At a symposium sponsored by the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington which had as its theme: “The impact of China on the Caribbean”, one of the panellists, Dr Richard Bernal, is reported to have said that Chinese aid was replacing that previously provided by traditional sources in the West.
Bernal noted that the interest which China was showing in the Caribbean was being driven primarily by diplomatic rivalries with Taiwan.
The assertiveness of Beijing in the Caribbean is however driven by other important considerations.
China has a conscious plan to “rise peacefully” and seize world power from the west in general and the US in particular. As far as the Chinese are concerned, world leadership is rightfully theirs. They claim that they were once world leaders, but were humiliatingly evicted from their hegemonic position by Western countries who imposed unequal “treaties” on them, using then new naval technology and weapons of mass destruction. England, China complains, sailed up the Yangzi in 1842, and “bombarded China into submission’ during the “opium wars” of 1839-1942, and forced her to hand over Hong Kong and other ports and also to pay reparations.
What is taking place now is a peaceful exercise to recover lost grandeur and greatness. The exercise is an historical inevitability. As one of China’s leading intellectuals explained, “the Chinese are very proud of their early achievements in the history of human civilisation. In the last 2,000 years, China has enjoyed superpower status several times, such as the Han dynasty, the Tang dynasty and the early Qing dynasty…This history of superpower status makes the Chinese people very proud of the country on the one hand, and on the other hand very sad about China’s current international status. They believe China’s decline is a historical mistake which must be corrected. The Chinese regard their rise as regaining China’s lost international status rather than as obtaining something new.
The Chinese boast that they were a great civilisation when the counties and people of the west were barbarians. They also claim that they have a civilisational mission to spread their wings that is more justified than that which was undertaken in the 19th century by France, Britain or the United States which are new civilisations when one compares them with that of China.
The Chinese have a hierarchical view of the world and do not conceal that they have a strategic plan to make Africa, the Caribbean and the countries in their periphery—such as North and South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myamar, and Thailand, which were once tributaries to their empire. As Martin Jacques, the author of the new book, When China Rules The World, puts it, “these countries would not simply be economics supplicants of a hugely powerful China, but also occupy a position of cultural and ethnic inferiority in an increasingly influential Chinese ordered global hierarchy”.
China’s imperial thrust into the world is also driven by a quest for world economic dominion. China is however a resource poor country and needs to source and lock in the many hydro-carbons which it needs to feed its hungry industries. It is seeking to buy up existing companies all over the world, including the US, and is also busy penetrating many African states which produce strategic raw material—particularly with Angola(oil), Zambia (copper), Sudan (oil), and Guyana( bauxite). Some say that Zambia has already become a virtual province of China.
China’s activities in Africa, the Caribbean and elsewhere have had mixed responses. Ruling elites generally welcome the Chinese who offer them cash inducements (bribes really) and also because they construct mega-projects such as highways, railroads, sports stadia, public buildings etc to their constituents.
These infrastructural projects are also a fertile source of “free money” which is used by politicians to fund their political activities, and more particularly to enrich themselves.
China is also welcomed by the African ruling elites whom they support politically since, unlike the west, they make no effort to install democratic political governance systems since they themselves are not committed to a rights culture or the good governance mantra as defined by Washington et al. The terms of the Beijing Consensus involves non-interference in the politics of the client country.
Critics however claim that the relationships between China and new client states is unbalanced in that the latter get locked into treaties that are as unequal as those which were once imposed on China in the 19th century. Complaints are often made that when the Chinese become engaged on a project, they travel with everything they need and more—their own workers, building and construction equipment, food and much else, and do not add much value as they build. In sum, what they offer is no different to the “tied aid” that the west once “gave” the new states of Asia and Africa.
One South African scholar recently complained that China is helping to deindustrialise Africa. As Mr Mbeki writes, “Africa sells raw materials to China and China sells manufactured products to Africa. This is a dangerous equation that reproduces Africa’s old relationship with colonial powers. The relationship is not sustainable for a number of reasons. First, Africa needs to preserve its natural resources to use in the future for its own industrialisation. Secondly, China’s export strategy is contributing to the deindustrialisation of some middle income countries…”
How and when will the contest end? Ian Morris, author of newly- published Why The West Rules-For Now, speculates that China will overtake the West early in the 22nd century unless humankind destroys itself by environmental or nuclear disasters or by some global pandemic not currently on our radars. Many other American scholars believe that China could well achieve its strategic goals earlier.
As Thomas Friedman of the New York Times and author of The World is Flat,writes, “Who will tell the people? China and India have been catching up to America via not only cheap labour and currencies. They are catching us because they now have free markets like we do, access to capital and technology like we do, but most importantly, values like our great generation had. That is willingness to postpone gratification, invest in the future, work harder than the next guy and hold their kids to the highest expectations. As long as that is the case, we are No. 2.”
Other economists like Paul Krugman are calling on the US government to stand up to China on the value of the Chinese currency, trade surpluses etc, before all is lost. As Krugman worriedly asked, “Will US policy makers be spooked by financial phantoms and bullied by business intimidation. Will they continue to do nothing in the face of policies that benefit Chinese special interests at the expence of both Chinese workers? Or will they finally act?”
We note “however” that 700,000 foreign companies have set up branch units in China in the last two decades! No wonder many are saying that bar the shouting, the battle is already lost. The Olympics may in fact be regarded as a celebration of Beijing’s triumph.
– Selwyn Ryan