Don’t Paint All With the Same Chinese Brush!

I’m definitely not at war with the President of the St Lucia Manufacturers Association (SLMA). That’s why I made it absolutely clear and up front in my previous article “Which China Syndrome” (published last Saturday) that it was not a direct response to her—or to the President of the St Lucia Industrial and Small Business Association (SLISBA), for that matter—both of whom had spoken out publicly against what they described as unfair business practices in St Lucia and other Caribbean countries by Chinese with the encouragement and protection of governments.
Like the ten points I offered last week to the continuing discussion regarding the future of St Lucia’s relations with China and Taiwan, I offer another ten this weekend, for consideration of all interested in this discussion. All my points—last week’s and this week’s—are based on my own very limited knowledge and understanding of the Chinese reality and the various intricacies involved in China-Caribbean and China-Taiwan relations, yesterday and today.
Please consider:
1. China is always accused of “unfair trade practices.” Such accusations abound. The USA is the main accuser—but it’s also made it absolutely clear that it absolutely values its trade relations with China and will not give that up for anything, not even Taiwan’s Independence.
2. The USA recognizes China and not Taiwan at the United Nations. Indeed, Washington opposes Independence for Taiwan and, unlike St Lucia, does not recognize Taiwan officially as a nation or a state. The USA’s diplomatic relations are with China and not Taiwan.
3. The OECS governments that have decided to sell passports for economic gain would have been expected to have heard and considered all the arguments against. They exercised sovereign rights and cannot be punished by those that don’t agree. But it’s not only Chinese who are taking advantage of the opportunities of legal avenues to purchase passports and gain Caribbean Economic Citizenship. A significant number of such passports have also been purchased by Taiwanese nationals, as well as by others, including nationals of other Caricom countries.
4. It’s unwise to paint all persons born in China with the same brush. China does not recognize its citizens who give up their national flag for others as Chinese. According to the Chinese Nationality Law, “Any Chinese national who has settled abroad and who has been naturalized as a foreign national or has acquired foreign nationality of his own free will shall automatically lose Chinese nationality”.  The Chinese who preserve their national citizenship therefore see and treat those who give it up to live and work abroad, or for whatever reason, as “Overseas Chinese”.
5. “Overseas Chinese” seek profitable business anywhere and everywhere.  Those in the Caribbean (apart from  the OECS and CARICOM they’re also in Martinique, Guadeloupe, Cayenne, Surinam and Belize) are naturally more familiar with the Chinese market than locals, so they are better at importing goods from China to sell locally. They do not pretend that their goods are Made in St Lucia (or any other Caribbean country), nor can they prevent St Lucians (or anyone else) from purchasing—even for re-sale at local outlets or to be taken back home by visitors as souvenirs.
6. China is a member of WTO and is subject to all the rules of world trade. Complaints against it can be filed at the WTO by or from any country (including St. Lucia); similarly, if China is subjected to unfair trade competition anywhere in the world, it too can also pursue any offending country (including St Lucia) at the WTO.
7. China has (for a very long time) been a permanent non-borrowing member of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and Chinese companies can bid on any project in the Caribbean being funded by the CDB or by Chinese capital. The CDB therefore receives money from China for Caribbean development, but China does not borrow from the CDB. The CDB selected a Chinese firm to construct the psychiatric facility on the Millennium Highway here, not because it was funded by Chinese capital, but because the Chinese put in the best bid to the CDB.
8. China made available a US $1 Billion aid package to the Caricom region during a Summit in Trinidad & Tobago last year, where St Lucia was not represented—and to which funds St. Lucia remains without access as a result of our relations with Taiwan.
9. I am also informed that while manufacturers here are pointing fingers at Chinese businesses in St Lucia, Vincentian fishermen steadily pointing fingers at our and their Taiwanese friends, complaining that large Taiwanese fishing trawlers—with as many as 11 tonnes load capacity—are competing with them by fishing for tuna, night and day, in Vincentian waters, thereby threatening their livelihoods.
10. The average St Lucian consumer does not seem to share the view that Chinese businesses are bad for St Lucia. They don’t hesitate to say the lower prices suit their pockets, even though quality may differ. The very fact that the Chinese businesses are successful is an indication of how much what they are offering is appreciated. A simple fact of commerce is that everyone loves a deal and will go where they can get the best deal. St Lucians will not go to a locally-owned restaurant for the best Chinese food. Nor would they go to a Chinese store for the most expensive manufactured item. The Chinese businesses provide added choice and variety to the local consumer, which is what business is supposed to be about.
We shouldn’t hit out only at the Chinese doing business here. That they have found ways to carve a niche in the local retail market is no different to those other Caribbean and international investors who have found ways to carve their niches in the local tourism industry. Nor are they different from those Europe-based companies that are colluding with regional allies to access increasing Caribbean markets (including St Lucia) through the provisions of the
European Partnership Agreement (EPA).
It is the responsibility of Caribbean governments to protect Caribbean businesses from unfair competition, but it is not their responsibility to unfairly restrict others from investing in St Lucia or doing business locally simply because someone feels it should. Fortunately, policymaking isn’t that easy.
And now for my apology.
The President of the SLMA is entirely entitled to her interpretation of my comments about her comments—and vice versa. If I wanted to quote her, I would have done so in the way that it is done: with “inverted commas”. But I didn’t.
If what she is saying is that the SLMA wants to take a purely economic or business approach to what is essentially a political problem, they we’re heading nowhere.
This entire discussion is taking place within the context of St Lucia being at the crossroads of relations with Taiwan and China. The SLMA President’s statement against local Chinese businesses followed a similar outburst by the SLISBA President, who clearly and publicly stated that her members favoured relations with Taiwan over China.
The SLMA’s anti-China position was adumbrated loudly and clearly as part of the continuing “China or Taiwan” debate. So, if the SLMA President now
wishes to subtract it
from the overall debate and remove it from the national stage, or to distance the SLMA from the expressed SLISBA position, then I would certainly stand corrected for having wrongly interpreted the stated SLMA position as being the same as that of its counterpart, or a contribution to the national debate.
On the other hand, I’m glad that the St Lucia Chamber of Commerce, the island’s major private sector entity, has opted not to join the public debate, wither fully or partly, but has instead asked that it be invited by the government to share its views with the policymakers presently considering the direction of the future of relations with Taiwan and China.
I think the Chamber leadership is aware that in every organization there are those who are for and against everything and that what its President may think is right for the country may not necessarily be what every member feels. By seeking to first arrive at a consensus and communicating it to the decision-makers, the Chamber would certainly be exercising a greater influence over policy, on behalf of its members, than if it had chosen to blow hot air.
Finally, I am not interested in continuing what my media colleagues seem to think is a salacious exchange between Paula Cauldron and Earl Bousquet.
When the press came to my home or called me to respond to the SLMA President’s demand for an apology, I told them I couldn’t—and wouldn’t—until I saw it myself. Unfortunately, the request for me to apologize was never sent to me. I read (part of) it in this paper and am therefore responding in this paper.
The SLMA President has her role to play as I do mine. We can agree to disagree on many things, China and Taiwan included. I only ask that we keep the debate as decent as possible, as truthful as possible, as much based on facts as possible and always conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
That’s all I ask!

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