Sun | Dec 15, 2019

Editorial | Mr Shaw’s grasp of foreign policy

Published:Tuesday | November 19, 2019 | 12:38 AM

Audley Shaw gets it. Kamina Johnson Smith doesn’t. Or, so it appears. So, she shoots the messenger, rather than confronting the substance of the message.

Mr Shaw is the minister of commerce and agriculture in Andrew Holness’ government. Mrs Johnson Smith is the foreign minister, who is gaining notoriety for being thin-skinned. Every critique of Jamaica’s foreign policy that isn’t obviously laudatory is presumed to be a personal attack. That’s limiting to the evolution of an internally coherent set of ideas to guide Jamaica’s engagement in a shifting global polity, without being vulgarly contractional.

Last week, in the face of US Ambassador Donald Tapia’s open censure of Jamaica’s deepened economic relationship with China, this newspaper suggested that the envoy be summoned to the foreign ministry to be given a message about where, and by whom, Jamaica’s foreign policy is formulated, and that it isn’t at Foggy Bottom, or by Donald Trump or Mike Pompeo.

Our advice, Mrs Johnson Smith claimed in the Senate on Friday, was in pursuance of “somebody else’s agenda”, although she didn’t say whose, and that information upon which it was based, which was an interview by the ambassador with The Gleaner, was “somewhat dated and published to tie in with a particular action”. What that action is, or was, remains a mystery.

The foreign minister’s response is curious when reviewed in the context of Sino-Jamaica relations and juxtaposed against Mr Shaw’s mature analysis of Mr Tapia’s concern, and the hypocrisy that it exposes.

Over the past decade, China, via bilateral loans and capital investments by its firms, has pumped around US$2 billion into the island’s economy. Much of that cash, coming at a time when foreign direct investment (FDI) was down to a trickle, has gone into important infrastructure projects.

At the same time, Jamaica, which, two years ago, sold a meagre US$20 million to the Asian country, wants to beef up its exports to China, whose population of 1.4 billion and burgeoning middle class has a growing appetite for foreign products.

Understandably, Mr Shaw finds it difficult to fathom America’s “nervousness” about the Sino-Jamaican partnership, which, Washington should be aware, is the outcome of more than 40 years of principled relations between the countries, and, in our case, across administrations.

Minister Shaw didn’t disclose who initiated the meeting with Mr Tapia, but he told business leaders at the weekend that he had met with the ambassador – who, in a hint of Trumpism, he described as a “very nice man” – and had “very carefully” explained to him “that there are some amounts of misunderstandings that the Americans might have about our relationship with China”.

CONCEPTUALLY RIGHT

Indeed, as this newspaper has argued, Mr Shaw, in his speech, told “our friends to the north” that there was nothing incompatible in Jamaica’s long-standing relationship with the United States, and the deepening of that between Kingston and Beijing. Mr Shaw reminded that even as the complaints were made about Jamaica, “the big boys” traded with each other.

While, during the first nine months of this year, Mexico has emerged as America’s biggest trading partner, with their bilateral trade accounting for 14.9 per cent of total US trade, China, despite the tariff wars, was third position, accounting for 13.5 per cent of America’s overall trade. The Americans, during the period, bought US$342 billion worth of Chinese products and sold US$78.8 billion. In 2018, when China was America’s top trading partner, the US bought $539 billion and sold $120 billion worth of goods.

According to Mr Shaw, Jamaica-China relation were “not about geopolitics”, but “about trade and moving from poverty to prosperity”. In the broad sweep of things, at least from the perspective of Washington and Beijing, Mr Shaw may be a bit naïve. He is, nonetheless, conceptually right about Jamaica’s ability to articulate, and pursue, what’s in its best interest.

Indeed, this whole episode only further underlines the need for a deep review, and rearticulation, of Jamaica’s foreign policy, and why Prime Minister Holness should call in some former, and experienced, hands to help.