Thursday, 23 December 2010

The limits of Chinese expansionism also known as "soft power"

This is a good read about the People's Republic of China so called "soft power" and its growing influence in South East Asia poorer countries, Laos in particular and Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam in general, does "soft power" has its limits? I do not have an answer but perhaps this article will enlighten readers:


"Journalist and author Bertil Lintner argues in a forthcoming book that China's economic boom and rapid infrastructure development have spawned a new outward wave of Chinese migration, one of potential historic proportions. His research shows how outward Chinese investment often acts as a front for state-backed outward migration to relieve population and resource pressures at home.

(Because less than 7% of China's land is arable, food security for its 1.3 billion is a major policy concern.)

The outward migration of capital and labor, however, is being complicated by a new sense of Chinese exceptionalism, a phenomena both Lintner and Stuart-Fox note in their studies and one clearly on display in China's special economic zones in Laos. Stuart-Fox writes that Chinese newcomers have "little in common with the older Sino-Lao community" which integrated more readily in their newfound homes and that "most have little sensitivity towards Lao culture". He characterized the new generation of Chinese migrants in Laos as "brashly nationalistic".

Read the rest:

The limits of Chinese expansionism
By Shawn W Crispin

BOTEN, Laos - On a November evening in this northern Lao border town, a crowd gathered around a traffic accident between two Chinese drivers. As tempers flared, Chinese casino guards moved tentatively to keep the peace. But the absence of any uniformed Lao police officers underscored the authority gap in a growing number of areas in the country where Vientiane has effectively ceded sovereignty to Beijing.

Chinese investors have built and run a sprawling casino complex at Boten, one of two special economic zones dedicated to gambling where China maintains administrative autonomy. At Boten, front desk hotel staff speak only Chinese, the yuan is the required currency of settlement and Chinese prostitutes peddle their services on business cards printed in Mandarin rather than Lao. At the other, outside the town of Huay Xai, Chinese cars travel without license plates.

The special concessions are quid pro quo for the official aid, grants and non-interest loans Beijing has given in recent years to Laos to finance badly needed and trade facilitating infrastructure. The assistance has been widely referred to as China's "soft power", a diplomatic gambit aimed at changing perceptions about China in a Southeast Asian region that has often viewed its giant northern neighbor more as a strategic threat than economic opportunity.

Buoyed by rising economic clout and driven by a 2001 policy initiative known as zou chu qu, translated literally "to go out", China's fast-evolving model of capital expansionism is starting to raise questions about the sustainability of that outward drive. With its national coffers overflowing from decades of trade surpluses, China's foreign investments are expected to grow exponentially in the years ahead, particularly into contiguous, resource-rich Southeast Asia.

But Chinese foreign investments now come with big strings attached, including allowances to import unskilled Chinese labor for Chinese-funded projects in countries often desperate to create jobs for their own. Nowhere is that more apparent than in Southeast Asia's less developed states, where China's generous financial aid has influenced government policies in Beijing's favor. It is significant that China has made its deepest investment inroads in states governed by similarly authoritarian regimes, namely Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

Strong and unaccountable governments have allowed for state-sponsored land grabs and forced village relocations to pave the way for many Chinese investments, especially in extractive industries and plantation agriculture. An entire village was forcibly moved to a barren relocation site to make way for the Chinese special economic zone outside of Huay Xai. That's leading some in the region to associate Chinese investment with corrupt government practices, rising perceptions that are motivating the first nationalist stirrings against Chinese expansionism.

read the full article here.

Shawn W Crispin is Asia Times Online's Southeast Asia Editor.

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