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The Commonwealth

Barbados is falling into a trap

Rihanna, right, and PM Mia Mottley at a ceremony marking Barbados’s new status as a republic

Barbados risks “trading one empire for another”, says Martin Ivens in Bloomberg. Last week the country removed the Queen as head of state and declared itself a republic. That’s all very well, but it “should be wary of swapping the purely symbolic figurehead of the Queen for a deeper servitude to China”. Beijing has poured $6bn into the Caribbean since 2013 and has a track record of pushing smaller countries into debt traps. In 2017 Sri Lanka was forced to hand China a 99-year lease on its second largest port after failing to pay back the debt for its redevelopment.

The West should be worried. The warm relationship between Barbados and Beijing “is a miniature case study for the projection of Chinese influence across the world”. China has invested hundreds of billions of dollars into Commonwealth countries in recent years. By contrast, “for all its talk of post-Brexit global ambitions, the British government has failed to invest in the Commonwealth’s soft power”. It’s about time Britain and the US woke up to the threat of Chinese debt diplomacy, which “translates into votes at the United Nations Assembly and other UN bodies”. The most “notorious instance” of this was the World Health Organisation’s weak response to the cover-up of the Covid outbreak in Wuhan. Next time it could be something even more consequential.

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