Criticism, support for Mobay chamber boss on 'new Chinese'
It appears that a stern warning to Chinese business operators in Montego Bay, St James, that they must either change their posture of non-involvement or face a boycott of their business is creating a firestorm.
The Sunday Gleaner understands that powerful interests within the local Chinese community have been seeking to drum up support in a bold bid to get Gloria Henry, the president of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who issued the warning, to either retract the statement or face a backlash from the wider business community.
"They (the persons seeking to pressure Henry) are claiming that her statement is divisive and racist and should be withdrawn and an appropriate apology tendered," a source close to the discussions told The Sunday Gleaner.
"There are a lot of emails going the rounds. It has also spread as far away as Canada."
While addressing a Gleaner Editors' Forum in Montego Bay last Wednesday, Henry, in an obvious reference to the Chinese business operators who have surfaced in business districts across the island in recent years, bemoaned their refusal to contribute to community development.
"To be honest, they (the new Chinese) have not been playing a part. They have not been doing anything in their community ... except for the older ones (those with established roots), who have been here over the years," said Henry.
Speaking against the background of the accepted practice of supporting those who support you, Henry argued that unless the Chinese change their attitude and become more supportive of the communities, she would advocate for a boycott of their businesses.
"Their (the new Chinese) excuse is that they don't speak English, but my take is, if you speak English enough to sell to me, then you must speak English enough to know what the social needs are and play your part," said Henry. "We will encourage our community members not to do business with them if they are not willing to be part of the development of the community."
Henry's comments have been taking social media by storm, with some persons praising her for speaking the so-called 'uncomfortable truth' while others contend that the Chinese should not be pressured to support community development efforts.
Among the organisations that have taken issue with the boycott threat is the opposition Jamaica Labour Party, which on Thursday, through its general secretary, Dr Horace Chang, said the call could be viewed as an attack on an ethnic group.
The Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) and the chambers of commerce in Hanover and St Catherine have described the call as an overreaction.
At the same time, an established Montego Bay-based Chinese businessman operator, whose family has had an established business in Jamaica for more than 40 years, said he fully understood Henry's position and indicated that he was embarrassed by the lack of corporate spirit being displayed by the 'new Chinese'.
"Before their (the new Chinese) arrival in Jamaica, the (more established) Chinese were known for their goodwill ... . We were seen as integral members of the community ... . We attended the same schools as other Jamaican children ... some of my best friends are black Jamaicans," the businessman said.
"These new Chinese just come into a community and rent a place and establish a business ... sometimes they create their living quarters same place ... they don't mix with the people and they don't support community efforts ... . That is selfish and it makes me feel bad as a Chinese ... ," the businessman continued.
"My one concern about what Ms Henry said was that she did not emphasise forcefully which of the Chinese she is talking about ... . I am sure she did not mean those of us who have established roots here in Jamaica for 30 and 40 years," the businessman added.
While Henry's statement has attracted a fair amount of criticism, based on the views solicited at previous editors' forums across western Jamaica, there appears to be widespread support of the position Henry has taken with regard to the attitude of the new Chinese.
In a 'State of the Capital' Editors' Forum in Savanna-la Mar, Westmoreland last year, Custos Rotulorum of Westmoreland the Reverend Hartley Perrin took the new Chinese business operators to task, noting that they did not contribute to communities like Savanna-la-Mar and were quite "clannish".
"What we have seen in recent times that would serve to suggest some buoyancy and growth is the proliferation of Chinese and Indians in the town who have literally displaced all the locals who normally would have been doing business," said Perrin."There is a tremendous cause for concern because whereas if it was owned by Jamaicans, we would expect the monies to remain in Jamaica so that there is further growth. We are seeing monies moving from Jamaica rather than coming into Jamaica ... so we are going to be impoverished as a result of that."
NO TANGIBLE CONTRIBUTION
At a Job, Growth and Investment forum earlier this year, also in Savanna-la-Mar, prominent businessman Roger Allen also lamented the lack of involvement of the so-called new Chinese, who, he said, were not making a tangible contribution to the town.
"... if you talk about chamber of commerce, they are not in it, Kiwanis club or Rotary clubs or any of those organisations ... because even in terms of having meetings with the parish council or disaster preparedness, whereas all of us would sit around the table to plan together ... it is hard to get even one Chinese man to attend a meeting," said Allen.
"It is not that they cannot speak the language (English) ... most of them can ... but they use that as an excuse not to participate ... we are not feeling the Chinese ... they are almost operating in isolation from the community itself."
At another Job, Growth and Investment forum in Lucea, Hanover, earlier this year, Dr David Stair, the custos of Hanover, all but poured cold water on the efforts of the Hanover Chamber of Commerce, who have made numerous efforts to engage the Chinese without success.
"You can't force them to give back to the society because, I guess, like most of their compatriots around the world, the money goes back to their country. I don't think most of them stay here long enough to integrate into the society. They come, they do business, they ship out their money, and the cycle continues," said Stair, who said there needed to be a system in place to ensure that the Chinese, who do business in places like Lucea, are fully compliant with local laws and regulations in terms of paying requisite statutory deductions and fees.
"What we need to do is ensure that whenever they come here to do business, whatever structure they put in place, we must be able to benefit from it," said Stair.
Businessman George 'GT' Taylor, the president of the Black River Chamber of Commerce, shared Henry's view that the Chinese do not support community efforts and initiatives despite drawing their resources from the community.
"What I know these people do, they just come and learn enough language just to get through doing their business. They learn enough of our language to do their business, so we don't have the cooperation from them," said Taylor.
While declaring a love for Chinese food and their culture, world-renowned dental specialist, Dr Christopher Ogunsalu, the director of the Dental Institute of the Caribbean, said he was very happy that Henry had spoken up and argued that the new Chinese are selfish, greedy, and reluctant to embrace integration.
"How many of these Chinese women (have children) for a Jamaica man, or how many Chinese men you see involved with a Jamaican woman ... ? They are all about segregation ... they are not interested in integration," said Ogunsalu, a Nigerian-born, naturalised Jamaican.
"They are not interested in building Jamaica ... they are just here to make money, which they ship off to Canada and the United States to start new businesses or right back to China."