CHINA will send 100 medical professionals to Trinidad and Tobago and Caricom over the next three years and will assist in financing arrangements for a new hospital at Arima, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced yesterday, after meeting with China’s visiting President Xi Jinping.
At a joint media briefing by both leaders held at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, after two hours of bi-lateral talks, Persad-Bissessar also announced:
* the Prime Minister will pay an official visit to China in November;
* Trinidad and Tobago will open an embassy at Beijing within the year;
* the signing of a TT$50 million economic and technical cooperation agreement for social projects; and
* plans for China to assist with long-demanded equipment to scan containers at ports.
Persad-Bissessar made these announcements as Xi, also addressing the media, made plain that the Caribbean region was of “strategic” importance to China and committed to further areas of cooperation.
Wearing green – the Chinese colour of spring, vitality and peace which was also worn by Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan as well as Persad-Bissessar herself upon the arrival of the Chinese leader at Piarco on Friday night – the Prime Minister said yesterday’s talks marked a “historic day”. At one point she tried out her Mandarin, saying to Xi, thank you or, “xie xie”.
“Today has been an historic day for us in Trinidad and Tobago since it marks the first time we have had the honour of hosting a President of the People’s Republic of China on a state visit,” she said. “Today we touched on a number of important areas in our bilateral discussions.” Among the matters raised was collaboration of the provision of better healthcare, an issue which topped the agenda for the day at several events.
“His Excellency kindly indicated that the People’s Republic of China would be sending to Trinidad and Tobago and Caricom within the next three years about 100 medical professionals,” Persad-Bissessar said. She also noted financing support for the Arima hospital project.
“Today we were very heartened by His Excellency’s discussion with the undertaking to assist us with respect to the construction of a hospital in Arima in terms of financing support,” Persad-Bissessar said. The ongoing 150-bed Arima hospital project – construction of which falls under State agency Udecott – is to be a full-service hospital to replace the existing Arima Health Facility.
Persad-Bissessar also noted three agreements were signed including: an economic and technical cooperation agreement for 50 million RMB Yuan (TT$50 million) for social development projects; letters of exchange for the acquisition of a set of linear Accelerator X-ray, scanning and detection scanning system for use on ports and a memorandum of understanding, “for the establishment of the Confucius Institute for language training at UWI, St. Augustine.”
Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Dookeran and Wang Yi, Minister of Foreign Affairs of China, signed the MOU. UWI principal Professor Clement Sankat signed onto the agreement in relation to the Confucius Institute.
On the establishment of a new embassy at Beijing, Persad-Bissessar said, “Our two countries established diplomatic relations in 1974 and I am pleased to report that we will be establishing our first embassy in China this year.” She said the State is also mulling the establishment of a Trinidad and Tobago Cultural Institute, which would be attached to the Diplomatic Mission in Beijing, in order to “promote Trinidad and Tobago’s creative industries through cultural exchanges, training seminars and cultural exhibitions” in China. The possible establishment of an annual Caribbean Music Festival in Beijing was also discussed.
“We will continue to facilitate high level delegations and cultural exchanges as we build on our economic and diplomatic relations,” Persad-Bissessar said. “In that context I wish to let you know that I will be making an official visit to China in November this year by which time our embassy would be fully operational.” Persad-Bissessar said other areas identified for technical cooperation were: infrastructural development; agriculture and food security; education; sport; information and communication technology; and national security.
Speaking at the same briefing with the aid of a female interpreter, Xi made clear the region’s strategic importance to China and affirmed China’s desire for deepened relations.
“China is ready to work with all countries in the Caribbean region to push for the sustained development of China’s relationship with this part of the world for the benefit of people on both sides,” China’s 60-year-old President said. “China holds very dear our relationship with the Caribbean region from a strategic perspective and we committed to building a comprehensive and cooperative partnership with the Caribbean countries, including Trinidad and Tobago that features mutual respect, equality, mutual benefit and common development.” He noted plans for bi-lateral talks to be held today with Caricom leaders before his departure at 4pm aboard an Air China 747 jet. Xi said cooperation will continue in several areas.
“We both agree to actively advance cooperation in key areas such as infrastructure development, energy and minerals,” he said. “And we are also to continue to advance our cooperation in new areas such as agriculture, telecommunication, and alternative energy. The two governments will gear up policy support to better facilitate and ensure economic cooperation and two-way investment.”
Of the Prime Minister, Xi said, “On behalf of the Chinese government, I would like to welcome Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to visit China within this year.” He described the talks as “warm, friendly and productive.”
“Best wishes from the people of China to the people of Trinidad and Tobago,” he said. “We both believe that the deepening of China’s relationship with Trinidad and Tobago serves fundamental interest among our two countries and its people.”
Bi-lateral talks with Xi came four days after US vice-president Joe Biden also held talks at the same location, as both world powers continue to court important trading blocks as well as political votes on international bodies. Like Biden, Xi made no explicit reference to the other world super-power. However, at one stage he opted to quote the cost of a project in US currency.
“Recently, the two sides signed a landing agreement totaling almost US$250 million to be used on a children’s hospital and stadia in Trinidad and Tobago,” he said through the interpreter. “We hope we can work together to make sure that those projects will happen to the benefit of people here.” In his comments, the Chinese president sought to underline the “unique” nature of China and Trinidad and Tobago. “Meanwhile, we both believe that the Chinese culture and the culture of Trinidad and Tobago are both unique and special,” he said.
“We have to continue the various channels to carry out cultural exchanges.” He described China – which is set to become the world’s largest economy by 2016 by some predictions – as a member of the developing world.
“We also believe that both China and Trinidad and Tobago belong to the developing world,” he said. “We have similar views on many international and original issues. China will always continue to support an active role by Trinidad and Tobago on international and original issues. And we hope the two sides will strengthen communication and collaboration with each other on issues such as the reform of international systems and climate change.” Yesterday’s briefing – which started a few minutes after noon – saw master of ceremonies Andy Johnson, CEO of the Government Information Services Limited (GISL), erroneously call upon Xi to address the media first before Persad-Bissessar, a move Johnson said was an error of protocol.
The briefing was part of a frenetic day of activity for the Chinese leader, which saw him pay a courtesy call on President Anthony Carmona before arriving at the Diplomatic Centre at 10.18am for another courtesy call, this time on the Prime Minister. After two-hours of bi-lateral talks and the briefing, Xi attended a luncheon at the same venue hosted by the Prime Minister, made another courtesy call, this time on Speaker Wade Mark and Senate President Timothy Hamel- Smith, and unveiled a commencement stone at the site of the Couva Children’s Hospital.
Xi was last night due to attend a State banquet hosted by President Carmona at the Hilton Trinidad, where another luncheon is also planned for today.
Amid the bustle of the day, and like Biden before him, Xi took note of the steel-pan which greeted him at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s. When presented with a gift of a pan at the courtesy call on the Prime Minister, the Chinese President smiled and played a melody. “Oh you could play!” the Prime Minister noted.