Sun | Dec 17, 2017

Editorial | Ms Hanna’s foreign policy priorities

Published:Wednesday | October 4, 2017 | 12:05 AM

Peter Phillips' choice of Lisa Hanna for the foreign affairs and foreign trade portfolio in his shadow Cabinet is, on the face of it, surprising. It is not a subject for which Ms Hanna has, at least publicly, shown any inclination, or for which she is likely to be considered prepared or well-suited.

With regard to Ms Hanna's assignment, therefore, she is seemingly a blank canvas. Which may not be a bad thing if she is prepared to do the hard intellectual slog, including engaging critical stakeholders and foreign policy experts, to bring herself up to speed. Or, put another way, Lisa Hanna has an opportunity to engage in, as well as lead, a robust foreign policy discourse relevant to a rapidly changing global environment and to accomplish this without discarding well-founded values upon which Jamaica has constructed its international relationships.

Should Ms Hanna see her job in these overarching terms, there are four broad areas insisting on priority attention. One of these is the development of a policy for the Asia Pacific, which has at its centre not only China's emergence and a global economic power, but the increasing strength and influence of the region's other economies.

Four and a half decades ago, well ahead of a full normalisation of relations between Washington and Beijing, a PNP administration, led by Michael Manley, presciently established diplomatic relations with China. That act may, in part, have been driven by Mr Manley's ideology of non-alignment. But the principle on which it was founded has served Jamaica well. Now economically powerful, China is Jamaica's main source of bilateral loans and foreign direct investment.

However, as China expands, the basis upon which it deploys its capital and geopolitical might is inevitably changing. Its relations are defined by more than ideological concurrence.

So, Beijing's Silk and Belt Road Initiative, aimed at advancing its influence in the Asia Pacific region and beyond, is a counterpoint to America's dominance. It's an issue with which Jamaica must engage. An advancing India, too, is a country to which Jamaica must increasingly pay attention. Ms Hanna, as she attacks these issues, should be among the loudest voices advocating for a specialised institute for Asia Pacific studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona.

 

THE TRUMP FACTOR

 

Concomitant with the focus on an emerging Asia, Jamaica should maintain the relevance of its historic relations with the United States in the time of the self-declared, nationalist, inward-looking, and potentially globally destabilising presidency of Donald Trump. Indeed, Trump's screeds against the North America Free Trade Agreement could also complicate relations with another of our historic friends, Canada, in ways not yet determined.

Then, there is Mr Trump's scepticism that global warming is a man-made phenomenon and his decision to pull the US out of the Paris climate agreement. This is a vital matter for small-island developing and coastal states like Jamaica and its partners in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). Climate change is an existential issue for the Caribbean, and responding to it enhances the relevance of CARICOM's economic and political construct. Jamaica has an interest in making CARICOM work and, therefore, the development of a coherent Caribbean policy.

Additionally, Brexit will be a disrupting force for Jamaica and the Caribbean. Planning a post-Brexit relationship with Britain and the European Union is urgent. This strategy should include ideas for new and expanded uses of the Commonwealth.

Should she embrace it, Ms Hanna has a fully important and potentially exciting agenda.