Editorial | China-Jamaica Belt and Road MOU
The memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed on April 11, 2019, between Jamaica and China is of great significance. It reflects a determination on the part of the Jamaican Government to carve out some sovereign space in a contested battlefield. This MOU represents a further strengthening of the relationship between the two countries, first established in the 1970s.
All this is taking place in the face of United States (US) determination to do all that is possible to block China’s rise as a world power. The US particularly wants to reassert the Monroe Doctrine of the 19th century, which they interpret to mean that no other world power but themselves should play any significant role in the Western Hemisphere.
The western world’s Cold War victory in the 1990s over the USSR was followed by a period of US triumphalism bordering on global arrogance. This victory was thought to be so complete and comprehensive that it was likened by the famed American political scientist, Professor Francis Fukayama, as being “the end of history”. The US then set out to try to build its vision of a unipolar world, ignoring the interests of many other countries, including former allies. The Caribbean was largely ignored.The world has learnt, however, that history never ends, and that it is nuanced, complex and dynamic. The rise of China during the last 30 years, facilitated by globalisation, is testimony to this reality.
How the US and China resolve their difficulties will determine the space that small countries will have to play within. Jamaica and the wider Caribbean, in pursuing our national issues, must accept the fact that the USA is the dominant power in the region. We should have no interest in antagonising them. At the same time, however, Jamaica must pursue its own national interest with skilled and mature diplomacy.
Since the end of the Cold War, investment flows from US companies to Jamaica have been relatively insignificant, save and except New Fortress Energy, over the last five years. The New Fortress liquefied natural gas investment was largely prompted, it would appear, from the desire of the Obama and Trump administrations to break the region’s energy partnership with Venezuela. It has largely succeeded in changing the energy dynamics of Jamaica. It has shifted reliance from Venezuela to the US; natural gas for oil (both fossil fuels).
One consequence of the change is that the long-term viability of the Petrojam oil refinery is now in doubt. The implications of this overall energy shift require urgent national study and debate. We look forward to the Zacca Energy Committee report due in May 2019.
US pressure to limit diplomatic and economic cooperation with China, as the China-Jamaica MOU shows, has had only limited success. Chinese investments and loans have been a major source of capital for Jamaica over the last decade. Outside of anaemic domestic investment, the only other notable source of meaningful investment in the Jamaican economy has been the Spanish hotels on the Jamaican north coast during the period.
OPPORTUNITIES FROM BRI
The signing of the MOU between Jamaica and China to allow for Jamaica’s participation in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will be a platform for local firms to operate at a global level. This could potentially be a game changer for Jamaica’s development over the next generation.
The BRI will potentially see the investment of trillions of dollars across the globe in infrastructure, trade, communication and industry. According to the Chinese, the initiative will likely add some US$117 billion to global trade. Jamaica has rightly joined dozens of other countries in positioning itself to reap rewards from participation.
Jamaican governments have so far played a deft hand in handling relationship with China, despite US wariness. As China asserts itself more on the diplomatic front, the US is likely to become more assertive in containing China. The tricky period of Jamaica-China relationship, with all the potential gains and the likely negative response from the US, is ahead of us. We must maintain the national consensus that we have in pursuing this mission.