AS THE Obama administration might have noticed, their man, Joe Biden, the vice-president, was not the star attraction in Port-of-Spain in late May when he visited for talks with Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders.
That was reserved, a few days later, for Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader.
Mr Xi played to his billing. He announced US$3 billion in loans and grants to Caribbean countries and talked up Sino-Caribbean relations. "China holds very dear our relationship with the Caribbean region from a strategic perspective," he said.
That partnership has a critical underpinning: a flow of Chinese capital into the region - to build hotels in the Bahamas, houses in Trinidad and Tobago, and other infrastructure projects elsewhere.
Jamaica, as the political leader of the 15-member CARICOM, is critical in China's geopolitical equation.
For instance, a Chinese company is spending more than US$150 million to upgrade formerly Jamaican state-owned sugar factories it acquired three years ago.
Another of Beijing's firms, China Harbour Engineering Company, is spending US$600 million to build and extend toll highways. It also plans to invest US$1.5 billion on port infrastructure and related logistics projects.
The Chinese government loaned Jamaica US$400 million to repair roads and bridges and has agreed to advance millions more for similar projects.
GROWING IMPORTANCE IN THE REGION
Beijing, leveraging three decades of meteoric economic growth, has grabbed more than a beachhead in a region that America used to call its backyard, but which, these days, it more politically correctly refers to as its third border.
This newspaper welcomes China's foray into the Americas and its investment in the Caribbean. What, up to now, has been Beijing's principled pursuance of its own interest has redounded to Jamaica's, and the Caribbean's, benefit - economically and politically.
For this newspaper believes in balanced and principled global relationships, as is expressed, in part, by Jamaica's friendship with China, the United States and myriad other countries. At the same time, China's activities in Jamaica come at a time when the global economy remains weak, foreign direct investment lags, and this country is forced to undertake painful reforms after four decades of little growth.
NO CREATIVE POLICY FROM US
Chinese investments and strong political ties with Beijing do not obviate Jamaica's historic special relationship with the United States, forged by its proximity to America and the large number of Jamaicans who live in that country.
It is against this backdrop, and our presumption of Jamaica's strategic importance to the United States, that we are surprised at the absence of creative policy actions by recent American administrations towards this island, and the Caribbean generally. Washington has focused too narrowly on matters of security, especially the drug trade, and not enough on our economic circumstance.
It seems willing to cede economic relations in the Caribbean to China. That was not always the case.
Three decades ago, when the Jamaican economy faced a similar crisis, Ronald Reagan appointed banker David Rockefeller to work with Jamaican private-sector counterparts and the island's government to encourage American investment.
Circumstances conspired to make that project less successful than it might have been. But it is an example of what is possible - and of the absence of commitment to Jamaica and creative thinking in Washington today.
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