02 February 2007

China: New Superpower or Age Old Imperialist?

China has always held a certain fascination for people in the West, from Marco Polo's expedition, the Opium Wars, Japanese occupation to Chairman Mao’s Revolution, but never quite so much as the scrutiny that China is under today.

Scrutiny may not be the right word, possibly morbid fascination is better.

We are frequently told by the media that China is the next Superpower and almost daily there are stories of China's Great industrial leap forward.
Now such a frenetic pace of industrialisation requires raw materials and Chinese leaders have long recognised that fact, so President Hu Jintao’s constant tours should come as no surprise to anyone as The Times reports:

“President Hu Jintao began an eight-nation tour of Africa yesterday, seeking to reaffirm China’s commitment to the continent at a time of international and domestic concern over Beijing’s growing influence.

Mr Hu’s 12-day visit, his third since coming to power in 2003, takes him to Cameroon, Liberia, Zambia, Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique, Seychelles and Sudan. He is expected to announce new investment worth billions of dollars and to follow through on promises of aid, including debt relief, made during last year’s Africa summit in Beijing.

Trade between Africa and China has risen fourfold this decade to $40 billion (£20 billion) in 2005, driven by China’s voracious appetite for natural resources, particularly oil.

The burgeoning relationship between China and Africa has passed largely unchallenged, with African leaders keen to take advantage of investment and aid that is delivered with few strings attached at a time when Western trade partners are imposing onerous conditions of accountability and the environment.

Now the relationship is being questioned, in Africa and beyond. Domestically, there is alarm at the adverse impact on local companies of a flood of cheap Chinese manufactured goods. In elections in Zambia in December the opposition attacked China’s “exploitation of workers” and low safety standards in copper mines that it took over, near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Internationally, there is unease about Beijing’s support for dictatorial regimes such as Zimbabwe and the DRC, and of China’s willingness to overlook human rights abuses. The most pressing example is Sudan, which will play host to Mr Hu on Friday.

The country has become a vital source of oil, pumped from oilfields developed by the China National Petroleum Corporation. China receives about 350,000 barrels a day through a Chinese-built pipe-line to ships off Port Sudan, financed by Beijing at a cost of £4.2 billion.

Sudan has used some of the revenues to reequip its armed forces, which have been waging a brutal campaign in the Sudanese region of Darfur. More than 200,000 people have been killed and three million have fled their homes over the past three years, in what President Bush has repeatedly labelled a genocide.

During this period China, one of Khartoum’s few allies, has threatened to wield its Security Council veto to prevent tough UN measures against Sudan over Darfur. Its stand has led to mounting criticism over its support of the hardline Muslim Government of President Omar al-Bashir.

Aid agencies hope that Mr Hu will use China’s leverage to persuade Sudan to accept a greater role for the UN in Darfur. Urged on by Ban Ki Moon, the Secretary-General, the Chinese Government is under pressure to force Khar-toum to reach agreement over the deployment of international peacekeepers.

Chinese officials say that Mr Hu would be looking to help to broker lasting peace in Darfur. “I believe this visit will not only boost bilateral ties, but also peace and stability in the region,” said Zhai Jun, the Assistant Foreign Minister, on the eve of the Africa mission. Mr Zhai said that criticism of China’s relationship with Africa was unfounded. He said that Beijing was trying to help Africa to build infrastructure and alleviate poverty.

Shi Yinhong, of the International Relations department of the People’s University in Beijing, said: “Hu Jintao wants to persuade Sudan not to reject the UN resolution. This will bring moral and diplomatic pressure on Sudan and also help China’s ties with the US, the EU and greater Africa.”

Such a situation is all the more curious given China's appalling human rights record, occupation and annexation of Tibet, and long history of environmental pollution.

But what is odd is how the outcome of China's actions are often swept under the carpet, we hear comparatively little of their consequences

China is happy to use military force when needed (Tibet) or threaten it (Taiwan) and will do business with the most unsavoury dictators and repressive regimes in the world, for the sake of raw materials.

China is in dire need of oil and I suspect that if their sources in the Middle East are threatened then there will be an entirely different type of reaction from China, which will make contemporary “imperialists” look positively benevolent.

Best to remember that the situation in Tibet shows us how China will react when she has the upper hand.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

What is with the mentality of Western Bloggers to consistently frame China as a power hungry, resource driven, Devil dealing country, when the Western powers, especially the USA is doing the same thing in the Middle East, if not worse.
"China is in dire need of oil and I suspect that if their sources in the Middle East are threatened then there will be an entirely different type of reaction from China, which will make contemporary “imperialists” look positively benevolent." This is exactly what the US is doing NOW in Iraq - securing their resources of oil. So explain to me how China is going to make the US, a "contempory imperialist look positively benevolent"? Maybe China will get really mad and build them a new bridge.
Remember, who supported Saddam by giving him bio-weapons - the USA. Also, it's best to remember how the US is acting now when it has the upper hand in Iraq. Tibet is now open to tourist with the capacity to arrive in a state of the art luxury train. Soon there will be a KFC, McD's, etc, etc. there - I doubt if these companies will want to do business in Iraq. now.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

"Remember, who supported Saddam by giving him bio-weapons - the USA. Also, it's best to remember how the US is acting now when it has the upper hand in Iraq. Tibet is now open to tourist with the capacity to arrive in a state of the art luxury train. Soon there will be a KFC, McD's, etc, etc. there - I doubt if these companies will want to do business in Iraq. now."

A compelling set of (bullshit) arguments if I have ever seen one.

Most probably one of the Chinese-sponsored Internet activists. Or a usual anti-American "enemy of my enemy" ijit...

Steve said...

Good post, Modblog!

You are right that China's geo-political ambitions are downplayed both by China, for obvious reasons, and the west, for commercial reasons.

China-watcher Martin Jaques said that China is not promoting economic growth for its own sake but as a means to an end - i.e. to give it military and political power.

I think he's right:

http://pubphilosopher.blogs.com/pub_philosopher/2005/06/chinese_imperia.html