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Geopolitics of the Indian Ocean, from Peter Myers

(1) Geopolitics of the Indian Ocean

(2) Myanmar a 'front line' in the conflict between the US and China

(3) Maldives: US & India try to oust pro-China President

(4) Thailand's Kra Canal: China's Way Around the Malacca Strait

(5) Xi visits Mauritius - tiny islands but strategic future base?

(6) China-built dam to end water supply challenges in Mauritius

(7) Xi Jinping visit to three small African countries on his first state trip of 2018

(8) China’s Belt and Road Makes Inroads in Africa

(9) Xi Jinping heads to Africa to clinch China's hold over the continent

(10) China now owns more than 70% of Kenya’s external debt

(11) Eight countries in danger of falling into China’s “debt trap”

(12) China is pushing Africa into debt, says America’s top diplomat


(1) Geopolitics of the Indian Ocean

- by Peter Myers, August 8, 2018

Antony C. Sutton, who wrote a series of books about how Western companies had supplied technology to the Soviet Union, later wrote that Western companies were building up China, with a view to precipitating a clash with the USA.

The Deep State, and International Jews such as Soros and Rothschild, are fixated with Russia, and stopping Trump from normalizing relations with it. Meanwhile China's Belt and Road is surging through Central Asia - formerly Russia's domain - and also through the Indian Ocean to the Middle East and Africa.

Trump wanted to impose Peace on the Middle East. But to counter opposition from Globalists and International Jews, he had had to align with Zionist Jews, i.e. Netanyahu's faction. Their obsession about Iran has become his too. Will it lead to war? Will he make a deal, as with North Korea? We are on the edge of our seats.

Whilst Jewish issues and the clash with Islam remain at the forefront of MSM attention, China's diplomacy and creeping colonialism go relatively unreported.

Regimes branded violators of 'human rights', from Sri Lanka to Myanmar to Zimbabwe, ahave fallen into China's diplomatic sphere.

Thailand is there too, following its military coup; it now buys submarines from China.

Cambodia, pilloried by the West for its 'one party' elections, has moved back into China's camp. Laos too. In Indo-China, only Vietnam resists.

During Sri Lanka's civil war, the West, citing Human Rights grounds, refused to supply planes to the government, with which to defeat the Tamil Tigers. China did supply those planes, and has since funded infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka, and loaned it a lot of money, which Sri Lanka cannot replay. As a result it has handed the strategic port at Hambantota over to China, which could become a military base one day:

China's infrastructure projects in Myanmar give it access from Yunnan to the Indian Ocean. A pipeline transfers oil, bypassing the Strait of Malacca.

China would like to build  the Kra Canal across the peninsula in Thailand, so that its ships can also bypass the Strait of Malacca:

The Maldives and Mauritius have also moved into the Chinese zone. China's base at Djibouti looks like being the first of many in the Indian Ocean. It's building them as the European empires did.

US Imperialism, with bases such as Diego Garcia, is on a collision course with a new China that has no qualms about imposing "Unequal Treaties" on other countries that get into its debt. The result will be a series of bases and new "Hong Kongs" around the world.


(2) Myanmar a 'front line' in the conflict between the US and China

Apart from the Rohingya conflict in Rakhine state, Myanmar has other conflicts in its peripheral areas, conflicts in which artillery and aircraft are used. These conflicts have been ongoing for decades.

Development projects in these peripheral areas are important for stabilising the country, yet there are many hindrances:

- demarcation disputes between 'state' authorities and the federal government

- demarcation disputes between local 'non-state' actors and the federal government

These 'nonstate' actors raise funds by taxing enterprise in their area, and disperse those funds via welfare services.

Because of the demarcation disputes, government development projects run foul of the lines between 'federal, 'state', and 'non-state'.

Private projects may stand a better chance of success.

Some are national, others by foreign companies, eg mining companies based in China or the US.

Private companies from Western countries are not allowed to pay the taxes that the 'non-state' actors demand. This is deemed 'corruption' in the West, although the money is not going to rich dictators or Swiss bank accounts. As a result, Private development projects are stalled.

The military regime tried to liberalise the economy, establishing a national private sector and a developmental program; but sanctions imposed by the West destroyed that private sector.

After Aung San Suu Kyi won the election, some economic sanctions were removed, but others remain.

Aung San Suu Kyi has had no economic policy so far, except to rely on foreign advisers who peddle the IMF line.


(3) Maldives: US & India try to oust pro-China President

Maldives crisis: US-Indian strategic alliance forming

Hand-wringing about a 'democracy deficit' notwithstanding, the real aim is to counter China's growing presence in the Indian Ocean


FEBRUARY 7, 2018 12:38 PM (UTC+8)

Developments in Maldives have begun unfolding according to script. India, the United States and Britain are spearheading the demand that Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen comply with the order by his country’s Supreme Court to release his political opponents from prison and reinstate 12 former lawmakers as members of Parliament.

The script has a striking resemblance to what happened in Sri Lanka in 2014, with some minor variations on the fundamental theme – regime change. Thus, as in Sri Lanka, sworn enemies who had been at each other’s throats for decades suddenly made strange bedfellows to oust the strongman in the presidential palace, and as dawn broke one fine day, the ground beneath the regime shifted dramatically.

In the earlier case, a defecting faction of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party aligned with its sworn enemy, the United National Party, undermining thereby the towering incumbent president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s grip on power. Now a similar realignment has happened in Maldives, which now threatens President Yameen’s continuance in power.

This latest unholy alliance is between two former presidents, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom (a cousin of the incumbent president) and a man who once overthrew Gayoom, Mohamed Nasheed. Gayoom and Nasheed have been sworn enemies. What adds to the intrigue is the mysterious role by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Abdullah Saeed – who was, incidentally, appointed to the top court in 2009 by Nasheed when he was in power.

To what extent external powers promoted this opportunistic alliance to dethrone Yameen is a moot point. The US ambassador (based in Colombo) has been working closely with New Delhi to “promote” democracy. Nasheed and Saeed have visited Delhi in recent months at India’s invitation. Nasheed even addressed a panel at Brookings India to present his case for regime change in his country. Nasheed is a cult figure in London and Washington.

In sum, there is close coordination between New Delhi and Washington to get rid of Yameeen, who is branded as “pro-China.” Indeed, geopolitics is at the root of the current crisis in Maldives.

The missing link has been the secret move by the administration of US president Barack Obama in early 2013 to negotiate with Maldives about a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which would have led to increased military cooperation between the two countries, possibly including US bases there. But someone leaked a draft of the agreement to the press, and the US was forced to concede that such talks were indeed going on.

The real US-Indian game plan is to create a ‘second island chain’ connecting Maldives with Diego Garcia and Seychelles to curb the presence of Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean and to control the sea lanes through which China conducts the bulk of its foreign trade The negotiations got derailed when Yameen was elected president in November 2013 by narrowly defeating Nasheed. If Nasheed returns to power, the negotiations for the conclusion of the SOFA would be back on the table. Despite China’s firm and repeated denials that it has any intention of setting up a military base in Maldives, the China bogey has been whipped up by India.

The real US-Indian game plan is to create a “second island chain” (similar to the one in the Western Pacific) connecting Maldives with Diego Garcia (and Seychelles, where India has a base on one of the islands and has just concluded an agreement to build an airstrip and a sophisticated “monitoring station” at a cost of US$45 million) to curb the presence of Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean and to control the sea lanes through which China conducts the bulk of its foreign trade. By the way, the US and India closely cooperate in monitoring the presence of Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean.

As part of the overall US-Indian strategy, New Delhi signed a Bilateral Agreement for Navy Cooperation with Singapore last November that provides Indian Navy ships temporary deployment facilities and logistics support at Singapore’s Changi naval base, which is near the disputed South China Sea, enabling India to engage in more activity in the Strait of Malacca through which China’s oil and natural-gas imports pass.

India also maintains a big naval base in the Bay of Bengal in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands near the Strait of Malacca. Clearly, institutionalized mechanisms are being put in place to monitor Chinese naval activities in both the Strait of Malacca and the Arabian Sea – and to develop “chokepoints” to strangulate the Chinese economy in the event of a confrontation.

Suffice to say, control of the Maldivian atolls is a crucial template of the overall US-Indian strategy to counter China’s rapidly growing blue-water navy and its capacity to project power in the Indian Ocean.

The big question is whether India will intervene in Maldives and chase the recalcitrant Yameen out of power and put some amiable face like Nasheed in power, who can be trusted to act as “our man in the Arabian Sea.” Of course, any such intervention would constitute a violation of international law and the UN Charter.

Traditionally, India has taken a pragmatic approach toward “democracy deficits” in its neighborhood – in Myanmar and Bangladesh, for instance – or its extended neighborhood of West Asia or Central Asia. But the US has been encouraging India to shed its shyness and become assertive, worthy of a great power in the making.

To be sure, if India intervenes in Maldives, no matter its legality or legitimacy, New Delhi can be 100% certain of Anglo-American backing.

In Washington’s calculus, a unilateral Indian intervention in Maldives would signify a leap of faith on New Delhi’s part in the direction of a strategic alliance with the US. The Donald Trump administration has identified India as a key partner in its Asian strategies, but has found that getting India to shed its “strategic autonomy” and “independent foreign policies” has been an exasperating experience so far. An intervention in Maldives would signify that India is willing to cross the Rubicon, finally, and act shoulder-to-shoulder as America’s ally in Asia. To be sure, Maldives presents a defining moment for Indian foreign policy.

However, this is India’s Haiti moment, too. Simply put, the mulattoes and blacks of the Arabian Sea have locked horns and are seeking foreign intervention. The US Navy sent ships to Haiti 19 times between 1857 and 1913 to “protect American lives and property” and finally occupied Haiti in 1915 – until, ultimately, Haitians united in resistance of the US occupation and American forces had to leave in 1934. A repressive dictatorship took over from that point.


(4) Thailand's Kra Canal: China's Way Around the Malacca Strait

A 200-year-old dream might finally become a reality under China’s Belt and Road.

By Rhea Menon

April 06, 2018

The establishment of a Kra Canal in Thailand may soon become a reality as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The canal would permit ships to bypass the Malacca Strait, a crucial maritime chokepoint, amplifying the strategic significance of the project.

Throughout history, there have been multiple attempts by the Thai monarchy and European colonists to capitalize on the commercial and strategic importance of the region by constructing a canal across the narrow isthmus that connects Thailand to the Malay peninsula. In recent times, China’s global vision of a new Maritime Silk Road has renewed the attention on the possibility of developing the Kra Canal. The modern Kra or Thai Canal project would be connected to the various Chinese infrastructure and connectivity projects in the region.

The maritime portion of the BRI is an ambitious connectivity project that aims at linking Southeast Asia to Europe through the Indian Ocean. In the last two decades, the construction of new ports and maritime facilities has contributed to the increasing competition among nations in the Indian Ocean region. As China continues to expand its presence across the maritime domain, the establishment of infrastructure projects, like the Kra Canal, is likely to influence the new emerging security architecture in the Indo-Pacific.

Most recently, the Thai-Chinese Cultural and Economic Association and the European Association for Business and Commerce participated in a conference on the Kra Canal in Bangkok on September 2017 and a follow-up event on February 1, 2018, signaling a greater interest in executing the project.

Historical Significance

The strategic purpose of the canal was initially recognized in the 19th century under King Rama I and King Rama IV as a quick way to send Thai troops to counter Burmese invaders to the north of Thailand. Under King Rama V, the French sent Ferdinand de Lesseps, the engineer credited with building the Suez Canal, to raise the possibility of constructing the Kra Canal again. But, in an effort to appease the British who already had a strong foothold in the Malacca Strait, especially Singapore, the Thai King declined the offer.

After World War II, Thailand was forced to sign Article 7 of the Anglo-Thai treaty of 1946, which prevented them from constructing the canal in an effort to ensure international political stability. It wasn’t widely discussed again until the 1980s, when the potential of the project was highlighted by the American-led Executive Intelligence Review (EIR) and the Fusion Energy Foundation as a major economic advantage to an increasingly industrialized and globalized world. The report included the long-term advantage of the canal to Thailand and its neighbors.

The onset of the Asian Financial Crisis in the late 1990s provided a major setback for the Kra project and it wasn’t until Yingluck Shinawatra’s prime ministerial term that the canal came back to the limelight. Yingluck Shinawatra’s commitment to infrastructure and development projects to boost the country’s economy reinstated the country’s positive approach to the possibility of the Kra Canal.

The Canal as a Part of BRI

The possibility of the Kra Canal becoming a reality has been greatly increased by China’s Maritime Silk Road initiative and the Thai Canal Association (TCA), a group of influential former top brass soldiers advocating for the project. Based on reports, the canal will cost approximately $28 billion and take a decade to complete. China is reportedly willing to supply the financial and technological support to Thailand in hopes that the Thai canal reaches fruition.

The new Thai Canal project comprises two portions. The first portion is seen as a counter to the “Malacca Dilemma.” The canal will link the South China Sea to the Andaman Sea, connecting the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean respectively, drastically diminishing transit time across the busiest maritime shipping route. Chinese companies are extremely interested in speeding up the project as over 80 percent of Chinese oil imports flow pass through the Malacca Strait. The second portion is the establishment of a Special Economic Zone (SEZ). The new zone includes the addition of cities and artificial islands, which will enhance new industries and infrastructure in the region. This would make Thailand into a “logistic hub” and link Thailand to countries from all over the world.

While the Chinese government has refrained from making any official claims, reports state that China and Thailand signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the canal project in Guangzhou in 2015. The MoU was signed by the China-Thailand Kra Infrastructure Investment and Development company and Asia Union Group. Apart from the Chinese interests in the region, however, the Thai government is trying to attract other international funding from Japan, South Korea, India, and ASEAN countries.


While the construction of the canal is a lucrative idea with significant strategic implications, it is not without challenges. The major concerns associated with the construction of the project are environmental effects and Thai national security. The division of the isthmus has considerable environmental implications on the flora and fauna of the region. Chinese counterparts expect the Kra Canal to be similar to other Chinese megaprojects like the Three Gorges Dam in China.

A serious concern associated with the construction of the canal is its possible impact on Thai sovereignty and security. The southern portion of the country (south of the proposed canal) has seen an increasing divide between Thai Buddhists and Thailand’s Malay Muslims. The historical animosity between the two groups stems from 1902, when Thailand first annexed the independent state of Patani. In the last few decades, due to the mismanagement of the government, the southern part of the country has seen an increase in insurgency attacks. The construction of the Kra Canal would further exacerbate the volatile region, creating further divisions within the country.


(5) Xi visits Mauritius - tiny islands but strategic future base?

Xi 'looks forwards' to deepening bilateral relations with Mauritius

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Mauritius on Friday for a friendly visit to the country and said China and Mauritius have enjoyed friendly bilateral relations.

Xi added that he looks forward to exchanging views with the Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnautaut on bilateral relations, international and regional issues of mutual concern.

A meeting is scheduled between the two statesmen on Saturday.

Mauritius has an exclusive economic zone of over 2 million km2 and preferential access to trade blocs such as the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and Southern African Development Community (SADC).

The Indian Ocean Island nation appears to be a good businessdestination for Beijing.

Mauritius is the last country for Xi Jinping’s African tour, after his visits to Senegal, Rwanda and South Africa.


(6) China-build dam to end water supply challenges in Mauritius

PORT LOUIS. – The pristine beaches in the Indian Ocean Archipelago of Mauritius have always fascinated well-heeled foreign tourists and a China-built mega dam that was launched this June has added another sparkle to the country’s timeless beauty.

The Bagatelle dam, which is located 22 km southeast of the Mauritian capital of Port Louis and has an elevation of 350 to 400 meters, issurrounded by picturesque sceneries like expansive sugar cane plantations, which happens to be one of the country’s main foreign exchange earners alongside tourism.

Nowadays, the image of the dam is a spectacle to behold and local people are keen to take a leisurely walk in its vicinity to enjoy the cool breeze.

The dam is expected to benefit 20 percent of land mass and 30 percent of the population in Mauritius while enabling the capital of Port Louis and its surrounding areas to meet its long-term water needs by 2050, said Zhao Xudong, deputy manager of the Bagatelle project, in a recent interview with Xinhua.

The project was built by the China International Water & Electric Corporation (CWE), a wholly-owned subsidiary of the China Three Gorges Corporation, which was the first state-owned enterprise of the Chinese hydropower industry to take part in international economic cooperation initiatives.

“As the first large-scale water project in Mauritius that was financed by the Chinese government and successfully implemented by Chinese companies, and the only large-scale water project initiated in the last 15 years, the importance of Bagatelle dam is self-evident,” said Zhao.

Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, the former president of Mauritius, once said the China-built dam heralded a golden era of abundant water supply in fastgrowing Port Louis and its adjacent regions.

‘‘Thanks to Chinese friends for building this great dam for us.

‘‘It will make thousands of our citizens no longer worry about where to obtain clean drinking water,” said the ex-president of one of Africa’s most robust economies.

The completion of Bagatelle dam, described as a “grey miracle in the pearl of the Indian ocean,” marked a critical milestone in Mauritius’ quest to modernise its water supply services.

Lomush Juggoo, director of Mauritius’s Water Resources Unit, said the dam, when filled to capacity in the wake of a prolonged rainfall season, will supplement existing reservoirs to meet a rising demand for safe drinking water in the country. – Xinhua.


(7) Xi Jinping visit to three small African countries on his first state trip of 2018

Xi Jinping is visiting Africa this week. Here’s why China is such a popular development partner.

By Deborah Bräutigam

Why is Chinese President Xi Jinping visiting three small African countries on his first state trip of 2018?

This week Xi will be in Johannesburg for a summit of the leaders of the five BRICS emerging economies — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Other stops include the United Arab Emirates, Rwanda, Senegal and Mauritius. [...]

Until recently, China’s industrial prowess was bad news for Africa. Weakened by economic collapse and controversial structural adjustment programs in the 1980s and 1990s, countries in Africa began to import thousands of products from China — including plastics, building materials, packaged food and garments that could profitably be made locally. Nigeria’s textile industry collapsed under Chinese competition. In 2007, South Africa negotiated quotas to provide a respite from China’s garment exports.

But a decade ago, production costs in China started to shoot upward. Environmental regulations tightened and wages rose. Chinese firms began moving their factories offshore. Some came to Africa, wherelabor is plentiful and often cheap. Since 2011, our research has been tracking the offshoring of Chinese factories to half a dozen African countries.

China has promised to help Africa industrialize

Beijing is paying more than lip service to African aspirations. In 2016, under Chinese prodding, the Group of 20 promised to help Africa industrialize. China by that time had already plowed more than $33 billion into financing Africa’s power sector, a critical input for factories. Another $41 billion in Chinese investment went intotransportation.

Often with support from Beijing, Chinese companies have been building special economic zones in Africa, creating platforms where Chinese and other firms can cluster together. In 2015, at another Johannesburg summit, Xi promised $10 billion toward a China-Africa industrial capacity cooperation investment fund.

U.S. support for African manufacturing has been tepid, in contrast. The African Growth and Opportunity Act enacted in 2000 allows countries to export goods duty-free to the United States — yet thebiggest beneficiary of the measure has been African oil, not manufacturing exports. Power Africa, a 2013 Obama administration initiative, was launched to address electricity shortages. Yet as of2016, Washington had committed $3.1 billion for Power Africa.

Where do Senegal, Rwanda and Mauritius fit in?

Ethiopia is the undisputed success story for Chinese investment in African manufacturing. Our researchers have identified more than 400 Chinese manufacturing investments in Ethiopia, some producing products for major U.S. buyers like Naturalizer, 9 West and Guess.

Senegal and Rwanda have been watching Ethiopia’s experience. Hoping to attract Chinese companies on the lookout for new locations, Senegal hired a Chinese firm to build a new special economic zone near Dakar, the capital. While visiting the country from July 21 to 22, Xi promised to prioritize Senegal’s industrialization; China may finance the zone’s second phase.

Rwandan leaders have long looked to China for inspiration. Rwanda’s high population density makes a labor-intensive strategy appealing. Two decades after a devastating genocide, Rwandans are now producing paper goods, uniforms and polo shirts in Chinese factories in a special economic zone in the capital, Kigali.

As Xi arrived in Kigali on Sunday, one Rwandan leader told a local newspaper: “I think the focus should be on industries. … We want to build a strong partnership with China, use Chinese experience in terms of special economic zone development.”

In contrast, earlier this year when Rwanda imposed tariffs on used clothing and shoes from the United States in order to boost localmanufacturing, the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office threatened to start a trade war and imposed sanctions on Rwanda’s U.S. exports.

Xi’s next stop is Mauritius, which could highlight how the Asian-style industrialization model can be successful in Africa. In 1970, the small island set up industrial zones that attracted an earlier generation of Chinese manufacturers from Hong Kong and Taiwan. Learning from Asia, Mauritius developed a diversified economy with perhaps the best business environment in Africa.

The next step? Mauritius began negotiating Africa’s first free trade agreement with China in April, looking to broaden its exports.

Deborah Bräutigam directs the SAIS China Africa Research Initiative at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.


(8) China’s Belt and Road Makes Inroads in Africa

China’s Belt and Road Makes Inroads in Africa

In Senegal, Rwanda, and Mauritius, China pursues Belt and Roadagreements — with mixed success.

By Shannon Tiezzi

July 31, 2018

Everywhere Chinese leaders go, the Belt and Road follows – inspeeches, if nothing else, but also often in investment agreements and even formal diplomatic documents. That was the case last week as well, when Chinese President Xi Jinping took a four-country tour of Africa, stopping in Senegal, Rwanda, South Africa (where he also attended the BRICS summit), and Mauritius.

According to the summary of Xi’s trip from Chinese state news agency Xinhua, “the signing of cooperation documents regarding the Belt and Road Initiative” was a “key achievement” of Xi’s trip.

Xi’s first stop in Africa, Senegal, saw the signing of an official cooperation document on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the first time a country on Africa’s west coast has officially joined the project. The document formalizes pre-existing cooperation on infrastructure; as South China Morning Post reported, “In Senegal,Chinese loans have financed a highway linking the capital Dakar to Touba, its second main city, and part of an industrial park on theDakar peninsula.”

In a statement on the agreement, China’s Foreign Ministry pointed to Senegal’s “unique geographical location,” making it “a key extension of the Belt and Road.” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi saidseparately that China hopes Senegal’s participation will have “a driving effect” for the BRI in West Africa. The BRI to date has focused more on East African countries (like Kenya), which form a more natural geographic link with the Maritime Silk Road stretching from East Asia westward through the Indian Ocean.

Xi also oversaw the signing of BRI cooperation agreements during his time in Rwanda. Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, in an interview with Chinese media, noted how Chinese infrastructure investment in the eastern part of the continent has benefited his country. China is, for example, helping fund a  new standard gauge railway in Tanzania, linking the port of Dar es Salaam to landlocked neighbors like Rwanda.

As yet, however, there has been no agreement to extend the standard gauge railway into Rwanda itself. That may reflect caution on Rwanda’s part – the small country has kept limits on the number of Chineseworkers allowed within its borders, for example, and like other BRI participants is wary about the prospect of falling too far into debt.

Xi’s final stop of the trip, a brief stopover in the Indian Ocean archipelagic nation of Mauritius, was perhaps the most natural fit for the BRI. However, here there was only an agreement to reach anagreement later – according to Xinhua, “Mauritius reached agreement with China to sign the cooperation accord on the initiative at anearly date.”

Mauritius has close ties to India, and officials have previously indicated that they want to avoid having to choose between Beijing and New Delhi. India has been one of the BRI’s most vocal opponents, as the initiative’s branch in Pakistan passes through territory that India claims. Officially signing on to the BRI could put Mauritius in an awkward position. However, Mauritius is openly pursuing closer economic cooperation with China, including free trade agreementnegotiations, which opened in May of this year.

Xi will get a chance to try again later this year – in September, African leaders will gather in Beijing for the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation. China will be hoping to seal a cavalcade of BRIagreements at that time, further linking Xi’s signature project to the African continent.


(9) Xi Jinping heads to Africa to clinch China's hold over the continent

By Steven Jiang and Ben Westcott, CNN

Updated 1246 GMT (2046 HKT) July 20, 2018

Chinese President Xi Jinping heads to Africa this week as Beijing moves to further cement its role as one of the continent's closest economic and diplomatic allies.

After a brief stop in the Persian Gulf Thursday, Xi's itinerary -- his first overseas trip since beginning his second term as leader -- takes him to Senegal, Rwanda, South Africa and Mauritius, spanning almost every corner of Sub-Saharan Africa, where China's economic clout, and strategic ambitions, are growing by the year.

China is Africa's largest trading partner, overtaking the United States nearly a decade ago. Bilateral trade reached a record-high of $220 billion in 2014, official statistics show.

Chinese leaders have always made a point of visiting African nations regularly and early during their time in power. When he assumed the presidency in 2013, Xi also chose Africa as part of his maiden journey abroad and went on to visit the continent two more times during his first term.

China's interest in Africa isn't just about trade, the continent also provides a large amount of raw materials which China couldn't get otherwise, while also acting as a pro-China political bloc at the United Nations.

Ian Taylor, an Africa expert at the University of St. Andrews, said the US is increasingly losing its influence on the continent because it "took Africa for granted."

"The Americans seem to look at Africa through this security lens ... which is completely different from the Chinese perspective," he said. "They look at it from an economic perspective -- the Americans are lagging big time."

'Spreading the love'

Xi's exact itinerary has yet to be released, but he will return to South Africa on July 25 to take part in the BRICS summit, alongside Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

At first look, Rwanda and Senegal appear unusual choices given they don't receive a large amount of investment from China nor are they large countries in terms of population.

But Taylor, the St. Andrews professor, points to Rwanda's key position in the Belt and Road plan, Xi's ambitious global trade and investment scheme which aims to enhance economic connectivity between Asia, Europe and East Africa.

"Rwanda is hoping to integrate itself into the burgeoning railway networks in East Africa, as part of the Belt and Road initiative," he said. "Kigali is moving towards diversifying its relationship away from the US, away from the European Union, and China sees a good opportunity to develop ties."

For Senegal, there have been suggestions the Chinese government might be interested in the possibility of building ports on the Atlantic Ocean.

Gordon G. Chang, an American political commentator best known for his book "The Coming Collapse of China," said the selection of Senegal andMauritius, respectively, is consistent with China's attempts to establish a presence on Africa's Atlantic coast and to dominate the Indian Ocean.

"It's amazing how well the Chinese do (in Africa) -- because they are unopposed," he said.

Taylor said the diverse itinerary shows the Chinese leadership is "spreading the (diplomatic) love" across African nations, to boostBeijing's influence in the region.

"This is massively appreciated in most African countries, especially by the political elites, the way in which China quite uniquely in somerespects treats all countries at an equal level ... at least rhetorically and in the diplomatic process," he said.


[...]  Already, Chinese-built infrastructure -- railways, roads, dams,telecommunication networks and power stations -- is rapidly changing the physical appearance of Africa.

Chinese-owned mines and factories churning out everything ranging from minerals to shoes -- combined with an influx of big-spending Chinese tourists -- are redefining the continent's economic landscape, while Chinese-funded educational programs and media outlets have grown in size and increased their influence over young Africans.

China is also bolstering its diplomatic and military presence on the continent, becoming more active in UN peacekeeping missions and even opening its first overseas naval base in Djibouti last year -- with the latter move triggering alarm in Washington and other Westerncapitals.

Problems and controversies have emerged along with China's expanding footprint in Africa, with critics labeling the country a"neo-colonialist" only interested in exploiting the continent's rich resources and cheap labor. Activists have highlighted cases of human rights abuse that include ill treatment and poor pay of local workers.

-- Peter Myerswebsite: