Sat | Mar 28, 2020

Carolyn Cooper | Big people playing Chinese telephone

Published:Sunday | January 6, 2019 | 12:00 AM

These days, writing a newspaper column is a lot like playing Chinese telephone. What you put out often comes back in a distorted form. In the age of the Internet, rumours go viral in cyberspace. And they become authoritative versions of reality. It's often quite difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction.

This shouldn't be so. In the children's game, Chinese telephone, a whispered message is passed along very quickly. By the time it gets to the last person in the chain, it's completely altered. That's the fun of the game. It's an amusing reminder of just how unreliable oral communication can be.

By contrast, a printed message is supposed to be much more stable than the spoken word. After all, readers have a text they can look over more than once to make sure they get its meaning. But reading intelligently is a dying art. It's the sound bite that matters, not the substance of a written argument.





In response to last week's column, 'What Is China Doing in Africa?', I got an abusive email from Dr Rovan Locke, chairman, CEO and publisher of the Caribbean-American Commentary Newspaper, which covers Miami and Fort Lauderdale. This was Dr Locke's opening attack:

"In an hypocritical manner our 'Sistreen', [sic] professor Carolyn Cooper bemoaned the supreme irony of imperialistic China building the Majestic Museum of Black Civilisations in Dakar, Senegal. It was a gift from the new conqueror of our ancestral continent. Our brothers and sisters in Dakar continue to sell out our motherland from the days of slavery 400 years ago to now for 30 pieces of silver ... What is preventing her to ask the same question about Jamaica?"

Nothing is preventing me! The fact that I was writing about Senegal does not mean that I've hypocritically ignored the case of Jamaica. Dr Locke obviously doesn't read my column regularly. He does not know that I've written at least three articles on the subject of Chinese 'investment' in Jamaica. The first was 'Selling Jamaica to 'Mr Chin',' published on July 5, 2015.

I argued that our short-sighted politicians are selling off our birthright to our new colonisers for little or nothing. How can a small island be giving away land to a huge country like China? It makes no sense. The Government should be distributing so-called 'crown lands' to poor Jamaicans whose ancestors received no reparation for enslavement at the time of Emancipation.




My second column was 'Highway robbery north, south, all bout', written in the Jamaican language, and published on August 20, 2017. I focused on the high cost of the toll on the North-South Highway. Incidentally, I prefer that generic name for the highway. Not the brand name of a politician, especially in such a clear case of disputed paternity.

I highlighted the fact that, according to their website, the Jamaica North-South Highway Company Limited (JNSHC) is a "private company formed by China Communications Construction Company with the responsibility of developing, operating and maintaining the 66.470-kilometre of road for a concessionary period of 50 years".

I asked who is responsible for protecting Jamaicans from predatory pricing. Clearly, we can't depend on politicians. They are the ones who made the deal in the first place.

My third column, 'Dear George Hong Guo and Liu Chauyo', was published on November 26, 2017. It was an open letter to the deputy CEO and the CEO and operations manager of the Pan Caribbean Sugar Company. They didn't seem to understand why Jamaican youth don't want to cut cane. Or why they would deliberately burn down the cane. So I gave a history lesson about slavery and its legacies.




At a party on New Year's Day, a man I had just met asked me what I have against the Chinese. My interrogator had read last week's column and missed the point. My issue is not with the Chinese. They are protecting their own economic interests. They recognise that the old imperialists have left a power vacuum all across the Global South which they are quite willing to fill.

It's our politicians who are to blame for the debt trap we're in. They have failed to negotiate favourable terms of business with China. We simply can't depend on our politicians to do the right thing. Most of them are just too hungry for money and power. They are incapable of making decisions in the best interest of the majority of Jamaicans.

All across the Caribbean, so-called independent states are completely dependent on foreign loans for 'development'. If it's not the International Monetary Fund, it's the World Bank or, now, the Chinese government. It's all the same: underdevelopment parading as progress.

If the Chinese said 'development' in Trinidad and Tobago and when the message came up the chain of islands we heard 'exploitation' in Jamaica that would be fair warning. But that's not how this game of Chinese telephone works. The Chinese say, "We're here to make money". And politicians hear, "Happy to be of service!"

- Carolyn Cooper, PhD, is a specialist on culture and development. Email feedback to and