Colonies are not established overnight. It takes years of meticulous planning, plenty of money and muscle power. The British Raj in India began with the spice trade, the French colonisation of North America began with voyages, the Dutch began trading in Indonesia before they started interfering in Java’s internal business, Britain began controlling Africa through local leaders before the Crown sent its troops. Colonisers do not come with a warning sign, not do they take a fixed route. In the 21st century colonisers come disguised as development partners. China has schemed its way into several countries and has diversified its expansionist policy. We can see how Beijing has infiltrated top firms and how it is interfering with decision making of foreign governments. China is doing this with the three I’s: ‘investment’, ‘influence’, ‘interference’.
Let’s begin with investment. Beijing is investing in infrastructure projects in almost sixty countries. Theses countries account for 60 percent of world the population and 30 percent of the world GDP. Between 2013 and 2018, China invested nearly $614 billion in countries that are members of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Morgan Stanley (global leader in financial services) predicts the number will go up to $1.3 trillion within a decade. It is clear that China’s foreign investment is a new form of colonialism. Malyasia’s former prime minister Mahathir bin Mohamad once said that the BRI is becoming a new version of colonialism. This, of course, was before Mahathir bowed down to Beijing and started singing a different tune.
This is not the 16th or 17th century, so China cannot use its army to conquer land, although it has tried that, too, but the smoother and safer way is to conquer through cash. China lays the debt trap, projecting itself as the Messiah. The British Raj is still considered by many to have been good for India. It was said to be the White Man’s Burden. The British came with the promise of civilisation, the Chinese come with the promise of development.
Which brings us to the second “I”, i.e., ‘influence’. In 2016, Chinese president Xi Jinping tasked state media with selling the China story. In the past four years Beijing has signed media cooperation agreements with BRI countries. For example in Thailand, more than a dozen media outlets have inked deals with Xinhua. The year 2019 was named the ASEAN-CHINA year of media exchanges. China is conducting media outreach programmes in almost every continent. The aim is simple and the purpose is clear. Beijing wants to tell the entire world that China has good intentions and, like Xi Jinping said this year at the UNGA, China will never seek expansion. But this is far from the truth. Five-hundred Confucius institutes have sprung around the world; in 2004 that number was just one. Human Rights Watch says these institutes consider political loyalty while hiring people. The job is of course to sell the Chinese narrative. Remember the role of local leaders in British colonisation of Africa; this is history playing all over again.
The third “I” is interference. China has positioned members of the CCP into consulates, universities and top firms around the world to interfere with policy making and to influence governments. The signs of Chinese colonisation are staring us in the face and what is surprising is the world’s response to it, or should I say, the lack of it.
—The writer is a lecturer in Political Science. [email protected]