This year, China and Guyana are celebrating 47 years of diplomatic relations – a milestone in bilateral relations between the two countries. Guyana was the first English-speaking country in the Caribbean to establish diplomatic ties with China in 1972, resulting in the establishment of an embassy in the capital Beijing.
China is the second largest trading partner of Latin America and the Caribbean, which is also a major destination for outbound Chinese investment, second only to Asia. Total China-Latin America trade increased from US$17 billion in 2002 to almost US$262 billion in 2014 and was valued at US$257 billion in 2017. In 2015, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) President set a goal of total China-Latin America trade reaching US$500 billion in 10 years.
China’s imports from Latin America and the Caribbean amounted to about US$126 billion in 2017, accounting for seven per cent of China’s overall imports; China’s exports to the region amounted to US$131 billion, accounting for 5.7 per cent of China’s total exports.
China’s diplomatic overtures in Latin America underpin China’s economic activities and help it to institutionalise its engagement in the region and garner support in international fora. Some analysts argue that China’s activities in the region reflect a global strategy to reduce US dominance, although they do not aim to challenge the United States directly or militarily.
China’s diplomatic efforts include being an observer at the Organisation of American States, a member of the Inter-American Development Bank and the Caribbean Development Bank, and an active participant in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. A 2016 PRC policy paper on Latin America and the Caribbean stated that China sought to strengthen cooperation on the basis of “equality and mutual benefit” in several key areas, including exchanges and dialogues, trade and investment, agriculture, energy, infrastructure, manufacturing, and technological innovation.
Despite this being the 47th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Guyana and China, the relationship between the two countries began as early as 1853. Chinese citizens from Guangdong province migrated to Guyana (then British Guiana), to assist with alleviating labour shortages across the country. Many of the descendants of these immigrants became influential members of Guyanese society, such that in 1970, Arthur Chung, a man of Chinese descent, was appointed as Guyana’s first President. He was the first ethnic Chinese to be Head of State of a non-Asian country.
Over the years, the relationship between the two countries has continued to grow and strengthen in the fields of transportation, infrastructure, information technology, health and security. Guyana has benefited significantly from increased Chinese investment and the trade volume between both countries has tripled within the last decade.
The recent discovery of oil serves to complement the country’s core industries, including forestry, mining, energy, agriculture, construction and manufactured goods. All of these assets continue to make Guyana a lucrative investment destination for Chinese companies. The two nations remain further committed to a series of wide-ranging initiatives through the China-CELAC Forum, the principal vehicle for China-Caribbean cooperation.
With China becoming an increasingly more influential partner in the region, it stands to reason that its partnership with Guyana will continue to be one of strategic importance.
While enjoying deep diplomatic relations, China and Guyana hold similar views and have consistently echoed and supported each other’s positions, be they on key international issues such as UN reform, climate change, sustainable development, regional integration and cooperation between China and the Caribbean. Over the years, the strong, comprehensive programme of bilateral cooperation has resulted in Guyana benefiting from the services of Chinese medical doctors and technicians, the donation of equipment to the health sector, the educational work of the Confucius Institute, the support given to the Bertram Collins College of the Public Service, infrastructural support for the expansion and renovation of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA), the widening of the East Coast Demerara Public Road, and the donation of vehicles and other equipment to the Guyana Police Force and the Guyana Defence Force.