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By NAN Staff Writer

News Americas, WASHINGTON, D.C., Weds. Mar. 17, 2021: The Joe Biden administration’s diplomacy in the Caribbean is again being overshadowed by China and Russia, whose dictatorial leaders have both seized upon the US’ seeming non-interest in the region to zone in.

Facing mounting criticism of its response to the crisis in Haiti and its decision to not export any vaccines until all Americans are fully vaccinated, China and Russia have pounced.

On Tuesday, Guyana’s President, Dr Irfaan Ali, along with a high-level team of Government Ministers, held discussions with China’s President, Xi Jinping on a number of key issues that pertain to increased bilateral cooperation and help from China against the COVID-19 pandemic.

China’s State-run Xinhua News Agency reported that during the call, President Xi proposed that the upcoming 50th anniversary of the two countries’ diplomatic ties be used to push for increased bilateral ties. “They stressed their nations’ excellent bilateral relations that should facilitate executing Guyana’s infrastructural component of its development drive,” the report said, adding that the Guyana also raised the Belt and Road initiative, with the Chinese President suggesting the promotion of cooperation on the Initiative as well as the expansion of collaboration in other areas like energy and infrastructure.

Additionally, the Chinese President is reported to have pledged increased cooperation to assist Guyana with vaccines and other help against the COVID-19 pandemic. Guyana recently received 20,000 doses of Chinese vaccine, after agreeing to China’s request to ‘correct’ its decision to allow Taiwan to open a trade office.

The virtual meeting is reported to have also seen Xi urging that the two countries strengthen collaboration when it comes to the United Nations, the Caribbean Community (Caricom) and the fight against climate change.

“Xi stressed that both China and Guyana are developing countries and have similar positions on a series of international and regional issues. The two sides should strengthen collaboration in issues related to the United Nations and climate change, so as to foster a more fair and equitable reform of international systems,” the report said.

Guyana was the first country in the English-speaking Caribbean to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. on June 27, 1972.

On Tuesday also, the Chinese President also had a call Trinidad & Tobago’s Prime Minister with reports saying the meeting included specific dialogue on COVID19 and both nations’ efforts to control the infection and keep their respective populations safe.

“President Xi thanked the Government of Trinidad and Tobago for our provision of a consignment of PPE (personal protective equipment) to China early in the year 2020, and took the opportunity to indicate that China would respectfully assist our national efforts to access approved covid19 vaccines in the near future,” Foreign and Caricom Affairs Minister Dr Amery Browne told the Trinidad Newsday newspaper.  Xi added that China would like to strengthen cooperation on energy, the digital economy, telecommunications and infrastructure.

Earlier this month, China donated Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccines to Dominica as China provided aid in the form of medical supply donations and financial support with a $1 billion loan to be used toward vaccine access in the Latin America and the Caribbean region.

Russia

Russia has taken a similar approach to vaccine diplomacy in an attempt to use the pandemic to assert its global power in Latin America and the Caribbean, including Cuba, promising to provide needy countries in the Western Hemisphere with its vaccines once approved. Russia in August became the first in the world to approve a COVID-19 vaccine with the locally developed Sputnik V. Its use is spreading to other former Soviet republics, and countries in Latin America and Africa.

Now it’s looking to step beyond vaccine diplomacy and seeing the new opportunity in Haiti. Maria Vladimirovna Zakharova, the spokesman and director of the information and press department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, said last week that Russia can help Haiti restore political stability, secure the country and train its law enforcement.

“As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, we’re closely following the events in Haiti, it raises our concern,” Zakharova said. “Currently, this Caribbean country is going through a new cycle of political instability that has lasted for more than a quarter of a century.”

The US’ weak retort came Tuesday at the prodding of a reporter, when Jalina Porter, Principal Deputy Spokesperson of the U.S. State Department. Asked about Haiti and the US’ response on the Russia comment said: “Well, again, what I’ll – I’ll just say – I’ll just stress our commitment to the people of Haiti.  The United States is committed to helping the Haitian people to build a better future.”

The US has also reportedly stepped up pressure on countries accepting the Russian vaccine, even as it offers nothing to fill the need. Biden has yet to make a call to CARICOM or any of its leaders.

Interestingly, the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Governmental Affairs (OGA), has pressured countries to not accept vaccines manufactured in Russia in a section of a report entitled “combatting malign influences in the Americas.”

“OGA used diplomatic relations in the Americas region to mitigate efforts by states, including Cuba, Venezuela, and Russia, who are working to increase their influence in the region to the detriment of US safety and security,” read the HHS report. “Examples include using OGA’s Health Attaché office to persuade Brazil to reject the Russian COVID-19 vaccine, and offering CDC technical assistance in lieu of Panama accepting an offer of Cuban doctors.”

Russia’s Ministry of Health, which oversaw development of the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine, has snapped back stating: “We believe countries should work together to save lives. Efforts to undermine the vaccines are unethical and are costing lives.”

As the diplomatic war for control of the US’ own backyard goes on, the Biden administration’s response has so far can largely be summed up as a “mutter and a squeak.”

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