“Everybody wants to go on the China trip,” my source confided last week.
“Carnival is bacchanal, but the jostling to go on the Prime Minister’s China trip is bigger than that, right now. Forget Carnival, pan, Bunji and Machel…the real entertainment is watching people playing important and trying to get on that plane.”
After Carnival the Prime Minister is expected to visit China, the middle kingdom, officially taking along a large contingent of invitees, ministers and private sector officials.
“It is in China the real ole mas will play out,” he added. The reality of his comments sickened me, because they suggested that an official economic-cultural visit to the second largest world power was becoming a junket for self-seeking political friends and party supporters.
Any genuine exposure to China’s 5,000-year history could bring tremendous benefits to this country. Significantly, China officially recognises the contribution of Trinidadian lawyer Eugene Chen (Chen Youren) to its modern history.
A little known fact is that Chen (1878-1944) served as China’s first foreign minister in Sun Yat-sen’s founding republican government which overthrew the line of imperial dynasties.
He was instrumental in formulating the young republic’s anti-imperialist policies and was considered, as one historian wrote, “arguably China’s most important diplomat of the 1920s”.
Hopefully, the T&T contingent will go beyond the festivities and pause on the trip to examine the present state of their country from a distance, with the reminder that over the spread of history countries and civilisations have glittered for a time, and then declined because of the disastrous decisions of their people and their leadership.
The visit to China could provide one of the best opportunities to consider such a decline. That country remains to some one of history’s great puzzles. It developed, inter alia, paper, gun-powder, woodblock printing, porcelain, the competitive examination for public servants.
More interesting is the fact that some 87 years before Columbus, China’s legendary admiral, Zheng, began the first of his seven world expeditions, considered to be among the most ambitious in history.
His vessels reflected the 15th-century Ming dynasty’s ambition for power and imperial expansion, and were said to be larger and better constructed than those of Columbus and Vasco da Gama.
In that golden age, Zheng’s first expedition comprised 28,000 men and 317 vessels. During his later trips, between 1405 and 1433, he explored the Indian Ocean, south-east Asia and reached the African coast.
But in the 1430s, the new emperor decided against Zheng’s trade and exploratory expeditions. A later decree reduced the size of Chinese vessels, and by 1525 coastal authorities were ordered to destroy ocean-going vessels, and imprison their owners.
That policy continued with the succeeding Qing dynasty which scorched the country’s 700-mile southern coast, officially ending China’s exploration of the outside world.
Its maritime industry took some 300 years to recover; the first Chinese vessel capable of visiting Europe sailed to the Great London Exhibition in 1851.
Nearly 500 years later it is projected that the Chinese economy will overtake the US economy by 2027 and, given its population size and double-digit growth, China’s transformation will then be still only at mid-stage.
China decline is worthy of examination because it contains lessons for us in T&T; every day we in T&T witness leadership decisions pledging millions in revenue to projects, almost at whim, alongside reports of corruption and kick-backs, with special favours to party fundamentalists and the tribe.
As the Government plans this official trip there appears to be a vainglorious notion of its economic necessity because all is well at home.
But all is not well in T&T. There is the continuing Petrotrin environmental disaster; unanswered questions about the fires at the Beetham dump; the societal crises of school violence, and teenage pregnancies; the flood of fraudulent qualifications among state executives and board members, and corruption in state enterprises; the backlog of cases in the Judiciary; the 50-plus murders in 2014 which remain mostly unsolved — to name a few issues.
Then add last year’s report of the Council of Hemispheric Affairs in Washington which said “gangs have a stronger hold on the Trinidadian population than its government”, and its warning against the trend of the “so-called South American method of gang-warfare”.
Include, too, the current investigation here by US agencies into the $644 million drug bust in Virginia.
The rapidity with which these issues appear have tended to distract public attention away from two of T&T biggest unresolved challenges — the Section 34 scandal, and Emailgate, both of which hold grave implications for the future of the Government.
It is said that countries decline when their people fail to anticipate a problem before it arrives; when the problem does arrive, it is not perceived; when eventually it is perceived it is ignored. Finally, when the people attempt to solve it, then it may be too late.
The PM’s visit should not be another junket; instead, there should be an official checklist on what T&T could learn from China.
• Keith Subero, a former
Express news editor, has
since followed a career in
communication and management