Jamaica Observer:-PETER Bunting and the Chinese Embassy in Jamaica are now engaged in a bitter jousting over allegations he made against Chinese companies operating in the island, which the embassy has described as offensive and could lead to racial tensions.
The first strike was delivered by Bunting, the Opposition spokesman on national security, in an Internet programme which he calls Probe and which was posted on YouTube.
The programme opens with Bunting stating that 55 years after Independence from Britain, many Jamaicans are concerned that the country is “undergoing, a new form of economic colonialism by Chinese businesses operating in Jamaica”.
Evidence of that, he said, can be seen in the construction sector where China Harbour Engineering Company and 14 or so other Chinese companies operating in that sector “have now controlled at least 50 per cent of the sector”.
According to Bunting, the figure was an estimate from industry professionals.
He also accused the Chinese firms of engaging in unfair competition, saying that most of them are either 100 per cent or majority-controlled by the Chinese Government, giving them virtually unlimited resources.
“They come into Jamaica, typically on the basis of concessionary financing for a government project and they get all sorts of duty concessions and imported machinery and equipment and they get to buy local building inputs free of GCT,” Bunting charged.
“They then use these concessions and machinery and equipment to compete for private sector projects, so they have an advantage over local contractors.”
Bunting also accused the Chinese companies of using “convict labour”, saying that the allegation was not limited to Jamaica “but is quite widespread in Africa and south-east Asia”.
He said, too, that there is no effective regulation of the Chinese companies.
“Their records are kept in Mandarin, the tax administration and audit department has no effective way of telling what is used on one project versus another, where workers are moving between companies, etc,” he said.
“The Chinese Government, as a policy, is not very transparent about all these operations,” he said, adding that many international media have attempted to “penetrate the veil of what takes place in many of these companies with absolutely no cooperation from the Chinese Government”.
He said he has written to the Chinese Embassy in Jamaica, asking them to respond to the allegations of unfair competition and to shed some light on Chinese business practices, specifically as they’re operating in Jamaica.
“If we get that response, we will definitely do a follow-up Probe, but in any event we want to look beyond just the construction sector. We want to see what is behind Chinese retail establishments taking over most of the towns and villages in rural Jamaica, and again, is it fair competition?” Bunting said.
Yesterday, the Chinese Embassy responded, saying that it was “offended by these unsubstantiated claims which have generated widespread discussion”.
According to the embassy, the claims could encourage a backlash and create an unsafe environment for Chinese nationals working in Jamaica.
Responding to Bunting’s claim that Chinese companies operating in Jamaica are Government-owned and therefore have unlimited resources which Jamaican companies cannot compete against, the embassy said: “There are clear separations between the Chinese Government and the management of Chinese State-owned enterprises. State-owned enterprises operate independently under business rules and assume sole responsibility for their profits and losses. The Government does not underwrite losses of State-owned enterprises. The Chinese Government continues to encourage Chinese companies to invest in Jamaica as long as these projects bring value to the Jamaican people and are profitable.”
Regarding the unfair competition charge, the embassy said that Chinese companies are, by nature, very competitive.
“Their primary aim is the satisfaction of their customers by delivering timely, within budget and high quality work. Duty concessions are usually offered for projects that are joint ventures with [the] Government of Jamaica, such as the North-South Highway and in other cases as a way to attract foreign investors. Concessions offered by the Jamaican Government are not limited to Chinese companies but are made available to other foreign investors.”
Addressing the allegation of uneven employment and the use of convict labour, the embassy said that “the number of Jamaicans on staff at all Chinese companies far outnumber Chinese staff”.
The embassy listed three firms: Pan-Caribbean Sugar Co Ltd, which it said has 800 local staff and only 26 Chinese staff; JISCO Alpart bauxite/alumina plant, which has 730 local staff and 151 Chinese staff; and CHEC, which currently employs 268 local staff and 109 Chinese staff.
Added the embassy: “The allegation that Chinese companies use convict labour is offensive and false. Such serious allegations by a former minister of national security should, at the very least, be substantiated by evidence. If Mr Bunting can produce such evidence the Chinese Embassy will not hesitate to support whatever sanctions the Jamaican Government would wish to impose on the offending company.”
The embassy also rubbished Bunting’s claim of a lack of transparency, saying that “all Chinese companies have to have their documents cleared by Jamaican authorities before they are allowed to operate in Jamaica” and that they operate under Jamaican laws and regulations.
“If any Chinese company is found to be operating outside of the law, it is up to the Jamaican authorities to take action. This embassy and by extension the Government of China support the rule of law.”
The embassy also said it had not received any request via phone, letter or e-mail from Bunting on this matter, even though he said he had asked for information.
“China and Jamaica have had a long friendship, and over the years our economic partnerships have been mutually beneficial. Chinese companies will continue to offer to the Jamaican Government and people value for money in the contracts they pursue,” the embassy said.
“As we did recently in granting a request from the Government of Jamaica to supply the fireworks for the Grand Gala celebrations, and the construction of a children’s hospital in western Jamaica, the Government of China will continue to support projects and events that benefit the masses, the Jamaican people.
“Our aim is not to ‘colonise’ Jamaica but to always find areas of cooperation and mutual benefit that will improve the lives of both our people,” the embassy added.
In a response, Bunting said the embassy’s statement confirms the essential thrust of his programme “that the Chinese companies are State-owned enterprises against which local Jamaican contractors cannot be expected to compete effectively”.
He also said that it was highly unlikely that his programme “will place Chinese nationals at risk in Jamaica, which has always been very open to people of every ethnic background”.
Added Bunting: “The allegations of Chinese convict labour did not originate with us, nor is Probe the first to repeat those allegations and raise these questions in Jamaica. There are articles in many reputable newspapers such as the Guardiannewspaper in Britain that have raised similar concerns in recent years.”
He said his programme, in eliciting the response from the embassy, “has opened a pathway to the kind of dialogue to settle these issues that are beneath the surface and that will enhance the ongoing relationship between the People’s Republic of China and Jamaica”.