Fri | May 26, 2017

China’s role in Jamaica: no strings attached

Published:Sunday | May 3, 2015 | 5:00 AM

Every time I ride on the highway stretching into the beautiful mountains, I cannot but let go a sense of pride and joy. The North-South Highway, which has significantly shortened the travel time from Kingston to Ocho Rios and brought business and employment opportunities to communities along the road, is just an epitome of the mutually beneficial cooperation between China and Jamaica.

Over the 19 months since my arrival in Jamaica, I have so happily witnessed the vigorous expansion of our relationship, both in depth and width, thanks to our joint efforts. The two meetings between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller in 2013, as well as frequent ministerial-level exchanges in recent years, have played an important role in guiding our relationship.

I am happy to see the increasingly dynamic trade and economic cooperation between our two countries. Per STATIN's latest data, the total volume of China-Jamaica trade reached US$427 million in 2014, an increase of 25.6 per cent over 2013. Notably, Jamaica's exports to China struck an increase of 371.8 per cent.

In view of the financial challenges that Jamaica faces, Chinese companies have made major investment in the form of build-operate-transfer. Starting in 2012, China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) invested US$730 million for the construction of the 66-kilometre North-South leg of Highway 2000, which is the single largest investment on the island. The Linstead to Moneague section was opened last August, and the entire highway will be opened in early 2016.

In 2010, China National Complete Plant Import & Export Corporation (COMPLANT) spent US$9 million for the purchase of three Jamaican sugar estates in Frome, Bernard Lodge and Monymusk, and has so far invested more than US$100 million for the renovation and upgrading of the facilities.

As a nation that has suffered from foreign aggression, exploitation and underdevelopment for a long period in history, China fully recognises and understands the needs and dignity of developing countries. Over the years, the Chinese government has gone all out to provide sincere and selfless assistance to developing countries, including Jamaica, without any strings attached.

Grants over the past decade

In the past decade, a good number of projects have been or are being implemented under Chinese government grants, including the Sligoville Sports Complex, renovation of the Majesty Gardens Basic School, and the building of a Chinese Garden at Hope Gardens. The construction of a new office building for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade is expected to commence within this year. China has also made various donations of equipment to Jamaica, such as a state-of-the-art mobile container X-ray scanner, musical instruments, water tanks, computers, to name just a few.

China is also making efforts to share its experiences and expertise with Jamaica. So far, more than 700 officials and professionals have participated in training programmes in China covering such areas as public administration, agriculture, animal husbandry, fishery, public health, science and technology, and environmental protection, etc.

Under concessional loan arrangements, Chinese companies have built the Montego Bay Convention Centre, Kingston Palisadoes Highway, Trelawny Multi-Purpose Stadium, as well as projects under the Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme (JDIP). CHEC is currently undertaking the Major Infrastructure Development Programme (MIDP).

It's worth noting that Chinese companies are also proactively fulfilling their corporate social responsibilities to contribute to the development of local communities.

I am also happy to see that, in addition to economic cooperation, people-to-people exchanges are growing. More and more Jamaicans are learning Chinese language and culture at the Confucius Institute and its branches in Jamaica. Two teachers from China arrived early this year to teach Chinese at the Caribbean Maritime Institute, and one more teacher is coming soon to teach at the Police Academy in Jamaica.

Currently, 21 Jamaicans are studying in China under full Chinese government scholarship. Six more students will join them later in the year. In addition, an annual Chinese Ambassador's Scholarship was established at the University of the West Indies and the University of Technology in 2014 to assist Jamaican students to complete their studies.

Under the scholarship offered by Prime Minister Simpson Miller, six Chinese coaches have received training in Jamaica, and four students are currently studying sports management at the G.C. Foster College.

Last year, the Zhejiang Wu Opera Troupe paid a successful visit to Jamaica, and a Jamaica dance troupe was invited to China. Their impressive performances received very warm applause from the Chinese audience.

Free operations

Next month, a team of ophthalmologists from the best eye care hospital in Beijing will be in Kingston to provide free cataract operations. The Chinese Embassy is working closely with the Ministry of Health for the preparations of this mission that will bring brightness back to Jamaican patients.

The implementation of the visa waiver policy to Chinese tourists has brought potential for a boost in tourism cooperation. Just a few days ago, about 1,000 Chinese tourists arrived in Ocho Rios on a cruise ship.

It is my firm belief that all these exchanges serve good purpose in promoting better understanding among our two peoples and deeper friendship between our two countries.

It is natural that, given our good relationship, our two countries have enjoyed close collaboration and mutual support on the international arena. China fully understands the concerns by Jamaica and other Caribbean countries on climate change and international financing. While voicing its call on developed countries to provide capital, technical and capacity building support to small island developing countries, China has tried its best to render assistance to countries in the region to counter the challenges.

At the first Ministerial Meeting of the China-CELAC Forum held in Beijing last January, President Xi announced that China-CELAC would work together to increase two-way trade to US$500 billion and that China's stock of direct investment in CELAC countries would reach US$250 billion in 10 years. This grand blueprint opens a new horizon for China's cooperation with Latin American and Caribbean countries, and will bring China-Jamaica partnership to a new stage.

- Dong Xiaojun is Chinese ambassador to Jamaica. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.