This Friday, September 22; Saint Lucian Prime Minister Allen Chastanet is scheduled to address the 72nd Regular Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA 72) in New York. The General Debate will commence on Tuesday, September 18th and will focus on the theme: ‘Focusing on People: Striving for Peace and a Decent Life for All on a Sustainable Planet’.
Friday’s speech will mark the ninth occasion the General Assembly has been addressed by a sitting Saint Lucian Prime Minister. It is this Saint Lucian PM’s second address to the Assembly, having delivered his first-time remarks in September of 2016.
Chastanet’s 2016 remarks were not unlike his predecessor Dr. Kenny Anthony’s nor those of the other Caribbean leaders before him. Many of the islands in the Caribbean region are plagued by similar challenges; chief among them their vulnerability to severe weather conditions combined with limited choices for economic diversification and expansion. Chastanet expressed his frustration towards “the developed economies of the world” that have described his country as a “tax haven” due to its entry into the offshore finance industry. Specifically, the PM defended his country’s Citizenship Investment Program and other niche offshore financial services, stating that these are programs the Caribbean adopted from the developed world “yet it is the architects of these very programs that penalize us!”. The Saint Lucian leader closed with a harsh rebuke of the G20 countries, accusing them of increasing poverty in his country and widening the inequality between the developed and the developing world: “Small island states don’t have an equal voice … we are left dancing between the raindrops”.
Perhaps more telling of Chastanet’s 2016 remarks was what he didn’t say. Like many of the addresses that will take place this week, Chastanet’s address to the world last year was particularly coded. Usually, Caribbean leaders—whose countries are often on the receiving end of development aid—dedicate a portion of their speech to thanking their development partners for their contributions to the recipient country’s development agenda. Former Saint Lucian PM Dr. Kenny Anthony has thanked Venezuela and Cuba in the past, and Vincentian Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, during his GA address, thanked the Republic of China (Taiwan) for their contributions to his country. The newly elected Prime Minister Chastanet, however, did not acknowledge a single one of his country’s benefactors, despite the ROC Taiwan’s donations of approximately $30million in development funding and aid in that year alone (more than all of Saint Lucia’s other donors’ contributions combined).
Within Chastanet’s speech he reminded the Assembly that his country was no stranger to Realpolitik. If so, then his snub to the Taiwanese was likely intentional. But why? He knew the Taiwanese would be watching, didn’t he? Or was he hoping other eyes would also be watching, say, from Beijing? We can only speculate. As one former Taiwanese diplomat to Saint Lucia put it; “The recipient countries’ acknowledgment of our contributions during their addresses to world assemblies underpin our relationship. We appreciate recognition of our efforts; so do our taxpayers”.
Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations. It is forced to advocate its struggle for membership through fostering solidarity among partners like Saint Lucia and St. Vincent. According to sources close to the matter, Taiwanese-Saint Lucian relations became strained due to Chastanet’s preterition, leaving many international spectators with the impression that his silence was less a blunder than it was a special invitation. While Taiwanese relations have since cooled, many onlookers remain curious as to whether the Saint Lucian leader will make up for last year’s oversight.