Tuesday, February 13, 2007

another scramble in the sun?

Presidents Chirac, Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair are all going to retire soon, creating a power vacuum in the world stage. The question is, will their successors be guaranteed positions as world leaders? The United States, in particular, has lost the respect of the world community through its misguided unilateral actions, and the next president could bear the brunt of it. American columnists have already begun to apologise on America’s behalf. After the World Economic Forum at Davos, Fareed Zakaria pointed out that it appeared as if other countries were beginning to move beyond the United States, but at the same time warned that the world economy does need a ‘leader’ to manage it. David Brooks, in The New York Times, made the case that despite failures in Iraq; the US will continue to remain a world leader.

But there are other moves being made around the globe, most especially China’s heavy investments in Africa which are worth keeping track of. China is treating Africa as a business investment – the money that is going into the continent does not come with political strings attached. For the Africans, many of whom feel that the West has closed its doors to it, this is a relief. The International Herald Leader worked with the Global Issues Research Agency of the Xinhua News Agency for research into African perceptions towards China. One of the more interesting findings was that Africa believes that China upholds justice – it respects small countries and does not impose on them or interfere in their domestic affairs. This is significant because it directly contrasts the money that comes in from Western countries, and also the IMF and World Bank, who actively interfere in the country on the promise of better government and health, and are yet to deliver.

In effect, what we see in Africa is the ‘alternate’ model of development. Looking at other countries simply as a market opportunity and not interfering in domestic matters. If Chinese investment in Africa continues along this path, then Africa will acquire the tools to pull itself out of its chronic poverty. So the next step would be for Beijing to transfer technology and skills along with money, and for Africans to start owning significant shares of Chinese funded projects. (As the Chinese proverb goes: ‘It is better to learn to fish rather than be given fish’.)

The US needs to take stock of what is going on and enter the game as a competitor, with the same rules. For example, in the case of Sudan, China has largely stayed out of human rights issues and only treated the country as a source of petroleum. In contrast, the United States has regarded Sudan mainly as an Islamic government with gross humanitarian abuses.

Another interesting aspect of this development model is the Arabic world’s reaction to these developments. Unlike the dominant opinion about the hypocrisy of the West who ultimately put their own interests first, China has been viewed with less suspicion. Mohammed Lattif, an official in the Asia Division of the Egypt Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, “The Arabic world did not regard China as the threat to the world, instead, we take it as an important force to help the world have peace and stabilization. China balances the international power.”

It has already been pointed out in the US that because of its pre-occupation with the Middle East, it has lost out on investment potentials in Asia – a gap that China is all too happy to fill. The Heritage Foundation, a US think-tank, has already worked out a responsive strategy, so that the US does not lose its status as world leader to China. The strategy involves the promotion of human rights, democracy and governance, but at the same time, aims to develop energy resources in Africa and also work in partnership with new allies, such as Latin America.

The quiet re-positioning of China and the US also brings forth the question of the importance of democracy. China is communist. The West does not understand its end game in Africa. But at the same time, despite being a democracy, the actions of the US have not been perceived favourably in the Middle East, Africa, South America and so on. It appears that the economic model of development, without a moralistic lecture and pre conditions attached, is gaining ground. Democracy clearly does not have the same value everywhere, and in the end economics seems to win. If the US wants to maintain its position as world leader, it will have to keep up with China and allow countries to run their own course domestically. The invisible hand will have to stay strictly economic.

Chinese realism is a direct contrast to American idealism. The current trend might well be indicating that the form of government is not important, only respect as a business partner. It is not necessary to have a democratic government to have a vibrant market. Unless the US follows suit, it might well be overtaken by China in the race for world leader.


The Dude said...

"Corruption ought not to be a direct by-product of democracy"

these words were spoken by Gandhi, and though basically he was right, theres the fact that at the end of the day no matter what type of govt youre dealin with - its made up of people, and usually people without rulers themselves.

This is where the west has lost it, many of them think of themselves as better than the rest and there are many that want to make the world better, but they just dont know how and start to force it. But Im getting off track a bit..

Youre right on pretty much all scores, and the fact is that in the near future though the US will remain a world leader, soon enough a challenger to the throne will emerge (whether its China, the combines EU, India, who knows?) and the US is no longer in any position to defend itself.

Oh how the mighty have fallen... cant say I feel particularly bad about it yknow, sometimes when we get too high up, you forget what the ground looks like and need to get knocked on your ass to feel it again.. personally I think the US is long overdue for that.

IR said...

"China is treating Africa as a business investment – the money that is going into the continent does not come with political strings attached."


accroding to you china is investing in africa with a business view and has no interest in the politics,that is simply not true.
no country can expect to lead the world,unless it interferes in the politics of the member country's ,economic strength is one way of snatching political influence.

China is assisting pakistan in making a port in the baluch state and in karachi,the port when developed will benefit pakistan navy if they are at war with india.

While the US is dirtying itself by fighting the islamic rebels in africa the chinese are simply trying to buy out oil from the rebels.Any investment in oil or gas in todays world is not about business alone,it has far reaching political implications.

Investing in Africa makes sense because it still lies vacant(in terms of influence from world powers) but to assums that it is being done only for economic gains is being naive.

Political control follows economic control,the british beacame economically influential before annexing political control over its many territories in the 19th and early 20th century, they were followed by the americans which support puppet govt's in Ksa,uae,pakistan and friendly govt in Canada,uk etc.

china and india will gain economic power due to their sheer strength,knowledge(in case of india) and willpower(in case of china),in the end there can only be one world leader, usa can continue to remain prominent by supporting india, while china will try its best to unsettle india, to gain as you have said the world leader position.

However by no means can we assums that china is not playing the "invisible hand" and restricting itself to economic matters !

chitgo said...

I quote from your piece:
"it respects small countries and does not impose on them or interfere in their domestic affairs"

Tibet? I rest my case. Now going into the historical debate on there co-existence and the stance of the international community etc could take forever. I'll wait to hear your thoughts on that (i acknowledge that you mentioned this as Africa's opinion.., I'm more perplexed as to why the shift of economic/political support is towards a communist nation that has seen successes in its direction towards economic progress but still raises eyebrows in global terms regarding its more externally questioned policies of 'big brother type approach to IT freedom and margianlizing large sections of medium to low income societal groups...? I see that being short sighted for a continent majorly torn by short sightedness itself)

Irrespective, I find your take on this matter intriguing.

As for Sudan:), I read this a few days ago, quite interesting,

mahima said...

To be perfectly honest, I kind of agree with all of you, because even if China is not impose itself politically right now, normally it does follow, but at the same time, it is certainly very interesting the focus and effort it has put into Africa. I won't even pretend to be an expert on the subject, and I'm probably going to stay clear of writing about the region on the whole, but since I was reading up about it, this is what struck me. Right or wrong.

Cyberswami said...


what i gather: china's in africa for its economic interest. this is a refreshing change (at least from the African point of view) to the West's policies of setting political and other targets for African countries to meet, thereby interfering in their domestic affairs.

possibly. someone said in a comment above that it is naive to believe that China is in there for economic reasons alone. Maybe it is, but in any case we have no idea of what their political interests are, but it is possible that their interests will develop as they go along, i.e., protection of the very same business they are starting now.

a different point: the business deals that China is making in African countries are being made via agreement with (usually despotic) local governments. China gets its way, by getting the business, and local governments get their way, usually through pretty large kick-backs, as do big businessmen and industries. the ones who get left out of the loop are usually the people. at the risk of sounding unduly leftist, it appears that the West's stand in Africa is based on somewhat more moral grounds, whereby they want the business, but they also expect a more egalitarian system of government, more social justice, if you will.

then again, maybe they don't and this is just hypocrisy, but i do think that the stand they take bears some merit. it is possible of course that with sheer volumes of investment in African countries they will all be better off, but usually what happens is that in the absence of some kind of monitoring, all that wealth gets concentrated into a few hands, and not really achieving much.

it is also probably in china's interests to ensure that power remains with those with whom they have done business. it's quite a tricky little issue. i hope you'll write some more about it.

mahima said...

Re: the moral stand of the West, this is what Husein Haqqani wrote in a recent article about the 'constructive instability' paradigm, that the Us wants to create a need in the other country.. but under the policy of slow and steady reforms makes sure that the need stays... they are not very interested in having self suffient states. which is why (and he wrote abt pakistan) their allies are not that capable, but certainly are depandant on it.
make what you will of that

ilanit said...

Banks are falling over themselves to lend money, at ultra-low interest rates and with no strings attached. And the Los Angeles private equity firms do not even need to have a good credit rating. They secure the debt they borrow on the assets of the companies they buy. With pre-determined debt interest costs, any increase in profits from reducing staff numbers, for example, goes straight to the private equity investors.