What ‘China Syndrome?’

The matter of the future of St Lucia’s relations with Taiwan and China has been a topic of debate even before the last General Elections here and in Taiwan. The new Labour administration is undertaking a Foreign Policy Review to decide which way to go. Until it decides, the debate continues. But it should be based on facts and figures instead of anger and angst.
Of late, there has been quite some uninformed criticism of “the Chinese presence” in St. Lucia by some in the local private sector, particularly in the realm of the small business manufacturing. SLISBA feels St Lucia should maintain ties with Taiwan because Taiwan’s assistance to St Lucia trickles down to small businesses and its members have fears—“real or imagined”.
The St Lucia Manufacturers Association has argued against restoring ties with China, which it blames for the presence here of Chinese persons doing business. The general claim is that St Lucia will be better off with Taiwan than China and local small businesses and manufacturers would do better without Chinese-owned businesses operating here.
Businesses have every right to speak out and voice their concerns when their profit margins are threatened. This time it’s the Chinese nationals doing business here, who are somehow being associated with the policies of the governments of St Lucia, the OECS and China.  The criticisms are, however, largely unfounded and mostly based on mistaken notions that are as far away from truth as fiction.
Without responding directly to either SLISBA or the Manufacturers Association, I offer the following ten points for consideration in the continuing discussion:
1. Like St Lucians and other OECS nationals migrating in search of better opportunities abroad, each Chinese national who leaves China is one of millions seeking greener pastures abroad. The ones who do business in St. Lucia and the OECS do not represent the Government of China—just as the many St Lucians and other OECS citizens with businesses abroad don’t operate in the name of the Government of St Lucia.                 Further, Chinese seeking opportunities abroad settle where they feel they can best achieve that goal and they do so without any “incentives” from the Chinese Government.
2. Chinese nationals with Caribbean passports doing business in St Lucia did not buy them here, as St Lucia is not in the business of selling Economic Citizenship—at least, not this St Lucia Government. But even while St Lucia is not in the business of selling passports, it is obliged to respect the sovereignty of other OECS and Caribbean passports when presented at ports of entry, no matter where the holder was born. Chinese with Dominican passports, therefore, also have to be treated like St Lucian, OECS and CARICOM citizens when they land anywhere in the Caribbean. Similarly, the Freedom of Movement and Single Market initiatives in place also apply to all holders of Caribbean passports doing business in the region. Same applies to St Lucian and Caribbean citizens holding British or American passports. These are among the benefits to holders of dual citizenship.
3.There is nothing to prevent a St Lucian, OECS or Caribbean business that can do so from going to China and investing there like the Americans have done. Like St Lucia, China does not sell economic passports, so St Lucians definitely cannot buy a Chinese passport and go invest in China on that basis. Nor can they do the same anywhere outside the OECS and CARICOM in ordinary circumstances.
4.When Caribbean governments or private sector companies sign agreements with Chinese firms for construction purposes, they sign mutually-agreed agreements that will best facilitate the completion of the project at the least cost to the host country.
5. No agreement for construction of Chinese-built structures here has ever resulted in any Chinese national staying back and setting up business in St Lucia.
6. Governments cannot only confine themselves to the concerns of the private sector in taking care of the business of the nation as a whole. As such, private sector interests must consider the political considerations of the government of the day on issues on which they wish to influence government’s position. In this case, the local private sector bodies cannot expect the government to only consider their pecuniary interests in the trickle-down effect of Taiwanese dollars without taking into consideration the government’s concern about keeping track on how these dollars come and who they go to.
7. Chinese business persons operating legally in St Lucia should not be unfairly accused of “competing with locals” in a Free Market system. They have all the rights of a local business to do any business that they aren’t legally forbidden from.
8.    It’s somewhat confusing to complain that OECS Manufacturers are “losing millions” because of Chinese manufacturing similar products, then also asking OECS governments to restrict Chinese investments in the region to the manufacturing sector, to protect the retail sector.
Asking governments to protect local businesses against other local businesses is counterproductive to the principles of Free Trade and Competition in Open Markets. (Otherwise, OECS and CARICOM governments could also be asked to protect local banks against the foreign banks that operate on each island.)
9. If we are inviting or welcoming Chinese to do business on shores, we cannot tell them that only St. Lucian businesses can import goods from China to sell to St Lucians.
10. When targeting Chinese businesses operating here, we should not paint them all with the same brush. Just like St Lucians in the USA, London and Canada, some have been living and working in St Lucia and other OECS islands long enough to qualify and apply for citizenship, some have grown local families, some have children born in  the islands —and some here certainly do employ majority St Lucians at their enterprises.
In all of this, one cannot escape the fact that while some of us are still comparing China and Taiwan and seeking to distinguish between having ties with “either” one “or” the other, Taiwan and China are kissing cousins smoking the peace pipe and dancing the Tango closely on the world stage. Similarly, the fact is that China is the world’s second largest economy; it holds America’s debt in its back pocket, while Europe, the USA and other major world economies are looking to Beijing for help to iron out their financial woes. China is the world’s factory and the global economy today just can’t do without China’s manufacturing output. Besides, Taiwan’s biggest trading partner has always been China; and Taiwanese investors are the biggest in China.
The Taiwanese elected since 2008 to make peace with China and earlier this month they voted again to maintain that peace for at least another four years, because they see good relations with China as being absolutely important for their future growth and development.
So then, I ask: why should St Lucia (or any other country, for that matter) elect to do without China?
Another question: If both China and Taiwan have been our friends for a combined total of 38 years, and if they are cooperating the way they are today for the first time in 62 years, why shouldn’t we be seeking the best relations we could have with each of our strong Asian friends?
I have every confidence that at the end of its current Foreign Policy Review the Government of St Lucia will take the best way out for St Lucia—as a whole.
I know that there are those in the business community (small, medium and big) who have legitimate “concerns” and “fears” about “real or imagined” factors relating to the so-called “Chinese presence” in St Lucia.
Sometimes the way they are expressed reminds me of similar outpourings against the “Amigos” (Syrians and other Arabs) when they started to integrate into the local business community a long time ago. Same with “The Indians”, who came much later. In each case, the “foreigners” have since settled and integrated into the local private sector, but we always find new “foreigners” to accuse of being allowed by governments to “take bread out of our mouths”.
I think SLISBA and the SMA are on the right track when they say they want to discuss their concerns with the OECS and CARICOM.
Their members are right to express their concerns about the selling of Caribbean passports for economic citizenship and its possible impact on their business.
But any arguments to be presented before governments or regional
and international institutions will need to be based on
and backed by facts and figures, and not based
on assumptions and suppositions or “fears”
that are “real or imagined”.
Should our complaining local private sector entities continue to lash out at China like they have been doing so far, they run the risk of being seen or considered as either thinking small or missing the big picture.

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