What position will Jamaica take in this new world emerging around us? This is not a simple rhetorical question or a hypothetical future being debated on university campuses. This is a serious question which should be occupying not just the minds of those in power, but more importantly those outside of power who have to live and die by the decisions of those in power.
The war in Ukraine, which is, in the grand scheme of things, an attempt to maintain the old unipolar world — an attempt that will fail — has forced this question upon us and made a quick answering of it a top priority. Unfortunately, our Government thinks it can either sit on the fence or stand by the losing side due to past relations.
How is the world changing?
First, we must ask ourselves how is the world changing? True, there is a war and nations are taking sides, but this is what countries do. The changes can be seen in the heightened demise of the US dollar as the sole currency of last resort as noted by the International Monetary Fund. This is for many reasons and is not simply affecting the dollar (the euro and pound are also facing risks), but chief among them are the fact that the west (the EU, US, UK) and its settler colonies have sanctioned one-quarter of humanity. They have removed Russia (as reported on the news) from SWIFT, as they did to Iran, stolen their reserves (as they did to Venezuela) and have frozen Russia out of international finance (like was done to Cuba).
The tectonic movement was Russia, Iran, India, and China all agreeing to engage in an alternative currency clearing system using their currencies. The demise of SWIFT means nations no longer are trapped by the US dollar and are now able to trade and engage with any nation anywhere free from fear of their economy being destroyed by an angry hegemon.
The forming of new and strengthening of old alliances is also a clear sign that the old world is behind us. The Russian intervention into Syria at the behest of the legally recognised Assad-led Government militarily marked the moment when the old world died and we saw the crystalising of new alliances — this one in the shape of Iran-Syria-China-Russia.
ASEAN, a bloc long seen as the US buttress against China in that region, now sees members like The Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia (two of those mentioned have long been US supplicants) openly challenging US dictates in the region that would see them choose between the US and China and are rapidly embracing China even while their territorial disputes remain open.
The touted East African Federation, which will see seven East African countries entering a political union — though the implementation will probably be delayed due to COVID-19 — is another signal that the old unipolar order is over. Though small in comparison to major economies, the economies of these nations are not to be sniffed at. Some of the fastest-growing economies are found in these seven. The possibilities of this young (population-wise), resource-rich, decently educated nation whose size would be 281 million people are enormous for both the continent and the global south as it seeks south-south integration and trade. As things stand, such a union would be the 34th largest economy in the world, opening up a whole new node when it comes to a multipolar world; no longer simply Asia, Europe and North America.
What choices have we made?
This trend toward a multipolar world has been ongoing since at least 2008 when the global financial crisis took place and China, along with the global south commodity-producing nations, swept in to save the day. It was also evident when the late Hugo Chavez, along with other left-wing or nationalist nations in Latin America, formed ALBA, CELAC, and UNASUR which, along with PetroCaribe, offered nations in the region an opportunity at some sovereignty in a region so close to the global hegemon.
Instead of a head-first embrace of these things we have spurned them. Rather than send our head of government we send our foreign minister for a heads of government meeting. Rather than send our foreign minister, we send our deputy foreign minister to a meeting geared towards unifying foreign policy. We have, in a nutshell, decided to firmly hitch our wagon to the west and more specifically the US as this new world emerges in front of us.
This can be seen in our not too subtle attempts and manoeuvres to destroy CARICOM as a bloc for collective foreign policy (one of the few things CARICOM has generally been successful at). We have chosen to rebuff our friends in Venezuela by ending the PetroCaribe agreement and seizing their locally held assets. We have made the decision to not view Nicholas Maduro as the rightly elected president of Venezuela thereby destroying or at least severely hampering any future relationship with that Government. That these moves came after our prime minister met with former US President Donald Trump and his team should come as no surprise though it is disappointing.
We have chosen since 2008 to remain with the west, if I may paraphrase our founding prime minister, making occasional forays to the east and other alternative nodes, but always ready and willing to jump back in line if the hint of displeasure is shown. The piece-meal entrance to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the caving in to the US when it came to the Chinese port deal, the increased alienation from CARICOM and the refusal — by both parties — to seriously explore the alternatives offered by the BRICS group and its institutions have all been decisions made knowing that they would keep us entrenched in the US sphere.
The rationale behind these choices, behind remaining firmly with the dollar and within the US security framework, even as the world changes around us, is that the US will, as the regional hegemon, destroy any nation seeking to stand up.
This holds a kernel of truth, a glance at Honduras, which is only now emerging from a US-instigated hell, or even Bolivia, which lived through a fascist coup, is all the warning some need. But that is short-sighted. True, those countries suffered, but they struggled, survived, and re-emerged. True, Nicaragua, Cuba, and Venezuela are under sanctions, but they are not alone, trading freely with the majority of the world, and while not living the middle-class lifestyle we ‘want’, all seem to have policies in place that we all clamour for and insist, correctly, that we need, such as free healthcare, guaranteed housing, subsidised food and guaranteed jobs.
What choices could we make?
The first answer to that is to deepen integration into CARICOM. For too long our political and industrial leaders have spewed what can only amount to lies, stating that Jamaica is being bullied by CARICOM, that we are being used as a dumping ground and that our nationals are shown scant respect. We as a nation are not bullied, we have an underperforming manufacturing sector and a banking sector that won’t touch real industry. That is not the fault of say Haiti or Grenada, that is our problem. If we have issues with the trade deals governing CARICOM that we signed, and that companies like GraceKennedy seem to have no problem with, then we need to take them up with the partners who also signed these deals.
The one area where there is some truth is that we receive scant respect in the Eastern Caribbean, and while it is true that they do have an inflated sense of themselves, we do as well, and we are not helped by the fact that a disproportionate number of our citizens are violent and or violence producers (if I am mistaken on this then someone please advise the prime minister, leader of the opposition, clergy etc… who have all said this).
We are a nation of three million when it’s not raining, we are a five-foot tall person hyping over persons four feet when we live in a region of people at least six feet tall. We cannot do it alone and regional integration would be the easiest choice when it comes to maintaining all types of security in the nation. Food security would be guaranteed, energy production and delivery guaranteed, manufacturing knowledge capabilities increased if/when Cuba is admitted. A first-class medical and educational field would be guaranteed if we took the baby step of regional integration. This need not mean federation or even an EU style union, it could be as simple as the Shanghai economic organisation that seeks to harmonise all areas between China and the Caspian Sea.
Fully embracing the third world is an option that remains firmly on the table and something which we have flirted with. An Africa which is coming into its own and once again seeking south-south links remains the best option available to us. After our brothers and sisters across the region, the closest relation we have in terms of culture and history is the African continent. We should look to integrate our economies, education and legal systems so we may ensure that the new global order isn’t one that sees our needs left out.
Breaking with the US and aligning with China is the ultimate goal we should be aspiring for. The US, long the leader of the neo-colonial regime, is a fading power. The west, as we all can see with the war in Ukraine, is a spent power and the future, as global trade figures for the past five years have shown, is in the east and specifically China. Their economy continues to grow in leaps and bounds, their political and social systems provide us with a model that is both stable and successful and deserves looking at (just as the Euro-American model has its merits that deserve looking at) and they have shown themselves to be reliable partners who abide by international law. That move would truly show that our leaders not only see the woods for the trees but are also ready to be independent and take bold action.
Not just China
At the end of the day though, the future, while no longer with the west, is way more than China and we should be using this time as the world remains in flux to strengthen relations with the other rising East Asian powers. The most obvious non-Chinese rising power in East is India, a nation with which we have cultural links and which the region, especially through Trinidad and Guyana, has even stronger cultural links. India, which will be one of the next super powers, could be a port of call for us if we are fearful of getting too close to China.
Malaysia and Indonesia also present opportunities for us, one being a member of the Commonwealth with a strong economy and an entrepot to Asia and the other is one of the largest markets and fastest-growing economies in the world.
The whole world outside the west quite frankly is now open to us. No longer do we have to be beholden to those who colonised us or forced unequal treaties down our throats, and we can engage with nations in Africa such as Nigeria — the largest single economy on the continent — Venezuela (a country literally overflowing with oil) and Vietnam (at any given time the first to the third-largest producer of rice).
Security can be sought by joining ourselves to our neighbours who suffer from the same issues so we can come up collectively with solutions (think of a Cuban, Mexican, Jamaican security compact).
With the world changing, we must no longer look to the past. Far from abandoning the US, which is and will remain our nearest market of size and which has military might, we must look to diversify our alliances and even build new ties which are stronger than those which we currently have with the US and her allies.
We must look out for ourselves, and to do this it means teaming up with others, looking to new horizons. It is scary, the future which is unknown, and change is always scary, but it is something we must embrace head-on or be doomed to constant exploitation and underdevelopment.