As Biden tries to look tough back home, the dual reality of disunity and overarching priority of economic benefit between the USA‘s traditional allies undermines that image.
Although China‘s meteoric economic success in the last 30 years informs Xi Jinping‘s Make China Great Again project, the lack of clear ideology besides being a dictatorship that may crumble with his demise, undermines the new endeavour and may not achieve Xi‘s dreams.
The fact that the West kept itself busy with the ill-fated Iraq and Afghanistan misadventures – further complicated by a global financial crisis starting in 2008 – also helped China in the period to steadily grow its economic power. Let us not forget, the refocus on China by the West was initiated by the Obama administration back in 2009.
That strategy was a mixture of reconciliatory moves that included the initial refusal to sell arms to Taiwan and Obama refusing to meet with the Dalai Lama coupled with promising Japan stronger ties. All this, early in the administration‘s life in 2009.
Now, Biden – the 46th President of the US, who is finding it hard to differentiate himself from his friend and predecessor, the 44th – is also trying to look tough to the world. While Trump went rampaging across the diplomatic landscape like a bull in a china shop (pun totally intended), he did achieve the ‘strong man against China’ image.
While the major leagues are off to this rocky start, one might wonder whence lies African countries? Well Trump’s S****hole country, Nigeria and all the rest of the developing nations (read Third World, the now unfashionable and previous term for S****hole countries) will be the usual pawns.
I will take Nigeria as an instance; in over sixty years the colonial nation‘s rudder has not only refused all effort of stabilization but has come almost completely unfastened.
In cyclic disaster fashion, the economy is in a deep hole. Every time a ‘new’ government comes along with impracticable policies, the average Nigerian is full of hope and contempt for the previous hapless one. And then the cycle repeats itself. Please extrapolate the last section by replacing ‘economy’ with ‘security’, ‘education’, ‘health’ and any other major index that flies your fancy. As african countries keep regurgitating leaders and the lack of independent ideology and by extension, policies – the neverending vicious cycle of violence and primal elevation of tribalism reemerges to lead the Dark Continent by instinctual motivation. Now equally replace ‘Nigeria’ with another dozen other African countries’ names and I am done with a short history of the Colonized Continent. I am also not using the term in the past tense.
Back to the pawns issue. China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR), the brainchild of Chinese President Xi Jinping, is an ambitious economic development and commercial project that is said to focus on improving connectivity and cooperation among multiple countries spread across the continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe.
The Belt and Road Initiative BRI, known in Chinese and formerly in English as One Belt One Road or OBOR for short, is a global infrastructure development strategy adopted by the Chinese government in 2013 to invest in nearly 70 countries and international organizations. Examples of Belt and Road Initiative infrastructure investments include ports, skyscrapers, railroads, roads, airports, dams, and railroad tunnels. The initiative is so important to the ancient empire that it was incorporated into the Constitution of China in 2017. A brainchild of Chinese President Xi Jinping – of course – is turning out to be a financial trap for most participating African and other poorer European nations. The TD/LR version goes like this. For African countries; China wants natural resources, you need the cheap funds and infrastructure that come along with the plan. China attaches no ideological concerns like the inconvenience of human rights records and all that to the deal. Shake on it.
A 2019 study conducted by global economic consultants CEBR forecasted that BRI was likely to boost world GDP by $7.1 trillion per annum by 2040. The Initiative is wide and enormously influential in today’s international trade as it is predicted to cover 40% of all global trade in the near future.
China’s return on investment from increased port access and supply chains is not all about economics. In five cases—Djibouti, Walvis Bay (Namibia), Gwadar (Pakistan), Hambantota (Sri Lanka), and Piraeus (Greece)—China’s port investments have been followed by regular People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy deployments and strengthened military agreements. In this way, financial investments have been turned into geostrategic returns.
The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) was formed in 2000 and brings together China and the 53 African countries with which it has diplomatic relations (only Swaziland is left out), including the African Union, have held 3 summits so far. This seamlessly falls into the objectives of the more recent and global BRI.
Africa did not fare better under the West’s slavery and resource rape of earlier times, neither is it going to under the crude and authoritarian approach by Beijing. Although the West is crafting a counter to the BRI – more on this below – what this all means to Africa is anyone’s guess. One thing is for sure though, there will be more funds sloshing around to fuel proxy wars, useless and devastating conflicts on the continent as the powers vie for control. It’s the grass that suffers when the elephants are fighting.
The sad effect is our wholesale copy culture in policy, strategy and half-hearted implementation has remained the only constant. Even sadder though is the inability of influential African thinkers to remove themselves from the seeking of solutions from the broken Capitalist or Social/Communist ideologues.
Do not lose your breath on the influence of the UN, World Bank, WTO and the rest of the alphabet soup. They are tools in the hands of the US mostly, assisted by the other Western powers in order not to lose entirely to Washington. Please Google up on the pretext of the Iraq War – Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). Colin Powell, the former Secretary of State, has called his 2003 speech to the United Nations, laying out the Bush administration’s rationale for war in Iraq, a “blot” on his record. The speech set out to detail Iraq’s weapons program, but as the intelligence would later confirm, that program was nonexistent. Another article for another impulsive free time. Please oblige me by stepping into the next section.
The United States interprets the BRI as a plan for a sinocentric international trade network. The recent G-7 Summit provided a platform for Biden to introduce a counter to the BRI by corralling other members to unite against China. The plan is still vague and apparently still on the drafting table, so no details as of yet.
On the European front, the USA’s traditional allies have lost their stomach for more military misadventure, with Emmanuel Macron of France declaring NATO in a ‘brain-death’ state. Besides, China is not Iraq or Afghanistan. The Covid-19 pandemic ran roughshod with the West’s already weakened economies. Ironically, China – the geographically origin of the pandemic and suspected manufacturer by many in the West – was the first to show signs of economic recovery, while countries like Australia that was hailed at the beginning is now losing that crown with the different flavours of Covid-19 emerging as a Third Wave. Australia was formerly a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative by the way, having pulled out in 2019. Stemming for the G-7 Summit and for the first time, a NATO document has included China in the list of security threats for the alliance, has not passed unnoticed in Beijing.
China is aggressively rebuilding and expanding its military capability, while bullying its neighbours and friends of the West like Japan, the Philippines and Taiwan – not to mention messing with Hong Kong with a heavy crackdown on all opposition to Chinese policy.
The drums of war are slowly being dusted and polished by both sides in this scenario. Whether the preparation will escalate into real conflict and how, is another matter. The role of Russia as a possible spoiler, also remains a question as Putin’s similarly aggressive stance – but at a smaller scale – against Europe unfolds.
These drums are increasingly digital; as the predicted next major conflict between powers will be highly technological. Recently, the US has accused both China and Russia with attacking several western governments and significant critical infrastructure companies with cyberattacks.
According to Wikipedia, the use of the drum for military purposes did not begin until the crusades in early medieval Europe. The European armies first encountered their use by the Islamic military forces, who primarily employed traditional kettledrums, and found that the sound would particularly affect the Crusaders’ horses, who had not previously encountered them. Today the war drums are singing a medley that is difficult for the differing allies to interpret and accordingly march to with clarity.
– Mohammed Mahmud is an IT consultant with divergent interests ranging from artificial intelligence (AI) to international affairs (AI, again). He writes from Abuja.