Anyone who has been to Haiti’s capital knows that crumbling infrastructure, terrible gridlock and blackouts are the norm.
Youri Chevry, the mayor of Port-au-Prince, says foreign aid can help him change all that — but not from Haiti’s traditional partners. From mainland China.
“We don’t have a city,” said Chevry, who campaigned on reviving the destitute capital city, which was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake. “It’s not about China, or anybody else. It’s about rebuilding Port-au-Prince. China is offering me something that I like and I want to go for it.”
The Dominican Republic, Haiti’s next door neighbor on the island of Hispaniola, has just entered into a new partnership with China after it reportedly offered $3.1 billion in investments and loans. In the process, the Dominican Republic severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan, a relationship it has had for 77 years.
Will Haiti be the next to find China’s money too tempting to turn down?
Since last summer, two Chinese companies — Southwest Municipal Engineering Design and Research Institute and the Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC), a state-owned construction firm — have been negotiating with Chevry over a $4.7 billion plan to rebuild the municipality of Port-au-Prince and transform it into a more modern city, according to the mayor and representatives of the Haitian firm involved in the negotiations.
Southwest Municipal did not respond to an email seeking comment and MCC could not be reached. But in an Aug. 25, 2017, letter sent by Chevry to Southwest adviser Xie Yong Jian, the city government confirmed its acceptance of the proposal. The letter was signed by Chevry and his two vice mayors. The mayors said they decided to support the project “after thorough research and prudent consideration.”
Among the offerings to the city of Port-au-Prince: a 600-megawatt power plant, a 559-mile water distribution network, a sewage system with wastewater treatment plants, reconstructed roads, street security cameras, and a reconstructed downtown with a rebuilt city hall, parks and markets.
“If these things happen, it’s going to be a real start for Haiti, not just Port-au-Prince,” said Chevry, who initially just wanted to rebuild City Hall and the famous Croix-des-Bossale market where slaves were once sold, before the Chinese offered much more.
But there is a problem. Haiti remains loyal to Taiwan, which has been scrambling to hold on to its diplomatic allies as China steps up its campaign to force formal recognition of its “One China” policy by luring countries away from Taiwan with economic incentives. Because Beijing considers Taiwan to be a breakaway province that will one day be reunified with China, it won’t extend diplomatic relations to countries that recognize Taiwan. The Dominican Republic became the second country in the region, after Panama last year, to make the switch to Beijing, reducing Taiwan’s diplomatic allies to just 19.
China’s latest poaching comes amid a threat of a trade war with the United States, and rising concerns by some U.S. lawmakers and the State Department about China’s expansion into Latin America. A State Department spokesperson for the western hemisphere said the department is not only disappointed by the Dominican Republic’s decision, but also “the timing of that decision; and the manner in which it was conveyed to the Dominican Republic’s international partners.”
In Port-au-Prince, U.S. embassy officials have been trying to assess the state of Haiti and Taiwan’s relationship, which dates back to 1956 following Taiwan and China’s bitter 1949 split and the start of their rivalry for global recognition.