Back then it was Red China.
Beijing was Peking.
Its ambitions were cocooning with sights set on the Western Hemisphere.
Now, some serendipity.
British Guiana becomes independent in 1966.
Then Chinese Premier Chou En-lai cabled then Prime Minister Forbes Burnham that he hoped “the people of your country achieve new success in the struggle to safeguard national independence and oppose colonialism and neocolonialism”….and instructed the Chinese press to emblazon its pages with a salute to Guyana and its people, welcoming them to the world of political freedom.
Six years went by.
Prime Minister Burnham ascended to President and was struggling to legitimize his Presidency and the Cooperative Socialism ideology he had adopted. His political swing to the left cost him favor with the West and as punishment, the country lost volume in the export market.
Enter, or rather, re-enter Chou en Lai who Burnham- by now a flailing regional maverick and in dire political and economic need- embraced, making his country the first country in the Caribbean Commonwealth to recognize then, Red China; the reward for which was a market for his stagnant exports and an opportunity for him to realize two parts of his three part socialist stomp – ‘Feed, House and Clothe yourself’.
It was the first installment in their program “Target for Revolution” …. a strategy combo of inducement for trade and diplomatic chat that Chou had inherited and was executing in the march to Chinese colonialism…camouflaged as Chinese Aid, extended for the first time to the Western Hemisphere – a geopolitical location that was now on its radar, having courted parts of Africa and Asia during its previously held Bandung Conference and now some 2000 families from China’s mainland had been deployed to Georgetown en route to nesting in Latin America.
What seemed not to alarm all of its new friends was the fact that China, too, was in the throes of a struggling Cultural Revolution with a stagnant economy and stunted economic growth. Chou’s 8 principles for Economic Aid and Technical Assistance to Other Countries seemed to ignore the proverbial place of Charity…that it begins at home.
Nevertheless, President Burnham had a Republic to validate so he bought in to Chou’s 8 Principles making Guyana China’s Western laboratory; a place to test its scheme of giving, constantly revisiting and tweaking these principles to ensure a benefit and advantage for China.
The Bel-Lu clay brick factory, with a promised production of 10 million bricks per year, was erected, as was the Sanata Textile Mill, both of which were short lived. Complaints ranged from industrial violations to cultural differences in work ethic but there was a telling consistency in the complaints – the existence of job descriptions and training manuals being available only in ‘Chinese’ which made going forward without Chinese assistance..well, a challenge.
I say this not casually since I was ‘asked’ to go to Sanata Textile Mills to help with that crisis. I reported to, then, General Manager, Ulric B. Pilgrim, immediate past Commander of the Guyana Defence Force and was offered the position of Training Officer, based on my experience in that field. I spent three months at the Management Training Center at Diamond with a stellar staff that had returned to offer its skills to Guyana and left with a wealth of knowledge that bodes well to this day. With it, I was able to interview employees to determine job descriptions, then analyse those jobs to create Operations Manuals and yes write that all down in ENGLISH!!!
By then, the Small Industries Corporation had flickered and lost its flame and Burnham was juggling his obsession to save face with his failed social experiment. It was understood that the United States preferred his patchwork of Socialism to the alternative of Chedi Jagan’s hard core Marxist Leninism but they, never the less, strangled him by corralling the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to attach political expectations to loans, with the intent of forcing him to abandon the flailing practice.
Now, it was about saving face and Burnham did this by thumbing his political nose at the West, accepting China’s technical and financial assistance amidst that country’s own socioeconomic strangulation, agreeing to China’s interest-free loans in exchange for extracting the country’s bauxite; demonizing the West for tying loans to preferred politics while China offered needed assistance ‘without strings….’
…except that it did and perfected its entrenchment in the country through phases of calculated, transactional, ‘assistance packages’ tailored to suit the government of the day…a lot of which occurred during the PPP’s Jagdeo regime when the country was literally sold to men of means bearing brief cases of cash, feigning help by offering ‘up front’ payments for leases granting them the right to take Guyana’s natural goods in exchange for poorly manufactured ones….
…. and yes, citizenship by Presidential ‘decree’, facilitating China’s pledge to own the world through ownership of the sum of its parts..
The presence of China in Guyana is neither benign nor altruistic.
It’s a calculated, utilitarian, endeavor focused on achieving the geostrategic goals established back when Chou had successfully wooed Africa and other parts of Asia at the 1955 Bandung Conference….
…now expanding its foot print to the other side of the world South America…softly offering aid to Guyana’s military, which has nothing to do with economic development.
It’s easy to say that China’s global penetration has a fetid smell to it; especially when it seems to be overly sympathetic to resource -rich countries and leaders who are on the wrong side of fiscal prudence, human rights and drug trafficking, for starters. In fact, China takes pride in boasting that it doesn’t lecture countries on these infractions and that may just be to deflect from its own moral rot.
Even as it flaunts its status as the world’s second largest economy and gives away billions in ‘interest free loans’ annually to developing countries, China’s government has established itself as an ‘undeveloped country’ and does so by keeping some 80 million citizens and its per capita Gross Domestic Product below the UN’s accepted minimum threshold for developed country status – living on $1.25 per day – which garnishes aid for the aged, the environment, the mentally ill, women’s development and anything that a donor will give a penny for.
And this is where operating zones become escalating shades of grey.
The major donors to China are running budget deficits and offset these deficits by owing (borrowing from) China through import transactions which they short pay on. So, in giving to China, donors are borrowing from China then paying interest back to China on the loan that it took from them to give them a donation.
And might I add that the country has established the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the International Reconstruction and Development Bank – their versions of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, respectively, all while declaring poverty.
It is organized racketeering….the full manifestation of those 8 principles Chou en Lai read back in 1967; then reflections of undaunted ambition, now goals realized at political gun point.
And with the continued validation, by the United Nations and World Bank, of this master piece of roguery, China continues its deception with impunity; giving it leverage which it applies like a vice to remove any threat to its goal of resource acquisition…
….like threatening to pull its ‘no strings attached aid’/ Foreign Direct Investment(FDI) and throwing multiple economies off balance – like it did during the Zambian elections, when it preferred incumbent President Levy Mwanawasa, and 5 years later Rupia Banda, over challenger Michael Sata…
….throwing a political tantrum when the soupy smog called air that engulfs Beijing is challenged by those ‘environmentalists’ in the West who run a perpetual deficit with them…
…. demanding that the Guyana Revenue Authority returns its vehicles in 7 days after lawful seizure for failure to pay taxes
…or just damage the roads and canals of Guyana because this country’s business culture has been warm to the opacity of the ‘silent’ negotiations China prefers…excluding the public at critical junctures…bearing gifts that never filter to the country’s treasury…
There’s a bombast about China’s politicians who feel untapped resources are anomalous and emblematic of government by political Lilliputians. So, they treat host countries like comparative inferiors, as if they have been conquered … as chronicled in the litany of horrific stories by recipients of Chinese aid/FDI …from the shooting of workers in Zambia who protested more pay, to China’s disengaged approach to environmental protection in several countries, including Guyana.
Indeed, the barbs of China’s control over Guyana’s economy took root under the governments immediately preceding this Coalition but there is very little to demonstrate that current government intends to stop the political genuflection at the altar of China’s demands.
They began by accepting ‘China’s dirty million’ for the country’s cleanup efforts immediately after their victory in 2015, then hundreds of thousands for Jubilee celebrations in 2016 – donations from Bai Shan Lin and the Association of Chinese Enterprises in Guyana, all of whom have flagrantly violated contracted business practices and challenged agency authority.
And during the infamous junket to China, Guyana Revenue Authority visited the NUCTECH scanner company, held by Tsinghua Holdings, a State owned Company, whose products were already in Guyana under the Jagdeo government; built in to the aid that Jagdeo had negotiated.
The line of improprieties is long and lengthening….
We understand that the previous government contracted hundreds of thousands of hectares of the nation’s patrimony with callous contempt for the remaining 49% of the ‘six peoples’ …
…that projected revenue from resource extraction is burdened by contracts hatched in the presence of brief cases of cash and envelopes of upfront payments, with sparse details for the public, accounted for by a contortion of figures that travel from debit to credit columns with enough manufactured frequency to fake profitability, then have Guyanese pay for the servicing of debts.
Theirs was an accountant’s alchemy. And the debacle that was National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited NICIL – dissolving an insurance company into the ownership of a Brassington, the brother of the other Brassington, head of NICIL and the construction of the Marriott Hotel contracted to China on the backs of Guyanese tax payers, is a microcosm of the noxious legacy that unconventional accounting has the left behind.
We remember how President Granger, when he was Opposition Leader, demanded transparency on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) contracts involving China Harbour Engineering Company – a classic example of Chinese double dipping, giving aid to erect infrastructure and having this company, a Chinese State Owned Company,‘winning’ the bid on the ‘tender offer’…
…remember how the strategy for the coalition of APNU and AFC during the 2011 elections was made to secure a parliamentary majority to curb deals like the Skeldon Sugar Factory built by China National Import and Export Corporation CNTIC a company best known for importing cars, whose work was so sub standard that Bosch Engineering of South Africa was hired to fix its errors….as Guyanese remain saddled with millions for diminishing returns.
We remember too, the fiery calls from Moses Nagamootoo and Khemraj Ramjattan for the PPP to be ousted because of the deals cut with Chinese, in the dark. And we cringed collectively, when Trotman ‘hailed’ China’s no strings attached loans as being good for Guyana – but chalked it up to a sort of mutation of strategy since he was in the Opposition and may have been subliminally courting the Chinese to discuss the covert nature of PPP business.
These are some of the reasons that the Coalition triumphed in the last general election.
Guyanese wanted a government that would preserve their nation’s sovereignty and place their patrimony, their country’s economic development, ahead China’s stomp to stockpile parts of the world through 99 year leases of their natural resources.
China has had many slogans since the days of Chou, with Deng Xiaoping’s ‘Socialism with Chinese Characteristics’ and ‘Chinese Economic Reform’ throttling its mission for global economic take over by luring resource riches away from poor nations through a maze of nefarious transactions and a potion of extremes and paradoxes, crafted to appeal to the psychology of the resource rich politician.
Political shadow boxing was part of Chou en Lai’s arsenal. He believed in massaging the mind of the politician to secure victory. Winning without fighting was his goal.
The raid on Guyana’s natural resources took root when China’s state-owned Bai Shan Lin was all but granted step child status in 2006 by then President Jagdeo, with full patrimonial rights to the nation’s forest.
Eleven years later, when extractive capitalism is indisputably China’s motive for offering aid to Guyana, the minister of Natural Resources, Trotman, remains committed to old style negotiating rhythms; mum on details of the ongoing oil contracts; making haste slowly to revisit aid agreements; to re-negotiate the 50 and 99 year concession nooses Jagdeo placed around the country’s neck, though they were direct and tangential campaign promises.
In this period of competing contemplations, where government seems to be weighing the cost of confronting China’s agreements against the benefit of righting obvious contractual wrongs, the fact is, the wealth that is Guyana’s has not been impacting the lives of its citizens in any redemptive way.
The country remains within the lowest percentile on poverty economic growth scales because politicians have pawned the practice of transparency for China’s loans which come, not with strings but with ropes and chains instead, as politicians and their extensions barter loyalties for, amongst other things, academic scholarships for their children….
The center of Guyana’s problems remains its governance, its absence of a plan to distribute extracted wealth from origin- community and outward.
So, the question remains that of whether government, particularly this government, has the institutional capacity, the political fortitude, to sit China down and ‘ask for’ a re-write of contracts with the aim of directing the lion’s share of benefits to Guyana.
Any politician and by extension, any government in Guyana that does not have the track record of crime against humanity that preceded this Coalition Administration will qualify for negotiation with the traditional World Bank types.
My sense is that the West would consider this move political check- mate against China’s aid banks and would be willing to slacken credit worthy criteria without removing the humanitarian element that remains a key qualifier for their loans…since this government doesn’t hold that indistinction.
We’re not sure if Mao Tse Tung’s principle, ‘man’s goodness must come ahead of his mere economic progress’ ,was meant to be the ambiguous weapon it has become but we do know that China’s extension of aid to countries challenged by credit -worthiness is a crafty detour to their own political elevation; built on wealth acquired by exploiting policy loopholes and appealing to the lesser parts of politicians who place personal pockets ahead of their people. Owning the better parts of Guyana should never amount to China’s ‘mere economic progress’.
We remember the campaign pledge of this Coalition and it’s pledge to review contracts, as detailed in its Manifesto under sub headings ‘Fighting Corruption’ and ‘Natural Resources Development’. We remember the Financial Times Interview President Granger did shortly after his inauguration, on June 3rd 2015, in which he committed to reviewing “certain contracts” and is quoted as saying: “Too many of the contracts engaged by the previous administration are opaque”.
Frustratingly, ‘investigation commissions’ remain in the ‘to do’ column and Minister of Natural Resources, Trotman, remains snide in responses to requests about contracts that impact the country’s coveted resources.
The diagnosis is now political déjà vu.
Disappointment has become an expectation and every time government officials mimic the conduct of the previous Administration, it becomes perennial grist for the maws of of the PPP, who are plotting a return, more to the country’s coffers than to govern.
President Granger ran on a platform of eradicating administrative vice.
This should not overlook the members of the current Administration.
We were heartened by his inaugural declaration “I shall be a good President for all the people of Guyana” .
We will hold him to that.