It has been widely reported that the Chinese government is providing loans and outright grants to Latin American and African nations for the construction of schools, clinics, power plants, and even soccer stadiums. The Chinese have flexed their economic prowess across the globe generating approval in many quarters and raised eyebrows and concerns in some diplomatic circles.
Spokesmen in Foggy Bottom do not see a security concern since these involvements aren’t in military installations and bases. But the investments are formidable with a reported $6.3 billion spent in Caribbean governments and more than $10 billion in Africa. Speaking out about this matter, Dennis Shea, the chairman of the U.S. China Economics and Security Review Commission said, “I am not particularly worried, but it is something the U.S. should continue to monitor…” Sir Ronald Sanders, a former diplomat from Antigua and Barbados, noted “They [the Chinese] are buying loyalty and taking up the vacuum left by the United States and Canada and other countries, particularly in infrastructure improvements.”
What are the Chinese up to? It seems to me the answer can be found in Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. Sun Tzu contended there are ways to defeat an adversary without going to war. You can create an environment in which defeat is inevitable. For example, if Caribbean states are beholden to China for the infrastructure gifts that have been conferred, the U.S. and its regional influence will be neutralized exposing the southern flank. One need not anticipate a Soviet style government in Cuba and the Caribbean to recognize a subtle, but real challenge to American interests through Chinese humanitarian and commercial investments.
Similarly, the Chinese vision for the future can be characterized as “food, fuel, and minerals.” Dominance in these three areas could create a stranglehold on basic resources the world requires. It is not coincidental that the Chinese government overpaid for Potash Inc., one of the world’s major fertilizer companies. If the Chinese can control fertilizer, the Chinese can control food supplies.
Chinese government officials have moved aggressively to control commodities wherever possible. Oil futures have been purchased in East and West Africa and, as significantly, mineral deposits such as manganese and titanium have been pursued throughout the continent without regard to the present market rates. The Chinese are notorious for paying handsomely in order to control mining rights.
The long term strategy—if seen as a strategy—is that control of key commodities offers control of the globe, or at least, global influence without a shot being fired. It is clear that U.S. military requirements are dependent on minerals in control of a potential enemy. Already the signs of prospective compromise are emerging.
It has been said the U.S. plays checkers, while our enemies play chess. But if one were a student of Sun Tzu it is evident the Chinese have a strategy, a vision of the future, while the U.S. is pragmatic, ad hoc, without an idea of what is over the horizon.
Herbert London is president emeritus of Hudson Institute and author of the book Decline and Revival in Higher Education (Transaction Books).
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