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How China’s Economic Success Contributes to Caribbean Prosperity (3)

By DeLisle Worrell (People's Daily Online)    10:50, February 12, 2018

The importance of understanding China

My first visit to China, in 1980, remains with me as one of the turning points of my entire life. China was then a very alien country to western eyes, in very obvious ways. Everyone, women and men, high officials and street cleaners, dressed in the same drab olive green uniform of tunic and slacks. Only high officials had the use of motor cars, large, black and old-fashioned. Rush hour in Beijing featured traffic jams of cyclists, maybe a dozen abreast on Beijing’s wide boulevards, following signals of policemen in elevated kiosks. Evidence of western style commerce was nonexistent. Outside of major cities one’s fleeting glimpses were of rural lifestyles that were decidedly third world.

What was it that hit me with the force of a life-changing revelation? It was the fact that these people, who have nothing of our culture, who share none of our beliefs and have never even been exposed to things we take for granted in our history and culture – these people are the majority of humankind. I have a National Geographic world map issued about a decade ago which identifies the typical human being, the group which has the greatest number of individuals on the planet. The answer is, and you would never have guessed it, a 30 year old male Han Chinese.

The point to be made is that the majority of humanity does not share the culture and history that we take for granted. I want to suggest to you that this matters today even more than it did in 1980.

When I first visited China in 1980 that country was a bit player on the global scene. My wake-up call was therefore personally enlightening, revelatory even, but you could have agued that, while it enriched my life, it mattered little to Barbados, the Caribbean or even the rest of the world. That is demonstrably not the case today. It is vitally important that we all get to know China better, and absolutely essential that our leaders, in government and politics, society, the economy and business and our intellectual institutions, get to know China intimately.

China has taken its place in the forefront of global activity in every aspect of life. The countries, institutions and individuals who understand China and the Chinese best are those who will do well in a world which is being largely shaped by Chinese economic policy and the reaction of the rest of the world to that policy. The better we understand China and the greater our insight into the dynamic relationship between the new resurgent China and the rest of the world, the better we will appreciate the opportunities that may offer themselves for us to take advantage of the new currents in world affairs.

Let me offer a personal example. A paradox of our interconnected world is that it is very difficult to get reasonably unbiased opinions about any global issue, much less anything that has to do with a major event or issue affecting the interest of a leading industrial country. That is because the sources of global information, both in the formal and on the social media, originate in the West. We see this bias most dramatically whenever the Olympics roll around. Only in very recent times, when the Caribbean set up its own sports network, have we had full coverage of Caribbean athletes’ performances in the Olympics. Previously, if you watched British sources you would see Caribbean athletes’ only on the periphery of coverage that focused on British athletes; similarly, US athletes were the focus of US coverage, Canadians of Canadian coverage, etc. We do not normally think about it, but this same bias is reflected in all the news we receive. In order to better understand the reality, you need to have the benefit of several different points of view.

Arguably the most important development in global journalism in the past few years seems to have gone unnoticed in journalistic circles. It is the establishment of the China Global Television Network, CGTN, a global network with the resources, personnel and systems to offer a truly alternative view. The closest we had previously to an alternative view was Al Jazeera, but they grew out of our familiar Western tradition and, as a result, show some western biases. CGTN can truly live up to its slogan to “see the difference”, because its roots are in a different culture altogether.

What makes CGTN especially powerful, in my view, is its global structure, with broadcast studios in Nairobi and Washington DC. As a result, the network offers the most insightful English language coverage of Africa and Latin America that is available to us in the Caribbean. Every morning at 6am Barbados time CGTN airs a programme titled “Africa Live”, which is prepared and presented by the Nairobi studio. I have not found a more comprehensive programme of pan-African news anywhere, covering all aspects of African economy and society. In the evening Barbados time CGTN’s coverage shifts in Washington DC studio, covering North and South America in a balanced way which no other network can match. If you want to know what is really making news in Latin America, the CGTN programme “Americas Now” is unparalled in its coverage, in the English language.

Understanding China ensures that we are not blindsided by changes in the global economy and international relations. That is very important for small countries like those in the Caribbean, because our economies are very sensitive to currents in the world economies. Dramatic and far-reaching changes are taking place in the global economy and the relationship between nations. It is not at all clear where they will lead, but history may well record the current period as a watershed in the affairsof nations and peoples. Our countries need to be aware of the immensity of the changes, because of their far-reaching consequences.

I will mention just three examples of policies and events which have occurred in 2017. It is essential that Caribbean leadership make themselves aware of, if they have not already done so. The first is President Xi Jinping’s address to the world-famous Davos Forum in January 2017. The conference came hard on the heels of the inauguration of an unpredictable, isolationist Donald Trump as President of the United States of America. Trump has effectively abdicated American leadership of world affairs. At Davos last year, without saying it in so many words, President Xi took up that mantle. His speech committed China to active engagement with the world economy, and to policies that were the outcome of global agreements in the UN and its organizations. It was a tectonic shift in global perceptions which was immediately recognized by many perspective commentators. I am not sure how many Caribbean leaders and leaders of opinion locally would have noticed.

My second example is China’s Belt and Road Initiative. China has officially embarked on an external programme of investment, infrastructure, transport and communications which is without precedent in recent history. It is loosely based on the idea of a modern re-interpretation of the historic Silk Road that linked Europe and East Asia. President Xi has broadened the concept to include land and sea connections that include rail, road, and marine infrastructure, and it covers countries in Africa as well as Europe and Asia. In effect, the silk road goes by sea as well as by land and covers a network of tributaries and associated links. It has been said that if only one-third of the projected activity takes place, China’s economic reach would have broadened beyond recognition. What is more, investments that fall within the ambit of the Belt and Road are already underway or are in place. The Standard Gauge Railway linking the Kenyan capital of Nairobi to the port of Mombasa began operations in 2017. It has been designated as a project under the Belt and Road Initiative.

The third event which the world needs to take account of is the national congress of the Communist Party of China held in Beijing in October last year. At that congress President Xi presented a vision of a new China where the prosperity which the country has achieved is consolidated and shared with all Chinese, andwhere decisive action is taken to address environmental challenges in China and for the world as a whole. President Xi committed China to an active role in world affairs, acting through the UN and its agencies, as well as through institutions and cooperation agreements which China itself initiated. At the congress the CPC fortified mechanisms for executing this grand strategy.

President Xi’s vision for China is breath-takingly ambitious. The risks are equally formidable, as many Western commentators have observed. The difficulties of realizing such a comprehensive programme, requiring full engagement of tens of million of leaders in politics, society and business, at many different levels of administration, are enormous. The chances for things to go wrong are multitude. There is, however, an important reason to be optimistic. It is that underlying the entire strategy is a Chinese economy that is set to continue growing at a steady clip. A growing economy offers scope to ensure there are no losers, and there is never a need to rob Peter to pay Paul. So long as the Chinese economy continues to be driven by investment in new productive capacity, there will always be enough to ensure everyone is better off. The key phrases of President Xi’s discourse are the “moderately prosperous economy” and the initiatives to lift the last remaining 40 million Chinese out of poverty.

The message for us in the Caribbean is that we need to pay attention. China has provided us the means to get to know her better, and we should take full advantage. The establishment of Confucius Institutes in the Caribbean offers one such vehicle; in Barbados access to CGTN is the channel I have found most enlightening; for some years now the Central Bank of Barbados has sponsored a celebration of Chinese New Year, jointly with the Embassy of China in Barbados, to give Barbadians a taste of Chinese culture; and the Government of China offers a range of training, educational and familiarization opportunities to visit China. It is up to the Caribbean to take full advantage of these opportunities. I am very encouraged by the number of Barbadians who have taken advantage of educational opportunities, but I am disappointed by the lack of critical analysis of the CPC congress, an event which many Caribbean journalists attended.

Commerce and Investment

Tourism is now the Caribbean’s biggest export, so naturally interest focuses on the potential demand from China. Here I would advise that we tread cautiously. Year before last I saw in CHINA DAILY, China’s leading English language newspaper, a news item on the impact of Chinese visitors on Fiji. The sheer numbers of visitors from China have overwhelmed Fiji’s tourist accommodations and attractions, and the visitor experience in Fiji has deteriorated as a result. Truthfully, the Caribbean still has so much untapped demand among middle and upper income groups in the Americas and Europe, that there is no reason to devote resources to the Chinese market. Instead, the Caribbean should focus on discreet marketing to the very top end of the market in China, to attract the discriminating visitor of considerable means.

A similar logic applies to branded Caribbean luxuries such as aged rum and Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee. Caribbean producers should eschew the popular market in favour of a strategy which targets the very wealthy.

Chinese investment in the Caribbean is another topic which has excited much interest. The fact of the matter is that Caribbean already attracts tremendous investor interest from countries and institutions that have always invested in our region. The region is awash with proposals to invest in new tourist accommodation, infrastructure, telecommunications, business services, construction and other areas that are seen as profitable. Investor interest comes from private international sources as well as from regional and international institutions. What slows and often chokes off investment altogether is the inefficiency of Caribbean beaurocracies. The Caribbean countries are now all in the lower rankings of the Global Competitiveness Report and the Doing Business Report, and most Caribbean countries’ external debt is rated below investment grade. For many international investors, projects in the Caribbean that would otherwise have been profitable are no longer viable, once risk premiums are factored in. Many other projects are hampered by delayed permissions, inconsistent incentive policies, and legal and administrative inefficiencies.

My point is that there is no shortage of international investor interest in the Caribbean, and Chinese companies and official institutions are among the investors who are keen to take advantage of renumerative investments in our region. However, they face the same beaurocratic frustrations or inconsistencies as other investors, and as a result we should not expect them to be any more successful than any other interested parties.


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(Web editor: Wu Chengliang, Bianji)

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