China blamed for Barbados ditching Queen

A report by Lucy Fisher for London’s Times.

Chinese pressure is fuelling a drive to remove the Queen as head of state in Barbados, a Tory MP has claimed.

Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the foreign affairs committee, said yesterday that Beijing had actively sought to undermine London’s historical status as a key partner with Caribbean nations.

He declined to go into detail regarding the alleged tactics, but told The Times: “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.”

CIA intelligence about Chinese activities in Barbados has been shared with Britain, a source told The Times.

Barbados is a member of the Chinese Belt and Road initiative — its attempt to establish a new Silk Road by investing in infrastructure in strategic land and maritime locations.

British analysts argue that the initiative is used in part to help Beijing win votes in international forums such as the United Nations, as well as encourage states to break diplomatic ties with Taiwan and switch allegiance to China.

Mr Tugendhat spoke out after Dame Sandra Mason, the Barbados governor-general, announced last week that the island would cast off the Queen as its ceremonial head. Asserting that Barbadians wanted a Barbadian head of state, she said: “The time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind.” The island gained independence in 1966.

It is the third time the desire to ditch the Queen has been made in less than 20 years and analysts believe there is political momentum behind the proposal. Mr Tugendhat’s claims are likely to raise eyebrows and focus a spotlight on China’s activities in the region.

In recent years it is Russia that has more commonly been accused of sowing dissent, fomenting existing divisions and stirring up separatist movements in western societies.

China’s relationship with Barbados appears to have deepened in recent years. Last year China donated technology equipment including laptops and tablets, and in 2017 it gave teaching equipment to the island’s schools, according to the news website Barbados Today. Beijing has invested in agriculture projects on the island and Barbados has set up an outpost of Invest Barbados, its industrial promoter, in the Chinese capital, according to reports.

Mr Tugendhat raised his concerns in a speech entitled “Reappraising UK foreign policy towards China” in an online webinar for the Royal United Services Institute. “It’s interesting because of course the UK is really not a monarchy, we’re a republic pretending to be a monarchy. The Crown in parliament after all is simply a recognition that the people are sovereign,” he said.

Charles Parton, a fellow at the institute and former diplomat, said Chinese investment tended to entail influence.

The Chinese embassy in London was unavailable for comment.

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