In the Chinese zodiac 2021 is the year of the ox. The ox, for the Chinese, symbolises strong patriotism, stability, resilience, and an unrelenting persistence. For those of us watching China over the last decade there is no doubt that its economic prowess is synonymous with the qualities of an ox, and its global dominance is hard to move out of the way. From its trade in manufactured goods to giving countries low-cost financing for their mega infrastructural development, China has demonstrated its strategic agility to enter a country with its resources without leaving traces of their indoctrinations of political ideology.
As a result of China's near-spectacular economic growth, its middle class has been among one of the fastest growing in the world. Between 2000 to 2018 China's middle class is estimated to have grown from three per cent of its population to more than 50 per cent. In other words, 700 million Chinese — twice the population of the United States — now have more purchasing power to buy goods and services.
Every business starts with a market and, in a few years, China will be the largest market in the world. What will we sell to them? Here in Jamaica the Chinese have been influencing our social mores ever since they arrived in the nineteenth century. You just have to see the little country shop, the 'drop hand' man on the corner, and how we sprinkle soy sauce when seasoning our chicken or oxtail to realise that the Chinese culture is infused in our everyday way of life.
From pioneering music production, dry goods retail, and supermarket investments, our Jamaican Chinese population began to change the business landscape during the 1960s. Their frugal business approaches and humble work ethic facilitated the lowest food prices to average Jamaicans, especially in rural areas.
The rise of music production and recording studios in that era can also be attributed to them. Names such as Leslie Kong, Byron Lee, Herman Chin Loy, the Hoo Kim brothers, and Patricia and Vincent Chin have produced some of our most famous artistes that the world fell in love with.
Perhaps this is why when others in the West saw it as detrimental to be friends with China, Jamaica led the way in the 1970s as one of the first countries to formally establish diplomatic relations with the Chinese Government. Today, our relationship with China has deep roots, but it is largely one way — with the flow of Chinese goods and services coming from their ports to ours.
Our market of three million does very little to advance the Chinese economy in any meaningful way. However, the reverse would be true. Just access to one per cent of the Chinese market in any product or service could transform Jamaica. Jamaica must act now!
But how do we sell to the world's leading manufacturer of goods? We have to be unique, novel, and exotic; appealing to them with value-added specialised goods and services.
Most international companies have recognised the potential to capitalise on the increased disposable income of the burgeoning middle class in China. One of the largest banks in the world, HSBC, has taken this focus to a new level by hiring 3,000 private bankers to actively seek out new customers from that base.
Data suggests that most of the Chinese middle class spend their money on more leisure time and activities for healthy living. Travelling, dining out, and entertainment with their families and close friends preoccupy their purchasing habits. (Allianz Global Wealth Report 2018)
Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett suggested in 2019 that Jamaica would be targeting the psychographic profile of the Chinese outbound travel market with Tourism Diplomacy (United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #17). He included five key areas — gastronomy; health and wellness; entertainment; sports and culture; as well as conferences, conventions and shopping. Where are we with these plans? Have we started to lay the groundwork for luring the Chinese visitor to our shores bearing in mind two facts:
(1) The Chinese people rely heavily on their cellphones, instead of cash, for all their purchases; so they need hi-speed Internet wherever they go.
(2) They also love to eat, but waiting for more than 30 minutes to be served food in a restaurant is unfamiliar to their customs.
Recently, the president of the Jamaican Manufacturers and Exporters Association Richard Pandohie called on the Government to delay the building of a new parliament and use the $7 billion towards rolling out a first-class digital platform across our island. His call is vital towards stimulating our economy for growth as we could enhance our local education instruction and become more attractive and consumer-friendly to the Asian tourist.
Confucius says: An inconvenience is an unrecognised opportunity.
Over the past 40 years the Jamaican economy has seen only anaemic growth, and our per capita income has grown only marginally in real terms, while that of other countries has grown appreciably. This reality has been a tremendous burden on the backs of the majority of our people.
Back in 2010, China was slated to become the world's largest English-speaking nation. At that time, they needed more teachers who could speak English properly. It is time that we take the risk and have true reciprocal trade with China, recognising our strong historical connections, friendship and diplomatic solidarity over many years.
If the Government of Jamaica is truly serious about pursuing the Chinese travel market, then the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) should be rolling out courses to train our people as translators in Mandarin.
Furthermore, the electrifying Olympic gold medal wins of Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce in the Bird's Nest Stadium still have powerful resonance with the Chinese people. They are legends in that country, and their presence commands respect and reverence. They are our global ambassadors, and must be included in our national tourism marketing budgets to assist with pursuing the Chinese/Asian markets.
As leaders, let us use this year of the ox as an opportunity to demonstrate our unrelenting persistence to transform our economy so that, ultimately, we too can move our grass roots people to middle-class status. It is against this backdrop that I moved a motion in our Parliament for us to debate the urgent need to create the economic climate and mindset that will grow the Jamaican economy to levels that will increase the per capita income for all our citizens and reposition our nation to be more competitive globally.
Lisa Hanna is a Member of Parliament and People's National Party spokesperson on foreign affairs and foreign trade.