Wed | Jan 16, 2019

Patria-Kaye Aarons | Jamaican Chinatown

Published:Tuesday | December 12, 2017 | 12:00 AM

I'm going to insist that every single one of my future children learns Mandarin. They are going to 'Ni Hao' and sweet and sour chicken with the best of them because my child will not be left behind. Arming my children with the world's most widely spoken language is the very least I can give them since at least one of the things they will inherit from me is indebtedness - to the Chinese.

I'm really struggling with Jamaica's growing IOU to China. I'm all for development. Without question, many of the things Jamaica has been able to accomplish in the last decade would have been impossible had we tried to achieve them with taxes collected from our own people. And it seems like weekly, additional projects are announced, with the all-too-familiar tag line 'financed by a Chinese loan'.

The billion-dollar questions are, How much do we owe the Kings of the East today? When will we repay that debt? and How much is too much? When will we stop borrowing from China?

I'm pretty sure the mounting debt won't be paid off in my lifetime. And though generations to come will thank us for the pretty roads and fancy buildings, I doubt they'll be as enthused with the price they will have to pay for decisions they never made.

I feel a lot guilty about burdening the next generation (and probably their children) with billions of US dollars of loan repayments to the Chinese. All kinds of numbers are being estimated by all kinds of people about exactly how much is owed. What I'm sure of is in the billions of US dollars (North South Highway alone was US$720m); and the port to come will be another estimated US$1.5b.




Imagine if someone died and willed you a bed. Yay! But then you find out you still had to pay Courts for the bed for the rest of your life. Not so yay! That's pretty much the position we have put our offspring in. Eager to make its mark, our Government takes pride in making announcements.

More and more these days, I simply am doing a tally. I have to liken government borrowing pattern and the national Budget to my own household spend. Sure, I want to leave my children a house and some sort of business that they can either carry on or sell. However, as much as possible, I want to bear the burden of the costs of that accomplishment. I want to pass them those assets free and clear of debt. Knowing you owe is not a nice feeling, especially when the person you owe starts pressuring you for payback. Are we being fair to our children? Perhaps we should slow down a little and live more within our means.

Roads and highways, ports, government buildings, Palisadoes, housing projects, a stadium, a convention centre, and the list goes on. Those are the ways Jamaica has benefited. I'm still very uncomfortable that I don't know exactly what we gave up for each of those projects. I'm even more concerned about what we will have to give up not if, but when, we default on all these loans.

Here's another question I can't help but ask: Why China suh kind? The Bahamas, Guyana, Dominica, and a few other Caribbean islands are all developing at a rapid pace courtesy of Chinese financing. I only hope our governments are talking. Don't be fooled by Chinese generosity. They're not just doing all of this out of the kindness of their hearts. There's something in it for them. Something strategic. And it's not just money. Collectively, as a region, we must be aware.

I say all of that to say, yes, my kids will learn Mandarin. It done gone bad already, and I'm going to be bequeathing them debt. At least they're going to be able to ask Mr Chin, "How much more I owe you?" in his native tongue, and get an answer they can understand. I only hope the things we're spending on now last long enough to be used by all the future generations that will have to pay for them. Otherwise, that would sooki yaki.

- Patria-Kaye Aarons is a television presenter and confectioner. Email feedback to and, or tweet @findpatria.