China and Jamaica agree a ‘strategic framework’ for economic relations

Photo credits [Xinhua/Liu Bin]

Jamaica has agreed to establish a ‘new strategic framework’ for its relations with China during an official visit there by the island’s Prime Minister, Andrew Holiness.

According to the Prime Minister’s office, the focus of future relations will be on exporting goods and services, continuing infrastructure development involving the Chinese and Jamaican private sector in ways that do not increase government debt, and the creation of a new cooperation framework that is more strategic and focussed.

It was also agreed during a nine-day visit that took in Beijing and Shanghai, that another element of Jamaica’s deepening partnership with China would be a focus on Chinese educational support. This will be focussed on developing the digital skills necessary for national development through technology training and the building of related schools’ infrastructure. To this end China’s Vice Minister for Education, Weng Tiehui, will pay a working visit to Jamaica later this month to sign a Memorandum of Understanding and to exchange views on ‘the strategies needed to prepare societies for the future of work’.

During the visit the issue of climate change was also discussed with Prime Minister Holness indicating that Jamaica looked forward to collaborating with China at both a multilateral and bilateral level with a particular strategic emphasis on sharing Chinese technology in water security, renewable energy, and smart environmental management systems.

The visit was also notable for the synergy between Jamaica and China in relation to multilateralism.

Speaking at the opening of the Second China International Import Expo in Beijing Holness noted that Jamaica shares China’s aspirations for a more “open, inclusive and balanced economic globalisation” observing that because of Jamaica’s size and limited resources, it was essential for it take advantage of the opportunities presented through international trade and co-operation. “Jamaica believes in a multilateral and rules-based system, as being necessary for our economic development,” he said.

The two countries also agreed to deepen their cooperation in sport and culture. A memorandum of understanding was signed that will enable both nations to benefit from their relevant expertise. This will see Chinese athletes receiving technical assistance and training opportunities in Jamaican institutions, with Jamaican coaches and athletes benefitting from skills development in China through the expansion of an existing Jamaica/China Technical Assistance Sport Coaching Project.

During the visit Prime Minister Holness was reported as saying that Jamaica was seeking further investments from China in order to develop Special Economic Zones and ports with Jamaica’s global logistics hub Initiative becoming ‘an essential component’ of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. During the visit Holness met with the Mayor of Shanghai, Ying Yong, and toured the Yangshan Phase IV Automated Terminal, the world’s largest automated port terminal.

On the subject of debt and China, an official release said that the Jamaican government would not be taking on further Chinese debt, but that future infrastructure projects would take the form of joint venture partnerships, public private partnerships, or private sector transactions between Jamaican and Chinese firms. It noted that this would mean that Jamaica, as a part of its ‘firm commitment to reduce debt rapidly’ would not negotiate any new loan programmes with China. It also observed that in future investments will be more strategic and using fiscal incentives will be focussed on the development of special economic zones and logistics hubs, urban centre development, water and sewerage, agriculture, and affordable housing.

Chinese official reporting noted that Premier Li had said that the meeting with President Xi had elevated the bilateral relationship to a strategic partnership. It also noted that China is ‘willing to continue to support Chinese enterprises in carrying out cooperation in areas such as infrastructure, tourism, agriculture and aquatic products in accordance with market principles and business rules’.

Other areas of cooperation addressed during the visit included renewable energy, border security, agriculture, health care, and STEM education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

Chinese loans account for 3.9% of Jamaica’s total loan portfolio according to statements made by ministers earlier this year, suggesting that Jamaica owes China about US$78bn.   

Meanwhile, in an unusual parallel development, the head of US Southern Command, Admiral Craig Faller, told a press conference held in Jamaica while Prime Minister Holness was still there that China was a nation that did not share the values of Jamaica and the US.

Listing China together with Cuba, Venezuela and sitting on a platform with Jamaica’s Chief of Defence Staff, Lieutenant General Rocky Meade,  Faller told the media that while China has legitimate economic interests in countries around the world, based on its model of government its role in other states could lead to a long-term loss of sovereignty, secrecy, and a lack of transparency in operations.

He further warned that the relationship with China could lead to non-adherence to international standards of the rule of law, breaches of labour rights, and a lack of protection of the environment. “That has had a direct impact on the security of all of us,” Faller said, pledging continued support from the United States through the provision of military equipment, training, and education of local forces.

Subsequently the Chinese Embassy in Jamaica described as irresponsible his suggestion that China does not share the same commitment to democracy and the rule of law that America shares with Jamaica. Describing his words as defamatory, Xia Shaowu, the Head of the Chinese Embassy in Kingston’s political section said in a statement: “Facts speak louder than words. Sino-Jamaica, Sino-Caribbean and Sino-Latin American cooperation, which features equality, transparency and mutual benefit, is conducive to regional peace, stability and development, and will not be stopped by any force’.

A detailed official summary of the outcome of Prime Minister Holness’ visit to China can be read at

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