May 10, 2021

PERCEPTIONS: When silence prevails, perception rules

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Perceptions Pt 2From Pinchina Consulting

When silence prevails, perception rules: China, the Government of Jamaica and the Court of Public Opinion

This post is the second installment of a series entitled, “Perceptions.” The series explores China’s historic and more recent relationship with Jamaica, particularly how that relationship forms part of China’s shifting position as a global economic power.

China’s latest interactions with Jamaica has largely been brought into focus as a result of the expressed interest of the Chinese government to finance an offshore Logistics Hub (at a value of $1B) bringing to life new buzzwords, #hashtags and forgotten pieces of Jamaican real estate relating to the twin cays off the south eastern coast of Jamaica known as Goat Islands.

The proposed Logistics Hub – a centre for, multi-national transportation, distribution and packaging of goods – is being championed by the Jamaican government in hopes of providing a necessary boost to the economy. With the expansion of the Panama Canal that is expected to be completed in 2015, the Jamaican government is anticipating that this venture will capitalize on the country’s geographical advantage as a strategic point for larger ships travelling to and from the Canal.

However, while talk of the hub has generated significant debate, the sources of information haven’t always been from the horse’s mouth (so to speak). The notably silent voice of the Jamaican government from this dialogue, as the project owners, has limited their ability to shape informed discussions by the Jamaican people on the subject.

Print media therefore has tried diligently to keep the public abreast of the fluid status of the project; but underscored in the numerous reports is a sense that information is often illusive or difficult to obtain. The information gathered is usually filtered through the perspective lenses of each media house and is further interpreted at the virtual public town halls on social media platforms such as Twitter.

In all, three main discussions have emerged from the buzz surrounding Goat Islands:

The first is the decided location of the project. Goat Islands form part of an environmentally sensitive zone that ascribed to international codes and conventions, known as the Portland Bight Protected Area, and is reserved for wetland protection and preservation of habitats for a variety of flora and fauna. The questions that arise include,“What is the implication of this sizeable development to the environment – is the concern inflated or understated?”

The second issue (which stems from the first) is the seeming reluctance of the Jamaican government to willingly divulge information on the particular interest in Goat Islands as the site for the Logistics Hub. Another question then is,“What weight do environmental laws possess if they appear to be selectively enforced?”

A third concern is whether the promises of employment- a projected 10,000 jobs- will match the demand and whether local labour, knowledge and skills will be paramount in executing this vision.

Central to all of these conversations, however, is the lack of agency Jamaicans seem to have in determining the fate of the country’s development. The sense is that pride in the ownership of “our little piece of the Rock, Jamaica” is being undermined and it is not clear whether Goat Islands under this arrangement will remain exclusively Jamaican property.

Comments from a recent Jamaica Observer article, which captured the pervasive skepticism among readers, was turned into a subsequent article entitled, “Jamaican or Chinese Jobs?” Of the many comments, a large segment of readers were doubtful that the anticipated jobs would benefit Jamaicans in the long run:

“…The fact is, Jamaicans will get the crumbs and the Chinese will be laughing all the way to their vaults and then to their banks in China!…” – MWHIP

However some appeared to be hopeful of the promise of employment and economic advancement despite the sacrifices this may require:

“Long time. I say send on the hub whether it is goat, sheep or pig island. In life we have to prioritorise [sic]. So what is more important right now? Ecological balance or economic/financial progress?We have to learn to accept the realities of our situation and stop vilifying the Chinese”-RORO

Particularly, the commenter below voiced a number of concerns that bite at the root of the misgivings many Jamaicans have towards the promises of employment and empowerment:

“The Chinese are no more than modern day economic colonialists. Wherever they go and set up shop, they bring their own nationals and workers …Most of Third World (Africa and the Caribbean) went through European political [colonization], and we are now experiencing Chinese economic domination thanks to our gullible leaders…” –Greg Lyn.

That the Jamaican economy is in need of a rebirth is undeniable and the government has presented the Logistics Hub as the best stimulus package for that process to begin. People want to believe that the project will be a success, that it will provide the jobs it boasts of and that the environmental implications of its location will be carefully weighed in the balance. But in order for Jamaicans to buy into this dream of economic revitalization and hope for employment, the government must thoughtfully approach and woo a jaded people.

To perpetuate disengagement from the public conversation is to allow perception to become reality. The voice of the people will continue to be heard in court of public opinion; it is for the government to decide if it will respond.

PHOTO: Little Goat Island in the Portland Bight Protected Area. (PHOTO: ANN SUTTON) From Jamaica Observer

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