The Asian Imperialist: China
Author: Udipto Sarmah
College: National Law University Odisha
“Imperialism occurs when a strong nation takes over a weaker nation or region and dominates it’s economic, political, and cultural life.
Industrialized countries of the west sought to expand their economies by obtaining raw materials, which could be transported back to factories, turned into manufactured goods, and shipped back to the colonies markets for sale.[i]
The author has divided the above definition into two parts purposefully in order to highlight the subtle characteristic in what we perceive to be Imperialism in modern-day society.
In the first component of the above definition, Imperialism has been defined as an act of ‘physical’ and territorial dominance, where a stronger country ‘takes over’ a weaker country. But this explanation is narrow in its perspective and does not take into account the fact that Colonisation is strictly passe in the current political and sociological environment.
Instead, what takes place in our present environment is something, which I define as Shadow Imperialism.
Shadow imperialism is a phenomenon in which the stronger countries of the world exert control over a nation diplomatically, militarily and financially without actually conquering or taking over a country or region physically.
Examples include the interventionist activities of the United States of America in various countries of Latin America and the Middle East, European bulk investment in Asian countries and Africa, and Chinese investment and militarisms in countries situated in Africa, North and South America generally referred to as ‘Latin America’. In the second part of the definition, the focus on Western countries as Imperialists exploiting the unmentioned but prodded towards Asian and African countries is what brings me to the crux of what the author will be exploring in this article, which is THE ASIAN IMPERIALIST: CHINA.
The article focuses on China and its rise as the first, modern-day Asian ‘shadow’ imperialist through a three-pronged approach: –
1) Psychological-Historical Imperialism
2) Economic Imperialism and its Social Consequences
3) Geopolitical and Militarian Imperialism
The rise of China as the first modern-day Asian imperialist is driven at its roots by an inherent anger and thirst for revenge against the throttlers of Chinese expression and pride.
European imperialism and even Asian imperialism by Japan, although short-lived was on the rise at a time when China’s stock was falling due to the handiwork of the British on Chinese peace and international aloofness. China as a country was territorially too huge and fractured in unity to fight against imperialism inflicted on it or act out its own. This went hand in hand with the British’s policy of divide and rule and helped them drive a wedge deep into Chinese strength and peace.
This coupled with Japanese arbitrariness in Manchuria, contributed to the Chinese becoming a very angry nation. But until Oct 01, 1949 when Chairman Mao announced the creation of a United People’s Republic of China (PRC), Chinese sentiment did not have a uniform voice. In the development of China from a Communist Agrarian economy to a Capitalist Industrialist economy, Chinese retribution has found a medium to be expressed through. With the establishment of overseas Military camps and building of artificial islands in the South China Sea, China is tunneling through its collective historical shame and inferiority complex into an era of dominance. Therefore, before we went into how China has become an Imperialist in contemporary Politics, it was very important to understand why China became a modern-day ‘shadow’ Imperialist.
To give the readers a rough understanding of where China actually stands in terms of its economic dominance, the author will be presenting two primary facts.
Firstly, China’s U.S. bond holdings have made it the largest holder of US debt as a nation. China stands in the third position[ii] only after the Social Security funds and the Federal Reserve, the Central Bank of USA. Its bond holdings have been determined to be around the figures of 1.75 trillion US$.
Secondly, the China Development Bank and the China EXIM Bank lent more than the World Bank to developing countries in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Both of these are state-owned banks and the money lent has been estimated to be around $110 billion, which might be a gross underestimate as China doesn’t tend to release its official figures.
China’s efficiency in production results in large-scale capital accumulation for the Chinese government, resulting in a very fast growth of its foreign exchange reserves. This coupled with a strikingly low external debt of the Chinese in contrast to its competitors (13% of GDP of China = 74% of GDP of Japan, 126% of Australia and 97% of US) enables China to undertake massive investments and incur losses if required. In doing this China gains allies, which in turn facilitates China’s ‘Shadow Imperialism’, incurring a feeling of indebtedness in these allies, which might be exploited in many microforms, through various mediums, and on numerous platforms.
Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) in Africa has also been massive with about 2,200 or more Chinese enterprises currently operating in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).
Additionally, a new $200 million African Union (AU) HQ in Addis Ababa[iii], the capital of the country of Ethiopia is a part of China’s investment portfolio in Africa increasing Chinese share in infrastructure building to 2/3rd of the total funding. But in contrast, the real implication of the ‘gifts’ of the Chinese is, as stated by the World Bank-
“One-third of China’s energy imports come from Sub-Saharan Africa, a vital trade link, especially as energy consumption rates in China have grown by more than twice the global average over the past 10 years.”
In light of the above example, this article will put forward one of the most focal and primary points to establish Chinese Shadow Imperialism.
China’s Circular Cash Theory:
“Chinese infrastructure projects in Africa are actually undertaken by Chinese PSUs instead of local African companies, with the majority stake being held by the Chinese government and the other by its intermediaries. Therefore, instead of the investment improving the African economy, it circles back into Chinese pockets”.
2/3rd of the Zambian population continues to remain in poverty and the only 1/10th has had basic education. It has been observed that unlike the western lenders, Chinese state-run banks do not have restrictions and policies to determine labor and environmental standards, cutting costs for the countries taking the loans and giving them a transient autonomy. Even in Latin America, Chinese investments are preferred because they do not require ‘liberal economic reforms and democratization’.
However, China is not a ‘better’ imperial option: and just like 19th-century colonialists, when the Chinese build roads and schools, the goal is to extract resources and build allegiances.[iv]
Chinese employers are also known to often pay labor rates far below the globally accepted minimum wage rate. Chinese employers often tend to side-step local contract agreements made with the local leaders and import Chinese technology and workers, aping Western colonialists in the 19th and 20th century.
Geopolitical and Militarian Imperialism (GMI)
China, by establishing a military outpost in Djibouti — 7700 kilometers away from the political center of Beijing and near some of the world’s most politically fragile areas has rung a warning bell for its rivals. 2,500 Chinese soldiers and police officers are currently in deployment in the blue-helmet missions across Africa, with the largest deployment in South Sudan, according to the ECFR Report. But the irony is that;
Africa is home to an estimated one million Chinese nationals, with many employed in infrastructure projects backed by the Chinese government.[v] It is an expansion of its military policy and mere want to protect its own interests. China is the third-largest exporter of conventional and small arms to Africa after Germany and Russia.[vi] China also provides training for the military and engages in bilateral and multilateral military exercises with some 25 African nations.
Geopolitically, China has instituted an aggressive reclamation program, creating man-made islands out of shallow reefs to reinforce its South China Sea claims[vii]. In highly Imperialistic behavior, China is a signatory of the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea completely ignored the rulings in favor of Philippines by The Hague Court to continue its aggressive reclamation and ruling of these islands.
In another striking case of Chinese geopolitical Imperialism, the take-over of Papua New Guinea’s Ramu Nickel mine will in the next 20 years annually produce nearly 32, 000 tons of nickel and 3,000 tons of Cobalt, all of which will be shipped to China also damaging the region environmentally.
China’s lightning pace of aggressive nationalism and international strong-hand has gone on to truly establish it as the first modern-day Asian Imperialist. Through its Shadow Imperialism, China has increased its stronghold over the highly contested Latin American and African political scene through economic dole-outs, military deployments and political agreements enabling them to control the foreign policy of these dependent countries. In modern-day society, Imperialism can be seen extending its icy hands when a country votes against its own belief system or political will in the UN General Assembly.
With the OBOR coming to fruition, the world can only wait and watch as the Chinese Dragon prepares to spew fire.
[ii] newpol.org/content/china’s-emergence- imperialist-power
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