Sunday, May 04, 2008

Chinese Imperialism

Chinese economic and diplomatic expansion in Africa has often been reported upon , so to has its support for the Burmese Junta and of course the Chinese occupation of Tibet , and many on the Left seem to believe that compared with American imperial ambitions, Beijing's striving for world power and dominance should be defended , at most , as a counter -balance to Washington hegemony.

Reported in the BBC , China is boosting its political and economic influence in the South Pacific region which was long dominated by European powers such as France and Britain. China is the new kid on the block.

Why the Chinese interest in a region regarded by most of the world as an obscure backwater?
Well, for a start, the Chinese are looking to satisfy their voracious appetite for natural resources. Copper, zinc and nickel from Papua New Guinea, timber from the Solomon Islands, manganese and cobalt from the sea-bed are all vital to feed China's extraordinary pace of development.

But it is politics - not business - that is really turning the gaze of the Chinese dragon towards these pearls of the South Seas. Pacific nations may be miniscule and little known - the likes of Palau and Kiribati (pronounced Kiribass) are hardly household names - but they are vitally important in the diplomatic war between Beijing and Taiwan (which China regards as a breakaway province). Six countries in the Pacific grant official recognition to Taiwan's capital Taipei, and the Taiwanese do all they can to retain their loyalty. Climb out of the plane in remote Tuvalu, for instance, and the first building you notice - because it is the only structure taller than a coconut palm in the entire atoll nation - is the government's new office complex, built with Taiwanese money.

Beijing frequently rolls out the red carpet for the leaders of countries like Tonga and Samoa.
What makes its aid attractive is that it is bestowed with no strings attached, unlike the assistance received from the European Union or Australia and New Zealand, which rather awkwardly harp on about good governance and other tricky issues.
As one Pacific analyst puts it: "Chinese aid is quite different from other countries, it goes straight for the jugular."
But with China's increasing presence come tensions. Flinging money around among the political elite can exacerbate already high levels of official corruption. The business acumen of Chinese entrepreneurs stirs intense resentment in the famously laid-back Pacific, where initiative is often stifled by the custom of having to share profits with your extended family.

Australian soldiers and police deploy to hotspots like East Timor, Papua New Guinea and the Solomons. No-one is suggesting China wants or will to do the same - at least - not yet.

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