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JAM | Feb 11, 2024

Johnson Smith dismisses fears of Chinese ‘debt trap’ 

/ Our Today

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Wang Yi, China’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, shakes hands with Jamaican counterpart Kamina Johnson Smith at the Office of the Prime Minister on January 20, 2024. (Photo: X.com @kaminajsmith)

Durrant Pate/Contributor

Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson Smith is denouncing fears that Jamaica is falling into a Chinese ‘debt trap’.

She told the Asian media last week during her working visit to Japan that Jamaica wants balanced foreign development funding highlighting that Beijing’s aid is key to this objective.

In an interview with Nikkei Asia in Tokyo, Johnson Smith was patently clear that Jamaica is not overly reliant on Chinese investment, brushing aside fears of Jamaica falling into a “debt trap.”

She was speaking ahead of meeting her Japanese counterpart, Kamikawa Yoko, Senator Johnson Smith made the point that, “Jamaica has been very strategic in our engagement”; explaining that Chinese loans to Jamaica amount to less than four per cent of its total debt portfolio. 

Jamaican Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson Smith in animated conversation with Japanese Foreign Affairs Minister Kamikawa Yoko on her official working visit to Japan on February 7, 2024. (Photo: X.com @kaminajsmith)

No debt trap

As such, she argued that concerns about Jamaica falling into a debt trap are merely “a narrative.” Beijing, Johnson Smith contended, has the right to take control of infrastructure built with its money if borrowers are unable to repay their debts.

“We’ve (Jamaica) managed our relationship very well, and what we have encouraged is investment, in the same way that we are also here encouraging Japanese investment. We encourage American investment, British and Canadian,” she added.

While Jamaica historically has close ties with its neighbor the US, the European Union and Japan, it is also friendly with China with which it established diplomatic relations in 1972. A participant in China’s Belt and Road Initiative since 2019, Jamaica has benefited from Chinese funds to construct key structures such as its new foreign ministry and other major infrastructure projects.

The new headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade at 2 Port Royal Street, downtown Kingston. (Photo: Contributed)

China’s growing regional influence

The Chinese are also building the region’s largest children’s hospital in Jamaica. “China’s infrastructure support has also come at a time when many countries were not providing this type of support, which is critical for national growth and development,” Johnson Smith told Nikkei Asia.

Despite the geographical distance, the Caribbean is important strategically and diplomatically to China. There are just 12 countries that maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its territory. 

Jamaica is one of the first English-speaking states in the region to recognise Beijing’s ‘One China policy’ that designates Taiwan an inalienable part of China.

“Countries with whom we enjoy positive relations don’t seek to influence or seek to mandate that we have other relationships that align with theirs. I think this is consistent with our policy of non-interference, of respect, and of recognising the sovereignty of every country to take decisions in its best interests,” Johnson Smith said.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness greets Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on his first State visit to Jamaica at the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) on January 20, 2024. (Photo: X.com @kaminajsmith)

This year marks the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Japan and Jamaica. She said that bilateral relations have been deepening over the last few years with multiple ministerial meetings held between the two sides.

Jamaica wants to expand trade with Japan — its main export to Japan is coffee while automobiles are its key Japanese import. It is also seeking to deepen security cooperation to address piracy and other threats.

Asked about the possibility of holding Japan-CARICOM summits regularly, she responded to say, “it would be an excellent opportunity because there are significant shared values not only on the bilateral [level], but multilateral values from a foreign policy perspective.”

The foreign minister said there are plans to hold a Japan-CARICOM foreign ministers’ meeting in Japan this year.

Concluding, she highlighted that one of the most important areas for cooperation with the region is in disaster preparedness, and disaster management and response noting that both Japan and the Caribbean are vulnerable acknowledging that Japan has know-how and technologies to help.

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