Sun | Feb 16, 2020

Donald R. Tapia | The value of freedom

Published:Sunday | January 26, 2020 | 12:33 AM
Donald Tapia

President Trump said during the United Nations General Assembly: “The future belongs to sovereign and independent nations who protect their citizens, respect their neighbours, and honour the differences that make each country special and unique.” These are words that the United States Government holds firm, as we believe that it is the inalienable right of every upstanding human being to be free in their pursuit for happiness. These words underscore our values; values which we share with the governments and peoples of Jamaica and the wider Caribbean region. These sentiments were echoed by US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, during his two-day official visit to the island for a series of meetings with Jamaican and regional leaders.

However, the Communist Party of China’s (CCP) view of governance is vastly different from the open, democratic traditions of most countries in this hemisphere, especially in the promotion and defence of free speech and human rights. For instance, according to a Freedom House 2018 report, China’s authoritarian regime has become increasingly repressive in recent years. The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is tightening its control over the state bureaucracy, the media, online speech, religious groups, universities, businesses, and civil society associations, and it has undermined its own already modest rule-of-law reforms.

Let’s walk the walk, shall we, and look at some more compelling facts:

Reporters Without Borders 2019 Press Freedom index ranks China at 177 of 180. That’s correct, one of the worst of the worst in terms of freedom of the press. The report also states that the Communist Chinese Party (CCP) has succeeded in imposing a social model in China based on control of news and information and online surveillance of its citizens. This is in direct contrast to the US and countries in the Caribbean region who all rank within the top 100 countries globally. In addition, 19 per cent of the 250 journalists imprisoned around the world are found in China.

According to Pew Research, the CCP’s harsh policies and laws reflect a pattern of government restrictions on religion. Pew Research Center reports on religious restrictions around the globe detailed the Communist Chinese government’s strict control over religious beliefs and practices in China, for now. Look at what the CCP is doing to the predominantly Muslim ethnic Uighurs.

CLEAR TRACK RECORD

In light of these and other human rights abuses imposed by the Communist Party of China, the USA cannot sit idly by and not speak out. Similarly, Jamaica has a clear track record of being a champion of human rights. Jamaica throughout its history has had the courage to speak out on human rights issues throughout the globe, in this hemisphere and beyond.

The United States, our government, our leaders, our Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica, is not against the people of China. We want to see a prosperous China that is at peace with its own people and with its neighbours. We want to see a thriving China where the Chinese business community transacts business with the rest of the world on a fair set of reciprocal terms that we all know and understand. We want to see a liberalised China that allows the genius of its people to flourish.

However, we note that the CCP is increasingly using its economic, political, and institutional power to change the global governance system from within. The CCP, under President Xi Jinping, is subtly and not so subtly forcing its Communist ideological concepts into every multilateral organisation to advance its own short- and long-term “we win, you lose” foreign policy strategies. Ask yourself this; why would a Communist dictatorship want democracies to thrive and prosper? These efforts demand the attention of the United States, its allies and partners, and civil society. If unchecked, the export of some of the most harmful aspects of China’s political system, including corruption, mass surveillance, and the repression of individual and collective rights is possible.

The United States values the strength of our relationship with our Caribbean neighbours. Our ties have been deep and mutually fruitful. We are the region’s number one trading partner. However, it’s not only about economics and infrastructure. Over the last century, millions of Caribbean people have made the United States their new homes, positively contributing to its development, while at the same time creating a strong diaspora that continues to build their native lands.

Annually, we welcome thousands of the region’s students who help make our institutions of higher education more robust as you similarly provide open arms for American students to your shores. Let us not waver in the freedoms that have underpinned our democratic societies, namely, governance, press freedom, religious tolerance, and respect for human rights. These are the pillars that will withstand the test of time and continue to provide a secure future for generations to come.

- Donald R. Tapia is United States Ambassador to Jamaica