Tempting as it is to indulge in geopolitical scaremongering, we urge Jamaicans not to give traction to the myopic, nativist and xenophobic instincts that some hope will trigger backlash against, and the retreat of, the Chinese.
And that is why the alarmism that BBC journalist Jonny Dymond, and others, peddle is misplaced and dangerous as it pours cold water on the significant economic support the Chinese government and allied agencies and companies have offered the Jamaican people for more than a decade.
As we have said before, when it comes to major infrastructure works, the Chinese are the only game in town.
As a liberal democracy, Jamaica is not only the preserve of local private investors. Foreign direct investment is a key index of an economy’s vibrancy and openness, and the Jamaican market should embrace the interest of China and other global powerhouses as well as smaller nations eager to tap into this country’s compelling developmental prospects.
We are not unaware that China has sought, over the last decade, to broaden and deepen its political and economic footprint globally, particularly in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. And Jamaicans are not as naive about geo-political intrigue as some may believe.
The island is in the backyard of the United States, which is chafing at China’s economic dominance and its Belt and Road Initiative, an ambitious intercontinental advance in which mainly developing countries have fed on generous funding for major infrastructural innovation. Jamaica has been the beneficiary of low-cost, long-term loans and engineering competence and capacity.
Not only have the Chinese been engaged in the build out of cross-parish transportation infrastructure, such as the North-South Highway, which had been abandoned by the French, they are currently involved in the legacy projects at Mandela Highway, Constant Spring Road, and Three Miles. They have also been contracted to construct high-rises like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building in downtown Kingston as well as numerous private multi storey housing and commercial developments across the capital.
The public-sector infrastructure works are aimed at transforming road inter-connectivity and making commerce more economic and efficient. They will open up the country to faster development.
While there have been concerns about breaches of employment best practices, including attentiveness to occupational safety, wages, and other human-resource matters, there is sufficient recourse through arbitration and further engagement between trade unions and the Industrial Dispute Tribunal, or the Ministry of Labour. There is also resort to the courts.
What should draw the scrutiny of political observers is whether the Jamaican Government’s mechanisms for ensuring transparency, fairness, and quality in winning and fulfilling contracts are sufficiently rigorous, detailed, and foolproof to prevent or detect corruption. For the Chinese, as with any other developer, will seek to extract maximum profit while satisfying mutual self-interest.
We would also expect that our Government not sacrifice our ideals and principles on the altar of expediency by surrendering time-tested values for 30 pieces of silver. Sovereign nations must be firm even in the shadow of imposing allies.
Local interests, such as architects, engineers, and other construction-related professionals, have been most vocal about Beijing’s neocolonial mission. While we agree that they should not be marginalised by underhandedness and backroom deals, domestic stakeholders should optimise by pooling their resources and forging consortium’s. With economies of scale, they will be better empowered to compete with the Chinese.
The Chinese, like other governments and private investors, have motives that do not reside solely in good-natured benevolence. But that’s no reason for Jamaicans to allow their cynicism and suspicion to prevent them from getting soaked in a Chinese rainstorm.