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BATTLE LINES DRAWN - Tapia says Jamaica should consider where it would stand in US-China war

Published:Thursday | December 31, 2020 | 12:16 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer
United States Ambassador Donald Tapia speaking with The Gleaner at the US Embassy in Liguanea, St Andrew, on Tuesday.
United States Ambassador Donald Tapia speaking with The Gleaner at the US Embassy in Liguanea, St Andrew, on Tuesday.

For the roughly 16 months that Donald Tapia has been Washington’s top diplomat in Jamaica, he has been urging the Andrew Holness-led Government to steer clear of Chinese 5G telecommunications technology, arguing that it poses national security risks.

In an exclusive interview with The Gleaner ahead of his departure for the United States next week as his tour of duty ends, Tapia laid into the Chinese again with one final parting shot. He accused the Chinese of using a local network to listen in on his telephone conversations, adding that it also threatened long-guarded national intelligence reciprocity between the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) and it US counterparts.

Tapia said that he was not actually warning Jamaica, but was inviting “a conversation of circumstances to make people take a look at things that would or could happen”.

Said the ambassador: “It doesn’t mean it is a warning. It’s just saying, ‘Look, here is where the world is moving. Here’s where the government of the US is moving, where Europe is moving, and one of the things you have to look at is if the US goes to war with China, what umbrella would [Jamaica] be under?

“Would you be under the umbrella with China or under the umbrella with the United States/” he said.

During an October visit to a military base in the southern province of Guangdong, Chinese President Xi Jinping called on troops to put all their “minds and energy on preparing for war”.

He was speaking amid tensions between Washington and Beijing, which remain at their highest point in decades, with strong disagreements over trade, Taiwan, and the coronavirus pandemic.

“Six weeks ago, when the president of China stated to his army, ‘Be prepared for war’, you (local media) didn’t report it. You didn’t report either that the Swedish government, their prime minister came out and said the worst danger to Sweden was China,” Tapia said, seeking to strengthen his point.

“They have borrowed the 5G. The Chinese have Huawei equipment in Sweden, and he made an interesting comment that should resonate with everyone in the world. The Chinese president says you should be prepared for war,” the US ambassador told The Gleaner.

He pointed out that the United Kingdom, which at one point was all but set on utilising Huawei telecoms products only to reverse that decision, did so out of an abundance of caution.

“Could you imagine then what that would mean, especially for Jamaica, being so close to the US? The data, the Chinese 5G?” Tapia asked. “Just think of it. You saw that England went with Huawei then reversed themselves and said they are not going with Huawei because the fact is you are transmitting intelligence, moving troops to a country that you might be at war with.”

Asked if there would be any implications if Jamaica went ahead with the laying out of 5G service on the island based on Chinese technology if the US would be inclined to take action against Jamaica, Tapia said no.

The Chinese Embassy had slammed Tapia for previous such statements, saying that they were “filled with Cold War mentality and hegemonistic mindset, which fully expose the consistent US practice of arbitrarily interfering in other countries’ domestic and foreign policies and forcing small and medium-sized countries to choose sides”.

It pointed out that Huawei has been operating in Jamaica for over a decade and that the localised company had a track record of high-quality products, solutions, as well as cybersecurity.

“Not a single country has produced evidence of so-called threatening national security by products and services provided by Chinese companies,” the embassy said.