The celebration this year of 30 years of diplomatic relations between the Co-operative Republic of Guyana and the People’s Republic of China marked a major milestone in Guyana’s diplomatic history and international relations. Both sides have benefited from the relations which have been of a practical, if not pragmatic, nature.
Formal relations were established in June 1972 after a two-year courtship during which the two sides significantly modified the positions they had held towards each other prior to 1970. The Guyana Government at first had relations with the Republic of China (ROC), Taiwan, which held a seat in the UN Security Council.
On the other hand, the PRC supported local micro-groups such as the Working People’s Vanguard Party (WPVP) Marxist-Leninist (ML) and the Movement against Oppression (MAO), an activity which the Guyana Government regarded as interference in this country’s internal affairs.
With the petering out of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, support for such local groups ceased. And, although at that time the PPP opposed relations with the PRC in preference to the USSR, the PNC Administration swung its support from the ROC to the PRC. At the same time, of course, economic and diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (Taiwan) were terminated.
The Administration’s need to attract aid and investment, access appropriate technology, increase exports and diversify markets, all economic objectives, were the main grounds on which it based its decision to support the PRC’s bid to occupy the permanent seat in the UN Security Council. On the other hand, the PRC was quick to acknowledge Guyana’s growing international influence and prestige in the Non-Aligned Movement and the community of newly-Independent Caribbean states. Guyana’s diplomatic demarche, therefore, played a not insignificant role in the PRC’s entry into the UN and in undermining support for the ROC.
As a result, the Guyanese and Chinese Governments quickly found common ground. A Chinese trade mission visited Georgetown as early as August 1971 and, in November, a Guyanese mission visited Beijing. Following these early contacts, Beijing agreed to buy alumina, bauxite, construction wood and sugar from Guyana which in turn entered a contract to import Chinese products and received an interest-free loan of G$52 M, repayable over 20 years with a 10-year moratorium.
That was the start. Agreements were also reached for Chinese technicians to train Guyanese in rice expansion, cotton-growing and bricklaying, the sort of expertise required for what the Administration called its ‘Feed, Clothe and House the nation’ development thrust. Diplomatic visits by Prime Minister Forbes Burnham, President Arthur Chung and others followed where trade delegations led.
The PRC today possess one of the three largest embassy compounds in Georgetown (along with the USA and the former USSR), the recent concrete manifestation of its first embassy in the Commonwealth Caribbean. But the fruits of Guyanese-Chinese co-operation were already visible in projects such as the Bel-Lu Claybrick factory in the Canals Polder; the G&C Sanata Textile mill in Ruimveldt, and the Hydro-electric Plant in Moco Moco. Over the last four years, a bicycle assembly plant and the Guyana Green Farm have also been established.
There has also been military co-operation which includes the training of GDF Officers, the purchase of the Y-12 aircraft, and the exchange of delegations.
Several Chinese medical teams have come to work in Guyana’s health system and, last month, an agreement was signed for Chinese assistance in the construction of a modern conference centre at Liliendaal.
Over the past 30 years, Guyana-China relations have moved from caution to co-operation and remain cordial, respectful and vibrant.
Guyana had opened its Embassy in Beijing in 1973. It has been without an Ambassador for the last nine years and, given its original intention and the present imperative of economic diplomacy, it is perhaps time for the Administration to re-consider the possibility of appointing a full-rank Ambassador in Beijing to take greater advantage of a long-standing relationship.
The PRC has now become one of the most important economic powerhouses in the world and Guyana, one of the least, can benefit much from strengthening its friendship with China.