China Expands Influence on Island Near U.S. Territory

China has expanded its influence over Antigua, an island just 220 miles outside of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

According to documents reviewed by Newsweek, the island is to. become a “Chinese-run special economic zone.”

The zone will “have its own customs and immigration formalities, a shipping port, and a dedicated airline and will be able to issue passports,” the outlet reported.

A spokesperson for the Florida-based Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) told Newsweek that it is “aware that China may use its commercial and diplomatic presence for military purposes.”

“In Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, China has already abused commercial agreements at host-country ports for military aims; our concern is they may do the same in this region,” the spokesperson said.

Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne praised China, telling reporters, “I see China, though, as a country that stands on truth, and a country that, you know, at least has some level of empathy for small states, and generally for poor and dispossessed persons globally.”

“Given the breadth of investment into logistics infrastructure China has made in the Caribbean, we are concerned that China could task its state-owned enterprises and diaspora to conduct intelligence or influence operations against the U.S. and our partners in the region for military purposes,” SOUTHCOM said. “Those concerns are further heightened when you consider the Chinese Communist Party’s practice of targeting, recruiting, and bribing officials.”

Gisele Isaac, chairwoman of the United Progressive Party in Antigua, believes that Antigua has “traded its sovereignty.”

“Antigua has traded its sovereignty, I think most of us believe, to China,” she said. “I think China wants a foothold in more strategic places, as a superpower. I think that this administration has become, and that’s our concern, overly reliant on one partner, that partner being China.”

Some believe China’s embassy on the island is an intelligence site.

Two anonymous regional diplomats shared with the outlet that the embassy may be used as a “listening post,” as available information about those working at the site is “not in line” with its size.

“We can reasonably think that there are hidden staff and that those people’s portfolios will be hidden from sight too,” one individual said.

In January, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Browne, calling him a “true friend of China.”

“You are a good friend of the Chinese people and have always attached great importance to the development of the relations between our two countries,” Xi said. “You and your government have firmly adhered to the One-China principle and have given support to China on issues related to our shared core interests and major concerns. We are very thankful for this.”

Browne told Xi that his leadership has been an “inspiration for all.”

“Your global leadership has been an inspiration for all, to include the Belt and Road initiative, the GDI institute as well as the Civilisation and Security initiatives. Your philosophy to ensure that there is shared global prosperity and peace is certainly one that resonates globally and I believe that you have demonstrated unparalleled leadership and we are hoping that others, especially the developed nations will follow your lead and that of the People’s Republic of China in ensuring that we can have a more harmonious planet and certainly to ensure that there is global equity in development,” Antigua’s Prime Minister stated.