Jamaica got another reminder this week of how the modern world works. We saw the unwrapping of a spanking new highway, linking the north and south of the island, which had been completed by Chinese investment. We have lots of signs of that in the island, especially on roads and soon we will have more if the whispered contract to develop a logistics hub goes ahead as whispered. We won’t get into the political spinning of “gifting”. We know free lunches are only on February 30th.
That is what China has been doing across the world for a good few years now. China’s population and land mass are so large that they scare the bejeebers out of most counties. It’s phenomenonal pace of economic growth, averaging 10 percent a year for the past three decades, has allowed it to do that. It has the world’s largest balance of foreign exchange reserves and also the world’s biggest appetite for materials to build its economy. Hence, it has funded investment in many places where it needs minerals, especially in Africa. Jamaica has some of those valuable minerals too, but China has put its footprint down differently here, choosing to help develop infrastructure. Now, I’m not going to discuss the geo-political rationale for what China is doing here. My basic point is different. People in Jamaica may feel swamped by things Chinese, but pop another spoonful of Maalox.
China is the world’s new investment kid on the block. We get sort of frothy at the mouth in Jamaica about the Chinese presence because we are very small and they are very large. So, we get ‘small man syndrome’ or the ‘Napoleon complex’. To boot, we know we are small and it’s usually called upon as we beat the living daylights out of some opponent. “We likkle but we tallwah!”
But, our history of Chinese involvement in our lives is a bit different. Chinese indentured labour was brought here and in a short time after they were not indentured, the Chinese Jamaicans started to run the Jamaican economy, with stores, initially, but then in many other areas, especially food. That influence is still huge, though blurred by corporate structures and names that do not appear eminently Chinese, such as Juici Beef or Tastee. What, they’re not…?
But, we are not even a blip on the Chinese investment radar screen. In 2013, Chinese investment in US companies doubled, to US$14 billion. This spree was driven by large-scale acquisitions in food, energy and real estate, and was done mostly by private companies, rather than state enterprises, as in the past. It’s no real wonder that when our new highway was opened by the PM this week, we could be mistaken for thinking the road was in Shanghai, for all the red dresses, Chinese writing, and serious absence of black, gold and green. Independence gift? Tek weh yuself! But, that’s how the world is bring repositioned.
In addition, we know that Chinese bond holders prop up the enormous debt of the USA, the size of which is so many times that of most economies.
Though, the graphic is out of date, it tells a clear story. The world is China’s playground, and we and our region are far from being its main interest, which remains much closer to home, in Asia and Australasia. So, hold on to your knickers.
Don’t mess with dissing China, learn to embrace it. Uncle Sam can talk all he wants about abuses of human rights spearheaded from Beijing. We hear cha-Ching–and that’s not meant to be a racist alliteration. If the US or others want a place in our hearts, do more than flood the airwaves with awful sitcoms and cardboard food. Put leather on the ground and sweat on your shirt, and come dig up some dirt. Why does Puerto Rico look like it does? That island is slightly smaller than Jamaica, and has a slightly larger population. But, its GDP is about 10 times that of Jamaica’s, and per capita is about seven times ours. Just check that flag.
Well, we are independent, so let’s get on with what that’s given us. On three, “Eternal father…”