Thu | Nov 26, 2020

Fables and Chinese promises

Published:Sunday | September 15, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang toast during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in August. Columnist Orville Taylor warns that China will demand its pound, or two, of flesh. - AP
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Orville Taylor, Contributor

Ni hao mah! There is an awful story about a young girl who is unable to meet the economic dictates of her king, until she meets a little ugly man who teaches her to turn straw into gold. Thinking that she had woven an unbeatable deal, she agreed that her precious, yet unconceived firstborn would be handed over to this benefactor, in some unforeseeable future.

For months it was bliss, as the poor girl churned out more gold than used to be found in Ninja Man's mouth, and all was good. Then came the day of judgement and the little imp started dancing because he knew that his prize was at hand and he was getting ready to feast on the baby.

Another story like that is a Shakespearean drama, where the protagonist is loaned money from a man from the east, a Jew, but one whose reputation for shrewdness and loan-sharking was well deserved. Not only was the money loaned under difficult-to-fulfil terms, but, more horribly, the penalty for default was a pound of flesh from the chest of the borrower.

In yet another epic, a mother lives in a community in which the official government agency cannot provide security for its residents. Worse, neglected by its elected officials, who might lack both the economic resources and political will to care, these inhabitants are 'taken care of' by a home-grown 'area leader', a 'don', who runs the locale with an iron fist or a pair of iron fingers.

But it also comes at a price. Not only is absolute loyalty required, but at some point, the pubescent female child, still below the age of consent, has to be delivered to be deflowered and seeded with pestilence and offspring alike.

WORKS OF FICTION

The first two tales are works of fiction. First, the cannibal dwarf, Rumpelstiltskin, is thwarted by the girl being able to say his previously unknown name. In the second, it is a wise Portia, with a legendary speech, who splits justice and punishes the Jew, who was hell-bent on ripping his meat reward from the chest of the defaulter.

However, the third is pure fact and an oft-repeated drama. This is 21st-century Jamaica, and Portia is not a judge; she is the appointed and elected representative of the peasant girl and the poor merchant-debtor, and Rumpel might very well be on her side. One lesson is to be learnt from all of these stories: Monetary help always comes at a cost, and we should be careful of what we agree to sacrifice for the short- to medium-term investment, which purports to solve our dilemma.

Of course, I am cautious of the advent of the Chinese, and it is not because I am xenophobic. Indeed, since I have been a teenager, I have been totally fascinated with Chinese culture, and all St George's College boys were either associate or racially Chinese. In fact, consuming a fare of dried salted plums, sow bow and lychees was not uncommon, and I developed a deep

Even the life of Mao Tse Tung was a source of
inspiration for a poor black boy who had seen the vagaries of capitalism
and romanced the notion of an egalitarian society, in which the worker
held centre stage. Nonetheless, for all my appreciation for 'Cathay', my
Jamaicanness always came first.

Prime Minister Portia
Simpson Miller's recently expressed annoyance over the questions
regarding the impending Chinese incursion: "When I hear people running
up their mouths about Chinese investments in Jamaica, before anyone
criticises, they should show their level of investment in
Jamaica."

As a self-proclaimed defender of the poor,
the remark sounds surprisingly pro-capital and, worse, does not sound
very nationalistic. Is she, the lover of the poor, saying that if you
have no money, you should shut up, grit your teeth, bend forward and bow
to who has it, and take whatever they are giving?

My
word straight to the PM is that she is elected by Jamaican people to
protect our interests, and money, however much is being offered, does
not give the investor the unrestricted right to do as he or she
pleases.

This is a time for truths and the rejection
of old wives' tales. The PM, looking askance at former Labour Minister
Pearnel Charles, raised a rhetorical question to him after he asked
about labour implications of the Chinese investments. Her response
suggested that she would not preside over unfavourable labour clauses in
any bilateral agreement.

'Rhetorical' and 'rhetoric'
are not the same, and apart from the flawed amendment to the Labour
Relations and Industrial Disputes Act in 2002, she should tell the
nation what labour laws the People's National Party administration,
between 1989 and 2007, passed to improve the overall conditions of
workers in this country, despite the recommendations and concerns
expressed by the International Labour Organisation
(ILO).

Moreover, the ILO's Convention 94, Labour
Clauses (Public Contracts) Convention, which the Government has ratified
since 1962, has been consistently breached. Under this instrument,
Government is required to ensure that in all its public contracts, both
local and international, certain minimum labour standards are
maintained. However, the ILO's Committee of Experts, in its own words,
"... has been commenting for a number of years on the absence of any
laws or regulations implementing the provisions of the
convention."

DOESN'T INSPIRE
CONFIDENCE

On the other hand, Opposition Leader Andrew
Holness does not inspire confidence either, with his admission, that
"... foreign direct investment comes with some conditions. Some of them
are known upfront and some of them are discovered as you go
along."

Given all the embarrassing anti-labour
developments which have shown up the impotence of the trade unions that
are affiliated to political parties, especially in the sugar industry,
one questions whether the deal to sell the factories under the Jamaica
Labour Party (JLP) does not make Holness the kettle and Simpson Miller
the pot.

Nonetheless, the concerns with China are well
founded. Its unemployment rate is 6.5 per cent; meaning that more than
87 million Chinese are out of work and the government must find work for
them. We also don't know how many of the employed in China are
underemployed. One key is that despite its impressive economic strides,
it has a poverty rate of 13.4 per cent. Simply put, more than 182
million Chinese live under conditions where they can't feed and clothe
themselves. With an average life expectancy of 73.5 and human
development index (HDI) value of 0.699, the average Chinese is living
worse than the average Jamaican, whose life expectancy is virtually the
same 73.3 and the HDI of 0.73.

When Portia and crew
remove visa requirements and slacken the work-permit regimen in this
country, does China have anything to fear from an invasion of Jamaicans?
Or is it vice versa?

Add to that an environmental
record which includes major pollution of the Yangtze and amusingly named
Yellow River, and a smog-filled Beijing and other cities, one has to
ask whether or not this nation will seek to treat non-Chinese people and
environments better than it does its own. There might not be too many
pastors in China, but I am sure that there is an equivalent about them
christening their children first.

It must be noted
that there is at least one project by the Chinese here that still defies
logic as regards its use and appropriateness. We can take sleep from
the Chinese mega-investment in the Camerouné port of Kiribi, which
employs 1,125 people, with less than half, some 609 being mostly
Camerouné labourers.

Thus, in concluding, we need
foreign investment, and lots of it, but to our beloved 'pauperphile'
Portia, whomever she pets, make sure she pets the Jamaican people first
and not simply open up for China.

Huí tóu
jìan!

Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in
sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to
columns@gleanerjm.com and
tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.