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Chinese Hegemony in Neocolonial Jamaica: The Failure of Jamaica’s Past in Protecting Its Future: Part 2

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

By Andrew R. Vaz
August 28, 2023

When Jamaica achieved its independence in 1962, it marked the end of a battle for freedom from the British empire. Within the pursuit of said freedom, there was an opportunity for another nation with economic and political power to enter into the Caribbean. That nation was China; and since the 1960s, China has been an outlet for economic dependence for the island nation. Its benefit for Jamaica is development of roads, hospitals and labor jobs. The question relates to the cost and who truly benefits from 21st century neocolonialism in the Caribbean. Jamaica is front-and-center in this conversation, as the lasting effects of Chinese hegemony are beginning to take shape. In this part, we will examine the effects of Chinese migration patterns and how the International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan pushed the economic crisis in Jamaica well into the early 21st century.

Michael Manley and Jamaica’s Struggle for Economic Independence

In the previous part, Jamaica was entrenched in a debt crisis that crippled the nation. In 1972, the People’s National Party—Jamaica Socialist party, raced into power in Jamaica under then Prime Minister Michael Manley, the son of former Prime Minister Norman Manley. Calling for the strengthening of workers’ rights, the nationalization of industries and the expansion of the island’s welfare state, the People’s National Party (PNP) sought nothing less than to overturn the old order under which Jamaicans had long labored.

The goal of national independence from the rest of the world was not only a fantasy for former nations of the British empire—it was also increasingly impossible for already independent nations. Manley believed that international entanglements of trade, capital flows and financialization, as well as the emergence of transnational private actors, threatened to undermine the capacity of all states to steer and regulate their national economies.

Unfortunately, there was debt crisis in 1977. Needless to say, this hurt Manley as he and his party lost the 1980 election. Prime Minister Manley would try the IMF’s stabilization program in his second term as Prime Minister which lasted from 1989 to 1992. These actions, however, precipitated the major financial crisis of the 1990s as this required a 30 percent devaluation of Jamaica’s currency; major cuts in public expenditures, especially in the wages of public sector workers; and the privatization of state assets. 

The IMF and the Jamaican Financial Crisis of the Late-20th Century

The Jamaican financial crisis began in the mid-1990s and lasted until approximately the turn of the 21st century. After experiencing a balance of payments crisis in 1977, Jamaica sought financial assistance from the IMF. The policies implemented as part of this assistance program wreaked economic havoc in Jamaica and led the government to implement policies that ultimately resulted in the collapse of Jamaica’s financial sector. The IMF’s policies led to a shift in the focus of the government’s economic policies from earning foreign exchange to accessing foreign exchange. This included foreign economies accessing Jamaica, namely China.

For China, access to the Jamaican market was important for two reasons: access to natural resources and the nation’s proximity to the United States. China’s biggest geo-political threat is the United States and vice versa. China could potentially use Jamaica as a site for military operations, which would setup a missile crisis similar to the 1962 event that involved Cuba. For now, China is good at extracting Jamaica’s key natural resources. One of those is Bauxite. Bauxite is a sedimentary rock that is common in tropical regions. It is the world’s main source of aluminum and bauxite mining happens to be the second largest industry in Jamaica.

The Migration of Chinese Nationals

In Jamaica, the Chinese came in 3 major waves: 1854-1884, 1900-1940 and the 1980s. The initial group was small in numbers and consisted of indentured servants. The second wave was much greater—consisting mainly of businessmen. The business-oriented Chinese nationals who migrated to Jamaica did so of their own fruition, mostly setting up small business such as restaurants and grocery stores.

It should be noted that Jamaicans of Chinese heritage have had a significant impact on the corporate world of Jamaica through many different ventures. This can be seen in establishments such as major restaurants, bakeries and supermarket chains, including Juici Beef, Tastees, Island Grill, Purity Bakery and Super Plus Food Stores as well as the National Commercial Bank (NCB), one of the largest financial institutions on the island.

Further Chinese immigration, in the 1980s from Hong Kong and in the early-twenty-first century from northern China, has resulted in a less homogeneous Chinese community in Jamaica even as Chinese trade, investments and cultural partnerships with Jamaica have all increased substantially. This third wave has had more impact on Jamaican culture and commerce than the previous phases.


The question now remains: what will Jamaica become under Chinese neo-colonialism? Future articles on this subject would need to evaluate how much neo-colonialism has transformed Jamaica’s leadership and culture as we go further into the 21st century.

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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