Jamaica's wishy-washy foreign policy
Jamaica is currently at odds with some of its Caricom partners.

Ask the average Jamaican what is Jamaica's foreign policy and the answer is likely to be, outside of any narrow partisan outlook, “Mi no know.”

What really is a country's foreign policy and of what real importance is it to the everyday life of a citizen, especially in today's world of a contorting geopolitical environment?

According to an informed source, foreign policy may be described as the “general objectives that guide the activities and relationships of one State in its interactions with other states. The development of foreign policy is influenced by domestic considerations, the policies and behaviour of other states, or plans to advance specific geographical designs”.

Two recent events have once again brought into sharp focus what, if any, is the country's foreign policy stance in relation to regional and international affairs. First, was the visit to Washington DC, the seat of United States power, and the second, the announcement that Jamaica was in the process of nominating its Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Senator Kamina Johnson Smith to be the next Commonwealth secretary general. Was this a mere coincidence?

While, on the surface, it might have appeared that Prime Minister Andrew Holness may have scored some valid points in the eyes of his detractors with respect to his relationship with the Joe Biden-led Administration, there was the growing undercurrent that Jamaica desperately needed to shore up its relations with Washington against the backdrop of its continuing 'love affair' with the Chinese.

Readers will recall that former American Ambassador Donald Tapia was very outspoken about his country's concern about China's seemingly “sinister” role in Jamaica, even while it bears many gifts, alleging that the Chinese were spying on Jamaicans.

He further alluded that the Chinese were preparing for war and it would therefore be a question of where Jamaica would feature in all of this should it come to pass.

Fast-forward to today, and Russia has invaded Ukraine in a defiant act of war. And who is Russia's foremost ally, pitting themselves against the will of the USA and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)? China.

So far, the Holness Administration has cautiously and perhaps timidly issued a statement condemning the Ukraine invasion. But how comfortable is the Jamaican Government in this scenario, given the fact that, in terms of loans and other financial assistance, China far exceeds what the USA has been pumping into Jamaica?

Does this put Jamaica between a rock and a hard place? Which leaves one to wonder what was said to Prime Minister Holness behind closed doors by Vice-President Kamala Harris and the Secretary of State Antony J Blinken during his high-profile sojourn? Did he get a slap on the wrist and urged to be a good boy, or a curt warning that, in the final analysis, he must pick a side — the five-star red flag or the star-spangled banner?

In the meantime, in the Caribbean Basin, which is regarded by the United States as its third border, a war of words has ensued among Caricom nations and Jamaica as to who should be the new Commonwealth secretary general.

The outspoken Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne has described as “a monumental error” Jamaica's going-it-alone stance with respect to who should get the nod as Commonwealth secretary general as he claims that there was consensus in Caricom that it would support the re-election of the incumbent Baroness Patricia Scotland. According to him, Jamaica's move would therefore only serve to divide the Caribbean.

It is no secret that there have been rising tensions in the Caribbean with respect to Jamaica's relationship with its Caricom neighbours. However, this was always there from the contentious days of the ill-fated West Indies Federation, which Caricom ostensibly replaced when Jamaica left that 10-member body after the Sir Alexander Bustamante-led Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) campaigned for a referendum to decide whether or not Jamaica should stay in that body.

Then People's National Party (PNP) President Norman Manley was outfoxed on the campaign trail, which saw Jamaicans buying into the chief's clarion call that Jamaica should go it alone. This, of course, led to that famous utterance by a renowned Caribbean leader that one from 10 meant zero and so the Federation fizzled.

Since then, JLP administrations, unlike the PNP, have had a love-hate relationship with Caricom. After all, it was well-known that Edward Seaga had very little interest in Caricom's existence and development, and it is perhaps safe to say that his current mentee Andrew Holness may well be harbouring similar sentiments.

Indeed, what seems to be emerging in terms of regional foreign policy is a go-it-alone stance, and the Kamina Johnson Smith kerfuffle may well be the straw that breaks the camel's back. Meanwhile, some political pundits are speculating that there is a hidden hand behind Jamaica's decision to go it alone.

Of course, all this drama is playing out against the backdrop of the meteoric rise of “little” Barbados' Prime Minister Mia Mottley as the premier Caribbean leader at this time, upstaging Jamaica and Andrew Holness with her deft and visionary leadership skills, who has seen her country go republic and got rid of the British monarchy in one fell swoop, while Jamaica lamely says, “We are moving on.”

As it now stands, will Jamaica's foreign policy in the Caribbean and the wider world stage be a case of tiptoeing through the tulips or “one day at a time sweet Jesus”?

Interestingly, when Sir Alexander Bustamante was asked many decades ago what was Jamaica's foreign policy, he reportedly quipped in his usual inimitable style, “We are with West.” What will his protégé Prime Minister Andrew Holness now say? “We are with West, but… (You fill in the blanks).

In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade's official foreign policy document it states, “Jamaica is mindful of its role and responsibilities within Caricom and the wider hemispheric region of the Americas, and is committed to supporting its goals. The continuing impact of globalisation, the rapidly changing international political and economic environment impels us to develop closer links with the countries of the Caribbean Basin and within the wider hemisphere in the quest for regional and hemispheric integration.” Is the Holness Administration merely paying lip service to this policy position?

Now that a red line is being drawn (no pun intended) between the United States, NATO, and its allies on the one hand and Russia, with its main ally China on the other, it remains to be seen how the Andrew Holness Administration will navigate the good ship Jamaica through these choppy and treacherous waters.

With our sovereignty still umbilically tied to Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs, and successors, coupled with our heavy indebtedness to China, can Jamaica really go it alone, and if so, in what direction? Indeed, is it possible and perhaps practical to be “all things to all men”? This contretemps is a matter for debate.

Lloyd B Smith has been involved full-time in Jamaican media for the past 45 years. He has also served as a Member of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. He hails from western Jam aica where he is popularly known as the Governor. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or lbsmith4@gmail.com.

Tensions are highbetween the USAand China.

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