China in the Caribbean/The Caribbean in China

Principal Investigator: Deborah Thomas, R. Jean Brownlee Term Professor of Anthropology, Department of Anthropology

Lead School: School of Arts and Sciences

Penn Partners: Fox Leadership Initiative

Chinese Partners: Jamaican Embassy in Beijing, Peking University

Other Partners: University of California, Berkeley

Project Abstract

China’s President Xi Jinping set an investment goal of $500 billion in trade with Latin America and the Caribbean for the five years between 2015 and 2019. While the largest share of this investment goes to Brazil, Jamaica is the hub of Chinese investment in the Anglophone Caribbean. China’s investments in Latin America and Africa have centered primarily around mining and infrastructure, and this has also been the case in the Caribbean. While few economists and policy-makers have addressed issues related to Chinese involvement in Latin America and the Caribbean, and while there has been quite a bit of historical research on Chinese immigration to the Americas, there has been little extended ethnographic research exploring the various dimensions and effects of Chinese investment in Latin America or the Caribbean.

This project uses ethnography to explore the contemporary presence of China in the Caribbean. The project began in Beijing during the summer of 2017 with the organization of a workshop at the Penn Wharton China Center, and film screenings at various other locations. The workshop posed the following questions: How has contemporary Chinese investment and aid been related to questions of governance? What are the long-term policy implications of contemporary investment patterns, especially as they relate to labor, social development, and the environment? What sorts of relationships, if any, have emerged between newer and long-standing Chinese communities throughout the region?  Can we glean insights into these questions from African contexts? And what kinds of issues are specific to small island nations?

The goal of this project as a whole is to create a network of qualitative social scientists conducting ethnographic research on the new Chinese presence in the Caribbean.