For the past decade or so, China has been ramping up its foreign involvement with the clear and obvious intention of expanding its economic, political, and social reach. With the highest population in the world, China has vast access to labour and capital resources both to develop their internal productivity as well as to extend their range of influence in the geopolitical sphere of the 21st century.
In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a strategic “Belt and Road Initiative”, which would put forth global development goals and project where China could contribute to project development in foreign nations. The government praises the system as “a bid to enhance regional connectivity and embrace a brighter future”. Because of the lack of infrastructural parity on a global scale, China has put forth a plan to support developing nations in their projects to elevate their foundational core.
The criticisms of the initiative though have been rampant and widespread. China doesn’t necessarily have the best track record on the international stage when it comes to upholding a general democracy as well as respecting human rights and freedoms. The nation has become a mecca for corporate labour and production simply because of the meager minimum wages and scant labour regulations. Nonetheless, businesses are often forced to produce through cheap Chinese firms to remain competitive on both the domestic and foreign scale.
Along with their unorthodox production strategy, China is a one party state, led by the Communist Party of China, effectively rejecting democracy and still somehow forcing the rest of the world to accept that harsh reality. With such a despicable and oppressive regime China has faced disputes and conflict with the people of Hong Kong, Taiwan, Uyghur Muslims living in China, as well as with other Southeast Asian nations regarding claims in the South China Sea, all in addition to their most recent economic disputes with the United States. Needless to say, China has stubbornly forced itself onto countless entities seeking democracy and independence, and has acted as a thorn in the side of world economic equity, disrupting global and national security on a massive scale.
As of January 2020, China has already invested over $200 billion into their Belt and Road Initiative, which has the potential to reach $1.3 trillion by 2027. Tense relations between China and the US has forced China’s hand into expanding its reach into a plethora of smaller but more bountiful markets in Africa, Europe, Asia, and South America. So far, China has already signed agreements with or attracted interest from over sixty foreign nations for projects funded by the Belt and Road Initiative – accounting for over two thirds of the world’s population.
China’s first target with the initiative was Pakistan. The two nations agreed upon a $46 billion investment in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, as well as several subsequent investments in addition. The plans for the investment include a seaport, airport, several new highways and upgrades to existing roadways, railway upgrades, the world’s largest solar park, several wind farms, several hydro-plants and dams, coal mines, and LNG pipelines. China has risen to an economic status where it no longer needs to invest in material goods for its own self, but rather can spend graciously on foreign development projects to garner support in the international community – likely to gain more power in global organizations like the United Nations and World Trade Organization.
As some of these international development projects have been completed and taken their role in their respective local communities, receiving nations have faced severe uncertainty with regards to their debt to China. One example of this is the now-crippling economy of Ecuador. In and around 2016, China built several dams, bridges, highways, schools, health clinics, and irrigation systems in the small South American nation, totalling over $19 billion. Because Ecuador pays in petroleum rather than cash, this deal has also had severe negative impacts on its environmental sustainability, specifically leading to rampant deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest. When countries like Ecuador find themselves unable to repay the Chinese loans, they end up ceding the very assets that were built for them to begin with, along with the revenue and strategic influence that comes with them.
Not only is it scary that China is debt-trapping vulnerable and poverty-stricken nations, they are doing so at an alarmingly high rate and coming back to seize the power and influence that comes with the geographically significant development projects. Having one nation so advanced in their domestic territory brings uncertainty, but when superpowers literally expand their geopolitical reach, likely through illegal means, it spells another Cold War on the brink.
The problem here is that China has every legal right to grant these ‘foreign development projects’ to the nations who need them most, but if the motives align, which many argue that they do, these ‘development projects’ may simply be unaffordable scams to haul back a number of geopolitical assets to the Chinese Communist regime.
Global and domestic security of the very democratic institutions we live by are being put at risk by the inhumane, unethical, and dictatorial exploitation of vulnerable and destitute nations by the Communist Party of China. It now stands as the responsibility of established democracies to champion for independent nations such that they may avoid exploitation and being duped by the Chinese communist cause. Leaders of the most prominent global democracies must take a stand on the international abuse on China’s part. Forcing impoverished nations into bribes and vague agreements for some degree of satiation reflects miserably on democratic institutions and those who uphold them. So, the time is now for real democracy to do its work on the international stage – to stand up against dictatorial regimes and to thwart any foreign imposition on any nation’s sovereignty and national security.