Monday 10th December 2018

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The new colonialists

China’s overseas expansion raises concerns of influence and arrogance

by Greg Klein

The country boosts its domestic industries through state-sanctioned dumping along with lax environmental, health and safety standards. Aggressive overseas expansion provides money and infrastructure to struggling nations in return for resources and acquiescence. Espionage, counterfeit exports, currency manipulation, economic warfare, intellectual theft—“particularly the systematic theft of U.S. weapons systems”—that’s all part of China’s goal to gain “veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic and security decisions,” according to a recent U.S. study ordered by President Donald Trump.

So it seems a bit anti-climactic to accuse the Red Dragon of arrogance.

But could that become China’s undoing, especially when the arrogance reflects racism? Examples from Kenya reveal a steady stream of racially charged incidents. Among the most recent was ongoing racist abuse from the manager of a Chinese-owned assembly plant. A Chinese company running a much bigger Kenyan operation, the Standard Gauge Railway, faces accusations of practising racial preferences and segregation. Further accounts relay instances of demeaning treatment, even assaults, on African workers in their own countries by Chinese bosses.

China’s overseas expansion brings allegations of influence and arrogance

That might be more a side effect than part of the official agenda, which is alarming in itself. According to Globe and Mail Africa correspondent Geoffrey York, Chinese influence “is sharply increasing in African media, academia, politics and diplomacy.” Earlier this month he reported that a South African newspaper chain backed by Chinese investors fired a columnist who denounced their country’s treatment of Muslims.

“In Zambia, heavily dependent on Chinese loans, a prominent Kenyan scholar was prevented from entering the country to deliver a speech critical of China. In Namibia, a Chinese diplomat publicly advised the country’s president to use pro-China wording in a coming speech. And a scholar at a South African university was told that he would not receive a visa to enter China until his classroom lectures contain more praise for Beijing.”

York pointed to “the huge number of African leaders who flock to the summit of China’s main African organization, the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC),” an annual conference featuring announcements of Chinese financial aid. At last month’s event, President Xi Jinping promised grants, loans and investments totalling $60 billion, equaling an amount pledged three years earlier.

China’s massive African infrastructure projects, built by Chinese companies that often enjoy Chinese government financial support, include railways and hydro-electric power. But Chinese interests also get their hands on Africa’s mineral resources as well as oil and gas reserves, not to mention new markets for Chinese exports. Chinese loans have been criticized for overwhelming African countries with debt.

In the values that it promotes, in the manner that it operates and in the impact that it has on African countries, FOCAC refutes the view that a new colonialism is taking hold in Africa, as our detractors would have us believe.—South African
President Cyril Ramaphosa

Then there’s the political influence. The spectacle of African leaders singing China’s praises has provoked cynicism that South African President and FOCAC co-chairperson Cyril Ramaphosa tried to dispel: “In the values that it promotes, in the manner that it operates and in the impact that it has on African countries, FOCAC refutes the view that a new colonialism is taking hold in Africa, as our detractors would have us believe.”

Those remarks might alternately challenge or support allegations of sycophancy. But York notes China’s success in convincing African countries to drop their support for Taiwan, promoting Chinese language and culture, increasing media ownership with attendant interference, and—laughably, considering the communist state’s journalistic standards—providing “‘training’ for 1,000 African media professionals annually.”

Such are the challenges faced by the developing world. And others too.

From Australia come additional examples. “The hubris of the Chinese Communist Party has reached a great and giddy high,” the Sidney Morning Herald declared last month. International editor Peter Hartcher recounted a meeting between Chinese finance minister Lou Jiwei and Australian treasurer Joe Hockey in which Lou lit a cigarette without asking permission, then badgered the Aussie with big talk that included offers to take over Rio Tinto, buy 15% of the top 200 ASX-listed companies or grab multi-billion-dollar positions in Australian banks.

Hartcher mentioned another incident a few years ago, when “a Chinese minister walked into the Parliament House office of an Australian Liberal Party minister in the course of a negotiation.

“The visitor sat on the sofa, reclined with his hands locked behind his head, and put his feet up on the coffee table. He crossed his ankles casually, the soles of his shoes pointed towards his Australian host. A mere detail, yes, but a telling one. It infuriated the Australian, who was still steaming as he recounted the story years later.”

Then there’s the threats. In a Sydney meeting last year, Hartcher writes, Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten and two of his key people heard Chinese Communist Party official Meng Jianzhu demand their party support an extradition treaty. They objected, largely due to China’s death penalty.

“To get his way, Meng threatened to mobilize the Chinese diaspora living in Australia to vote against the Labor party. The Labor leaders were unbowed and unimpressed. ‘We cannot let these bastards push us around,’ one later remarked to a colleague. Labor continued to oppose the extradition treaty.”

Score one for Down Under determination. Hartcher warns that China could meet its comeuppance once the country’s economic growth stops, possibly in a decade or so. Still, that gives the Middle Kingdom considerable time to expand its influence in acquiescent countries, which need not be limited to the developing world.

Like Canada, for example. Do our politicians match Australian Labor’s resolve? Do our media match the Sidney Morning Herald’s candour? Or would the example of HD Mining International, which planned to staff underground operations at a British Columbia mine exclusively with Chinese workers, typify Canada’s response?


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