Sat | Dec 14, 2019

Ned Brown | US ignoring larger plan by China

Published:Friday | November 22, 2019 | 12:14 AM

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” – Lewis Carroll


This pretty much describes United States (US) foreign policy these days and the method of communicating in what they confuse as foreign policy, whether from President Trump or US Ambassador Tapia, it generally comes via a Twitter account.

While our US diplomat is waving his arms warning about the perils of dealing with the “two-headed dragon” of China, let me remind him of a universal axiom: Money talks … and we all know what walks.

The larger picture the US State Department is missing is that China’s ever-growing influence in the Caribbean is not just in Jamaica. China’s locus of influence emanates from Panama, where the canal controls the east-west flow of goods. Ever since the very capable US Ambassador to Panama, John Feeley, an 18-year career foreign service officer, resigned in 2018, this important position has remained unfilled. The Chinese would never allow this oversight.

The Chinese have taken a page of history from the Spaniards of the 16th century. Just as Cartagena was the capital of Spanish influence in the Caribbean, so, too, will be Panama, eventually. And just as Hispaniola was Spain’s main outpost among the Caribbean islands in the 17th century, so, too, will this be for Jamaica with the Chinese during the 21st. The US is so lacking in the region that it cannot fill ambassadorial posts in the Bahamas, Belize, Barbados, or Cuba.

What is the constructive role for the US in Jamaica that is more substantive than a tweet? After World War II, Sir Bill Stephenson, a Canadian-British superspy and Montego Bay resident, formed what was known as the World Commerce Corporation. Among his investors and partners were Edward Stettinius Jr, the former US secretary of state and former chairman of US Steel, and Juan Trippe, founder and chairman of Pan American Airways, which greatly improved the airports of Kingston and Montego Bay after the war.


What was their first investment? They created the Caribbean Cement Company plant in Kingston. It was a major investment by an Anglo-American consortium trying to rebuild Jamaica, a strategically important island after the war. And why did they do it? Because up through this period, all cement brought to Jamaica had to arrive from England in powdered form and then mixed. Overnight, the cost of cement in Jamaica plummeted by 75 per cent and building boomed.

If Ambassador Tapia wants to ‘walk the talk’, or maybe ‘walk the tweet’, he should focus on US support in three critical areas to aid Jamaica: lowering electrical costs, improving water quality and distribution, and bringing more healthcare resources from the US to help the average Jamaican, particularly in the rural areas.

Until then, he is what my Texan rancher friends would call “all hat, and no cattle”.

Ned Brown is a Washington, DC-based political consultant who is completing a book on Jamaican tourism from 1947-1962. Email feedback to