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The Chinese Goat Islands 'offer' is non-negotiable

MARK WIGNALL

Sunday, March 02, 2014    

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There is more than a bit of wisdom in the saying that one should never stare a gift horse in the mouth.

It is like the poor old farmer way back in the day struggling to plough his half-acre after his mule died and he had no other beast of burden to pull his heavy plough. There he is, killing himself in the heat of the midday sun, trying to plough the field with a garden fork. His neighbour, who owns a huge estate, comes riding up with an old draft horse in tow. "Brownie," he says, "a carry a old horse for yu. I'm sure you can use it."

Old farmer Brown steps over to the horse, opens its mouth, gazes inside then says to the big farmer, "Boss, one a di horse teeth rotten." The big farmer looks at him and shakes his head. "Brownie, if a leave here, a tekking the horse wid mi. Yu want him or not?"

Old farmer Brown is no fool. He sums it up quickly. His options are somewhere between zero and extremely limited. "OK, boss, mi wi tek him."

That is where we are now with the Chinese, who wish to increase the size of their economic footprint in the region, which includes Jamaica.

China is now in full forward gear 21st century empire mode. It is at that stage where the pace of its development makes it bigger than its own borders. Those borders cannot contain the positive momentum, and as its products fill the shelves of shops of all sizes in every corner of the globe, like night after the day, the country must physically make its imprint felt where its products are consumed, but first in the most politically and economically vulnerable corners of the globe.

Mixing the statist political approach in their cities at home with elements of the type of capital accumulation practised in the Western capitalist world, China knows that capital accumulation and physical occupation are the hallmarks of every empire, and it would be foolish for it to walk to the edge of the global springboard and not dive off into the great expanse of ocean. It is simply following the historical motions that drive empires.

Jamaica occupies space in one of the vulnerable corners of the globe. The options we have explored, of seriously factoring in the environmental fallout, are now not a moral imperative that we can place in our non-existent bag of luxury. We do not know if the Goat Islands proposal was more a demand and a grab contingent on the Chinese going ahead with present construction in roads and future FDI promises, or if it was our technocrats/politicians who presented them with the sweet but controversial deal.

At the heart of the Government's thrust towards firming up this deal are the obvious ones of the People's National Party's (PNP's) short-term electoral fortunes and maintaining some semblance of social stability via increased employment. The other is that international capital is not seeing Jamaica as an attractive place for the sorts of new investments that we believe are needed to pull more of our people out of poverty over the next two decades.

Only gear must be full speed ahead

Whatever it was, we are now at the stage that even those with eyes wide shut will have to admit that the Goat Islands project has about a 90 per cent chance of going through. Any other layers to final approval that have been promised are purely cosmetic, designed to tamp down the noisemaking, fanning the fumes emitted by the critics.

Although China's lip service in environmental matters has increased, some of us are of the view that what obtains in some of China's cities, especially the heavy smog in Beijing, is the best indicator of where China wants to take Jamaica as it increases its footprint here.

Others who are more charitable to China's causes believe that the smog in Beijing begins with the disadvantage of the capital being on the edge of the Gobi desert and subject to the remnants of dust storms.

We have been told that under consideration is a coal-fired electricity generating plant and, as expected, the debate on 'clean coal' has been reopened. To that, again I ask, what are our options?

Certainly we did not expect the powering of the Chinese operation on Goat Islands to proceed in similar fashion to the snail's pace we have moving with the 360 megawatt power plant. In addition, any manufacturing entities that will be forming the full build-out of the logistics hub will not want to face the uncertainties as to the price they will be paying for electrical energy.

Will the Chinese seek a special permit to generate a stand-alone electric power grid for the Goat Islands operations and the manufacturing extensions that grow out of reclaimed land all the way back to Old Harbour, or will that grid feed into JPS and then resold to the hub operators at prices that will reflect the complexity of the special arrangements?

Again, I ask, what other options do we have? Zero!

Once we are able to fully assimilate all of that, and we know that the environmental lobby cannot be given any more space by a Government that is under extreme pressure to show its 'business-friendly' side and sell its constituents the 'jobs, jobs' chant, we are halfway there.

I say it is not that those of who had criticised the proposal on environmental factors have bowed. Instead, we have stared at the FDI landscape and, seeing no one else dangling US$1.5 billion but the Chinese, we have yielded to seeing the political imperatives of the moment and the tight economic corner into which we have painted ourselves in the last three decades.

Whether we want to give the Goat Islands investment our blessings or not, it is going ahead. Whether we want to see the Chinese as polluters of the environment or not, their language of expansionism, inherent in empire, suits us at this time because our options are few and, in general, the typical Jamaican is not that sensitive to environmental matters.

Apparently, no other location is suitable to the Chinese

As to whether there were other physical locations more suitable for the sort of operations in the proposal, even that is starting to sound a bit irrelevant.

Mr Gregory Mair, Opposition spokesman on works, has the luxury of not being on the side of the Government benches. He wants the Government to state clearly how the decision on Goat Islands was arrived at, and on what basis were other locations rejected, if any such considerations were made.

To be fair to the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) -- the Bruce Golding-led Administration -- it is on record that the JLP Government thought that there were other locations (or at least one other) for the proposed logistics hub build-out and that Goat Islands should be left out of the picture. That may, in itself, tell us that it was the Chinese who had scouted out and picked the islands as their perfect spot and not us making the specific spot as an offer.

But confusion is added to the pot when the JLP spokesman on investment, industry and commerce, Karl Samuda, says in a recent press release: "The Opposition is not entirely surprised that others in the region have made strides on major development projects involving Chinese investors. The slow pace at which key investment projects like the Logistics Hub have been moving thus far is serious cause for concern. This tells a tale of not only vacillation and incompetence on the part of the Administration, but also of a profound failure to bring key stakeholders into its confidence.

"The tenets of good governance, which require transparent and consultative approaches to policy formulation and project implementation, must be uppermost in the mind of the Administration, but they are not excuses for what is actually the Government's inability to effectively manage and execute. The Government must recognise that Jamaica is not the only investment option available to the Chinese, and must ensure that they are able to take up opportunities while maintaining their accountability to the Jamaican people."

While Samuda agrees broadly that there should be transparency, an unlikely approach as governments all over have been notorious in never delivering on that promise time after time, he seems out of synch with Mair, although he has tactfully not mentioned by name Goat Islands in his release.

Mair wants the Goat Islands matter to be referred to Parliament's Infrastructure and Physical Development Committee, that is, further delayed, while Samuda expresses impatience with the Government and cites Trinidad as one of those countries in the region that is moving full steam ahead with its own Chinese investments in maritime facilities/logistics.

Both men seem to be issuing press releases from their personal anechoic chambers.

Although details of the full development have either not been fully formulated or the details are being denied to the public for obvious reasons (the secretive way large international corporate entities operate when they are in consultation with governments), it appears to us that the Chinese intend to embark on a process of land reclamation in the space between the Goat Islands and mainland Old Harbour.

If that does in fact occur, many of the concerns of the environmentalists will have to be adjusted to make up for a changed landscape that may not be at risk environmentally as first thought. In any event, the lizards will have disappeared.

In a part of Jamaica Environment Trust's (JET's) open letter to the minister of works, the following is stated: "The net benefits to Jamaica of this project remain poorly articulated." That, I think, we can agree on.

JET's letter also states: "If we are going to destroy a significant natural area protected under four different Jamaican laws and two international conventions, it should not be for crumbs."

Question: Since when have Jamaican laws been binding when placed beside the immediate social or economic demands of the Government? In reality laws exist to keep the man at street level in a state of coercive fear. To the class interests that exist at the top of the social pyramid (big business/party politicians), the laws are enacted by them to allow them more space for capital accumulation and added power.

As to the two international conventions, please do not expect that anyone in the PNP Cabinet will be prepared to listen to any outsider eggheads telling us what is best for us.

Where JET's letter states, "... it should not be for crumbs", since when has US$1.5 billion been considered crumbs?

Does the US have a position on Chinese influence in the Caribbean?

Years from now we may yet get to see the reams of diplomatic transmissions flowing between American embassies in the Caribbean and Washington in relation to how the Chinese imprint in 'America's backyard' was being assimilated.

A February 22 Helene Cooper article in the New York Times titled, 'In Japan's drill with the US, a message for Beijing,' starts with: 'CAMP PENDLETON, California — In the early morning along a barren stretch of beach here last week, Japanese soldiers and American Marines practised how to invade and retake an island captured by hostile forces. Memo to Beijing: Be forewarned.'

In speaking to the subject of a few islands (outcropping of rocky terrain) in the East China Sea that both Japan and China claim as their own, the article says, 'In the United States military, commanders are increasingly allied in alarm with Japan over China's flexing of military muscle. Captain James Fanell, director of intelligence and information operations with the United States Pacific Fleet, recently said in San Diego that China was training its forces to be capable of carrying out a "short, sharp" war with Japan in the East China Sea.'

Jamaica may have moved a considerable distance from the days in the 1970s when the PNP's Michael Manley flirted with 'democratic socialism', promised to 'walk to the mountaintop' with Cuba's communist leader Fidel Castro, and would issue inflammatory broadsides against the 'forces of imperialism' (read, the USA).

A lot has changed since those Cold War days when many like me believed the CIA — in response to what the US State Department must have seen as the strengthening of the communist and USSR influence in the Caribbean — was in full spy mode in Jamaica in the months leading up the very violent October 1980 election to ensure the ouster of the Manley-led PNP.

In 1823, US President James Monroe in his annual message to Congress warned European powers not to interfere in the affairs of the Western Hemisphere. What eventually came to be known as the Monroe Doctrine eventually guided the foreign policy of the US in its 'adventures' in countries in the region and further afield, and eventually to George W Bush's policy of 'pre-emptive strike' in dealing with countries deemed 'rogue nations' anyplace on the globe.

I am certain that the strategic eyes of the US must be taking a keen look at China's push in America's part of the world, that is, the Caribbean and Latin America. Based on numerous trajectories drawn by economists and futurists, it is estimated that China will overtake the USA and become the top-performing economy in the world by 2030.

No top-performing economy can maintain its stance at the top without wanting to increase its military footprint. Is it possible that the Chinese may, a few years from now, seek 'permission' from us to dock a military vessel or two at a port in Kingston harbour, or maybe the Goat Islands?

Would the Americans countenance that move? I think not.

observemark@gmail.com

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