Sun | Sep 23, 2018

Tony Deyal | No st(r)ings attached

Published:Saturday | September 8, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Newspaper headlines throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, the Caribbean, and even in Trump's US of A featured very prominently, 'China announces US$60 billion in financing for Africa with 'no strings attached'.' An Associated Press (AP) report, five days ago, September 3, 2018, stated, "He (Chinese President Xi Jinping) tried to mollify concern that Beijing wants to build strategic influence, promising Chinese investment comes with 'no political strings attached'."

My friends responded just a few seconds before I did. The first comment was that if the president felt that he had to say there were no strings attached, then there definitely are strings attached. Johnny, a comedian, satirist and musician of sorts, especially when out of sorts, was next. "Tony boy, I have a Chinese offer for you. I'm selling my guitar. No strings attached."

I laughed because I was thinking along the same lines. Knowing Johnny, I was sure that the instrument was as broken as he generally is, so while there were no strings, there was at least one sting attached. Whether you see them or not, strings are attached to everything from a quantum of solace to a quantum of physics. If you can understand this, you're ahead of the game, but the point it makes is that nothing, even the unknown, comes without strings.

Wikipedia explains, "In physics, string theory is a theoretical framework in which the point-like particles of particle physics are replaced by one-dimensional objects called strings. In string theory, one of the many vibrational states of the string corresponds to the graviton, a quantum mechanical particle that carries gravitational force. Thus, string theory is a theory of quantum gravity."

In other words, we have to treat what President Xi of China says with extreme gravity, and if he says "No strings", then no strings it is. But, as another friend, Eric, who spoke to me from Jamaica, where, like many other countries on the increasingly long list of Chinese debtors and aid recipients, there are fears and concerns, not everyone is convinced that despite the avowed Chinese intentions and promises, this absence of strings is at all possible or devoutly wished by the donor country.

"Tony," he said, "Johnny called me after he spoke to you. This is worse than selling a guitar with no strings attached. This is like Jim Henson advertising the sale of Kermit the Frog with no strings attached."

 

'Pinocchio'

 

I replied, "Talking about puppets, I believe that Pinocchio is the only puppet who could have relations as intimate as those required by the Chinese with no strings attached." Eric mused, "I suppose that is why Barbie sat on his face repeating, 'Lie to me,' 'Lie to me'." I left Eric to Jiminy Cricket for punishment and got off the line before the discussion degenerated further.

But my friends were right. I remember that around the late 1940s and early 1950s, some women and girls in the country areas of Trinidad, including the village in which I grew up and went to school, especially those who worked in the cane fields, wore home-made panties with strings.

My aunt had no problems getting my mother to sew orange-coloured casement underwear for my female cousins, and since she did not charge them for her services, there were no strings attached to the string-attached garments.

They were also attached to the underwear, or 'sliders', she sewed out of flour-bag cloth for my father and Uncle Jacket. I was told they were called 'drawers' because the strings had to be drawn, a process that is also central to high finance with terms like 'draw-down' and 'overdrawn'.

Interestingly, and to demonstrate that nothing is without strings for long, my football and gym shorts all have strings, and one of Victoria's most recent and modern 'Secrets' is V-strings, which are meant to replace the G-strings that were around strip clubs longer than Donald Trump.

 

Underwear brands

 

Another firm, La Perla, which, like Victoria's Secret, is among the top 10 luxury underwear brands in China, retails its underwear in that country at prices averaging US$300. Obviously, the price tag might not be the only string attached.

While Chinese officials continue to reject accusations that projects leave host countries too deeply indebted to Chinese lenders, AP pointed out that Malaysia recently cancelled Chinese-financed projects worth more than US$20 billion saying they were unnecessary and would create an unsustainable debt burden. A BBC report, 'Should Africa be wary of Chinese debt?', states that China is now the single largest bilateral financier of infrastructure in Africa.

The report said that in 2015, the China Africa Research Initiative at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies sounded alarm bells that African countries might be unable to repay Chinese loans "due to fluctuating commodity prices and decreasing absorptive capacity".

However, the reality, strings, stings, or none of the above, is that the impact of money from China is conspicuous all over Africa, from shiny new airports and roads, to ports and high-rise buildings that are also creating much-needed jobs.

In Jamaica, claims by former Minister of National Security Peter Bunting that Jamaicans

are undergoing "economic colonialism" by Chinese businesses operating locally were deemed offensive and false by the Chinese government.

However, as a Jamaican lawyer friend asked pointedly, "So when President Xi insisted that Chinese funds were not to be spent on 'vanity projects' but in places that count the most, I have two questions. Is that a string, or isn't it, and who decides what is a 'vanity' project? The Chinese, the Jamaican Government, or Vanity Fair? In fact, that might be Victoria's best-kept secret."

- Tony Deyal was last seen talking about a couple who entered a relationship on the condition that there would be no strings attached. He turned out to be a lyre.