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6/19/16

Suriname: China's Stake In Suriname: Why Is Beijing Interested In This Small South American Country? - by Patricia Rey Mallén

Little is known in the outside world about Suriname, a small country on the northern coast of South America. Wedged -- along with neighbors Guyana and French Guiana -- between Brazil and Venezuela, the old Dutch colony has stayed largely quiet and under the radar throughout some of the most turbulent episodes of recent Latin American history.

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But it has certainly attracted the attention of natural-resource-hungry China. Suriname is blessed with bauxite (an aluminum ore), an unspoiled rain forest, which covers 80 percent of the country, and lots of available arable land. Only about half a million people live in Suriname, a territory the size of Florida. And China wants a piece of it.

The Asian giant has slowly but surely made its way into this forgotten corner of South America, with a surge of aid and low-interest loans, as reported by the New York Times. Suriname also has a sizable Chinese population -- estimated at about 10 percent of the population -- dating back to immigrants who arrived in the 19th century, as well as a number of recent arrivals, including those in the country illegally.

“Suriname is a lucky country, such [a] small population, so much land,” said the former Chinese ambassador to Suriname, Yuan Nansheng, who served in the country from 2009 to 2013. With the change of government in China in March, Yuan was replaced by Yang Zigang. But it appears new President Xi Jinping’s government will maintain its ties with the South American country -- indeed, Surinamese officials met with Xi during his visit to nearby Trinidad and Tobago on Wednesday.

Suriname may actually need China. Since its erstwhile imperial paymaster, Netherlands, shuttered an aid program benefiting its former colony in 2010, China has become the top financial provider to Suriname. Figures are hard to obtain, but the Chinese embassy lists low-income housing, assistance for shrimp farming and an upgrade of the state television network as three of its principal projects in the country. Private investment has focused on transportation, with the China Dalian International Corp. (SHE:000881) providing some $6 billion to construct a deep seaport and new highways.

The website of the Chinese embassy in Suriname lists no new developments since 2009. Thus it is unclear what new investments have been made since then. The Suriname embassy in the U.S. did not reply to requests for interviews.

However, one expenditure made by China was military aid -- the Beijing government has donated $1.6 million in material and training to Paramaribo. “We want to provide convenience to the work of the Ministry of Defense and the Surinamese Army as they carry out their mission of safeguarding the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Yuan said back in 2009.

Still, the full extent and magnitude of China’s interest in this South American country is not entirely clear. Evan Ellis, a professor of national security studies at the National Defense University in Washington, argued that it is not so much that China has a particular interest in the country, but that it is just giving Suriname the same attention it has granted to the rest of natural-resource-rich South America. “It is not a matter of zeroing in [on Suriname], but just not overlooking it like the rest of the world is doing,” Ellis said.

Read full report : China's Stake In Suriname: Why Is Beijing Interested In This Small South American Country?

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