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Chinese labor concerns near 2007 elections

NG Deputy News Editor

Published: Jun 28, 2011

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In a March 2007 conversation between Chinese and American diplomats, a Chinese official said that delays in work on the $30 million stadium for The Bahamas resulted from concerns by the then Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) administration regarding the use of Chinese labor in the country so close to a general election, according to a cable from the U.S. Embassy in Nassau obtained from WikiLeaks.

Last Wednesday, the stadium, which is a gift to The Bahamas from China, was officially handed over to The Bahamas by China.  The stadium was built with Chinese labor.

At the handing over ceremony, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said 326 Chinese worked on the project.  At the peak of construction during December 2009, Ingraham added that 217 Chinese worked at the site.

During the meeting between the Americans and the Chinese official, whose name is being withheld, he expressed frustration to the Americans over the delay in concluding the stadium deal.

“He said Chinese architects were in Nassau with a limited number of Chinese workers, but (the Chinese diplomat) attributed construction delays to Bahamian sensitivities to the use of Chinese labor for the project. ‘We do not expect action before elections, because approval of a large number of Chinese workers would raise concerns,’ (the Chinese diplomat) said,” according to the cable.

“However, (the Chinese diplomat) was concerned that delays threatened the deadlines in the stadium agreement, requiring additional negotiation with the Bahamian government.  (The Chinese diplomat) said that the Bahamian Attorney General's Office is a bottleneck, delaying projects over unimportant issues.  Echoing frustrations often voiced in our own embassy, (the Chinese diplomat) said, ‘it sometimes feels difficult to give The Bahamas money.’”

Taking a snipe at the decision making process of the Bahamian bureaucracy at the time, the Americans said in the cable that they took consolation in the fact that their “long-felt frustrations with the Bahamian bureaucracy are shared by our diplomatic colleagues from across the Pacific.”

The groundbreaking for the stadium took place in July 2006 while the PLP was still in power.  The conversation between the Chinese and Americans took place a few weeks before the May 2, 2007 general election.

The construction documents were finalized in October 2007 and construction commenced on the stadium in July 2009, according to Ingraham.

Ingraham’s government endured similar challenges negotiating the labor issue with the Chinese regarding the Baha Mar project after coming to office in May 2007.  However, the issue the Ingraham government faced was more pronounced, as 8,150 foreign laborers (mostly Chinese) were eventually consented to in order to build that resort.

Last Thursday, a day after the Chinese handed over the stadium to The Bahamas, Opposition leader Perry Christie thanked China for the gift through its ambassador to The Bahamas, Hu Shan.

“My sole interest was to provide a gift and legacy for the young people of our country,” he said.

At the handover ceremony Ingraham described the 15,000 seat facility as the “jewel in the crown of what will be a thoroughly modern, world-class Queen Elizabeth Sports Centre with facilities extending over 450 acres.”

In April the government signed a $48.5 million contract with two Bahamian companies for the Queen Elizabeth Sports Centre Redevelopment Project, which is an effort to upgrade infrastructure in the area to compliment the stadium.

During the 2007 conversation, the Chinese diplomat also discussed the oversight system of his government at the time regarding its embassy in The Bahamas.

“‘We have no reporting obligation to Beijing and don't need to prepare analytical pieces.  Because The Bahamas is so small, we are able to control our work without Beijing being closely involved,’” said the Chinese diplomat according to the cable.

Since the conversation, China has invested $2.6 billion in the Baha Mar project along with tens of millions of dollars in loans to the Bahamian government for road work and infrastructure projects on various islands.

It is unclear if Beijing now exercises more control over the activities of its embassy in The Bahamas as a result.

High-ranking Chinese officials have also begun making The Bahamas a regular stop when they visit the Western Hemisphere — the latest being Wang Lequan, deputy secretary of the Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) Central Committee, earlier this month.


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