Conservatives in Dominican Republic Fear Becoming ‘Hostage’ to China’s Belt and Road

BEIJING, CHINA - MAY 1: China's State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi shakes hands with Dominican Republic's Chancellor Miguel Vargas during a signing ceremony on May 1, 2018 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Damir Sagolj - Pool/Getty Images)
Damir Sagolj - Pool/Getty Images

A senior leader of one of the Dominican Republic’s most prominent conservative political parties told Breitbart News he is concerned the island nation, just a little over 200 miles from the United States, could become a “hostage” in China’s growing bid for hegemony.

In an interview with Breitbart News, the vice president of the National Progressive Force – a socially conservative, pro-U.S., small government party – Pelegrín Castillo said recent remarks by Chinese Ambassador to the Dominican Republic Zhang Run urging the country to allow China to bid to develop one of the nation’s most strategic ports was alarming and shockingly disrespectful of the Republic’s internal affairs. Zhang is openly advocating for the country to open a public bidding war for the development of the Manzanillo Port, rather than sign an agreement with U.S. developers that would keep China’s “Belt and Road” workers out of the area.

“That project is very easy, it is not a large project, we have built the largest ports in the world, seven of the 10 largest are in China,” Zhang said in an interview in mid-January. “It’s a little port and since I arrived in the country they are talking about it.”

“For me, it is easy that they establish a project, that they [the Dominican government] convene a commercial, public, free, transparent bidding for all countries and that their companies participate according to the rules of the market,” he insisted. “In alliance with local companies, well, with all kinds of methodology, but that it gets done.”

Zhang also said that China had offered Santo Domingo a $600 million credit line to rebuild its increasingly faulty electric grid, but “the ball is in the Dominican court.”

“Chinese Ambassador Zhang Run erred in calling publicly for the Dominican government to accelerate a call for bidding on the Manzanillo Port [development], which is anchored in an area that is strategic for the security and development of the Island and the Region, virtually taking for granted that Chinese contractors would win that bidding with great ease,” Castillo told Breitbart News. “The base of the development of Manzanillo should be conceived and executed very carefully because, in addition to hosting a great port, it [is home to] several critical infrastructure establishments (shipyards, energy sector, industrial and commercial sector, and human settlements) valuable for the development of the Republic.”

“It also has strategic value for [national] security given its location. To undertake its development, there must be a national and international security vision,” Castillo emphasized.

The Manzanillo port is about 350 miles from Puerto Rico, the closest United States territory to it; it is about 450 miles from the Virgin Islands and about 725 miles from Key West.

Under its “Belt and Road” program, China has increasingly offered astronomical loan sums to developing countries at high interest rates, required the countries to use the money to pay Chinese workers to build infrastructure projects, then seized the infrastructure once the country could no longer pay back the loans. The archetypical case of this is the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka, which the Chinese now own, placing them off the shores of their closest geopolitical rival, India.

The Pentagon has warned that China is using “Belt and Road” to expand its military footprint around the world, including Latin America.

“China, without a doubt a great nation representing a very different culture, is in an expansionist phase unprecedented in its history, and the totalitarian nature of the regime that governs it is progressively leading it to struggle for world hegemony,” Castillo noted. For the Dominican Republic, China’s struggle to take over influence in regions close to the United States is “a high-danger scenario: the biggest [concern] of all that of … becoming hostages or sacrificial pieces on the game board.”

Maneuvers in Dominican politics, he continued, “are subtly promoting the ideological vision that it is an inescapable historical process that China becomes dominant.”

The Dominican Republic established diplomatic relations with China in April 2018, after 70 years of friendly ties with Taiwan, “with a total lack of strategic intelligence,” according to Castillo. Under its “One China” policy, China refuses to have any diplomatic links with a country that recognizes the reality of Taiwan’s sovereignty; Taiwan is an independent state that has never been a part of the People’s Republic of China. Beijing bullies other states, and international bodies like the United Nations, into ignoring this fact and treating Taiwan as a rogue province.

By October 2018, the Global Times, a Chinese state propaganda outlet, was celebrating the deluge of Chinese manufactured products and contractor jobs flooding the Dominican Republic.

“Advertisements for Huawei’s latest mobile phones are popping up on local streets, network projects by China Communications Construction Company are under construction, and Lenovo products are on display in electronics stores,” the Global Times beamed. Seeking even more Chinese investment, Dominican President Danilo Medina visited Beijing in November 2018.
Pressure to give up an agreement with Washington agencies to survey how much money and effort it would take to turn the Manzanillo Port area into a state-of-the-art industrial and tourist destination came soon after.

Castillo warned that he believes China is actively trying to become more present in the Caribbean “as a way to replicate the actions of the United States and other countries challenging the maritime expansion of the Asian power in the South China Sea.”

China illegally claims most of the South China Sea even after losing a case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague in 2016. Beijing has flooded parts of Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, and Malaysia with military infrastructure it is not legally allowed to build and routinely protests when the U.S. Navy sends warships into international waters in the sea, claiming them to be Chinese.

China’s aggressive expansion, Castillo concluded, requires the United States to “revisit deeply its relationship with the failed globalist ideology” and, in particular, strengthen ties in the Caribbean.

“[The Caribbean] is a region that urgently needs to rearticulate itself as a region,” Castillo said, “and for that, it is important to end the Cuban dictatorship and reconcile Cuba with democracy and liberty; to rescue with seriousness Haiti from its status as a failed state; to redefine the precarious status of Puerto Rico, and particularly, to avoid destabilizing the Dominican Republic and the imposition of a dictatorship sustained by a political and ideological alignment with China and its allies on the continent.”

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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