China Outplays Taiwan in Cricket Diplomacy

ByABC News
February 9, 2009, 11:05 AM

March 26, 2007 — -- China has used the Cricket World Cup in the West Indies to try and hit archrival Taiwan out of the stadium.

Beijing is widely seen as having financed the building or improvement of many cricket venues being used for the World Cup to isolate Taiwan and expand its influence in the Caribbean.

China has spent a remarkable $132 million on cricket facilities in the West Indies over the past few years. The International Cricket Council's 10-year budget to promote cricket globally: only $70 million.

China gave Antigua a $55 million grant to build the Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium. It gave $30 million to Jamaica for a new Trelawny stadium. St. Lucia has both a cricket and a football stadium courtesy of Beijing. The 70,000 people of Dominica have received the aid equivalent of $1,600 per person in the form of a cricket grounds, new drains for the capital and better roads.

The immediate reason for this largesse is Beijing's determination to diplomatically isolate Taiwan. Says Harry Sung of the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Washington, D.C.: "Their top priority is to isolate Taiwan. Most of the remaining countries that recognize Taiwan are located in the Caribbean and Latin America."

China's cricket diplomacy led to two West Indian countries, Grenada and Dominica, derecognizing Taiwan as an independent country. Of the remaining 24 countries that recognize Taiwan, four are in the Caribbean and two of these play cricket.

Grenada had one stadium built by Taiwan, but saw it flattened by a hurricane. China ran in and erected a second one. Taiwan took Grenada to a New York City court to force the latter to return the original loan.

A worried Taiwan also used the World Cup to shore up its position among its shrinking West Indian support base. It gave $21 million to the tiny island of St. Kitts and Nevis and $12 million to even smaller St. Vincent for cricket grounds.

Taiwanese officials have even sought to comprehend the game, called shen shi yun dong or "the noble game" in Chinese. The media officer of the Taiwanese Embassy in St. Kitts guardedly said, "We have watched the game. We understand it a little."

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri is a Bernard Schwartz Fellow at the Asia Society.

Beijing sent 1,000 Chinese workers to finish the stadiums in time.

Without the Chinese workers, said a grateful Antiguan Prime Minister Winston Balder Spencer at his stadium hand-over ceremony, "we wouldn't have been able to complete the stadium."

Chinese Ambassador Ren Xiaoping replied, "Their sweat has soaked this land."

Beijing's inroads in the Caribbean reflect the country's rising economic and political influence, as Taiwanese officials admit. China has carefully flavored adoption of its "one-China policy" with economic carrots for the Caribbean islands.

For example, islands that remain loyal to Taiwan are not approved as a travel destination by Beijing for its citizens -- at a time when the Chinese are one of the world's fastest-growing group of globetrotters.

Strategic analysts say China is laying out more money than is needed to just isolate Taiwan. China, which has built large embassies in each of the islands, now has a bigger diplomatic presence in the Caribbean than the United States, the superpower next door.

Senior Chinese ministers in recent visits to the region have outlined a five-point agenda that includes "greater consultations" with the purpose of "safeguarding common interests."

David Jessop of the U.K.-based Caribbean Council has argued that Beijing seems to be trying to forge a new alliance with developing countries. Says Sung, "This is not surprising. Mainland China's long-term strategy coincides with its foreign policy."

One view is that China, concerned at increasing international criticism about its human rights and trade policies, is seeking a "Sino bloc" of friendly votes at the United Nations and other multilateral fora.

U.N.-based diplomats note that China has been focusing increasingly on small countries in the Pacific, Africa and the Caribbean, which are susceptible to aid and other incentives. Says Stephen Orlins, president of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, "The Chinese take the U.N. very seriously."

China has other plans regarding cricket: Beijing has set a target of having a Chinese national team qualify for the 2019 World Cup.

The Chinese Cricket Association, an affiliate of the International Cricket Council, already has cricket academies in place and is on track to have 20,000 players and 2,000 coaches by 2015.

Cricket is virtually unknown in Taiwan. Taiwanese diplomats in St. Kitts are apologetic, "We only play baseball in Taiwan."

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri is a Bernard Schwartz Fellow at the Asia Society.

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri is a Bernard Schwartz Fellow at the Asia Society.

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