As President Trump hosts Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago, his campaign rhetoric excoriating China for currency manipulation, trade practices, and territorial expansions will hang over the summit.
“We don’t win anymore. We lose to China,” Trump would repeat on the stump, pledging that if he was elected that would stop and the United States would shift to an “America First” posture.
What Trump has failed to recognize or acknowledge is that Chinese expansion into regions that have traditionally been under the American umbrella of influence, particularly in the Western Hemisphere, means that his “America First” approach would effectively cede these regions to China and play into its case for being a global superpower.
Over the past several years, countries in the Caribbean and Central America have seen the Chinese seek to expand their influence. Between 2003 and 2012, Chinese investment in the regions increased 500 percent even as American investment declined. As a result, China has gained a foothold in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, the Bahamas, Antigua, Panama, and many other countries with geographical proximity to the United States.
China uses its state banks to invest heavily in these countries through infrastructure and other projects. For example, in 2015, its state owned Chinese Harbour Engineering Company agreed to build the “Beijing Highway” in Jamaica, a $600-million road stretching over 40 miles that is being built entirely by Chinese labor. The Jamaican government has provided the Chinese over 1,200 acres of land that runs along this four-lane highway, where they will build at least three luxury resorts.
And it is not just happening in Jamaica.
According to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, the American embassy in the Bahamas repeatedly expressed alarm at China’s moves to invest in the Bahamas and other Caribbean nations. Yet, both the Bush and Obama administrations failed to counter China’s actions and aggressive expansion.
The Bahamas are a nation where up until recently, Americans would invest, work, and vacation. Tourism accounts for over 60 percent of its GDP, and it used to be filled with resorts that were either owned or financed by American companies. Taking advantage of the Great Recession, Chinese government-owned banking and construction companies moved into the Bahamas with Chinese financing and labor to facilitate major infrastructure projects, from a sports stadium to roads to hotel construction and ownership, making the Bahamian government and the Bahamas itself entirely dependent on China for its economic future.
Now, China is pushing Americans out of the market with its $3.5 billion Baha Mar resort (the Chinese Export-Import Bank financed $2.6 billion of the overall cost), which would be the largest in Caribbean history. Having dealt with major construction setbacks and crediting issues, Baha Mar has become an expensive and embarrassing boondoggle. However, as the problems mounted, the Bahamian government, already finding itself reliant on the Chinese, further endeared itself to China by shutting off all other possible solutions and buyers other than those chosen by the Chinese.
Despite appearing to be a bad investment, China’s Baha Mar investment was a major geopolitical win and placed them in control of a country just 180 miles from the coast of the United States.
By pushing out Americans and the United States itself from these nations’ economies, China makes them dependent on Chinese investment and economic aid. In turn, the Chinese government is able to effectively control these now client nations. The end result is a greater economic and geopolitical threat to the United States itself.
To counter this growing problem, President Trump will need to shed his “America First” policy approach, which calls for focusing on the United States at home at the expense of its interests abroad. At the same time, Trump will need to embrace the very thing he has railed against: globalism.
Using the might of American public and private investment, in addition to economic aid, the United States can assist our Caribbean neighbors by investing in infrastructure programs and other projects. American companies and government can work together to invest in building roads and providing jobs to Jamaicans, Bahamians, Antiguans, and citizens of other nations in the region—which would be in stark contrast to China, which tends to use only Chinese labor on its projects.
The Monroe Doctrine makes clear that interference in the Western Hemisphere would be viewed as “the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.” While it was originally written to counter European expansion, it should be applied to China today as its aggressive expansion threatens the United States and its interests.
President Trump must counter China’s moves, but to do so would mean abandoning his “America First” policy. Not doing so would effectively be ending nearly 200 years of American policy and attitude toward the Western Hemisphere. Should Trump fail to do so, it would not be losing to China as he has repeatedly put it.
Trump would be surrendering to China without even a fight.
Evan Siegfried, a republican strategist and commentator, is the author of GOP GPS: How to Find the Millennials and Urban Voters the Republican Party Needs to Survive.