Mark Ricketts | Bunting reckless in rant against Chinese
Peter Bunting, a former minister of national security, proclaimed in a video titled The Chinese Taking Over that Jamaica was undergoing a form of economic colonisation by Chinese operating in Jamaica.
Quite rightly, there has been some pushback by Prime Minister Andrew Holness and by the PNP, Bunting's own party, and by Jamaicans voicing public outrage at what they deemed inflammatory comments, although Bunting claims he is merely echoing sentiments expressed by others.
The Chinese Embassy was quick to challenge the veracity of Bunting's claims.
Countries, like people, want to feel they are in total control of their destiny, and, ideally, they would like to be in a situation where they don't have to borrow, beg, or be dependent on anyone. This sense of total ownership, control, and independence was expressed best, to the delight and applause of many Jamaicans, by former Prime Minister Michael Manley, when he said, "This government, on behalf of our people, will not accept anybody, anywhere in the world telling us what to do in our country. We are masters in our house, and in our house, there shall be no other master but ourselves. Above all, we are not for sale."
When Manley uttered that beautiful poetry, it was our last bluster, our final hurrah, as the economy that was already in a tailspin continued to experience year-after-year massive declines in the Jamaican dollar, sluggish annual average growth rates, and a huge debt that currently stands at $2.18 trillion. This translates to every man, woman, and child in Jamaica owing $707,000. Even more worrying is our low per-capita income.
For Jamaica to repay its huge debt and improve its GDP ranking, it will have to find businesses and countries with large amounts of risk capital willing to invest. But that isn't easy. Several countries, states, provinces, municipalities are all competing aggressively for businesses, soft loans, state enterprises, or other forms of direct financial investment, including the sale of citizenship.
The competition is fierce, heated, and at times, non-advantageous from a cost-benefit standpoint for the host nation. That's the reality that Jamaica, a small, open, highly indebted country, faces in trying to woo foreign capital and foreign businesses.
Municipalities and states in the USA, developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean are busy rolling out the red carpet with attractive offers from duty waivers to tax-free holidays.
While globalisation and liberalisation have driven businesses to set up shop in various corners of the world and seduced countries into expanding their economic involvement globally, a recent trend rooted in jingoism among some advanced countries is to look more inward, or to engage in multilateral trade with agreed partners. This limits the number of funding sources. China, as a global economic power, is one of the few players with a fairly aggressive stance in reaching out to many nations, and this does give them some clout at the bargaining table.
But even with the obvious imbalance between those of us asking and the one or two proactively lending, Jamaica does have some bargaining chips. Our governments, whether PNP or JLP, have stood us in good stead in the diplomatic halls of power, and in multilateral and bilateral relations, we have garnered much respect. Benefiting as well from Brand Jamaica, we have never been seen as a pushover. Reduced leverage for us should never be seen as tantamount to submission.
With Bunting being the former general secretary of the PNP, and with his party leading the Government for 23 of the last 29 years, during which time Jamaica engaged foreign countries and nationals, including the Chinese and the Spaniards in mega projects, he should be cognisant of the bargaining strength that his various administrations brought to the table.
Where Jamaica is very weak is in its major missteps in education and monetary, fiscal, and exchange rate policies over the years, which has now left us broke and badly in debt.
Our bad policies ended up draining the country of high-level skills and senior management and leadership talent; starving the country of large pools of high-risk capital to undertake bold and far-reaching investments; as well as limiting the emergence of enough well-heeled, knowledgeable, and very experienced local corporation executives and entrepreneurs with vision and with high levels of risk disposition to undertake transformative development.
Bunting, an entrepreneur and former banker, must be aware of our shortfall in this regard. Therefore, if the Chinese are going to undertake large-scale investments, they are going to bring specialist manpower and knowledgeable, professional and managerial talent. But we must have faith in our Government, our institutions, and in well-thinking Jamaicans lobbying privately on the country's behalf.
HISTORY OF XENOPHOBIA
It should be noted that countries and people all over the world at various times in their history experience xenophobia. They become aggressive when they feel oppressed, or overrun, or threatened as far as jobs go, or vulnerable by an ethnic minority, a different tribe, a different culture, or even an income grouping different from their own. The result is an attempt at ethnic cleansing as the Pakistani traders and retailers felt in South Africa, or a race riot, as Jamaicans experienced in Britain, or what the Chinese endured during the Rodney riots in the 1960s and again during the riots of the 1980s.
Harmony among different tribes, races, ethnicities, income groups, and cultural groupings is very hard to maintain, and that's why countries avoid inflammatory rhetoric by their leaders and try to give pride of place to councils of race relations or benevolent societies.
Jamaica must be sensitive to the negative implications of a racial and ethnic divide since we have as many Jamaicans living overseas as we do here.
Most important, because we have had many ethnic minorities living with us and among us for generations, as in the case of the Chinese, who have been coming here from July 30, 1854, Bunting's public remark was unfortunate and quite damaging, because of its effect on foreign nationals, as well as the possible backlash as far as the Jamaican Chinese.
At a breakfast get-together, a retired Anglican pastor who is Jamaican but visibly Chinese, told me of his recent experience going into an inner-city neighbourhood two days after Bunting's public comment. As he was reversing his car, it was surrounded by a group of youngsters who seemed in no mood for conversation. He said not since the 1980s during the Chinese riots did he feel this concerned, or simply worried for his island home. As the youngsters drew closer to him, one of them shouted, "Is all right, a Father, a good man." Who knows? The incident might have been mere coincidence.
A sad end to all of this is that Bunting, with his status and standing, and with his knowledge that words do matter, and do have consequences, has yet to publicly apologise.
- Mark Ricketts is an economist, author, and lecturer living in California.