Not quite a ditty but, nevertheless, a well written little book, Mark Leonard’s, “What Does China Think?”It reveals a number of interesting facts, while also addressing a some topics that I with my, albeit limited, knowledge of China and Chinese foreign policy already knew. Leonard’s book is not only well written it is also well balanced and free from the type of bias and hype that invariably accompanies Western writers when they write about China; the book does, indeed, try to answer the question that is posed in its title. However, there are other questions within that question and it is to one of them in particular that I would like to turn my attention.
Leonard indirectly asks, does China have a deliberate policy of promoting autocracy throughout the planet or is it simply adopting a neutral approach that puts its own interests first?2 Perhaps, before answering that I should ask a question of my own; does the United States actively promote democracy around the world or is it, in fact, pursuing its own interests? Only an idiot would think that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are about establishing democracy and only an even bigger idiot would apply the term “democratic” to some of “Uncle Sam’s” pals. China and the United States both pursue foreign policies, that, first and foremost, have their own, as Washington and Beijing respectively see them, particular interests at heart. In the case of the United States this has often led to unilateral action that has flauted international law and it has, on many occassions, led to support for some very unsavoury regimes. Of course, supporting Omar al-Bashir in the Sudan and Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, as China does, also helps these two rather nasty characters hold onto power. Nevertheless, China, unlike the United States, will bend to pressure and, regarding the two African states mentioned, it has shifted its tactics and helped facilitate negotiations between the governments and the respective oppositions in both countries. The bottom line is that although China is in Africa mainly to get the raw materials it urgently needs for its own development, it is also constructing infrastructure and investing money in the form of soft loans into a continent that desperately needs both.
Of course, let us have no illusions, China is acting in its own interests first and foremost and we might want to discuss the weapons and surveillance equipment that Beijing also supplies to certain governments.3 However, let us have no illusions full stop. The West too acts in its own interests and it doesn’t only supply weapons of war, it is invariably the root cause of that war. In 1896 the British and the French had a little altercation in the Sudan in what became known as the “Fashoda Incident”. It was all about dividing Africa up into spheres of interests and that in turn led to drawing straight lines all over the continent of Africa that ignored tribal and ethinic borders and strangely enough a lot of the wars that we have in Africa today are basically tribal disputes. The history of the West in Africa is hardly exemplary and the hypocrisy and platitudes that come out of London, Washington and Paris are offensive to say the least. Today, China’s involvement in Africa is, on the whole, a positive development for both Africa and China.
1 ‘What Does China Think’, London, 2008
2 Ibid pp 125, 126
The above is a map showing Chinese direct investment in Africa in 2005. The Africans might be pleased to know that the IMF is unlikely to arrive with its “conditions” for some time as the IMF doesn’t have much money to spare these days anyway.
Do you see all the nice straight borders on the map? the borders that aren’t straight tend to follow a dried up river or a stream or a lake. Ethnic groups have been split up. Straight lines and otherwise arbitary borders are a legacy of colonialism and it is a legacy that is at the root of a lot of wars all over the planet.