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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Winner take all’
Question of the Day
It is telling that Ms. Moyo cannot bring herself to mention, even in a footnote, one of the biggest territorial grabs in history, namely, China’s claim to the resources of the entire South China Sea — lock, stock and oil barrel. To assert that claim, China has built a dozen bases on the two archipelagos that sprawl across the sea, the Spratlys and the Paracels. Last year it created an administrative city that it calls Sansha to govern the area. And this year it announced that it was formally garrisoning troops there.
At the same time, China has arrogantly rebuffed the competing territorial claims of Vietnam, the Philippines and several other Southeast Asian countries. Not only that, but it has shown a willingness to back up its own claim with military force. China’s actions have united the ASEAN nations against it and led several to seek closer ties with the United States.
Then there is Ms. Moyo’s highly questionable claim that Chinese aid, unlike Western aid, comes with no strings attached. Beijing’s aid is in fact anything but altruistic. It is intended to bend as many governments to its will as possible.
Take the country of Cambodia, for example, which suffered so much from the Maoist-inspired and Beijing-supported predations of the Khmer Rouge. Prime Minister Hun Sen, referring to those depredations, used to call China “the root of all that is evil in Cambodia.” Now he gushes that Phnom Penh’s relations with Beijing are “entering into the best stage in history.”
Why has Hun Sen become a panda hugger? One word: money. When the World Bank threatened to suspend hundreds of millions of dollars worth of assistance because of Phnom Penh’s “rampant corruption and its crackdown on civil liberties,” China came to the rescue with an April 2006 offer of $600 million worth of grants and loans. Other money has followed.
In Angola, home of the second-largest oil deposits in Africa, the International Monetary Fund tried to force the government “to agree to provisions that would slash graft and improve economic management” as a first step toward moving the country in a democratic direction. Again China stepped in, offering a package of loans and credits worth up to $6 billion, on condition that Chinese firms carry out the reconstruction of the oil infrastructure. Privileged access to Angola’s oil resources may well be another, unpublicized, condition.
When Western aid agencies insist that dictators respect human rights, they are not tying loans “to harsh policy restrictions,” as Ms. Moyo insists, but to universal human values. When China rewards bad behavior by bribing those same dictators and turning a blind eye to human rights abuses, this is not accurately characterized as a “value-neutral” foreign policy. Rather, it is one that encourages despotism and rewards tyranny.
Regarding how China might behave when it gets a lock on a certain commodity, we need not resort to speculation. Two years ago, Beijing used its monopoly on what are called rare earths to punish Japan for arresting a Chinese fishing boat captain who violated Japanese territorial waters. Because Japan depends upon Chinese shipments of rare earths to manufacture sophisticated electronics goods, this economic warfare proved very effective. Japan found an excuse to release the captain and, after a time, China ended the embargo.
I can understand why the Angola and Cambodia examples may have escaped Ms. Moyo’s attention, but I do admit to being surprised that she passed over the South China Sea without mention. The absence of any mention of this dispute — which is, after all, about resources — in a book about China’s drive for resources is puzzling, especially since it directly contradicts her claim that China is a benign international player with no territorial ambitions.
But these lacunae fade into insignificance when compared with Ms. Moyo’s failure to mention China’s embargo on rare earth shipments to Japan. Here we have a major international incident that dragged on for months, attracted enormous media attention and provides a definitive answer to the question of how China might behave when it gains the upper hand in the competition for resources. Here we see the Chinese party-state using its near-monopoly on a given commodity — rare earths — to engage in a form of economic warfare to achieve political and strategic ends. And the author of “Winner Take All” has nothing to say about it.
Ms. Moyo subtitled her book, “China’s race for resources and what it means for the world.”
The book that subtitle describes, however, remains to be written.
• Steven W. Mosher, the author of “Hegemon: China’s Plan to Dominate Asia and the World” (Encounter Books), is the president of the Population Research Institute.
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