. Cabinet has already approved the setting up of the Bejing office.”
Within a month, Minister Dookeran said a core group will be sent to staff the embassy office, while he anticipates it will take another three to six months to have the mission fully staffed and functioning to optimum. But Gopee-Scoon, MP for Point Fortin, said the preparatory work had already been done by her during the PNM administration.
“This goes back all the way to Dr Eric Williams who started diplomatic relations with countries which he felt we needed to have such relations; China was one such country. He did not establish an embassy but we always enjoyed good relations with China.” She said the setting up of the mission in China was a task finalised under the last PNM government.
“It was all finalised under my watch. We sent a mission to China and started the process of looking for the office location and for staff to staff the office. It was to have taken on the posture of a trade centre—trade would have been the focus.” She said evidence of this is contained in a Cabinet note. She said her government sent permanent secretary Margaret Parrillon to China for the ground work set up.
No matter who takes the credit for the establishment, Charge d’Affairs of the Chinese Embassy, Lan Heping, is just happy that it has happened. “We are very, very glad to see this development. We have been looking forward to this for a long time. It’s almost 40 years since China established its embassy in Port-of-Spain so we are glad that Trinidad has finally decided to have an embassy in Bejing,” she said.
Heping added that the establishment of a mission will be helpful with the bilateral relations between the two countries and would strengthen cultural and economic ties.
“It will work well for people-to-people communications. Having an embassy in Bejing will make it easier for the Chinese people to acquire visas to visit Trinidad, so you can look forward to more Chinese visitors, more trade and more cultural and eductional exchanges. Your culture is multicultural and we look forward to seeing the Chinese culture, through this development also become more multicultural.
Dookeran anticipates that upon the establishment of the mission there will be two key issues which he expects to emerge; the first is the “island issue” involving the claim being made by both China and Japan of “sovereignty” over the Diaoyu Islands, and the next, the issue of Korea and the potential for a nuclear threat. “Trinidad and Tobago will stick with the United Nations in terms of this position so we will be able to take a global collective approach to the issue.”
He added that a UN mission is expected to visit Port-of-Spain to talk about biological and chemical warfare, “to bring us up to scratch and ensure that we are able to comply with those responsibilities,” he said.