Guyana holds a special place in China’s diplomatic history. It opened diplomatic relations with China as far back as 1972, the first country in this region to do so and at a time when China was struggling to break the bonds of isolation. China has always been grateful and developed political relations with the PNC, adding to that which had been historically established with the PPP.
Guyana is now not the only country in the region with diplomatic or economic relations with China. But with the discovery or petroleum in which a major, state-owned, Chinese company, CNOOC, has a significant interest, China would have obviously been looking to Guyana to further develop its economic relations. It is poised to do so with the plans and opportunities for infrastructure development and gas-to-shore operations long into the future.
But there is now another, less benign, reason for Guyana’s permanently enhanced visibility on China’s radar – its recent intention, now cancelled, of permitting Taiwan to establish a trade and investment office in Guyana. But the Government is not the only agency that can facilitate the establishment of Taiwan office. Any Taiwanese is free to rent or purchase office space and undertake trade and investment activities. But the Chinese know that the Taiwanese who come to Guyana to work will have to obtain a work permit which can only be issued by the Government and otherwise engage with the Government in numerous ways. Therefore, in whichever way it is conceived, the Government of Guyana has to give its imprimatur on the establishment of business relations with Taiwan.
There is no non-contentious route with China whereby relations with Taiwan can be made possible. Its firm policy toward Taiwan is well known and long established. The danger for Guyana is that China may decide to de-emphasize its relations with Guyana. China is the second largest economic power in the world and can afford to do so. The question is, can Guyana afford to lose China’s friendship?
Apart from the vast economic opportunities Guyana would lose, China has close relations with Venezuela and also has a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. If Venezuela takes military steps against Guyana, as some fear, if the ICJ rules in favour of Guyana, Guyana may not be able to count on China not using its veto against any UN resolution condemning Venezuela.