As the influence of the U.S. waned over the years and China grew richer, it has begun to see itself as a serious contender for the role of the world cop. And that’s not a mere ambition of an upstart. China has a credible plan, and the resources as well as the spirit to put it into action.
For long, China has been considered as a sweat-shop economy behind an iron curtain trying hard to turn itself into the factory of the world. That’s what China has actually been so far. But over the last few years, under its leader Xi Jinping, it has drastically changed its self-image—from the drudge of the world to a global power out to conquer the whole planet.
Watch the movie Wolf Warriors 2 if you want to know what China thinks of itself. Released in July last year, it’s a military action movie set in a war-torn African country. The protagonist is a rogue special-forces commando imprisoned for fighting the mafia in his hometown. In the African country, he saves the Chinese factory workers and the locals from mercenaries controlled by Americans.
Sounds like a Rambo movie? Well, that’s what it is. A Chinese version of Rambo when China, much like the U.S., has started fancying itself as the world cop. There is an unmistakable American reference in the tag line below the title of the movie—“Whoever attacks China will be killed no matter how far the target is”—reminding you of the George Bush’s post-9/11 speech: “Make no mistake, the United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts.”
Before you laugh the movie off as another example of the copycat Chinese economy, you must know China is spreading his footprint in Africa with factories as well as defence bases. And it’s very much likely that in a decade, there is a Chinese footprint within a few hundred miles of wherever you are in the world.
China has meticulously planned its conquest of the world. It’s ambitious One Belt One Road (OBOR), also called Belt and Road Initiative and the New Silk Road, is a blueprint of a colonial enterprise spread from Asia to Africa to Europe.
That’s not just dreamy ambition of a nation-come-lately. China has meticulously planned its conquest of the world. It’s ambitious One Belt One Road (OBOR), also called Belt and Road Initiative and the New Silk Road, is a blueprint of a colonial enterprise spread from Asia to Africa to Europe.
Inspired by the medieval trade routes between Europe and Asia, OBOR will be a vast network of sea and land routes connecting dozens of countries across the world, impacting 4.4 billion people and costing $4 trillion to $8 trillion (turn over the page to see the map). China is building six major world routes which will include railways lines, roads, ports, oil and gas pipes and other infrastructure projects.
These trade routes will give China access to dozens of small countries in Asia and Africa and several big ones in Europe. Representatives from nearly 65 countries, including 20 heads of state, attended the launch ceremony of OBOR on May last year. Such vast connections will open up new markets for China while benefiting the host countries which will acquire vital infrastructure they cannot build themselves. By building infrastructure in more
than 50 countries, China will have enjoy a clear edge over its rivals, mainly the U.S., Japan and India. China can sell its wares to the developed countries and set up sweat shops in poorer countries as its own manufacturing slows down due to higher cost of power and rising wages. What China is aiming to build is a vast economic empire. It has already begun work on OBOR in right earnest in Asia, Africa and Europe. If China is able to build even half of what it has planned in the next two decades, it will be the global power that no country would be strong enough to challenge.
And OBOR doesn’t mean just economic power. In fact, OBOR is more about geopolitics than economy. It’s a covert military takeover of the world by building bases all over the world under the ruse developing global and infrastructure. Imagine the presence of Chinese military in very nook and corner of the world and Chinese Rambos intervening in local conflicts and punishing American rogues.
But why would a country, even a small one, allow Chinese military presence if it just trades with China or hosts Chinese factories or ports? China has devised a clever plan for that. It gives less-developed countries loans on high rates for infrastructural projects. When the country finds it difficult to repay the loan, it acquires equity in the project, finally getting total control of it. Once it has control of a project, say a port, in a small country, it can put it to whatever use it wants. Sri Lanka has already fallen in the Chinese debt trap while many economists have raised concerns over the OBOR projects in Pakistan.
In a deal worth $1.1 billion, China will control and develop the deep-sea port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka on a 99-year lease. The leasing out of land is a consequence of Sri Lanka being unable to repay expensive infrastructure loans given by China. The money it gets from leasing out the land will be used to repay the Chinese loans.
In case of bigger countries, for example in Europe, OBOR can get China important diplomatic influence. China’s COSCO Shipping, owner of the world’s fourth-largest container fleet, bought a 51 per cent stake in Greece’s largest port, Piraeus, in 2016. Last year in June, Greece blocked a European Union statement at the United Nations criticizing China’s human rights record. In March, Hungary refused to sign an EU letter expressing concern over reports of torture of activists in China. China’s Exim bank is funding the Hungarian stretch of a modernised railway project to ship Chinese goods into Western Europe. As the European Union moves away from the U.S. due to several differences, China is warming up to EU through OBOR.
As China gets richer, it also finds ways and means to spread covert influence in other countries. Last month, the National Endowment for Democracy in the U.S. issued a report called “Sharp Power” which details how China influences other countries by corrupt their politicians, universities, think tanks and businesses.
Last month, there was a Congressional hearing in the U.S. titled, ‘The Long Arm of China: Exporting Authoritarianism With Chinese Characteristics’. It purported to examine the Chinese government’s foreign influence operations intended to censor critical discussion of its history and human rights record and to intimidate critics of its repressive policies.
Congressional-Executive Commission on China, headed by Florida Senator Marco Rubio, believes attempts by the Chinese government to guide, buy, or coerce political influence and control discussion of “sensitive” topics are pervasive, and pose serious challenges in the United States and globally, particularly as China uses technology and the lure of the Chinese market to impose authoritarian practices abroad.
Recently, a media report quoted David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China, saying that China has a strategy to influence public opinion and political opinion in other countries on issues that are important to it. China had undertaken a co-ordinated campaign known as the “united front” to influence events in foreign countries, including Canada, said Mulroney. He said the campaign included mobilizing Chinese students and tapping the diaspora in Canada. There have been controversies over covert Chinese political interference in Australia and New Zealand and spying in Germany.
China’s GDP will overtake that of the U.S. in 2028 at the projected average growth rates of 2% for the U.S. and 6.5% for China.
China’s GDP will overtake that of the U.S. in 2028 at the projected average growth rates of 2% for the U.S. and 6.5% for China. In 2016, China’s trade with the world was slightly more than that of the U.S. China’s notorious copycat economy is fast evolving into a tech and digital powerhouse. It has created several zero-to-billion multinational companies within a few years— Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu, WeChat and Xiaomi. Chinese companies are slowly turning into big multinationals and many will start competing with the Western leaders.
Edward Tse 2015 book ‘China’s Disruptors’ identifies the reasons behind the phenomenal success of Chinese digital giants. He calls it SOOT— scale, openness, official support and technology. Of course, state subsidies and protectionist policies might have helped China project its power in the global corporate world, yet one cannot deny that China has unleashed a great entrepreneurial energy which can catapult it to the world leadership.
If you still laugh off China’s copycat Rambo movie, remember Chinese carmaker Geely. It started off as a refrigerator maker in 1986, made cheap Rolls-Royce copycat Geely GE but grew to buy Volvo’s passenger car business from Ford in 2010. It acquired British taxi maker The London Electric Vehicle Company in 2013. Last year, Geely bought a 49.9% equity in Malaysian carmaker PROTON Holdings and a 51% majority stake in British sports carmaker Lotus Cars. Last month, it also bought Volvo’s truck business. It is now seen as a serious competitor to world’s biggest carmakers.