Hurricane Dorian: U.S. Skeptical Of National Security Implications Of China Aid The Trump administration is keeping a suspicious eye on China while helping the Bahamas recover from Hurricane Dorian.
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As Bahamas Turn To Recovery, U.S. Worries About China Stepping In To Help

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As Bahamas Turn To Recovery, U.S. Worries About China Stepping In To Help

As Bahamas Turn To Recovery, U.S. Worries About China Stepping In To Help

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump has promised that the U.S. will help the Bahamas rebuild.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're helping in a humanitarian way. We've been asked to help by the government of the Bahamas. And we have numerous helicopters. And we're sending some people to give them a hand. They need a big hand.

SHAPIRO: There are more than just humanitarian concerns driving the Trump administration's thinking. The White House is also concerned about national security, specifically that China could play a big role rebuilding the Bahamas. Here to talk about it is White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez.

Hi, Franco.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hi.

SHAPIRO: Why would the United States worry about China rebuilding the Bahamas?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, the Bahamas are very, very close to the United States. Parts are only about 50 miles from Florida. The Trump administration officially says it's focused now on the Bahamas' immediate recovery. But privately, officials do tell me that they're also concerned about some of the long-term impacts of having one of America's major adversaries working so close to the mainland.

I actually spoke to John Dermody, who was at the National Security Council until earlier this summer. He said there are some in the administration who will see China trying to build leverage in the Western Hemisphere and weaken U.S. influence.

JOHN DERMODY: And I would say that the concern is particularly acute where the investment is going to be in information technology. And in light of the catastrophic damage of the Bahamas, I think that's going to be an issue.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, the big picture is that this is all part of larger concerns that the Trump administration has about growing Chinese influence around the world.

SHAPIRO: Franco, there is this huge humanitarian crisis in the Bahamas. I mean, we were just hearing about bodies on a beach. Is it premature for the administration to worry about China's role in the redevelopment of the country?

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, totally understood. I mean, we just heard Jason talk about it. And those are immediate needs, and they're overwhelming. And the administration assures me that they're as focused on those as well. But these concerns are more long term, and they're being focused on by different individuals.

And as another former National Security Council official put it to me, you know, there is concern that the Chinese rebuilding the telecommunication system in the Bahamas, which could certainly happen, and that it could make it easier for China to tap into U.S. systems and essentially spy on Americans. Or, he said, the Chinese could eventually gain enough influence to build some type of permanent presence or a base in the region.

Another factor is the Bahamas are a key ally of the United States on important regional issues such as Venezuela. And there are feelings that the United States can't risk losing that dependable support at international forums - take the United Nations or Organization of American States.

SHAPIRO: What options does the U.S. have? I mean, it's hard to imagine the Trump administration offering for the U.S. to singlehandedly rebuild the telecommunication system in the Bahamas, right?

ORDOÑEZ: True. I mean, maybe not much, really, at least as it relates to the Bahamas. The United States has been pushing back very aggressively on Chinese influence. U.S. officials have warned allies in Latin America to be aware of China's predatory lending practices. They always say there are always strings attached.

But it is complicated. The Bahamas have huge needs. The United - and the United States can't do everything, nor do necessarily officials want to do everything considering the limitations that have been put on foreign aid. And if the United States is not willing to pony up aid, then it's hard for the United States to tell countries like China and tell - also tell countries like the Bahamas that they can't accept a helping hand elsewhere.

SHAPIRO: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez.

Thank you.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.

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