Tuesday, November 10, 2015


Many of you will have surfed randomly through these pages, choosing countries because you live there, or are planning to visit, or for some other reason, probably highly personal, that made a connection for you. Others of you may have started at the beginning, and worked your way systematically through the pages, reading this miniature encyclopaedia as if it were a novel. If you are from the latter group, and you have made it this far, congratulations; but let me also acknowledge that there is a question on your lips, that has been on your lips for some while now, and which I have failed to answer. Let me phrase it in this way: there are so many corners of the world which turn out to be "owned" or "managed" by Britain, France, the USA and Russia, but surely that list is incomplete, for should it not also include China? That is to say, China beyond the obvious local issues of Hong Kong and Taiwan and Macau?

The truth is, that it is very hard to say how much of the world is now owned by China, but the evidence appears to allow an adjective 
that ebbs and flows somewhere between "significant" and "imperial", and with every likelihood that it will expand and not contract in the decades ahead. GlobalInsolvency.com, a website worth perusing just because of the dark beauty of its name, notes that China is now the biggest holder of US debt (about $1.28 trillion), and is in negotiations to take on the somewhat smaller but still massive debt of Italy, which the EU would lack the resources to undertake itself, even were it not already propping up Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland, to name just four. In the first decade of this millennium, China placed a good deal of focus on Australia as well as the USA, but it was really Africa that was its primary target: thirty-four countries in Africa, with Nigeria taking pride-of-place ($21bn of Chinese investment), Ethiopia and Algeria attracting more than $15bn between them, Angola and South Africa collecting almost $10bn, and Zambia, for a long while, threatening to overtake all of them as China did for the country what Britains feared the Arabs were doing to their homeland back in the 1990s, conquest by economics.

It started with the Chinese building an eleven hundred mile railway across Zambia in the 1970s, when sanctions against Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) prevented the Zambians from transporting their minerals to the coast; Zambia is landlocked and the Europeans refused to help. The Chinese then set up and ran Zambia China Mulungushi Textiles, the largest textile mill in the country, producing almost twenty million yards of international awards quality cloth every year, employing more than 1,000 people, effectively providing northern Zambia with an economy that it would not otherwise have, and sustaining the nation's cotton growers. All good, you would have said. Until you realise what China really wants in exchange, and why the number of Chinese in Zambia has escalated into the tens of thousands. Zambia is mineral-rich, and China wants those minerals. At knock-down prices preferably. Which it now feels entitled to, and can therefore demand, because look what we have done for you.

What China has actually done is to take home the quality textile goods, and ship into Zambia vast quantities of cheap, poor quality goods from its own factories, flooding the market in Zambia. Most construction workers are now Chinese, while Zambians who could do the same work look on from the unemployment benefits queues; the Chinese companies simply undercut the Zambian ones, and bring their labourers on the very cheap from home. Zambian markets are full of Chinese selling bamboo and beansprouts and cabbages - not famously indigenous Zambian foods, but cheaper than most local produce. And when the Zambians say no to the Chinese, government to government, the response is a threat to withdraw investment. The classical techniques of colonialist bullying. Europe taught it to the world, so we shouldn't be the ones who are protesting. Nor do we need to. The Zambians themselves are beginning to protest. Sadly, for them, and for the rest of Africa, and probably for Europe and America and Australia as well, it may already be too late.

Marks For: 590 (the distance in feet that you would have to dive, or fall, to get from the top of Mosi-oa-Tunya, the "Smoke that Thunders”, which we know colonially as the Victoria Falls, to the bottom of Batoka Gorge and the waters of the Zambezi River)

Marks Against: potentially ∞ (the symbol known as the "lemniscate"; it stands for "infinity")

Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
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The Argaman Press

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