China reportedly ‘expanding rapidly’ in the backyard of the United States

Just over 200 miles from the U.S. Virgin Islands, and less than a five-hour flight to Florida, the Caribbean island of Antigua is “about to be razed for a Chinese-run special economic zone.”

According to leaked documents reviewed by Newsweek, the zone “will have its own customs and immigration formalities, a shipping port and a dedicated airline and will be able to issue passports. It will establish businesses offering everything from logistics to cryptocurrencies, facial surgery to ‘virology.'”

“China, its state-owned companies and aligned private businesses are expanding rapidly in the island nation of Antigua and Barbuda and in other Caribbean countries in this strategic region long known as ‘America’s third border,’ according to a Newsweek investigation of government and corporate documents as well as interviews with Antiguan leaders,” the outlet reports.

It likens China’s presence in the area to the last time a Communist nation attempted to set up shop on America’s doorstep.

“China’s growing regional presence is potentially the greatest external challenge to the United States in the Americas since the Soviet Union set up in Cuba in the 1960s—and the U.S. military is concerned,” Newsweek reports. “… Hundreds of millions of dollars of loans and grants from China and extensive construction by Chinese state-owned companies of critical infrastructure including ports, airports and water systems are turning Antigua—once considered part of America’s ‘backyard’—into China’s front yard, critics say.”

According to the Antigua Newsroom, “Antigua and Barbuda signed a memorandum of understanding with China on cooperation within the framework of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Silk Road Initiative in 2018, becoming the first Eastern Caribbean country to sign a Belt and Road cooperation MoU with China.”

In an interview with Newsweek, Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne had nothing but praise for Xi Jinping and his Communist nation.

“I see China, though, as a country that stands on truth, and a country that, you know, at least has some level of empathy for small states, and generally for poor and dispossessed persons globally,” Browne said. “One of the things that we have followed with Xi Jinping is he seems to have a base, a global view in terms of a common humanity.”

China offers 2 percent interest rates and a five-year moratorium on repayments, the prime minister told Newsweek, making it Antigua’s “lender of first choice.”

“Diplomats from Europe and Asia in the region suspect that China’s interests in Antigua are more than just economic,” Newsweek reports. “Its new embassy in St. John’s—dubbed The Fortress by Antiguans for its large size and tight security—may be a regional intelligence center alongside decades-old facilities that the U.S. says Beijing uses to spy from Cuba.”

“While the diplomats declined to provide details,” the outlet adds, “they said that because of close U.S. attention on Cuba, Antigua was both an expansion and a ‘fall back’ position.”

“Given the breadth of investment into logistics infrastructure China has made in the Caribbean, we are concerned that China could task its state-owned enterprises and diaspora to conduct intelligence or influence operations against the U.S. and our partners in the region for military purposes,” the Florida-based United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) told Newsweek. “Those concerns are further heightened when you consider the Chinese Communist Party’s practice of targeting, recruiting and bribing officials.”

Browne dismissed any notions of a Chinese intelligence base operating in Antigua, calling the thought “utter rubbish.”

SOUTHCOM isn’t so sure.

“We are aware that China may use its commercial and diplomatic presence for military purposes,” a spokesperson for SOUTHCOM told Newsweek. “In Asia, Africa and the Middle East, China has already abused commercial agreements at host-country ports for military aims; our concern is they may do the same in this region.”

Melissa Fine

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