Washington increases its 5G pressure on Jamaica

The US Ambassador to Jamaica, Donald Tapia, has said that the country has to make a decision as to whether it is going to look East to the ‘two headed dragon’, China, or North to the United States when it comes to deciding where its economic priorities lie.

In an exclusive interview with the Jamaica Observer, Tapia, a political appointee, reiterated his Government’s position that it will reassess how it interconnects and shares information with countries that ‘compromise’ their 5G security.

“As for consequences, it’s gonna affect banking, any financial transaction from this island,” Tapia said, adding “that’s the biggest consequence you have, that your financial institutions and the finance of Jamaica stops…that’s the consequence that you are looking at long term. That’s major.”

Another negative consequence of utilising Chinese-developed 5G, he told the publication, was access to aid in times of disaster. “If you were to have a hurricane, earthquake or any type of natural disaster, we cannot and will not move into a communist Chinese network because it gives them the opportunity to download all the data that we have,” the Observer quoted Washington’s ambassador as saying.

Tapia’s remarks come against the background of a report that Jamaica’s Spectrum Management Authority is advanced in preparing the regulatory and monitoring regime for the roll out of 5G services on the island.

The Observer reported that, while advancing the idea that Jamaica should choose other models of 5G architecture (Ericsson from Sweden, Nokia from Finland, and Samsung from South Korea), Tapia told the publication that the problem with China rested “with the totalitarian nature of its Government” and US national security concerns about the 5G technology developed by Chinese companies such as Huawei and ZTE.

Responding to the Observer’s story, the Chinese Embassy in Kingston described the US Ambassador’s comments as “filled with Cold War mentality and hegemonistic mindset”.

Xia Shaowu, the head of the political section at the Chinese Embassy, told the publication that the comments “fully expose the consistent US practice of arbitrarily interfering in other countries’ domestic and foreign policies and forcing small and medium-sized countries to choose sides”.

“Huawei and other Chinese enterprises have been doing business in Jamaica in accordance with market principles and international rules and abide by Jamaican laws and regulations. Operating in Jamaica for more than a decade, Huawei is a localised company with a track record in high-quality products, solutions as well as cybersecurity,” Xia said in a statement.

Xia went on to suggest that the US Ambassador was “abusing his status” observing that as “strategic partners” China and Jamaica had developed good relations “on an equal footing…. bringing tangible benefits to the Chinese and Jamaican people”.

Tapia’s message is unlikely to go unnoticed elsewhere in the region as it could equally apply in every nation exploring its future 5G options. The Ambassador’s choice of words was significantly more robust and transactional than the more nuanced language used before, including during the recent visits by Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, to Guyana and Suriname.

Then, the terms used suggested a greater awareness of the Caribbean’s views on China as a development partner, with a senior State Department official noting in a non-attributable briefing prior to Pompeo’s departure that the US was not saying “do not deal with China”. “We deal with China and other countries deal with China. They’re a big economy. There’s really no choice but to deal with them. But what we are saying is when you deal with them, make them deal on transparent, 21st century, above-board terms, not on the sort of 19th century imperialist, mercantilist, opaque terms that Chinese Communist Party and Chinese businesses owned by the – owned or controlled by the Communist Party seem to favour”, the official said.

Subsequent to Tapia’s remarks the Jamaica Observer reported that Rivada Networks, a US telecommunications company with a 5G business model, has put forward to the Jamaican government a proposal to build a 5G system for Jamaica at no cost based on the company’s ability to earn a return over time from revenues.

Jamaica and Guyana are to date the only Caribbean signatories to the US ‘Growth in the Americas’ initiative which centres on building an enabling environment for US private sector investment in energy and infrastructure in the Caribbean and Latin America in line with international best practice.

This is a lead article from Caribbean Insight, The Caribbean Council’s flagship fortnightly publication. From The Bahamas to French Guiana, each edition consists of country-by-country analysis of the leading news stories of consequence, distilling business and political developments across the Caribbean into a single must-read publication. Please follow the links on the right-hand side of this page to subscribe, or access a free trial.

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