Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, January 09, 2009

Policy road to superpowerdom

Chinese global expansion is not a haphazard project spearheaded by lots of self-interested companies. It's a matter of government policy. The reactions from the "beneficiaries" of Chinese interest resembles the range of reactions to other superpowers.

China's New Empire

"In less than a decade, China has spun a web of strategic investments that stretches from Latin America to the former Soviet Union, from the remotest islands of the South Pacific to the huge oil fields of Angola and Sudan. In a range of resource-rich countries, China is diligently cultivating its interests.

"It is winning political connections, gaining new markets and capturing vital resources. On some continents, China has matched — or even surpassed — the trading muscle of the traditional empire-builders of Europe and the United States.

"China has become a presence in almost every country that has fallen off the mental maps of American and British geopolitical planners. This is how a superpower is born — one sphere of influence at a time.

"It would be naive to see this as normal capitalism. State-controlled Chinese companies obey a policy of "walking out" into the world and acquiring properties for the national interest — nickel and copper projects to feed China's voracious manufacturing sector, oil fields to fuel its cars and industry, logging projects to supply its furniture factories and coal and natural-gas projects to satisfy its energy needs.

"It all has carefully calculated benefits to the Chinese state, which doesn't require short-term profits from these projects. And it is scarcely affected by the Western financial meltdown. Recessions and stock-market crashes are minor speed bumps on China's expressway to global power...

"The President of Senegal put it bluntly: 'The Chinese are more competitive, less bureaucratic and more adept at business in Africa than their critics,' Abdoulaye Wade wrote. 'China's approach to our needs is simply better adapted than the slow and sometimes patronizing post-colonial approach of European investors.'...

"As the global financial crisis deepens, Chinese state companies are increasingly seen as 'white knights' — ready to step in to acquire companies that might otherwise fall into distress. When the Wall Street giant Morgan Stanley struggled this fall, China's wealthy CITIC group reportedly was considering a takeover bid.

"Less than five years after creating the concept, China now supports 249 Confucius Institutes in 78 countries around the world — the equivalent of the British Council or Germany's Goethe Institute, to promote China's language and culture — advancing the cause of the country's "soft power" abroad. In the same time period, it has helped 60,000 teachers promote its language internationally: An estimated 40 million people are now studying Chinese as a second language around the world...

"China's military, too, is following the soft-power strategy: After decades of isolation from UN peacekeeping operations, China is now a highly active participant, having sent more than 10,000 peacekeepers to 18 missions in recent years. This week, Beijing dispatched three naval ships to the coast of Somalia on an unprecedented mission to fight piracy, and confirmed for the first time that it is "seriously considering" building an aircraft carrier for its navy — a dramatic increase in its ability to project power on the world stage.

"But it is China's giant, state-owned multinational corporations that have been the most active in carving out new zones of influence..."

China sails into new world order

"This week, three Chinese vessels join an international task force operating in the Gulf of Aden to protect shipping from attacks by Somali pirates, marking the first time since the 15th century that Chinese warships have sailed so far from home.

"This reflects a marked strengthening of Chinese military capabilities since the country shifted its focus three decades ago from supporting revolutionary movements around the world to the development of its economy...

"It is very likely that, once the Chinese ships begin their patrols, they will find it advantageous to co-ordinate their actions with warships from other countries. This in itself would be a positive development since it would, in effect, revive a military-to-military dialogue with the U.S. that China suspended to protest against arms sales to Taiwan...

"But the bottom line is that China is not only integrated into the world economy but also into all aspects of global life. Protecting its shipping is part and parcel of China's participation in the new world order."

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