Julian 'Jingles' Reynolds
It is with great interest that I viewed Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's comments to Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller last week in China, requesting that the Jamaican Government do more to protect Chinese nationals doing business from violent robberies, extortion, and resentment to perceived unfair labour practices.
For business people like me in Jamaica who do business with China, we would have felt good if the Jamaican government officials in China would have reciprocated by requesting better business practices by Chinese businesspeople doing business with us.
Two recent exposures to doing business with China have left me and one of my colleagues perturbed, with both matters still unresolved. Earlier this year, I was contacted through my United States-based company, Fiwi Productions, by a Chinese company in the city of Xi'an to do a 20-part documentary film on Jamaica, each running for 20 minutes and covering a wide range, from Jamaica's beginning as a Spanish colony to present day.
In checking out the company I learnt that it was legitimate, and though having no history in film or television production or distribution, had a very strong industrial base, and extended ties to other companies in China.
I contacted immediately then Jamaican ambassador to China, Courtney Rattray, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade. The embassy in China made its checks, including talking with the manager who was the person dealing with me directly. I was told that they checked out as authentic, and the undertaking appeared to be to facilitate a 'world theme park' that was being built in China, and Jamaica was to be one of the featured countries.
I began working on the project to submit an outline of each episode and a budget. In further checking, I inquired how they found me and my company that is in New York, but knowing that there were ties to Jamaica. I was informed that their associates in Shanghai recommended me.
I accepted this, as two of my business partners in the United States had good links in China and have visited there several times, one with ties to the film and university communities, while the other promotes US minority-owned businesses doing business in China. In just under two weeks I made my submission.
He expressed satisfaction and admiration, and even commented on the amount of work and its thoroughness that I had done in such a short time, as they intended to start this August. His only request was for me to reduce the budget "a little". I explained that the budget submitted was very conservative and I would not want to shave it and damage the project's production value. However, I found a couple of areas to satisfy the request. It was accepted. I was then asked to journey to Xi'an to meet "face to face" and "sign the contract".
I informed him that I would only go there if they would stand the cost of my travel and stay, or provide me with five per cent of the budget, which would be from my final payment on the project. He baulked at this. I informed him that I would be contacting my attorneys and monitoring if anything similar to what I presented came up. He informed me that there are others they could go to. And that was that.
All along, the foreign affairs ministry was kept informed, and also copied the Jamaica Embassy in China on the process. So when it came to a halt, they were informed. I received a phone call from a ministry official in May saying that the matter was being investigated. I have heard nothing since, and although I reached out several times to minister of state, Arnaldo Brown, I am still to get an audience.
In talking with a business partner here, Henry Campbell, managing director of GHC Foods that serves as a supplier to a company, Anything From Jamaica Limited, of which I am a director, he informed me that there was a serious delay in the production schedule as a piece of machinery that he had sourced from Wenshou, China, with help from an American company in Houston, Texas, had taken one year to be delivered although he was told it would have taken two months.
And after getting the equipment, he has been unable to speak with anyone at the company in China to answer questions required in assembling the equipment for production. The matter has left him extremely frustrated, and wondering how the image of Jamaica would have fared if the situation was reversed.
At the macro level, you hear terminologies such as sustainable development, capacity building, bilateral or multilateral channels, Vision 2030, but at the levels where most of us have to exist daily the reality is harsh, aggravating, sometimes uncompromising.
And it would be very helpful in making our lives a little easier if those at the higher levels, the leaders and representatives, would take the time to listen to our hurts and pains and try to find ways to make our lives a little easier, less burdensome.
I deem commendable the major projects that the Jamaican and Chinese governments have undertaken and will continue doing, but all relationships should be mutually beneficial. As much as the Chinese hold the handles in this relationship, some considerations and sensitivities must be shown to us who hold the blades.
Julian 'Jingles' Reynolds is an entrepreneur, film-maker and writer living and working in Jamaica and the United States. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.