Sat | May 27, 2017

Ronald Mason | Beware gift-bearing Chinese

Published:Tuesday | May 16, 2017 | 5:00 AM

Heads of state and govern-ment from 28 countries gathered for a round-table summit in China arising from the Belt and Road Initiative. Jamaica was represented by Karl Samuda. This information was found in an article written by Hui Quingbao, Chinese ambassador to Jamaica.

This One Belt, One Road (OBOR) Initiative has many objectives. According to China, 'B and R' is not to be seen as an alliance, and it stresses the fact that the initiative comes without any political strings attached. While this may be so, it is fair to believe that Chinese help and money will come with their own set of conditions, which may include high interest payments, a need to use Chinese labour, goods and technology, and having to grant long-term access to natural resources.

It is a US$1-trillion initiative in support of infrastructure in developing countries. China has US$3 trilliion available for investment, but the history of OBOR demands that we be forearmed before negotiating with the Chinese. Remember, 'eternal vigilance is the price of liberty'.

The details of the OBOR initiative can be gleaned from China's interactions in the countries such as Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Nepal are worthy of case study. China signed its first agreement with Sri Lanka in 2007. What has resulted is US$1-billion deep-water port at Hambantota. In 2010, Beijing lent US$200 million to build a second international airport near Hambantota, and in 2012, an additional US$810 million for the second phase of the port project. In November 2013, there was another US$272-million railway project, and so it goes.

 

'One belt, one road'

 

Military aid was followed by allegations of suspicious 'financial transactions' in the former President Rajapaksa's election campaign. China has been involved with Sri Lanka, but the One Belt, One Road has proven to be very bumpy indeed for Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka's debt soared from 36% of GDP in 2010 to 94% in 2015. Up to November 2016, more than one-third of government revenue goes towards servicing Chinese loans. Sri Lanka's trade deficit with China has ballooned with imports of US$3.8 billion, exceeding exports of US$250 million by a factor of 15. Sri Lanka has been forced to secure a US$1.5-billion bailout from the IMF, the second since 2009. It has been a most unfavourable relationship for Sri Lanka. (China and Sri Lanka: Between a Dream and a Nightmare, Jeff Smith, November 2016)

There are now areas in Sri Lanka where the Chinese have established its own economy, its own jurisdiction, and separate economic and commercial laws. The Chinese have acquired lands in chunks - 269 hectares, 110 hectares, 20 hectares. The ports are non-performers economically, but the Chinese are happy. It is reported that together with a 15,000-acre Chinese-led industrial zone nearby, Hambantota seems well on the way from being a Sri Lankan national project financed by China to a full-fledged Chinese enclave at a very strategic position on the Indian Ocean.

Facing questions about the terms of China's loans, China's ambassa-dor blamed "outside forces". The Sri Lankan people and the government, he said, "should have a more thankful attitude towards China. If you don't like this loan, why have you spoken to me about getting another?" Why, indeed.

This should be a case study for Jamaica. We need development, but we must be very, very alert. China is cropping up everywhere in Jamaica doing all manner of infrastructure allegedly for mutual interest. Do you recall China giving military assistance to the JDF on January 13, 2011 (JDF news release #527)? On February 17, 2017 it was reported that US$1 billion is to be made available to Petrojam. No man, woman or child can successfully build a life on loans. Very soon, you will be owned by the lender. It would be good for us, as a people, to demand from the Government an accounting of all our relationship with China. It should be clearly understood by every government that all which the colonisers took by force should never lead to the remnants willingly disadvantageously pledged.

When the people in Myanmar became aware of the terms and conditions associated with the Chinese-funded US$3.6-billion dam, local protests brought it to a halt. We in Jamaica have major problems knowing the full terms and conditions that both JLP and PNP governments entered into with the Chinese. We need to revisit this now. There are allegations of a 10% kickback to PNP politicians by infrastructure companies. These allegations have never been fully ventilated. One must wonder why.

I beseech the 63 members of the Gordon House gangs to take the people into their confidence and determine the collective wisdom of these deals.

Next week: Report on China's debt-trap diplomacy.

- Ronald Mason is an attorney-at-law. I email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.