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Chinese Hegemony in Neocolonial Jamaica: The Failure of Jamaica’s Past in Protecting Its Future: Part 1

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Andrew Vaz
August 11, 2023

As a young child, I visited my parents’ homeland for the first time in 1996. That place was Jamaica, a foreign island to me, yet it is a part of who I am. From the beaches to the culture, I loved my ancestral home. I have heard many legends and stories about Jamaica, from cultural norms to struggles for independence in the shadow of British colonial rule. My parents, now in their seventies, were alive when the nation became independent in 1962. They can recall many of the significant events of that era and how they impacted their lives. Suffice it to say; my parents have the unique experience of living in an independent nation and colony of the British empire. 

Fast forward to today, my parent’s homeland is again dealing with the rise of a global superpower aiming for economic and social hegemony. Whereas the British empire was imperialist in the past, today, it is China. There are many paths to economic dominance; China is taking a global and localized approach to hegemonic rule in Jamaica. Many will dismiss the idea of China operating as an imperialist power successfully. I must argue that this is not the colonialization of old—this is neo-colonialism. Neo-colonialism refers to using economic and cultural forces to exert control over an independent country that used to be a colony. This is not China operating to the same degree as British imperialists. Modern China wants political and economic power through investments and pressure on the Jamaican government. Jamaica’s public and private institutions have failed to preserve the identity of the former colony as an independent nation and risk losing everything to Chinese hegemonic, neo-colonial rule.

Michael Manley, the IMF loan and The Economic Crash of the 1970s

By 1969, Jamaica had been under the leadership of the People’s National Party and Jamaica Labour Party; Norman Manley led the former of which. Due to illness, he stepped down from the party’s leadership and was replaced by his son, Michael Manley. The elder Manley passed away that same year, and Michael became Prime Minster of Jamaica in 1972. Prime Minister Manley postured as the champion for the people and wanted to end Jamaica’s dependency on foreign economic influence. 

However, Prime Minister would make a costly mistake that would drive Jamaica into the hands of foreign powers for a long time. The economic crash on the island was devastating for local businesses and consumers. Manley pursued a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for US$75 Million in 1977. This did not improve the economic crisis in the country. For Manley and his PNP government, they lost the general election in 1980. 

This was a critical mistake on the part of the Jamaican government. The lasting effect of the IMF loan opened the island up to foreign dependency, affecting the country’s finances and politics.

One-China Policy

In 1972, Jamaica recognized the ”One-China” policy, becoming one of the first English-speaking Caribbean nations to do so. In a 50-year relationship with this principle, China became the largest investor on the island. Beginning with the construction of the Chinese embassy in Kingston, China moved from being a trading partner with the island to injecting millions into island-wide projects, including the construction of a stadium, a convention center, housing developments and road construction. There is that caveat of the One-China policy: the issue with Taiwan. It is assumed that Jamaica will recognize Taiwan as a part of China and not as a separate nation, going against the United States and its allies. 

Bilateral trade between China and Jamaica had climbed from US$58 million at the beginning of the 21st Century to US$382 million by the mid-2010s. In addition, Chinese government loans and grants have risen to well over US$880 million, alongside significant financial investment by both state- and privately-owned Chinese enterprises, including the China Harbor Engineering Company (CHEC). It is the largest Chinese investor in the island nation. China Harbor developed the first four-lane highway from Kingston to Ocho Rios, known as the North-South Highway, for US$600 million.

In return for CHEC’s offer to construct and finance the project, the Jamaican government granted the company 1,200 acres of lucrative real estate on which CHEC intends to build hotels and other facilities that cater to the Chinese market. This project would not benefit Jamaican residents and would price them out of the market—gentrification. 


In the second part, we will examine the effects of Chinese migration patterns and how the IMF loan pushed the economic crisis in Jamaica well into the 1990s. One thing is clear, if Jamaica continues along this path of foreign economic dependence, the island will lose its national identity. 

Author: Andrew R Vaz, M.Sc., M.P.A., MPhil is a doctoral candidate in the public policy and administration program at Walden University, already awarded a Master of Philosophy degree in the program. He is a graduate of the Master of Science in Criminal Justice and Master of Public Administration double master’s program at Florida International University. He can be reached at [email protected]

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