(The writer is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United States and the Organization of American States. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London and Massey College in the University of Toronto. The views expressed are his own)
Among the most nonsensical statements uttered by a British Parliamentarian and repeated in the British newspaper, The Sunday Times, is that Barbados will become a Republic at the dictation of the Government of the People’s Republic of China.
The unvarnished truth is that within the next decade all of the independent English-speaking Caribbean countries will likely become Republics. On November 30, Barbados will become the fourth, following Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Dominica.
The move to Republican status will probably also be taken by Australia and other Commonwealth countries where the Queen remains the symbolic Head of State. After Barbados becomes a Republic, the Queen’s realms, other than Britain, will be reduced to 14, the majority of them (eight), being in the Caribbean.
It should be noted that when Elizabeth II was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in June 1953, she also became Head of State of 67 other countries, then either colonies or dominions of Britain. Over the last 68 years, 52 of those countries opted to become Republics. Barbados will become the 53rd.
None of the countries that chose to become a Republic did so because of pressure from China or any other country. They became republics because, even though the Queen’s role was only symbolic, exercising no real executive authority, it was simply not acceptable that a foreign person, residing thousands of miles away with no daily experience of life in a country, could credibly be its Head of State.
Indeed, breaking the link with the Queen as Head of State, also completed the process of national sovereignty and independence from Britain as the former colonial power.
There are two reasons why the remaining eight independent English-speaking Caribbean countries have not already moved to Republican status. The first is that, for many of them, a Constitutional amendment will be required. Political parties in government know well that this would become a political football for their political opponents, with allegations that governing parties want a republic so that they can assume greater powers and control. Notwithstanding, the examples of Dominica and Trinidad and Tobago where Presidents have little more than symbolic roles, this argument will have its supporters.
The second reason is a residual and deserving respect for Queen Elizabeth who, in the almost seven decades as Head of State, has been an example of rectitude, particularly on matters of race. Her stance against apartheid in South Africa and the end to white rule in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) are enduring qualities of her reign. But the high regard for the Queen will not transfer to her successor. Prince Charles has already been selected to succeed the Queen as the Head of the Commonwealth of Nations that includes the countries of the English-Speaking Caribbean. This transition will be regarded as important and satisfactory.
The notion that Barbados is becoming a Republic because the Queen’s symbolic headship of the country stands in the way of Chinese ambition, is nothing but utter foolishness. It started in September this year when the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the British House of Commons, Tom Tugendhat, said that: “China has been using infrastructure investment and debt diplomacy as a means of control for a while and it’s coming closer to home for us. British partners have long faced challenges from rivals seeking to undermine our alliance. Today we’re seeing it in the Caribbean. Some islands seem to be close to swapping a symbolic Queen in Windsor for a real and demanding emperor in Beijing”.
We should note that Mr. Tugendhat has long adopted an anti-China position, having nothing to do with Barbados. His remark about Barbados “swapping” the Queen for “a demanding” Chinese Emperor is less about Barbados and more about his taking every opportunity to criticize what he calls “the rise of China”. As I remarked, in a commentary, when Mr Tugendhat first tried to align Barbados’ decision to become a Republic with China’s influence, given the fact that he is the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the British Parliament, he should have been better informed. But clearly, he was more interested in accusing China of seeking world control than he was with the truth of the Barbados decision.
On November 20, the Sunday Times carried a story, written by journalist, Matthew Campbell, which had the appearance of carrying the views of many persons in Barbados, but which was more selective in its reporting. The story was evidently meant to justify its headline: “Awash with cash from Beijing, the island is ditching the Queen. Some fear it is simply swapping one colonial master for another”. Again, the truth, that will not acknowledge its name, is that the persons, who peddle the fears of “the Chinese will end up in control”, are the same people who would have preferred that Barbados remain ‘little England’ which bestowed upon them perceived rights that they feel they have lost.
Mr. Tugendhat’s assertion, supported by like-minded persons in Barbados and elsewhere, of the threat of Chinese dominance, fails to understand the mettle of Caribbean leadership, and especially of the fierce nationalist and regionalist disposition of Mia Mottley. His judgment, and theirs, are rooted in the condescending colonial mindset that our people cannot think for themselves.
Caribbean countries need economic assistance because of their vulnerability and the legacies of colonialism that underlay their structures of economic weakness. Their leaders and their people want to advance their countries’ social and economic development. To achieve this, they engage in economic and financial cooperation with all in a fair and just way. But they will not surrender hard won sovereignty because of a yen for pieces of silver.
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