With grateful hearts . . . and some words of caution

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Minister of Health and Wellness, the Honourable Molwyn Joseph, said last week during the walk-through of the just-completed Glanvilles polyclinic, “I wish to thank the People’s Republic of China for their contribution.” We join with the good minister in expressing gratitude. Bringing health care even closer to the people is of utmost importance, and the Glanvilles polyclinic will go a long way in that regard. So too will the Blackburn clinic in the Villa Area, another gift from the Chinese, which was toured yesterday. The health minister has said that the grand openings will be dependent “on how quickly we can mobilise human resources” to fill the staffing needs. The Chief of Staff in the office of the prime minister, Lionel ‘Max’ Hurst, said as much on Observer AM yesterday. To that, we say, “get on with it.” These polyclinics are the need of the hour.

We understand that the polyclinics (and they are quite handsome and imposing edifices) will offer a wide variety of services that will ease the load at the Mount St. John’s Medical Centre (MSJMC). From dental and eye-care services, to treatment of ‘sugar,’ ‘pressure’ and other maladies, these clinics will be a boon. We further understand that they will be equipped with a wide range of state-of-the-art equipment. All well and good.

At the Villa polyclinic walk-through, Minister Joseph cited the fact that access to health care is one of the United Nations’ development goals, and he said that the polyclinics meet that goal, not only in terms of easy access, but also affordability. He also promised that the next polyclinic (probably another gift from the Chinese) will be constructed in the south of the island. Again, we say, bravo!

To be sure, we are not unmindful of the cynicism with which every Chinese gift is greeted, not only here in our fair State, but in Africa and many other parts of the world. The thinking is that these gifts and loans are part of the sinister Chinese plot to establish world hegemony. The Belt and Road Initiative is of a piece with that plan, some political thinkers allege. In fact, just about a week ago, according to Reuters out of Kingston, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, on a visit to Jamaica on Wednesday, cautioned nations against taking “easy money” from China, warning it could be counterproductive.” Actually, at just about every opportunity that he gets, Pompeo has warned Jamaica and other Caribbean countries, who have been increasingly turning to China in the face of US pull-backs, against taking these seemingly generous gifts from Beijing.

Early this year, the Associated Press filed the following report on Pompeo’s thinking about developing countries’ eagerness to do business with China:U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday pressed Kazakhstan to be wary of Chinese investment and influence. Bringing a message similar to the one he has delivered repeatedly to other countries, Pompeo told senior Kazakh officials that the attractiveness of Chinese investment comes with a cost to sovereignty and may hurt, instead of help, the country’s long-term development. “We fully support Kazakhstan’s freedom to choose to do business with whichever country it wants, but I am confident that countries get the best outcomes when they partner with American companies,” he said.” [AP, February 2, 2020].

 Even in these very pages, we have editorialised, BEWARE OF CHINESE BEARING GIFTS, an obvious play on the story of the Trojan horse. If you recall, it was the gift of a wooden horse filled with soldiers that the Greeks used to enter the city of Troy, thus conquering it from within. It gave rise to the Latin expression from the Aeneid, “Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes” which means, “I fear the Danaans (Greeks), even those bearing gifts.”Clearly, we here at NEWSCO believe that there is a lesson to be learned from Virgil’s Aeneid, as well as the rumblings of discontent that we have been hearing from many countries in Africa and elsewhere that have become enormously indebted to the Chinese. They are now disaffected with Chinese largesse.

From the new port which is being constructed at the old Deepwater Harbour, to the housing project at Booby Alley, to the building of the Sir Viv Stadium and the V.C. Bird International Airport, the Chinese have certainly not been stingy. They are filling the void left by the British, the Canadians and the Americans, our erstwhile ‘benefactors.’ Mind you, ours was a relationship with the Chinese that began many decades ago under Sir V. C Bird. This writer recalls that it was the Chinese that built that bridge at Creekside that solved the perennial problem of flooding that often cut the South off from the rest of the island. That was in the mid-1980’s. At that time, many countries held the Chinese at arms length because of its communist system of government.

Interestingly, our current Prime Minister, the Honourable Gaston Browne, is on record as saying, quite glibly, that rather than holding the Chinese at arms length, he will be embracing the dragon (a symbol of power and strength in Chinese culture), so to speak.  Indeed, he has said words to the effect that if the Chinese wish to colonise us, he will not stand in their way, as long as they bring the moolah. Good grief! Even our Ministry of Agriculture, in a weird decision, of dubious value, gave up several hundred acres of land to the Chinese for a Chinese agricultural project that many of our farmers find misguided.

Which brings us to the sobering words of Dr Umar Johnson, a widely travelled expert on the education and mental health of Black children, and a social activist and political commentator. Said the good doctor: “In Jamaica, I keynoted the Garvey celebration in Ocho Rios. The Chinese pretty much own Jamaica. I mean, the Jamaican government is giving them concessions, land concessions; they’re building hotels, beach resorts; they’re building two schools for the Jamaicans, And what the Jamaicans have to give them in return is the right to certain lands; the right to certain waterways, and if it doesn’t stop, Jamaica, ironically, the land of Marcus Garvey and Bob Marley will be the first Chinese colony in the Caribbean. It’s getting bad! And you know why it’s happening? Because the Black bourgeoisie leadership in both Africa and the Caribbean, they don’t have to live with the consequences of the economic decisions that they make. So if I’m the president of Jamaica, and China says, listen we’re going to give you a million dollars in retirement, we’re going to build your retirement home, but we want this, this, and this; and you can loan as much money as you want, you can borrow as much money as you want from the Bank of China. I’m going to be set by the time I leave office, but what about my nation?  Jamaica will be struggling for the next fifty-plus years . . .” Heaven forfend!

Again, we say thanks to the Chinese for their generosity. The polyclinics are a significant leap forward from the days of the ancient Carty Hill clinic that once served the people of Seatons, Glanvilles and Willikies. But we have been forewarned. Let us be guided accordingly.

       We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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