Hurricane Dorian has left the Bahamas in a state of devastation and the island-nation will require substantial assistance from the international community in order to recover. Estimates of property damage in the islands go as high as $7 billion.
As crass as it may sound at a time like this, the US would be foolish to ignore the serious national security implications of an international recovery effort taking place so close to our shore.
For good reason, US government officials are worried that China will use the tragedy as an opportunity to gain influence in the region. According to one official who wished to remain anonymous, there is concern that China will use “international aid efforts as a Trojan horse to establish a base of influence just 50 miles from the Florida coast. In the months and years ahead, the U.S. must also pay close attention if China emerges as a key player in the recovery effort.”
Fernando Cutz, a former senior director in the Trump administration’s National Security Council, told NPR:
There are certainly concerns about the Chinese having full access to the region. You could imagine a situation where they would develop intelligence capabilities, intelligence gathering capabilities.
And, of course, they could potentially one day have a base, a naval base or some sort of Chinese military base that close to our shore would pose a very significant national security issue for the United States.
John Dermody, a former deputy legal adviser at the National Security Council also spoke to NPR and said:
The administration will see this as part of a broader concern about China investing in countries as a threat to make potentially those countries beholden to China or indebted to China and to diminish the United States’s influence in the Western Hemisphere. And I would say that the concern is particularly acute where the investment is going to be in information technology. And in light of the catastrophic damage of the Bahamas, I think that is going to be an issue.
The Chinese have made substantial investments in recent years in “energy, infrastructure and mining projects around the world, gaining influence in continents like Africa and South America.”
Axios reports that Chinese tech giant Huawei has helped build telecommunications networks in countries such as the Bahamas, where phone wiring has been largely destroyed by the storm.”
José Cárdenas, who served on the National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration spoke to NPR. He believes that these “concerns are real” and said it is important for “the United States to continue its campaign speaking to the broader region that the Chinese presence isn’t “all sweetness and light.”
Cárdenas added, “The temptation is so great to take advantage of Chinese largesse. But to the peoples of the hemisphere, the United States ought to be very clear in a public diplomacy campaign that the Chinese government largesse comes with a lot of baggage. It comes with a lot of strings attached, and it has implications for democratic institutions and rule of law.”
I’m sure this is very much on the minds of Trump administration officials and that precautions will be taken and surveillance will continue indefinitely.