Napoleon was right. Okay, so he was tragically wrong deciding to go on his long march to Moscow. But over China he was spot on.
The actual words and the timing of his quote vary but they all match. Example: Historians say that in 1803 he once pointed on a map to China, then a distant and little-known place, and said: “Here lies a sleeping giant. Let him sleep, for when he wakes he will shock the world.”
No question Napoleon was basing his concerns on the reports of Jesuit missionaries who had then been in China for two centuries, some of them with the ear of the emperor as confidantes in the Forbidden City.
Their reports sound like medieval versions of the modern world’s financial pages.
In 1404, famed Chinese explorer-admiral Zheng-He, a eunuch, led out a fleet of 317 huge junks, some six-masted, more than 100 metres long, a total crew of 28,000.
The fleet travelled around Asia and Africa with silks, porcelains and other precious cargo for rulers before sailing home with full holds of various needs for an already powerful nation. Six others followed over the years.
More importantly, those old Jesuit parchments make vividly clear that Peking’s latest carefully orchestrated world expansion has historic precedents.
China has been there before. Not junks now but a string of vast Chinese-built container ports across Asia and Africa, their prototype a huge inland port 2000 kilometres up the Yangtze River to service, among other things, a new purpose-built electronics city built from scratch over 100 square kilometres. It is expected to produce 80 million laptops a year.
Super-speed trains, now in regular service, and the world’s fastest, built from dream to delivery in three years, will criss-cross Asia, to link with Europe at 350km an hour, others to take the faithful to Mecca.
It’s a sequel to the events of the Opium Wars and Boxer Rebellion in which a medieval society could not cope with the policies and power of the West. Who is calling the shots now?
In the contest of this evolving phase of 21st century history, one column reader has these concerns:
“Are John Key’s advisers completely ignorant of what China is doing in the rest of the world? We are almost the last to be picked off.
“This is what is happening in the world beyond these shores. China has taken advantage of Greece’s weakness and bought half of the ancient port of Piraeus in Greece intending to develop it into a port as big as Rotterdam.
“They can then inject their exports all through Europe on the fast rail network they are building in Europe. Piraeus will also give them access to the Black Sea and into Russia. The Greeks are rioting about it.
“And they haven’t yet had the experience of China’s domination. Africa already has though – so much so that Prime Minister Mbeki has said Africa is an economic colony of China.
“But as Martin Jacques, author of When China Rules The World, has pointed out, with economic domination comes cultural domination. China’s civilisation will also dominate the world.
“Michael Sata, opposition leader in Zambia where there are 80,000 Chinese workers, says China has `little interest in human rights … they’re only interested in exploiting African resources, bringing in their own workers and equipment and paying no taxes … We want the old colonial rulers to return. They exploited our natural resources too, but they took care of us, they built schools, taught us their language and brought us British civilisation’.
“Already mine disasters have been covered up and there have been riots all over Africa about working conditions in Chinese companies.
“Anyone who has lived in a Chinese society knows that Chinese culture is not interested in human rights, or accepted world norms of behaviour in trade and international affairs, is careless of the environment and cruel to animals. Desertification and pollution in China have so diminished the amount of agricultural land that the Chinese are buying up land in other countries to feed their people. In Zimbabwe they are acquiring the farms white settlers were expelled from, and Robert Mugabe has been given, among other titles, `China’s No 1 Friend’.
“South Australian MP Robert Brokenshire has talked of Chinese vultures circling Australian farms, while in the US, they are buying up big – time, both mortgaged homes and firms.
“Among six firms just acquired in Pennsylvania is a wood industry where a Mr Yu was quoted as saying he’s bought because `Pennsylvania has good hardwood resources and the aboriginal people in the North Pennsylvanian woods are good workers’. He was referring to the religious Amish people.
“Canada and the US ended their traditional trade in beef and wood in 2002 to make trade agreements with China. This thin end of the wedge has prompted a worried reaction that there are only 30 million Canadians and the Chinese have an army of two million if they wanted to dominate Canada more directly.
“Then there is China’s so-called String of Pearls all round Asia – ports they’ve financed and developed in Bangladesh, Pakistan, six in Myanmar, more in Thailand and Cambodia, thus ringing their rival India. These trade routes between ports all the way back to China, not only transport oil, but the ports can also be turned into a military threat. The ports and their routes spread across the Indian Ocean, to Sri Lanka, Maldives, islands in the Arabian Sea, the Persian Gulf, and up to Gwador in Pakistan.
“This list is only a cursory skim through all China’s interests spreading around the world.
“If we allow Chinese investment in New Zealand land and farms, we give away our sovereignty over them, because China simply ignores local laws and customs if they don’t suit them. We will be unable to protect the animals or the environment from their methods of ruthless exploitation.
“And when economic domination occurs, so does cultural domination. We will lose our belief in a compassionate society, where reverence for life and respect for the environment will be a thing of the past.
“Waving flags to free Tibet will become irrelevant if the spread of Chinese power goes unchecked in this country.”
– Brian Easton