Where advice ends and meddling begins

Where advice ends and meddling begins

Raulston Nembhard

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

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It is fair to say to say that Ambassador Donald Tapia has had a fairly rocky tenure so far as the United States chief diplomat to Jamaica. He seemed to have come to the job with good intentions, but, like other ambassadors around the world, he has had to operate under the shadow of the Donald Trump Administration.

Trump's relationship with the world has not been the most holistic. In fact, many have derided the extent to which America's standing in the world has diminished by the Trump presidency. Thus, every word and action of a leading representative of that country will be watched and evaluated with a view to ensure that Trumpian belligerence is kept at bay and the host country's sovereignty is not compromised by the wishes of a president who sees friendship and support as contingent upon a country's fidelity to America or, preferably, to him.

Let us be clear, Jamaica's relationship with America over the years has served the country well. America is still the source of close to $2 billion of remittances that comes into the country, though this has been stymied by the novel coronavirus pandemic. It is the country from which our largest tourism receipts are derived. It is still our largest trading partner.

Through the years Jamaica has tasted of American generosity in many ways and, by and large, we have been able to maintain a cordial relationship with that country. This is part of the context in which the American concern about the Chinese influence on the architecture of 5G technology in Jamaica is to be understood.

Tapia, a businessman, has waded in and sounded the alarm on what he has perceived as the subtle intrusion of the Chinese in gaining undue influence on Jamaica. The way he argues it is to give the impression — at least in a conversation he had with Cliff Hughes on his Nationwide News Network programme — that Jamaica could be naively accommodating the Chinese technology without understanding the full ramifications of what the country could be entering into.

We can understand the context of well-meaning advice that comes from a country with which we have had cordial relationships over the years. Such advice must be accepted in the spirit in which it is given. But we must be careful that such advice does not cross over into meddling in our internal affairs by attempting to tell us, in not too subtle language either, what is best for us. In other words, a careful line must be drawn between where advice ends and meddling begins.

It is not the first time that Ambassador Tapia has raised concerns about Jamaica's dealing with the Chinese, especially in the area of Chinese support for infrastructural projects. But we should not allow ourselves, as a sovereign nation, to be caught up in the present American belligerence towards China evidenced in the Trump approach to trading relationships with that country and the ongoing, and seemingly futile tariff wars between the two countries.

While we can understand the American anxiety over 5G technology, and while we may accept any reasonable position coming from the US to Jamaica, we must assert our own sovereignty over our decision-making powers. Such powers cannot be made subservient to the wishes of any other Government, however benevolent. We must do what we consider to be in the best interest of Jamaica and Jamaicans. And this applies to 5G technology as it does any other matter.

In the matter of 5G technology we cannot afford to be left behind. China has been quite astute and frenetic in the build-out of this technology to the extent that experts are suggesting America is way behind China on this. The constant carping between Trump and China has not helped. Trump's approach is to bully China into submission, but this tactic will never work with the proud Chinese. Small states like Jamaica cannot afford to become pawns in this game. We must chart our own course with great care.

PNP presidential race

While we get all kinds of delirium tremens from the US elections, we cannot be unmindful of what is unravelling in our own political space. I refer to the present race for leadership of Norman Manley's People's National Party (PNP), which is on in earnest between Lisa Hanna and Mark Golding. From all indications, the race seems to be very close. Both individuals are worthy combatants who have pledged their fealty to the party and the people of Jamaica.

So far, both sides have conducted themselves with the requisite decorum expected of a party that just experienced grave humiliation at the polls and which is still going through a healing process. And this process must continue if the party is to present itself as a credible Government-in-waiting to the Jamaican people. Whoever wins there is a great deal of work to be done. It is in the best interests of Jamaica that we have a viable opposition, one that the country can trust with governance.

The next leader will not only have to bring the various factions that have arisen in the party together, but restore the strong philosophical underpinnings that have defined the raison d' etre of the party. It must shelve its image of a party as a vote-getting machine to one in which the Jamaican people can be convinced that they can view them seriously as an alternative to the Jamaica Labour Party.

Herein lies the great challenge that the PNP is up against. Prime Minister Andrew Holness, as the leader of the Government, has amassed considerable political capital and status. A PNP leader must not be too worried about this at this point. The first order of business for the next leader must be to unite the party and get it organised around a set of principles that can gain it the respectability it once had. Who is best able to do this is the defining question before the delegates on election day this weekend.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest, social commentator, and author of the book WEEP: Why President Donald J. Trump Does Not Deserve A Second Term . Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or stead6655@aol.com.

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