Unfortunately, China has always understood that the game works best if it’s a combination of chess and Monopoly, while the US this last decade has thought the game was Risk.
China’s economic might has rolled up to America’s doorstep in the Caribbean, with a flurry of loans from state banks, investments by companies and outright gifts from the government in the form of new stadiums, roads, official buildings, ports and resorts in a region where the United States has long been a prime benefactor.
The Chinese have flexed their economic prowess in nearly every corner of the world. But planting a flag so close to the United States has generated intense vetting ”” and some raised eyebrows ”” among diplomats, economists and investors.
”œWhen you’ve got a new player in the hemisphere all of a sudden, it’s obviously something talked about at the highest level of governments,” said Kevin P. Gallagher, a Boston University professor who is an author of a recent report on Chinese financing, ”œThe New Banks in Town.”
Most analysts do not see a security threat, noting that the Chinese are not building bases or forging any military ties that could invoke fears of another Cuban missile crisis. But they do see an emerging superpower securing economic inroads and political support from a bloc of developing countries with anemic budgets that once counted almost exclusively on the United States, Canada and Europe.
China’s imminent replacement of the West as the dominant international economic and political force in Africa epitomizes the most dramatic shift in geopolitics since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Yet the United States and Europe, Africa’s traditional trading partners, seem incapable of responding to the challenge and retaking the initiative. Instead, their response has been to wring their hands in despair and make ineffectual noises about human rights and democracy.
A recent Senate hearing on the implications of China’s role in Africa, for instance, concluded that the United States is ceding both its economic and political leadership in Africa. Led by Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), the panel urged the United States to respond by expanding trade and investments in Africa while defending its democratization agenda. This is a tall order, however, considering that the Obama administration’s top foreign policy priority in Africa is counterterrorism ”“ a policy that undermines both the trade and human rights agendas.
China has already overtaken the United States as the continent’s main trading partner. According to David Shinn, a former U.S. ambassador to Burkina Faso and Ethiopia, China surpassed the United States as Africa’s main trading partner in 2009. Testifying at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee on African Affairs meeting on November 1, Shinn estimated that China’s trade with African totaled $127 billion in 2010, a 40-percent increase from the previous year, compared to $113 billion for the United States. Today, the energy sector accounts for over 70 percent of China’s trade with Africa. China also imports 30 percent of its oil from African countries.
If the Iraq debacle was a gift to Iran, the GWOT overall has been a gift to China.