The Asian giant subjects impoverished countries, mainly of Africa and Latin America, to force loans and promises of investments. Cheap labor, precariousness, and environmental deterioration.
China has started – for some years now – a slow but steady “neo-colonization” process without brake. Mainly in Latin America and Africa. The rigid moral standards imposed by the Communist Party to the population and its ruling class would prevent the regime from subjecting other peoples to force of crucifixes or gospels as happened in past centuries. Nor would current times allow military invasions.
Millenary wisdom pays off to the CCP. Its leaders – headed by Xi Jinping, the president of the central government – know each of the weaknesses and needs of Third World countries whose majority of leaders and drivers only think of perpetuating themselves in power or surviving it. Africa and Latin America, historically relegated continents, are clear examples of Beijing’s use of its money to exploit its resources and try to impose customs and laws.
In the Latin region, China has extended its arms – more actively – for more than a decade. Always with the same tactic: soft loans and fresh money. Always with the same strategy: try to appropriate the tempting and infinite natural resources and information. Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Argentina, for example, were some of the countries where convertible yuan were forced. Since 2005 about 141 billion dollars descended as manna to the delight of presidents who love XXI Century Socialism. The dollars were transferred from the Chinese Development Bank and the Export and Import Bank of China.
The Chavista dictatorship led by Nicolás Maduro, for example, is a great partner and debtor. According to the Financial Database of China and Latin America, the credits that landed in Caracas in the last ten years reached about 62 billion dollars. So far, he still has to pay more than a third of that amount.
Knowing the delicate financial and economic situation of Miraflores Palace, Beijing must wait. He knows that dripping barrels of oil and mining and crude oil areas will be assigned in exchange for not being a hostile creditor. Moreover, Maduro promotes a joint venture with the parent company of PetroChina, the supporter of the National Petroleum Corporation of China best known by its acronym CNPC. Together they would create a new business unit that could amount to 65 thousand tons every 24 hours.
But there is another risk, and it is environmental. Under what parameters do Chinese companies operating in the Orinoco Basin run to exploit – in addition to the refineries – the diamond and gold mines of Venezuela? It’s a mystery. Under what labor legislation do Venezuelan employees work? Or are they mostly Chinese?
Ecuador, in the time of Rafael Correa, was also a beneficiary of Eastern generosity. Since 2009, around 17,500 million dollars were allocated. The sectors that would see the dollars rain: hydrocarbons, electricity, mining. Companies such as Sinohydro, Gezhouba, China Petroleum, and Chinalco are in charge of several of the most significant projects, not only on Ecuadorian land but throughout Latin America.
A report prepared by the Collective on Chinese Financing and Investments, Human Rights and Environment ( CICDHA ) – composed of a consortium of NGOs from Ecuador, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil – documented “the failure of the Chinese State to comply with its extraterritorial obligations in the field of human rights for at least 18 projects operated by 15 Chinese business consortiums, which have acted with the support of 6 Chinese banks in Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru. Of the 18 documented cases, 7 belong to the mining industry, 6 to the oil industry, and 5 to the water sector. Also, 15 affect indigenous territories, 11 protected natural areas, 5 are natural and cultural heritage recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and 12 correspond to the Ecuadorian, Bolivian Amazon region and Brazilian.”
The violation of community rights is constant. “In Ecuador, the San Carlos Panantza project has reported several raids, arbitrary detentions and judicial investigations against indigenous leaders following the confrontation over the forced evictions of August 2016, an event that left a dead policeman and nine people injured,” according to the human rights organizations. Detail: all the attacks were conducted by the corporations in charge of the investment plan.
In most of the projects, China disregards international recommendations and runs over communities – mostly native ones – and the environment. In Bolivia, for example, “the Nueva Esperanza oil block overlaps with one of the three territories of the Tacana indigenous people, which houses an indigenous people in voluntary isolation ‘Toromona’. Although the Tacana opposed oil exploration, the Bolivian State imposed the project and carried out a consultation process in which conditions were agreed to safeguard the territory and protect the Tacana and Toromona peoples. However, BGP Inc. ignored the agreements and caused environmental damage affecting their livelihoods,” says the same document.
In Argentina, meanwhile, the government of Cristina Kirchner and that of Mauricio Macri – of different political signs – agreed on something. They allowed and encouraged the installation of an “observation” base in Patagonia for the exclusive use of the Chinese government. The participation of Argentine officials is prohibited there. No one can approach to see what this gigantic antenna is capable of collecting communications across the continent. Only uniformed with a red flag and yellow stars can cross their gates.
The African continent is one of the biggest bets in China. Politically he began his first steps in the 60s when he began to dispute his influence in that region with the United States and his rival in communism, the Soviet Union. They were times of Cold War in which money did not flourish in the capital of the Lost City. Now the story is different… at least economical.
In Nigeria, for example, in addition to the large companies associated with Beijing, such as Huawei or China Bridge, the regime pushes smaller entrepreneurs to settle abroad and penetrate populations to the bone. They leave China because of the limited internal business opportunity they can find in a mostly impoverished community or by direct order.
In Igbesa, a small area of 60 kilometers from Lagos, the most central city in the nation is one of them. In that free trade zone, those who command are Chinese businessmen who were facilitated by the Nigerian central power. The “investors” promised to improve infrastructure. They did it to the extreme: now in the critical and extensive town, they managed to impose their laws, police that answers them and their administration.
But the forgotten city of the state of Ogun not only suffers from the Chinese police yoke. The environment is also a victim of destruction. Its population has made desperate requests for the authorities to put a brake on what they call an “invasion” of land. The community has denounced that at least 500 hectares had been destroyed by the “investors” even though they could not exploit them.
In absolute terms, the fraction mentioned above does not seem extensive… if one does not own one of the hectares there. The Chinese legal representatives responded harshly: they threatened the owners to sue them before the Justice and roll back the acquisition they had achieved in 1977. Litigation for them would be unthinkable in economic terms. The Nigerian government, meanwhile, looks the other way.
“Every time I come to Africa I see the dynamism of the continent and the aspirations of its people for development.” The words correspond to Jinping. He pronounced them in July 2018 on his fourth trip to the continent. Surely it did not refer to the dynamism and development perceived by the men and women of Ogun.
Namibia is another clear example. It completely opened the doors of its natural resources, almost the sole source of income for the economy of that relatively new state. Despite the promises of growth made by the “investors”, none allowed the development of its economy or infrastructure. The nation is still behind.
But not only that exploitation of its wealth ( diamonds, copper, uranium, gold, silver, lead, tin, lithium, cadmium, tungsten, zinc, and oil?) Interests Beijing. Also its political influence. Just ten days ago, both governments signed an agreement whereby the Chinese regime would train its armed forces. This is the Staff and Command College run by the CCP. For the president of the African country, Hage Geingob, it is about the contribution of knowledge in tactical and operational wars and the role of the military in a “democratic society”. No one was encouraged to laugh when the words “China” and “democracy” were conjugated in the same sentence.
Another irony also emerges: Namibia finally became independent in 1990. The rebellion that it knew to have in colonial times seems to have forgotten it by leaving in the hands of another empire resources and military training, instruments that any political discourse would place under the umbrella of sovereignty.
Other African nations have also allowed the landing of money, and officials and businessmen sent from the Chinese communist regime: Angola, Ethiopia, Kenya, Senegal, Sudan or Djibouti, are other blessings. In September 2018, Jinping had promised brand-new capitals on the continent for 60 billion dollars. The rulers shone their eyes. Some will have exaggerated an emotion. The gesture of the Chinese hierarchy, however, was indecipherable. Your goal, no. Three years before he had also offered an identical sum that he was making.
Specifically, that last sum – announced in the previous year at the summit of the China-Africa Cooperation Forum – will be distributed in 15,000 million dollars in interest-free loans, 20,000 million in credit lines, 10,000 million in development funds and 5,000 million to finance African imports. The rest in another type of private capital.
Bilateral trade between China and the mainland grows around 20% annually. Since 2000, Beijing has granted loans for 136,000 million dollars, according to data from the American consultant McKinsey. The argument is always the same from the Jinping office: the development of Africa. However, in that period, there is little evolution that can be observed in those countries.
In 20 years, a total of 5 million children have died as a result of the lack of an efficient sanitary system and drinking water in the continent that China says it helps. Where are the investments of thousands of tens of millions of dollars? A note from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in January this year warned that “thousands of people are at risk of starvation in Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen and it become more important than ever to forget so that the tragedy does not repeat itself”.
Difficult to sustain the defense of those investments that are not oriented to the most basic for the human being: food subsistence. Instead, the regime’s plans trace other horizons. Dozens of technology companies disembark in African countries to carry out all types of laying: mobile networks, electricity, airports, internet.
The management of these networks also implies the discretionary handling of the information they possess. And the examples of misuse are numerous. The most infamous is the one that uncovered a publication of the American newspaper ‘The Wall Street Journal’ that indicated that the giant telephone allied to the PCC – Huawei Technologies Co. – would have helped local governments spy on political rivals. The company immediately denied the information and threatened a trial in the New York-based newspaper. However, the evidence presented by the editorial research team was blunt and plausible.
The article described how the mechanism that served to intercept and unlock encrypted communications from opponents, hack their social networks, or track them in real-time worked. Even one of the favored governments publicly thanked the management. Impunity or naivety?
One of the victims was a political leader with ancestry over youth and a member of the Ugandan parliament. This is Robert Bobi Kyagulanyi, who is also a renowned musician. Bobi was being spied on by the digital surveillance unit of the Yoweri Museveni regime. However, their technicians could not penetrate their cell phone or their social networks. It was at that time that they would have gone to the leading mobile player in the country.
The technicians of the Chinese firm were then the solution to the problem facing the regime: spying on a rival of President Museveni, according to The Wall Street Journal. They needed two days to fulfill their mission. That was how they managed to penetrate their dialogues through WhatsApp and Skype. They documented all their movements and dismantled demonstrations that he was planning, then Bobi was arrested.
In Zambia, another president, Edgar Lungu, also suspected his rivals and did not have the necessary tools to catch them. That is why he ordered an espionage system that was not enough. Then his digital police had to resort to more reliable technicians. Coincidentally, they worked for the world’s largest technology company that Beijing protects.
On this occasion, two Huawei experts would have been hired by the Zambian government. They worked together from August 2018 to the end of April 2019. They dedicated their knowledge to infiltrating the networks and phones of annoying bloggers for the regime. Liswaniso Songiso, Patrick Mweetwa, Derrick Munshya, and Emmanuel Kamosha, the spied, were arrested after the “successful” hacking.
The domain could be further extended if Huawei wins 5G network contracts in Europe, Africa, and Latin America. Who will control the back doors that this laid would house across the planet? Who would be willing to give the neocolonizer his omnipresence in telecommunications?
The temptation is capitalized for anyone in need of money and investment promises. Especially in poor continents and in a different direction. Much more if they are nations whose leaders only thing they usually see towards the future is their political project and not sustainable development over time without compromising natural resources, one of the main values that a country can have, in addition to the strategic vision of its drivers.