This week, on November 21, is the 40th anniversary of Jamaica's establishment of diplomatic relations with China and our country's enforcement of a one-China policy.
Given its timing, there is surprisingly little official hype of, or comment on, this milestone. But there is both symbolic and practical significance to the occasion. It is happening a mere week since the start of the once-in-a-decade transition of power in China and at a time when that country is contemplating reforms which it hopes will maintain the levels of growth that have, over the past three decades, transformed it into a global economic power.
In recent years, Jamaica has been a beneficiary of China's economic strength, which we hope will continue. Jamaica, in that sense, and as a member of the global community, has a stake in China's economic and political evolution.
But the advancement of Sino-Jamaican relations, from Kingston's part, cannot be a blind gamble. It has to, especially for a small country such as ours, be balanced, coherent, predictable, principled and, fundamentally, in Jamaica's best, long-term interest. In fact, it is this architecture that has sustained the relationship over the past four decades, across political administrations.
Indeed, it is worthy of note, we think, that Kingston's establishment of diplomatic relations with China happened nearly seven years before the formal re-establishment of diplomatic ties between Washington and Beijing, although it happened in the same year of Richard Nixon's visit to China that accelerated the process of normalisation.
That Michael Manley took Jamaica on this path mere months after coming to office was, in the context of the time, an act of political courage. It probably says something, too, that in Jamaica's often divisive political environment, Sino-Jamaican relations have been among the country's least-charged policy issues, even during the ideologically turbulent period of the 1970s.
The innate grasp of principle and the sense of history that drove Manley must continue to underpin our relations with Beijing. The times and circumstances, however, call for something more in our pursuance of those principles - hard-nosed pragmatism.
REINFORCING TIES WITH CHINA
Forty years on, although the Communist Party is still in power, China is no longer the country of Chairman Mao and Zhou Enlai. China's economy is market-driven as the second largest in the world, after America's. China, too, is a political power, with global influence.
We discern that, at least in the short term, the new leaders in Beijing, including the new general secretary and putative president, Xi Jinping, will continue to consider Jamaica a credible and principled nation, with which they can do business. That Xi has visited Jamaica, appreciates China's active foreign policy and knows our leaders will likely help.
But this, we do not believe, is sufficient going forward, assuming that China continues to build its influence on the global stage. Jamaica, and its partners in the Caribbean Community, must develop a deeper and broader understanding of China - of its economy, its politics, its political personalities and its social dynamics - beyond the capacities of a foreign ministry or diplomatic missions.
In this regard, it would be sensible, practical and economically feasible, we believe, for the University of the West Indies, Mona, to establish a China-centred South East Asia research institute.
The curricula of other domestic educational institutions should also focus more on China studies, including language training.
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