Editorial | Good show on China, PM
Prime Minister Andrew Holness ought to be commended for an unusually detailed statement to Parliament about his recent trip to China, which will likely be interpreted in some quarters as not only an explanation of the premise of Sino-Jamaican relations, but a pushback against the United States for its strictures against the deepening friendship.
“… This visit served to reaffirm the friendship between the two nations and develop a structure framework for that relationship,” Mr Holness told the House.
The affirmation of principle and reassertion of independence ought now to be followed, as this newspaper has previously proposed, or a full review of Jamaica’s foreign policy, so as to articulate one that is mission-fit for the 21st century, taking into account global realignments, including China’s continuing emergence as an economic, military and technological power. In this regard, Prime Minister Holness should, as he did with the Golding Committee on CARICOM, appoint a task force, whose membership should include a cross section of old foreign-policy hands, to undertake the exercise.
Mr Holness’ trip to China, where he met with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, has as its discordant background warnings by Donald Trump’s man in Kingston, Donald Tapia, for Jamaica to be wary of deepening encroachment into the island and the Caribbean region. In an interview with this newspaper, he branded China as “a dragon with two heads”, whose supposedly no-strings-attached investments and economic aid masked a polity that didn’t embrace democracy and human rights, of which Jamaicans should beware, lest “one day, the chickens… come home to roost”.
China has over the last dozen years become Jamaica’s major lender and source for foreign direct investments in big projects. Its firms have spent more than US$1 billion buying into alumina and sugar industries and building a tolled highway. It has loaned Jamaica a similar amount to build out infrastructure. Much of this inflow came in the early aftermath of the Great Recession, when Jamaica not only faced a fiscal crisis, but global resources, institutional and private, had all but dried up.
Noticeably, until Mr Holness’ statement, the only public government pushback against Mr Tapia was by the commerce and agriculture minister, Audley Shaw, who has been attempting to increase Jamaica’s exports to China. Bizarrely, Foreign Minister Kamina Johnson Smith spun this newspaper’s call for her to put Mr Tapia straight about who formulates Jamaica’s foreign policy as an action on behalf of some hidden force.
As Mr Holness observed, China, with 1.4 billion, or 20 per cent, of the world’s population, is the world’s single largest market, which Mr Shaw had made clear that Jamaica wants a piece of. Mr Holness, who signed a raft of cooperation agreements and memoranda of understanding with his Chinese hosts, framed the relationship in a broader economic context that includes Jamaica’s participation in Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative.
“This strategic partnership positions Jamaica to pursue development cooperation with China, in keeping with our own clearly defined national development strategic priorities, on the basis of mutual respect and shared benefits,” Mr Holness said.
Indeed, it is this mutual respect and Jamaica’s generally principled approach to international diplomacy that has sustained Sino-Jamaica relations for more than 40 years. But the relationship, on the economic front, according to Mr Holness, is about to enter “an enhanced level of engagement”.
Economics, in the global sphere, is never fully disengaged from politics, about which Jamaica has to be pragmatic. Jamaica is important to China, in part because, as a political leader of CARICOM, it represents a bridge to this region. It also helps that Kingston punches above its weight globally.
At the same time, China’s growing global stature unnerves the United States, which is complicated by the advent of an American president without the discipline to comprehend the deeper matrices of global relations and the foundations that have sustained the global system for the last three-quarters of a century. Yet, Jamaica values its long-standing relations, which must transcend the misadventure of Donald Trump. That is why, especially given the uncertain hand with which our foreign policy has been guided in recent times, the review we suggest is so important.