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EDITORIAL - Beware of the xenophobes

Published:Thursday | March 6, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Right-thinking people ought to share, as we do, Professor Anthony Chen's concern that the rhetoric of the jingoists and xenophobes may create an environment that leads to violence against Jamaica's Chinese community.

Professor Chen is not a man to speak idly. He is a patriotic Jamaican of Chinese descent, respected scientist and an authority on climate change who has received high national honour.

But, like this newspaper, he has noted a worrying trend, even among people of high certification and presumed to be highly learned in matters temporal and spiritual, who have adopted an almost-racist opposition to the proposed Chinese-financed port and logistics facility in the Portland Bight/Goat Islands area.

Professor Chen acknowledges that there may be genuine environmental concerns over the proposed location of the US$1.5-billion project. In fact, he is instinctively against the construction of a coal-fired plant as its energy source.

ANTAGONISTIC COMMENTS

But it would be the cynically myopic who would not acknowledge the attempt by some of the group who oppose the logistics facility and their neo-Luddite friends to fuel xenophobic sentiments. They portray Chinese investments in Jamaica almost as an annexation of the island, with a master plan by Beijing to import large numbers of Chinese to the new province to displace Jamaicans.

As Professor Chen observed at the opening last week of the office of the Chinese Cultural Association of Jamaica, "There is no secret that a substantial number of persons in Jamaica have made antagonistic comments - both in the media and in private conversation - about China's involvement in Jamaica, especially with the announcement of the Goat Islands project."

The tenor of that antagonism, he feels - and we agree - would not be the same "if a United States or United Kingdom firm" were behind the project.

He fears that the tone of debate, if not moderated, could spiral into the kind of anti-Chinese violence of 1965, when allegations that two Chinese brothers had beaten an employee ignited riots. There have been other episodes of anti-Chinese violence in Jamaica's history.

THE IRONY OF IT

But it is ironic that there should have to be concern about such irresponsibility at this time, mere weeks after the national euphoria over the victory of Jamaican-Chinese Tessanne Chin in the televised American singing contest 'The Voice', and with China the only major investor in an economy that is starved of growth and has high levels of unemployment.

The facts are well known: economic growth in Jamaica has averaged less than one per cent for the past 40 years; the Government has a debt of nearly one and a half times the value of national output, and foreign direct of little over US$300 million in 2012, less than half its peaks of four years earlier. Jamaica needs investment to generate growth and create jobs, increase consumption and reduce poverty.

But for the Chinese, who have investment in highways and agriculture and want to do so in port management and logistics, few foreigners are lining up to invest in Jamaica. In that context, two things are worth considering: having built them, the Chinese can't lift up physical infrastructure and cart them home; any legitimate concerns about Chinese employment practices can, and ought to be handled by Jamaican law, rather than jingoism.

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