Seizing an Opportunity

In 2008 François Jackman, a career officer in Barbados’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, was at the end of a rewarding assignment on regional integration and ocean affairs and was looking out for a new challenge within the Ministry.

Two years earlier the Government of Barbados had decided to set up an embassy in Beijing (along with others in Brasilia and Havana), and now the Government of China was offering a three month intensive course in Chinese language, which seemed a good way to equip oneself for assignment to Beijing. François and his colleague Felicia Inniss, who serves with him in the embassy in Beijing, both seized the opportunity. They were rewarded with the assignment to travel to Beijing in October 2009 to establish the embassy, ahead of the arrival of Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford, Barbados’ first resident Ambassador to the People’s Republic.

The process of finding a chancery, a suitable residence for the Ambassador, recruiting interpreters and other local staff, and purchasing vehicles was facilitated by a number of corporations affiliated to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Embassy of Barbados occupies appealing and well equipped offices on a quiet diplomatic campus which it shares with embassies of other small countries.
Relocating to Beijing, where Ambassador Jackman has lived with his family ever since, except for a two-year stint as Co-Director of the Confucius Institute at the Cave Hill Campus of UWI and one year spent as an adviser in the Prime Minister’s Office, has been an ongoing learning experience. China is a socialist one party state, but by virtue of its size and the variety of its institutions, it boasts what might seem from the outside as a surprising variety and competition of ideas. There
is, within limits set by the state, a genuine intensity of research and debate among academics and within universities and think tanks. Even within the Chinese Communist Party, there is debate and discussion, which is highlighted in key meetings such as the annual Economic Work Conference.

Ambassador Jackman points out that Chinese intellectuals by and large seem to have a sense of responsibility for ensuring the success of the strategy of reform and opening up. Universities, government and state institutions academic institutions and private research bodies are well linked up through joint appointments, conferences and other activities.

This discussion and debate informs policy choices, and contributes to
a willingness to adapt strategies in response to experience, that has contributed to the success of Chinese development policy.

Decentralisation has been a long-standing feature of Chinese governance systems, and this characteristic remains in the current arrangements. It contributes to the flexibility and responsiveness to changing circumstances and opportunities that has been a characteristic of the strategy of opening up.

Examples of the devolution of policy responsibilities to provincial, municipal and lower levels include the establishment of special economic zones in Shenzhen by Deng Xiaoping, which ignited the successful policies of opening up, and the special economic relationship which the city of Xiamen has developed with nearby Taiwan.

The pace of change in China is without precedent; since 2008, Ambassador Jackman has seen the remarkable expansion of infrastructure and urbanization
of which China watchers are now aware: the world’s largest high-speed rail network by far, entirely new environmentally-friendly cities being founded, and new construction everywhere, all the time. The pace of technological adoption is if anything more spectacular: in 2008 the Chinese economy was cash-based, but nowadays most urban dwellers function almost entirely with digital payments.

Daily life for Ambassador Jackman, his wife Monique and son Dominic did not take much getting used to. Life in Beijing is, in some respects, quite similar to any major Western city. The Jackman family has an active social life. There is a WeChat group for every interest, and Francois’ passion is tennis. He is a member of two tennis-playing WeChat groups; one is an English-speaking group of expatriates, and our ambassador has enough Chinese to also participate in a Chinese group of tennis enthusiasts. His wife’s Chinese is also quite adequate, his son’s Chinese is far superior and he is somewhat embarrassed by his parents’ mistakes. Jackman looks ahead to intensifying the Barbados-China relationship in several directions, even as the COVID19 pandemic has introduced new elements into the global landscape. China has already provided meaningful support to numerous Caribbean countries, including Barbados, in their management of the pandemic. There are plans afoot to enhance the tourism, business and investment relationship which already benefits from a Bilateral Investment Treaty and a Double Taxation Agreement between the two countries.

The Ambassador also anticipates deepening people-to-people linkages, including possibilities of twinning Bridgetown with Chinese cities. In addition, there are further possibilities for cultural exchanges, including marketing the Fish and Dragon brand in China and exposing Chinese audiences to Caribbean films. Jackman is a died-in-the-wool believer in Caribbean regional integration. His view is that, beyond the important bilateral relationship that exists between Barbados and China, enhanced links between Caribbean regional institutions and their Chinese counterparts offer an additional important dimension. This regional dimension will help to create balance and equity in what is a deeply asymmetric relationship between the world’s most populous country and a region of the world’s smallest countries.