By Chris Anyokwu
China today as always looms large in global imaginary, given its geopolitical role in world affairs. In terms of geographical presence, its land mass is believed to be over 9.597million km2, making it the second-largest country on earth, next to Russia. As a matter of fact, China shares geographical boundaries with 14 countries, thus, making it almost completely dominating the entire Asian continent. It is important to keep in mind that China did not just happen to us recently in the contemporary era. Anyone familiar with historical and biblical accounts would know that China has always played a role or two in human affairs. Even in Bible days China featured prominently (see Isaiah 49: 12). Here, however, is not the place to pursue the historical and cultural evolution of China.
But suffice it to say that China is synonymous with ancient dynasties, wars of conquest, imperialist expansionism and cultural revanchism. In a word, China is distinguished for its insatiable expansionist ambition and lust for power and domination. A brief excursus on this score would suffice. As earlier noted, China’s roots seem to be lost in the mists of antiquity.
We may simply mention in passing some of its major dynasties which laid the formidable foundations of the People’s Republic of China: (1) The Shang Dynasty (c.1600 – 1050BC); (2) The Zhou Dynasty (1050 0 256BC); (3) Han Dynasty (206BC – AD220); (4) Sui Dynasty (581 – 617)/Tang Dynasty (618 – 907) and (5) Song Dynasty (960 – 1276). To be certain, China’s agonistic search for its own soul in the life-and-death smithy of its inchoate conscience had made it go to great lengths to create its own corporate socio-cultural and political identity. Part of this very painful journey to self-identity as a nation had involved wars, battles and scrapes which it had had to engage in with other countries, both near and far. China, for instance, fought the Opium Wars (1839 – 1842; 1856 – 1860) with Great Britain which it lost in both cases thus making the British gain more than a foothold in Asian affairs. Undaunted, China had gone on to “annex” Tibet, Taiwan, Macao and Hong Kong, among other ethnic nationalities to create a socio-cultural mettisage that is China today.
Evidently, this has dreadful resonances in these parts, doesn’t it? Occupying the commanding heights of global affairs on account of its demographic dominance – its population is reputed to be in the neighbourhood of 1.398 billion – China has been able to leverage its human capital resources comprising mind-boggling armies of hard-working and patriotic citizens, male and female alike, to sustain its pride of place in world affairs. Apart from being a permanent member on the UN’s Security Council and being a nuclear-weapon nation, China single-handed takes on the West, led by the US, in their show of military might over the ownership of the South China Sea region. Annually, the rest of the world looks forward to being regaled by China and the US as they flex their military muscles in this regard.
On the economic front, China has also taken the world by storm. Witness the burgeoning influence of Ali Baba on e-commerce. Thus China’s economic ascendancy over the West as a whole and the US in particular has led to the so-called Trade War between China and the USA, the two biggest economies in the world. By the same token, the tug-of-war between the American Dollar and the Chinese RMB has remained the veritable battleground of planetary economio-political sweepstakes – West versus East, whose side are you on?
Part of this very painful journey to self-identity as a nation had involved wars, battles and scrapes which it had had to engage in with other countries, both near and far. China, for instance, fought the Opium Wars (1839 – 1842; 1856 – 1860) with Great Britain which it lost in both cases thus making the British gain more than a foothold in Asian affairs.
That’s the Big Question in international affairs today. At this juncture, a bit of context is crucial. Part of the Eastern ideology is driven by Confucianism, an essentially inspirational religion of life deriving in the main from the teachings of Confucius. Confucius (551 – 479BCE) was a Chinese philosopher and politician of the Spring and Autumn period who was “traditionally considered the paragon of Chinese sages.
His teachings and philosophy formed the basis of East Asian culture and society” (Google.com). His interests include Ethics, Education, Music, Poetry, Political philosophy and social philosophy. What’s more, Confucius’s three main concepts include RU (humaneness), righteousness, propriety/etiquette, loyalty and filial piety, along with strict adherence to social roles (Google.com). Having internalised these tenets of Confucianism down the ages, China is keen to sinicize the world through the instrumentality of philosophy. Small wonder, then, China has taken to planting The Confucius Institute all over the world in a bid to colonise the universal mind.
China is keen to sinicize the world through the instrumentality of philosophy. Small wonder, then, China has taken to planting The Confucius Institute all over the world in a bid to colonise the universal mind.
Thus unlike the West which captured and colonised and still continues to colonise the Black Mind, China is not so much enamoured of religion or spiritual mystification as it is interested in spreading its gospel of economic prosperity anchored on philosophy, an otherwise commonsensical organogram of life and living a la Confucius. Yet, at this conjunctural moment, it is meet to pause and reflect on the all-important question: how authentic is the China Alternative? How sincere and noble are China’s intentions in its relations with Africa? Is it been driven by altruism or by a far more subtle form of colonialism, acculturation and, ultimately, cultural and racial bastardisation? Are we in for another round of the 1884/85 Berlin Conference – the so-called scramble and partitioning of Africa?
Does China seek to complete what the Europeans started, namely the uprooting of the African from his/her autochthonous soil, thereby rendering him/her rootless and homeless; inauthentic, DEAD but “alive”? Isn’t China’s inroads into the Conradian Heart of Darkness a detour to Berlin? Let’s consider the facts. In contradistinction to the West’s Christian proselytisatian of Africa, China is busy erecting the Confucius Institute all over the place slowly but systematically converting Africans to its way of life. Another way China is using to spread its culture around the world is by establishing “Chinatowns” (a mini-town within a city) in major towns and cities outside of Mainland China. China thus boasts of many such Chinatowns in Africa. It is a kind of home-away-from-home for Chinese citizens everywhere they congregate in the Diaspora.
In Nigeria, for instance, the Chinese have not hidden their territorial and economic ambitions as they are involved in agro-allied businesses and construction work. But the flipside to this is that they have always made headlines for treating their Nigerian employees shabbily. Apart from engaging in contract staffing and casualisation, cases of mysterious industrial accidents resulting in fatalities have been reported. Although on the culture front, China has been lagging behind the West in their scramble over what is left of Africa Chinese and African traders now flood the Africa market with Chinese products. These products are largely substandard at best and fake at worst. Some are “clones” of Western products. There is suspicion of collusion most times between the Nigerian/African business class and Chinese manufacturers themselves to deliberately produce fake and sub-standard products for our consumption. It’s all about the bottom-line! Only recently, Nigeria’s Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi was quoted as threatening to send back defective Chinese trains to China. He had said this on account of the reported malfunctioning of some Chinese trains in use in Nigeria at present. Many times train passengers are left stranded in the middle of nowhere because of these faulty trains. The question to ask is: is that how often trains break down in China itself? When people joke by saying a product is “Taiwan-made” (or roundabout reference to China), they actually mean it is fake or substandard. Thus China, like the West, sees Africa as the world’s dumpsite! Reach-me-downs, used items and products as well as seemingly new products end up on our shores with all the accompanying incalculable health, ethical and environmental problems. Really, China’s bling-bling is not always beautiful or salubrious but is usually rococo and meretricious. As the saying goes, all that glitters is not gold. Remember the plastic rice of China saga? How about stories of organ harvesting reported to be going on with many Chinese nationals fingered to be part of the horrid and grisly business?
When people joke by saying a product is “Taiwan-made” (or roundabout reference to China), they actually mean it is fake or substandard. Thus China, like the West, sees Africa as the world’s dumpsite!
China’s trump card in its sworn determination to snatch the Africa trophy from the West is, perhaps, trade. Put more clearly and directly, China is now the Darling of the Downtrodden, the low-and medium-income “nations” and countries of the world. China is the undisputed Lender of Last Resort in Africa. It is our Father Christmas. Ask Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, ask Yoweri Musoveni of Uganda; ask … ask Buhari.
Whilst the party between China and Africa lasts, we can conveniently silence the voice of caution in our troubled hearts forewarning us of the mounting Debt Overhang dangling over us and, more tragically, our children and children’s children. Whereas you would have thought that our rulers would be more inward-looking and innovative in jazzing up the Nigerian economy, the present regime is hell-bent on going bowl-in-hand to China and other places, begging alms, borrowing and borrowing. He who goes a-borrowing, goes a-sorrowing, right? Well, only a few days ago, China’s ruling Communist Party marked its Centennial, i.e., 100-year anniversary. China’s X1 Jinping praised his compatriots for their “resilience” and “patriotism” and declared that China’s rise was irreversible. He also had choice words for China’s satellite states like Taiwan which has been fighting to be independent. He promised to “crush” them. So, Africa beware! Both the West and China are looking to pick us apart, to peck at us dry and to “Exterminate the Brutes!” (Conrad’s phrase). We must have our wits about us; we must eat with China with a long spoon; we must say: “Thanks, no thanks” to its largesse, i.e., its loans that have imperialist conditionalities attached to them. Let us not forget that the Devil is in the details and we are not a people particularly strong on reading between the lines or appreciating fine details. Here’s calling on African economists and policy-makers to speak out on this before it is too late. Affliction shall not rise up the second time.
*Chris Anyokwu, PhD, writes from University of Lagos.