Wed | Dec 11, 2019

Lisa Hanna | The doctrine of doing nothing, still…

Published:Sunday | November 24, 2019 | 12:27 AM

In a recent Gleaner editorial, the case was made for the Honourable Kamina Johnson Smith to meet with current United States Ambassador Donald Tapia to send him a clear message that Jamaica’s foreign policy was not formulated at the US State Department. This, after he expressed his ire at Jamaica’s deepening diplomatic relationship with China.

The minister responded by calling The Gleaner’s opinion “instructions”.

[Were] pulled together to carry out somebody else’s agenda … . In terms of the advice that was given, it is interesting to juxtapose it with the understanding that the instructions which were being given are being given in the context of information which is actually somewhat dated and was published to tie in with a particular action. I, as minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade, act in the best interest of Jamaica, land we love, at all times…” (Hon Kamina Johnson Smith, Jamaica Senate Friday, November 15, 2019)

Here we go again with this Government’s diplomatic dodging.

This seems to be its go-to response when anyone dares to question or challenge Jamaica’s foreign-affairs approaches. Rather than presenting a proactive, operationalised foreign affairs and foreign trade policy that’s courageous, strategic and principled, this Government continues to rely on an approach that I deemed last year ‘The Doctrine of Doing Nothing’ (and I’d add ‘Saying Nothing’).

Over the past two years, this Government of Jamaica’s (GOJ) reluctance to take the lead in CARICOM towards a unified position on Venezuela coupled with its acquiescence with the Organization of American States to the United States Resolution remains disturbing. This move comes against the background of Jamaica’s abstention from the crucial vote in the United Nations General Assembly on a resolution regarding Jerusalem, thereby contradicting the position taken by all previous administrations without explanation, and on the prime minister’s official visit to Israel. Yet word on the street is that the Israelis have “set up shop” at our Jamaica Defense Force (JDF) headquarters doing “surveillance” of our citizens.

REAPED IMMEASURABLE BENEFITS

Jamaica, under the People’s National Party (PNP), developed an enviable reputation of courage and activism in the international arena. Our consistent approach in taking principled decisions served us well, earning Jamaica the distinction of chairing the G77 countries and China, and twice earning a seat at the UN Security Council. For these and other reasons, Jamaica’s input into matters of foreign diplomacy has been and remains highly sought after by our allies.

Our display of assertive, courageous, and enlightened leadership in foreign policy and diplomacy has never required a public bilateral admonishment. And this from as far back as when the Right Excellent Norman Manley, even before Independence, led the world by taking the position that Jamaica wouldn’t trade with apartheid South Africa.

Since then, the policies of PNP administrations have been founded on:

(1) Respect for nations’ sovereignty.

(2) Respect for human rights and self-determination for citizens of all countries.

(3) A non-aligned stance.

(4) Economic development for all.

Michael Manley’s unrelenting support for forging alliances and diplomatic relations in the 1970s with China, Cuba, Brazil, and the League of African Leaders, and P.J. Patterson’s leadership of CARICOM and engagement of Venezuela have reaped immeasurable benefits for Jamaica.

Over the past 55 years, we understood that Jamaica’s influence was stronger as a team within the international community.

But these days, Jamaica is mostly silent and compliant. Jamaica and Jamaicans must ALWAYS come first. This requires us to be strategic in our thinking and to state where we are going and why.

China is now the second-largest global economy, and, at its current growth rate, it’ll become the largest in a few more years. About 10 years ago, China overtook Japan as the largest foreign holder of US government debt, holding more than $1.2 trillion, according to the US Treasury Department data.

Today, China is the US’s largest trading block. It would be laughable for anyone to instruct the US not to sell their loans to China. Similarly, it’s our right to take loans from China once the terms are in our people’s best interest.

NOT FOR SALE

Jamaica is a sovereign nation dependent upon a world where global growth has been facilitated by free trade. We’ve never confined ourselves to any one trading block, relying at all times on the rule of international law and multilateralism while rejecting coercion and hegemonic isolationism.

In small open economies like Jamaica, strategic foreign policy is inextricably linked to the service of our economic development. The same applies in today’s changing geo-political landscape. The success of any national development policy or strategy will require being proactive, taking risks to carve out globally competitive niche markets and forging new relationships in international trade while leveraging/nurturing long-standing ones.

We must never allow our country to follow like a lemming, being used to advance the interests of others, with ambiguous motives often disguised as defence of democracy, human rights, and rule of law.

We must display the fortitude of those before us who have made Jamaica and Jamaicans symbols of international integrity and purveyors of the importance of adherence to international norms. This requires practicing the art of statecraft to walk safely in between behemoths fighting over global economic and political space.

Our rights and privileges as a sovereign democratic nation are not for sale, or to be determined in foreign capitals, but are defined and protected right here in our land; right here in Jamaica. By Jamaicans!

We must never abandon our friends or be seen under any circumstance to do the bidding of others to assist them to impose dominion on another Sovereign nation.

If we continue, Jamaica will not only run the risk of destroying our enviable reputation in the international arena of courage and activism but erode hard-earned gains for Jamaica from years of consistently approaching decision-making on principle.

I urge the GOJ to locate its spine.

- Lisa Hanna is the People’s National Party shadow minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade and member of parliament for South East St Ann. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.