The chief of the Royal Grenadian Police Band was immediately relieved of his duties. His musical troupe had made a major diplomatic gaffe: at the grand opening ceremony for the Caribbean island nation’s rebuilt national cricket stadium, they had played the National Anthem of the Republic of China, to the considerable discomfort of the dignitaries present who hailed not from the Republic of China (Taiwan) but from the People’s Republic of China. An embarrassment all the greater given the latter had paid for and built the stadium, a great boon for a nation recovering from the devastation wreaked on its infrastructure by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, including the severe damage to its national cricket stadium.Grenada National Cricket Stadium. AP Photo/Harold Quash.
Free Stadiums, At a Price: China’s Global Stadium Diplomacy
The mistake was, perhaps, understandable. After all, it could just as easily have been Taiwan who had funded the stadium, and in part, they had. In December 2004, not long after Ivan had hit the island, Grenada’s Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell made a surprise visit to Beijing, upsetting Grenada’s political establishment. They had forged close relations with Taiwan, with whom they had formed diplomatic relations in 1989, and had already received a pledge of $40 million in aid to rebuild the hurricane-wrecked national stadium and other infrastructure.
On hearing of Mitchell’s trip, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry tartly severed relations with Grenada and stated that “The government of the Republic of China regrets Prime Minister Mitchell’s lack of foresight. We have stated sincerely our intention of not participating in a meaningless game of “dollar diplomacy” with China, and will never let Grenada waver between the two sides of the Strait in order to seek profits. The government of the Republic of China expresses its serious protest against, and condemns, the People’s Republic of China for its use of “dollar diplomacy” to drive us out of the international community.”
Taiwan realized they had been trumped. Mitchell had worked out a better deal for Grenada from Beijing. Stung, Taiwan has since been trying to recover $28.1 million in loans dating back to the 1990s, even attempting to seize Grenadian properties in the United States. That loan had funded the cricket stadium’s original construction in 1998.
Meanwhile, 500 Chinese workers toiled day and night for a year to build Grenada’s new stadium. And elsewhere in the Caribbean, another cricket stadium showcased in the 2007 World Cup also came courtesy of China, Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua, at a cost of $21 million.Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, Antigua. AP Photo/Jonhnny Jno-Baptiste.
Taiwan, though lacking the extensive reserves and free spending ability of its rival, also scored with the $12 million renovation of the Warner Park cricket facility in St. Kitts & Nevis.Warner Park Stadium, St Kitts and Nevis. AP Photo/Lynne Sladky.
This stadium construction rivalry is the result of each nation’s aim to receive “one China” recognition from the Caribbean nations: with the latter trading an unusual resource, the identification of sovereignty, for financial assistance.
Asia and the Africa Cup of Nations
Outside the cricket-mad Caribbean, twenty-first century dollar diplomacy has had a similarly dramatic impact on football stadium infrastructure, and is proving particularly significant for the Africa Cup of Nations. Andrew Guest wrote extensively about that on this space two years ago, looking at China’s role in building the stadia used for Angola’s hosting of the Africa Cup of Nations. Andrew focused on China’s motivation from a different diplomatic angle, noting that the stadium could be seen as a chip in China’s bid for access to Angolan oil in competition with the United States.Estádio da Tundavala, Angola. AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell.
Angola is far from alone in benefiting from China’s “dollar diplomacy”, whether motivated by competition with Taiwan or the United States. Zambia’s shiny new 41,000 capacity Ndola Stadium came at a cost to the Chinese of $65 million, while in 2012, we will see another Africa Cup of Nations played at a Chinese built stadium in Libreville, capital of Gabon.Stade d’Angondjé, Libreville, Gabon