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The myth of Chinese imperialism There is nothing nefarious about the Belt and Road

China is not an arrogant imperialist. Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

China is not an arrogant imperialist. Paula Bronstein/Getty Images


September 29, 2023   5 mins

When President Xi Jinping first announced his plan to revive the ancient “silk road” between Europe and China in a speech in Kazakhstan 10 years ago, Western leaders paid little notice. There was no indication that the man on stage reciting Kazakh poetry was planning to build an unprecedented global economic network in which all roads ultimately led to Beijing. The Belt and Road Initiative, as it was later christened, would become a symbol of China’s cosmic ambition.

In the decade since, more than a trillion dollars of investment have poured into BRI projects, a figure that rivals what Western countries together put into their aid budgets. That China found eager suitors around the world for its new largesse is no surprise, not least because Western countries had started pulling in their horns — with Britain, for instance, recently cutting an aid budget that had been a pillar of its soft power in order to build an aircraft carrier.

But in filling that vacuum, China has unsettled Western nations and few of them will attend when representatives from more than 100 countries gather in Beijing for the third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. Increasingly, especially in the American foreign policy community, we hear talk that China is using the BRI to build a rival bloc to the West.

In an apparent response to the BRI, at the recent G20 Summit, the US and some of its partners announced an infrastructure programme to connect Asia and Europe. But if they’re hoping to go head-to-head with China, they may want to reconsider their tactics because one thing China is really good at is building infrastructure. In the time we’ve spent trying to make up our minds about whether to dig a short tunnel to Euston station, China has installed nearly 40,000 kilometres of high-speed railway.

In any event, finding nefarious intent in the BRI may say more about the observers than the observed. A recurrent temptation we in the West face is to look at China’s behaviour through Cold War lenses, substituting the Middle Kingdom in the role vacated by the fallen Soviet Union. Seen this way, the BRI appears to be China’s attempt to transform its economic power into political control by drawing a string of countries more closely into its orbit. Some even detect an ideological blueprint in China’s willingness to forge partnerships with autocratic regimes, citing it as evidence that it wants to build an anti-democratic, anti-Western bloc.

In reality, though, there wasn’t much geopolitical thinking behind the original conception of the BRI. Instead, it was concocted by bureaucrats who were trying to solve an economic challenge: China’s economy had run into a wall. To overcome the 2008 global financial crisis, it had embarked on a massive fiscal stimulus and succeeded in lifting the world economy out of recession, but also left itself with a lot of excess capacity. Meanwhile, China was nearing the limits of a growth model that had relied on low-wage workers to assemble goods for export. As the huge surplus labour force was mopped up, wages rose, auguring a future in which Chinese firms would no longer be able to undercut their competitors abroad.

If it were to escape this classic middle-income trap, China would need to orient its output towards more technologically advanced production, and move its labour-intensive assembly offshore. Having built its economy by luring the waves of outsourcing that had helped deindustrialise America, it now needed to do the same and move some of its own manufacturing to lower-wage zones beyond its borders.

A group of civil servants came up with a plan to achieve this: by creating transportation networks that would give it access to overseas markets, supplies, and labour, and then exploiting those links to develop its partnerships, China would be able to expand its economy beyond its national borders. It would not use a classic aid programme like the Marshall Plan to do this, though. Instead, Beijing would encourage its banks to stump up the capital on commercial terms, something they were quite able and willing to do given the vast pools of capital accumulated in a country that saves nearly half its output, and where the list of high-yielding opportunities at home has been diminishing.

The policy proposal landed at a propitious time. With Xi Jinping having just gained power, Beijing was growing increasingly concerned that its good relations with Western trading partners would come under increasing strain. Barack Obama’s ascent to the US presidency and his administration’s pivot to Asia, which boosted America’s military presence as a counterweight to China, solidified this perception. China’s subsequent exclusion from negotiations around the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership only reinforced that belief in Beijing. Xi made the BRI his own, and it soon became a linchpin of his new economic policy.

While the BRI was crafted as an economic programme, it soon became apparent to the Communist leadership that it could drive a new geopolitical strategy too. For one thing, the BRI gave China the chance to showcase a whole new model of development. Whereas the Western approach to global development focused on using multilateral financial institutions, such as the IMF, World Bank, and World Trade Organization, to engineer pro-market policy regimes, then assist their implementation with targeted aid, China believed that building infrastructure was the key to development. Meanwhile, China regarded the regime of development or governance or human rights a country might choose to use as entirely its own business, a position which reflected its tradition of non-interference. Given the widespread perception in the developing world of Western countries as arrogant imperialists imposing their own moral or economic agendas, China’s standoffishness proved a refreshing change.

All the same, the BRI hasn’t created an alternative global financial architecture — at least not yet. Unlike the multilateral order created at Bretton Woods in 1944, it has more limited ambitions. The IMF, World Bank and WTO operate all over the planet; China’s BRI is focused primarily on Asia, Europe, Africa and Oceania — in effect, in those parts of the world that could at a stretch be called its hinterland. And when it comes to diplomatic engagement, China still prefers to avoid multilateral regimes to focus on the more modest but practical approach of bilateral relations.

This approach, though, is causing China some growing pains as it engages with the world in a way it’s never seriously done before. On the one hand, the BRI is serving the country’s goal of expanding its export potential. But in many countries, especially in Africa where China has a large and growing presence, the administrative capacity to manage complex infrastructure programmes is lacking. As a result, the initial euphoria over Chinese largesse has in recent years given way to a more sober assessment, as payments have come due and some governments have struggled to meet them.

This has led some Western commentators to latch onto the concept of “debt-trap diplomacy”, the idea that China has loaned money with the aim of later swooping in and seizing assets when the debtor defaults on payments. Often cited as an example of this is the case of Sri Lanka, which allowed China to take direct control of one of its ports on a 99-year lease when its government found it couldn’t pay its debts.

But the reality is probably more prosaic. China is learning the hard way what Western governments have dealt with for decades — the problems of insolvency in sovereign debtors. In response, it appears to be re-orienting towards a somewhat more Western style of “small but beautiful” lending that prioritises smaller, targeted projects. Over the years, Western governments have developed an elaborate global architecture through such institutions as the Paris Club, which facilitates the quick resolution of fiscal crises. But China has resisted joining such bodies, instead working through problems on an ad hoc basis. That hasn’t always been easy. Debt diplomacy seldom is, and China is finding that the role of benefactor can ultimately carry a hidden price.

The hype of the BRI’s early years has given way to a more sober assessment of the costs and benefits of engagement with China, as its partner countries find the role of an aspiring hegemon goes beyond just doling out goodies. Many countries still find it useful to have a rival pole they can play off against the US-led alliance, but Italy’s recent reconsideration of its participation in the BRI can probably be seen less as an instance of the Western allies circling the wagons, than of many countries rethinking the degree of dependence on China they’re willing to countenance. China has built its soft power and cut its teeth on diplomacy, but it too is finding that the fun part of the BRI may now be over.


John Rapley is an author and academic who divides his time between London, Johannesburg and Ottawa. His books include Why Empires Fall: Rome, America and the Future of the West (with Peter Heather, Penguin, 2023) and Twilight of the Money Gods: Economics as a religion (Simon & Schuster, 2017).

jarapley

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J Bryant
J Bryant
9 months ago

The BRI might have begun with relatively benign ambitions but now all that infrastructure is built, debts acquired by developing nations, business relationships established, China will use these assets in its looming struggle with the West. The end result of opportunism is indistinguishable from the end result of a conspiracy.

G K
G K
9 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

“ The end result of opportunism is indistinguishable from the end result of a conspiracy.” well said!

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
9 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Thank you, well said, fully agree. Incidentally, I have also done business in African countries, and it’s always a lost cause when there are Chinese players in the mix for e.g. govt contracts etc, as they brown envelope everything to the hilt. Any Westerner playing by the rules has no chance.  

J Bryant
J Bryant
9 months ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

Any Westerner playing by the rules has no chance.
And any American not playing by the rules risks violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act which carries serious criminal penalties (I suspect the UK has similar legislation).

Betsy Warrior
Betsy Warrior
9 months ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

Are those the same rules that King Leopold played by, or the CIA replacement for Lumumba Mobuto, or Shell, Mobil friend Obasingo, Goodluck Jonathan, et al, (poor Ken Sarawiwa) or Eadyma (sp?) of Togo, or Dan Gertler in the Congo or the French in Rwanda, Niger, Mali, Chad or the Brits in Kenya or the Israelis in Botswana etc., on and ad infinitum. Oh, but the Chinese might be stealing those guys lunch after the Westerners had that buffet all to themselves for centuries. So sad!

Niels Georg Bach Christensen
Niels Georg Bach Christensen
9 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Yes and often loans from IMF is used to pay rent to the Chinese government.

Betsy Warrior
Betsy Warrior
9 months ago

And debts to IMF used to impose austerity measures for repayment wiping out public education, state subsidized health care services and halt infrastructure.

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
9 months ago

Mr. Rapley says that the UK’s “aid budget that had been a pillar of its soft power”. Soft power? More like soft touch, or soft in the head. When China provides aid, it is typically in the form of cheap loans. As with any aid, the money disappears into kleptocrats’ Swiss bank accounts, so the recipient country is not able to repay. That’s where the fun starts, because Chinese loans come with T’s&C’s: default means China acquires mineral extraction rights.
The UK’s approach to aid simply convinces people around the world that the UK has more money than sense. Thus it is not surprising that the UK is the destination of choice for economic migrants.

Gary Baxter
Gary Baxter
9 months ago

The BRI projects involve large number of cases of corruption of the elites of so many poor, “developing” countries. That’s why unusually large parts of the treaties/contracts are hidden. The CCP exports its “Chinese” way of economic development, which is blatantly corrupt. And this is perhaps more harmful than the debt traps it’s created. Investigative journalists could have a field day, should they have the moral courage.

Arthur G
Arthur G
9 months ago

Yeah right. The CCP is an evil organization. Genocide, religious persecution, Orwellian surveillance state, selling the organs of living political prisoners. They’ve got it all.

Andrew Boughton
Andrew Boughton
9 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

I hear tell President Xi lives in an extinct volcano with a mock crater lake that really consists of titanium sliding doors that open when he leaves to go somewhere in his rocket ship. He has a glass eye and feeds his pet sharks that live in indoor swimming pools with body organs harvested from Uyghurs. His goldfish ponds are stocked with piranhas and feed on Christian babies ritualistically sacrificed on a Soviet anvil with a hammer and scythe, on the blood moon and Karl Marx’s birthday, when they coincide, which is always. Coincidence? Really, why we buy lampshades and soap made from the skin and fat of Chinese dissidents is beyond me.

Tom K
Tom K
9 months ago

Enjoying the noodles, comrade?

Andrew Boughton
Andrew Boughton
9 months ago
Reply to  Tom K

Enjoy dribbling on your bib, you clown? You can look up my anti-Marxist work in national newspapers. Though the bulk of it, along with other anti-ideological work you can read under others’ or joint bylines.

Last edited 9 months ago by Andrew Boughton
Arthur G
Arthur G
9 months ago

So, tell me what exactly distinguishes the CCP from the Nazis or the Soviets? Every evil thing those regimes did, the CCP has done too, and continues to do. The CCP has a higher body count than either.

Andrew Boughton
Andrew Boughton
9 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

Sure, and that’s a very fair set of observations and questions. Mao was mad, messianic and brutal. Which is why the Chinese leadership so definitively threw he and his rabid wife out in the 1970s. He was China’s Stalin. Moreover, Deng’s son was crippled when Red Guards threw him off the roof of a university building, then he was refused medical care, while his father was off in a humble labouring job in the countryside where he had been sent for ‘re-education’. Xi’s family suffered similarly, as did many of the current hierarchy. Our own propagandists conflate this part of history with the present, because it suits their purpose. But if so, why not dredge of the Chinese Nationalist record under our guy (until we were obliged to drop him), Chiang? The reason the US gave up on General Chiang was his peculiar admiration for the Nazis in Germany, his eldest son being called back from his post in the Nazi Panzer divisions about to attach Eastern Europe, at American insistence, and his affinity with Imperial Japan and refusal / inability to confront their invasion of China. That and his regime’s ongoing debt to the Chinese mafia used in bringing them to power, his regime’s brutality and rapaciousness towards ordinary Chinese that cost him the support of the Chinese people, or his well-documented killing of 25,000 Taiwanese then imposing many decades of absolute military rule when he arrived as their uninvited and unwelcome liberator from the Japanese, with renewed US backing, once the Imperial Japanese Army had been defeated by the Allies and their ally in China, Mao.

Then there’s the question of why we can never give modern China the simple gracious due of acknowledging that their success is not due to “stealing our IP” et cet era ad infinitum, but sheer hard work as famiky- and business-oriented capitalists. Sure they took and take some IP. So did the US and Japan in early days. But they’re also super hard-working and brilliant. The CCP departed Soviet ways in the mid 70s.

Push back in the Siuth China Sea? Sure! Everyone needs some boundary pressure, even us.

But there’s an awful lot of real clear-and-present history – eg, that we (the US) killed two successive Uyghur leaders with Reaper drones in northern Pakistan and fought their very active terrorists in Syria and Afghanistan, working with China and Pakistan until we found a different use for them as martyrs to tyranny – that our guys not only keep from you, but wilfully manipulate to manipulate you. You need only ask how the US would have reacted if the Nation of Islam had conducted hundreds of really gruesome (often against kindergarted kids) terrorist attacks within the US homeland to understand China’s response to Uyghur separatists.

So, there’s that for starters.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
9 months ago

many thanks for the concise history lesson !!

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
7 months ago

Curmudgeon
There is this to consider, however. No one who reads these pages is likely to minimise the horror of Hamas’s action in Israel or the profound effect it has had on the Israeli populace. But I hope that we agree not to equate the people of Gaza or Palestinians in general with Hamas. Citing evil deeds by Uyghur terrorists should not be an excuse for Xi’s genocidal campaign against Uyghur culture. A less powerful country behaving as Xi’s China behaves in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Inner Mongolia would be ostracised.

Andrew Boughton
Andrew Boughton
9 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

Good points and a great question. Sure.
Mao = Stalin, even though both were our allies in WW II against the Nazis, after we dropped “our guy” General Chiang in favour of Mao because the Nationalists had lost the Chinese people, were hopelessly corrupt, and Chiang was deemed by our intelligence as having core empathy with Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. Even his own generals arrested him to try to change him.
Chiang’s eldest son was in a German tank division on the eve of Hitler’s invasions, recalled to China by dad at American insistence.
Mao primarily did so later, but Chiang during the War killed off all the brilliant, well-motivated liberal democrats in China who were deemed the Third Way and while not seen by our security services as anything like an effective fighting force, were to be ‘encouraged’. They were by rights the people Chiang was supposed to be working with and indeed for. Their tragic and appalling deaths were China’s loss, their own loss, a loss to their wonderful families and friends, and a loss to the world. Only the word “loss” doesn’t begin to describe it.
After Japan was defeated not by Chiang, but by the Allies and CCP, he fled to Taiwan and after repression imposed a military dictatorship for decades. Our objections to that were…? None too loud.
China threw Mao out after the current CCP leaders’ families were as severely persecuted by Mao as so many others. Then the CCP liberalised their economy under Deng, whose son was made a paraplegic by Mao’s Red Guards while Deng was in re-education and banishment.
China retains a CCP government but a capitalist economy and a politically agnostic, generally non-communist society. They departed the Soviet model after Mao in the 1970s. Left alone they would have evolved politically exactly as the architects of Detente had envisioned. This and keeping China and Russia apart and not having the prospect of an unwinnable two-front superpower conflict were some of the motivations for Detente. And there were others, good motives.
Uyghurs? We were in an alliance fighting the Uyghur ETIM Islamist separatists in Syria, Afghanistan and northern Pakistan and at times helping the Chinese counter their hundreds of attacks on Chinese mainland targets, within a very active US-Chinese-Pakistani alliance, until Cold War II broke out, whereupon they became persecuted freedom fighters. Now you only hear the ‘new and improved’ version of that story.
Long story altogether, but if you’re to equate the CCP and Putin with Mao of Stalin, with obvious differences you’d almost have to equate the present-day Japanese and German leadership with Hitler and Hirohito. But you can’t, in any of these cases, whether or not people on our side say you can.

Last edited 9 months ago by Andrew Boughton
Sayantani Gupta Jafa
Sayantani Gupta Jafa
9 months ago

I get the perspective being put across for Western audiences, but I would state BRI is a very ambitious scheme for Asia to make China the ruling hegemon.
Recall that the ” Middle Kingdom Complex” determines Chinese policy greatly. As events in Sri Lanka most notably have shown, BRI is a classic mechanism for debt trapping and thence territorial encirclement of nations in Asia signing up for it. In particular the CCP is gaining access to ports for military surveillance through BRI- as the case of the infamous ” spy ship’ in Hambantota, Sri Lanka, mainly to snoop on India shows.
I suspect the CCP has studied the activities of the 17th century of the Europeans in gaining access to new territories and resources rather closely.
As then, and now, a bunch of traders, bankers and commercial entities can provide a very useful cover for potential, nascent and even (un) conscious territorial ambitions.

Betsy Warrior
Betsy Warrior
9 months ago

Hmm, territorial ambitions? like the long running conflicts between India and China??

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
9 months ago

“While the BRI was crafted as an economic programme, it soon became apparent to the Communist leadership that it could drive a new geopolitical strategy too.“

Communist flunky: “Sir, sir, I’ve got a wonderful idea that will glorify our socialist revolution, implement Mao Zedong thought, and overthrow the imperialistic capitalism of the enemies of Chinese socialist progress in the West”

President Xi: “I grant you 1 minute of my most precious time. Speak, and speak well, for if you fail I shall condemn you to exile in the western provinces, where you shall teach young Uighur girls home economics for the rest of your days”.

Communist flunky: “Thank you greatly, your most excellent excellency. My proposal is simple. But I’m so excited I can barely speak it.”

[Xi grunts, impatiently. A burly body guard standing by Xi’s side subtly tilts his upright rifle in the flunky’s direction].

“It is this. We have in recent times made massive multi-trillion dollar investments in roads, ports, airports and other transport infrastructure all across the world. Until now, we have been using these wonders of socialist technology and planning simply to sell our cheap products to the capitalist pig-dogs in the west. The success of this strategy has allowed your excellency to increase the wages of our slave-labourers by over 20%, and they are most grateful; and in the large part unlikely to rebel. Some of our child-labourers have even been able to take time off work to devote to studying your thought.”

[Xi nods, and allows a small self-satisfied smile ever so briefly to break his hitherto stony demeanour].

“Well, what if we used all that infrastructure to keep on doing all of that AND at the same time we used it to project our power and influence on the geo-political stage? Just think, sir, those ports in foreign lands that we have used to dock our ships laden full of products containing intellectual property stolen from the very capitalist mugs to which we are selling them …

[another smile breaks across Xi’s lips, he’s warming to the flunky]

… could ALSO be used to dock our warships. And the roads could carry our tanks. We could even threaten to close the infrastructure on which our rivals now depend for the constant supply of bargain basement price luxuries, on which their shallow consumer societies have come to depend, or seize the assets of over-indebted governments if they fail to comply with our political demands! The humiliation of the Opium Wars shall be finally avenged!

[A stunned silence. The bodyguard drops his rifle and it clatters loudly on the tiled floor. Xi, transfixed by the genius of his flunky’s idea, barely flinches. A few seconds pass. Xi’s face broadens into a generous smile, his eyes wide with joy and excitement”]

President Xi: “Sir, you are an intellectual giant. Sun Tzu himself would have been honoured and proud to have the privilege of your company and wisdom of your thought. We shall implement your idea immediately and I shall make you master of our geopolitical strategy from henceforth. Your social credit score is hereby upgraded to Irreproachably Virtuous”.

[Xi departs, with the bodyguard, shaking his head and just about audibly muttering to the bodyguard “why didn’t I think of that!” The flunky beams with pride, his thoughts turning to those little bottles of soft scented shampoo that he knows are reserved for the Irreproachably Virtuous and how happy they will make his long-suffering wife].

P Branagan
P Branagan
9 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Horsman

Mr Horseman should grow up.

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
9 months ago
Reply to  P Branagan

Perhaps. But what’s the point of growing up if you can’t make a bit of lighthearted fun every now and then? It’s better than doom-scrolling 🙂

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  P Branagan

Pipe down Branagan, OR show us you can do better?

Betsy Warrior
Betsy Warrior
9 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Horsman

Huh? What pig dogs? Beny Steinmetz!

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
9 months ago

That anyone from Cambridge University, the most sino-captured academic institution in the country, should try and pretend the Chinese are well-intentioned and misrepresented as regards their designs on the west, comes as no great surprise. Though their honeyed words should be tempered by a generous pinch of salt.
For all their public protestations, most European states (including the UK) are completely in thrall to Chinese money. What price European solidarity? Well the Chinese know the price to undermine it and are more than willing to pay it.
Our universities, our political parties, our cultural institutions and our media, have all sought to benefit from a relationship with China – yet few seem to question what they expect in return.
The EU issued warnings against any member nation getting “gently ensnared” by BRI – China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the massive global infrastructure program that will trap signatories in unsustainable debt and thus give Beijing crushing leverage and influence over them.
For all the united face the EU (laughably) presents to the world: Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Greece, Portugal, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia , and of course, Italy have all signed up to the BRI, in the hope they may see some crumbs fall from Beijing’s table.
But aside from the brute force approach of buying their way into controlling a country’s critical infrastructure, there is the more subtle and insidious element to the Chinese Govt’s reach and power. Political and business leaders who wish to benefit from a relationship with China know the best way, the only way, to achieve it, is to cosy up to the regime and speak and act on their behalf. Beijing have willing shills aplenty.
When News Corp was seeking to develop business interests in China, Rupert Murdoch knew he had to toe the line and so started undermining the toast of New York & Hollywood elite, the Dalai lama. Murdoch did, admittedly, come up with a pretty good line, calling him “a political monk in Gucci slippers”.
Our universities, since deciding they were to be run as businesses rather than places of scholarship, need Chinese students and Chinese sponsorship – and thus any lecture or research that is critical of China is practically banned. China’s influence over Cambridge University is so deep that Madeline Grant over at the Telegraph rather amusingly asked “how long until Jesus College is renamed “Xi-sus”?”
China only allows 34 western-made films to be distributed there each year. Despite that, as of last year, the Chinese market officially overtook the US as the world’s largest box-office, all but guaranteeing that studios will continue to do everything they can to get access to that market. Any plotline or content that might offend the Chinese Govt is removed – or the studio loses the chance to put any of its films into their nearly 80 thousand screens. (The US, by comparison, has just over 40 000)
If you can influence our educational institutions, the media and the movies then you can tell whatever story you want. As ever, China plays the long game, and plays it well.
In our liberal media we read the bleating about China’s (or Russia’s) unhealthy influence and designs on the West – But such pleadings are printed right alongside editorials that repeatedly refuse to support any Western counterweight to it.
They recognise the danger but cravenly appease them – just to avoid appearing belligerent – imagining that if we don’t poke the bear, or pull the dragon’s tail, then maybe they won’t eat us!!
We’ve been on the menu for a while.

Tom Condray
Tom Condray
9 months ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

I would be much more sanguine about China’s effort at unilateral economic development in Africa and Asia were there not reports such as yesterday’s from the United States’ State Department:
https://www.state.gov/gec-special-report-how-the-peoples-republic-of-china-seeks-to-reshape-the-global-information-environment/
Clearly, China intends to subvert the information sphere to support its overarching goal of achieving economic and geopolitical dominance. The report makes genuinely frightening reading.
How the author of this article can legitimately assign benign intentions to China’s unilateral economic development/exploitation plans is beyond me.

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
9 months ago
Reply to  Tom Condray

Yes, I rather agree with you. The only reason I can think of is some sort of vested interest, rather than any honest assessment.
There’s been plenty of evidence coming out of our universities that tenure is predicated on toeing the (Communist) party line, or at least not challenging it.

Betsy Warrior
Betsy Warrior
9 months ago
Reply to  Tom Condray

Ah, The U. S. STATE DEPT. Obviously an unbiased source.

Betsy Warrior
Betsy Warrior
9 months ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Wow, they’re not just eating our lunch. They’re actually going to devour us!

Last edited 9 months ago by Betsy Warrior
Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
9 months ago

I’m always amused by breathless and shocked accounts of how foreign powers are working to undermine us. Of course they are. Just as we are trying to undermine them (if somewhat less successfully).
Of course China has imperial ambitions. And I’m sure they tell themselves everything they do is for the wider good of humanity just as we do whilst reducing the Middle East to a rubble-strewn wasteland or trying to turn mediaeval tribespeople into Islington feminists by shooting at them. It’s the way of the world.

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
9 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Thought crime detected! Possible history book reader identified!

Marko Bee
Marko Bee
9 months ago

Aaaaaaand, straight to the comments.

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
9 months ago

What happens if or when the Chinese lose enthusiasm for BRI? Mao went through a phase of funding e.g. the Tanzanian – Zimbabwean railway. Then the Chinese lost interest and the railway proved to be an uneconomic disaster. Sooner or later there will not be just individual problems but a general loss of enthusiasm.

“One only finds out who has been swimming naked when the tide goes out.” as they used to say on Wall Street. I suspect most of the railway projects, in particular, will turn out badly. It sounded great that one could send a container from southern China to Britain by rail – but this does not alter the commercial reality that it will always be cheaper to ship it by sea.

Sayantani Gupta Jafa
Sayantani Gupta Jafa
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Don’t think they will lose interest in Asia for the reasons I gave above. Bangladesh and Nepal are latest railway entrants( as far as I know)which is a reason also for the G20 lead India took in the Middle Eastern Corridor project recently.

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
9 months ago

Fine. But take the Tibet/Nepal railway as an example. Up to 50 miles of tunnelling. Implausible $5bn estimate. (Reality nearer $20bn?). Makes enormous strategic sense to China as a way of threatening India militarily. Makes some sense strategically to Nepal as it would reduce dependence on India and the risk of getting gobbled up like Sikkim. But commercial logic? What is Nepal going to export to China to justify this? If it gets built – which I doubt in the short term – I suspect it will have to be paid for 100% by the Chinese (unless the Nepalese are either mad or bribed). If the mood shifts in Beijing then I suspect it will be on the short list of projects that should be abandoned.

Sayantani Gupta Jafa
Sayantani Gupta Jafa
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Gurkha Regiments to start with( recently a new system of contract soldiering in India made many opt out).
Railway links can facilitate ease of movements through such a corridor( exactly as Gen Slim and Stilwell used the North Frontier Railway to ship troops in the 1940s to Assam and thence onwards to Burma via Stilwell road and Hump flights to retake Burma)

Also Nepal is largely dependent on Indian goods, but the railway link can open up immense possibilities for the other major power.
The Communist Party( Maoist) rules Nepal. Synergy? And if Evergrande type realty projects are now a lost cause, why not direct the money( especially any released from de- dollarization) to very militarily significant railway projects?

Recall the years from 1949- 1953 when the Tibet push started from Amdo province bordering China.

Despite his other ” issues” Lord Curzon’s sub- imperial project in India independent of the Foreign Office, and factoring in the very futuristic Younghusband Mission was on the right track. Maybe the rest of the Himalayan kingdoms in the East could have been part of the project if he had had his way.
When the Railway links could have been a la the Kalka Simla Railways and thus defeated what CCP is now trying..

Last edited 9 months ago by Sayantani Gupta Jafa
Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago

Kitchener wasn’t a great fan of what he thought was Curzon’s meddling.
As I recall it didn’t end well for George Nathaniel, despite being “a most superior person”.

Sayantani Gupta Jafa
Sayantani Gupta Jafa
9 months ago

C was certainly very arrogant and his domestic policies created more chaos.But maybe he was right about Tibet though Younghusband was inspired more by the expanding Czarists than the Qing dynasts.
Charles Allen’s book is most convincing about this.

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
9 months ago

Are you two getting confused about which teams you are playing for? Younghusband invaded Tibet entirely unprovoked and shot hundreds of Tibetans who were armed only with swords. Shouldn’t Charles be pro and Ms Jaffa opposed? Shome confusihion here? Ed.

Last edited 9 months ago by Alex Carnegie
Sayantani Gupta Jafa
Sayantani Gupta Jafa
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

History can be complex. Of course the methods were not ideal and wrong.But the concept of an Invasion of Tibet from an empire on the North were perhaps prescient.
The Allen book is good.
And YH’s transformation into a spiritual and mystic crank of sorts is quite fascinating!

Last edited 9 months ago by Sayantani Gupta Jafa
Sayantani Gupta Jafa
Sayantani Gupta Jafa
9 months ago

Sometimes I play for the ” wrong side” albeit not today!

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

I’m astonished by the whole thing! There’s YH conducting an Imperial adventure to curb the Russian bear.

Whilst in London, Grey & Co are toadying up to the French, Russia’s main ally/backer, to bring about the Entente (Fatale) Cordiale. Brilliant!

Sayantani Gupta Jafa
Sayantani Gupta Jafa
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Last four words??

Chuck de Batz
Chuck de Batz
9 months ago

Private Eye

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
9 months ago

Well, Kitchener knifed him, if that is what you mean. K may have been a great poster but he was a cold monster of a man.

Betsy Warrior
Betsy Warrior
9 months ago

I heard that the British (or is that the Brutish?) involvement in Burma didn’t auger too well for the Burmese.

Last edited 9 months ago by Betsy Warrior
Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
9 months ago
Reply to  Betsy Warrior

It’s a complex story. Many layered. Presume you refer to the Anglo Burmese wars of the 19th century leading to the exile of King Thibaw to Ratnagiri?

Andrew Boughton
Andrew Boughton
9 months ago

Really fine piece, thanks John. With input-output models from its former socialist economists, China realised what we never fully acknowledged, that the core driver of all economies is construction. Of homes, offices, infrastructure, everything. Building. And the driver of stable societies. And we see them now in their first truly capitalist ‘business cycle’, which like all such cycles is at its core a construction cycle. The BRI helped extend the deadline.

To adopt an old Balkan saying, many in the West now hope their successful neighbour’s cow will die.

Stan Konwiser
Stan Konwiser
9 months ago

The Dutch & British invented commercial imperialism with their East India Companies: Create commercial ports and trade business and then have their government use the military to ‘protect’ the overseas citizens and interests. Then take over the local governments as colonies. The Americans refined the process by establishing multinational businesses with military protection and capturing the local economy. In the end, it was an expression of global power and a bulwark against the Communist menace.
Now the CCP is reworking the plan with a debt trap that will capture the local infrastructure with the subsequent need to use the military to protect their investment resulting in the expression of power against the Western menace.
The Leftist condemn the imperialism of the Western World’s past but are silent about the new flavor of imperialism put forward by China. The subjection of the Third World will be essentially the same. As has been oft stated: History repeats. And people don’t learn from it.
The CCP, through Xi, has been speaking plainly about their ambitions of world hegemony. Their recent actions against profitable companies, foreign business executives, and export controls on critical minerals show they are not speaking empty gestures.
To draw another parallel, Hitler made clear his goals and ambitions. Many Jews in Germany chose to ignore those clear messages as did most of the world. Like them, we ignore the clear messages from the CCP at our own risk.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  Stan Konwiser

The Dutch and British were 100 years behind both the Portuguese and Spanish.

Betsy Warrior
Betsy Warrior
9 months ago
Reply to  Stan Konwiser

Over six million dead in the Congo. Sacraficed by extraction barons to grasp cobalt and other rare earth metals. Kinda hard to ignore.

R S Foster
R S Foster
9 months ago

…the key point being that the Chinese are perfectly happy to deal with those who loot and brutalise their own people, and keep the heads of their enemies in the fridge…it will start to go wrong if for some reason one of their clients chooses to loot and brutalise members of the Chinese diaspora in their (apparent) control…or the head of one of them is found in the fridge…
…bear in mind that old-fashioned Western Imperialism often started just like that…

Betsy Warrior
Betsy Warrior
9 months ago
Reply to  R S Foster

Wasn’t that Idi Amin who kept heads in the fridge? He was trained by the Brutish, heh?

R S Foster
R S Foster
8 months ago
Reply to  Betsy Warrior

…yes…but he was an NCO, with no hope of becoming an Officer, much less a General. Standards dropped sharply when we left…

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago

Have the Chinese NOT heard of HS2?

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
9 months ago

What a starry eyed view of the BRI; the CCP are really a selfless philanthropic organisation! Bless

Tom K
Tom K
9 months ago

Surprised there are any China apologists still out there. Most have seen the writing on the wall and have either recanted or are hiding under a rock. And particularly surprised to see China’s hapless effort at neocolonial domination of the developing world defended in this way – the fact is it’s already cumbling, as indeed is China itself. It’ll be interesting to read this again in a year or two. I suspect it’ll date pretty badly.

Betsy Warrior
Betsy Warrior
9 months ago
Reply to  Tom K

Oh, oh, China the old British colony is getting too big for its britches – sticking its tongue out at its former masters instead of taking it’s opum and heeding signs “NO DOGS OR CHINESE ALLOWED” into the Imperialist’s club. History doesn’t evaporate neither does neocolonalism just because the neocolonialists wish it would.

Shrunken Genepool
Shrunken Genepool
9 months ago

‘Nothing to see here….move along’

Jim Bocho
Jim Bocho
9 months ago

Yes, but the USA needs an enemy. It lives and breathes war and conflict.

james elliott
james elliott
9 months ago

Chinese Empire good! British Empire bad!

Political Economist? My friend… you are nothing but a tame parrot, squawking for peanuts from the honey pot of Xi.

Have some self respect.