Op-Ed by Neenah Payne
The coronavirus crisis must not make us lose sight of the importance of understanding how powerful China has become under President Xi Jinping. China is one of the most rapidly changing countries on the planet – and is also changing the world in several key ways. Xi Jinping was Vice President from 2008-2013 when he became President. He is now considered the most important Chinese leader since Mao Zedong. Since China removed term limits for the presidency in 2018, Xi may be President for life.
Three major initiatives show that Xi’s vision extends beyond China to transforming the world:
- BRICS: The coalition of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa in the BRICS nations is a powerful shift in both economic and political power away from the “Washington Consensus”. The BRICS nations are increasingly moving away from the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency – with major implications for America.
- The New Silk Road: Ambition and Opportunity says that in 2013, President Xi announced the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) aka “New Silk Road” in one of the most significant speeches in China’s recent history. It is the largest infrastructure project since the Marshall Plan. The stated goal of the BRI is to create a new infrastructure for world trade between 65 countries.
- Partnering With Africa: China is investing heavily in the infrastructure of African countries by building roads, highways, schools, universities, hospitals, bridges, harbors, etc. The Chinese collaboration is helping Africa recover from 500 years of enslavement and colonialism. This is a win-win situation in which China gains the mineral resources it needs for industrialization and thereby drives up prices for those commodities. The US-China trade rivalry is underway in Africa, and Washington is playing catch-up shows the strategic importance of this growing shift.
These initiatives represent China’s stated commitment to eliminating the division between rich and poor worldwide. This is a radically different vision from the one held by Europe and the US for 500 years.
The initiatives are creating a new balance of power — a New World Order.
The New Silk Road: Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)
The New Silk Roads: The New Asia and the Remaking of the World Order by Peter Frankopan says:
“All roads used to lead to Rome. Today they lead to Beijing.”
China Railway Express: From Silk Road to Silk Railroad Two says that a thousand years ago, commodities could take a year to get from China to Europe over the old Silk Road. Marco Polo’s reports of China inspired Europeans to travel to China and eventually led to the trip by Christopher Columbus in pursuit of a westward path to the wealth of the Indies. There was also a Maritime Silk Road of ports in a vast network of international commerce that connected East and West.
This Silk Road spirit was one of peace, cooperation, openness, inclusiveness, mutual learning, and mutual benefits. In 1938, in his book The Silk Road, Swedish Explorer Sven Hadin wrote,
It can be said without exaggeration that this traffic artery through the whole of the old world is the longest, and from a cultural-historical standpoint, the most significant connecting link between peoples and continents that has ever existed on Earth.
The Silk Roads: A New History of the World shows that understanding the old Silk Road provides a deeper understanding of China’s role in history – and how China is changing the world today.
“One Belt One Road Documentary Episode One: Common Fate” reports that President Xi said in his speech proposing the new Silk Road that the starting point of the old Silk Road was in Shaanxi, the province where he grew up. The old Silk Road was the center of trade, knowledge, and civilization. China introduced not only silk to Europe, but paper and printing, spices, and medicines. Constantinople (Istanbul), Venice, and other cities sprang up on the Silk Road and prospered.
When China was smelting iron, Europe lagged far behind. China’s capital city was the world’s largest, seven times bigger than Constantinople. By the 11th century, China had 11 cities with a population of 100,000 while the largest city in Europe had yet to reach 20,000. Chinese innovations like the magnetic compass were reaching the West via the Silk Road and were changing the world.
The Chinese Silk Road – Episode 1 – The Journey Begins suggests that Italian pasta came from China!
Rise of the West: 500 Years of Colonialism
Christopher Columbus sailed west to find a new route to the East. When he landed in the Western Hemisphere, that opened the “Age of Discovery”. With colonial expansion, Europe developed a trade monopoly. By the mid-19th century, the introduction of the steam engine led to a transition in Europe from a hand-crafted economy to the Industrial Revolution based on machine-powered mass production. As Europe embarked on widespread colonization, the caravans on the Silk Road began to disappear and, after a millennium of prosperity, the Silk Road went into decline. Europe became enriched through its colonization of the Americas, Australia, Asia, as well as its enslavement and later colonization of Africa.
Rather than a mutually-beneficial exchange of goods and knowledge, Europe launched a campaign of destruction of ancient civilizations. As Rome had destroyed the Library of Alexandria in Egypt, Spain burned all but three of the books of the Mayan civilization. The Incas were performing brain surgery with a 90% success rate in the 1500s while that operation was a guaranteed failure in Europe even 300 years later. Yet, Europe adopted an attitude of superiority and “White Supremacy” used to justify its theft of continents and mass genocide in the Americas and Africa. The West waged endless wars.
Rise of China: Back To The Future
The West was dominant from the 16th to the mid-20th century. However, after WWII, mass liberation movements swept across Asia and Africa. The new countries that emerged faced a common challenge – the need for development. The first Asian-African Conference was held in 1955 in Bandung, Indonesia which fostered unity among the developing nations. It was the origin of “South-South” cooperation.
A broad consensus developed that there was a need for a new Silk Road to unite humanity in a project for exchange of information. The Silk Road reached its lowest ebb in the late 19th century. With the establishment of the People’s Republic of China by Mao Zedong in 1949, China’s colonial and feudal period came to an end. The adoption of the reform and opening policy in the 1970’s boosted its economic power. In 1978, China was the world’s 10th largest economy in terms of GDP. By 2016, China had the second largest economy after the US. By 2019, the US GDP was $21.44 trillion while China’s GDP had grown to $27.31 trillion.
In the 21st century, we are witnessing the rise of China and the emergence a completely different New World Order based on global projects. President Xi is thinking big both domestically and internationally. Other developing countries are striving to follow the example of China. Under Xi, China has built an impressive network for high-speed bullet trains and continues to expand it. The infrastructure will be on display for the world to see when China hosts the 2022 Winter Olympics. China’s investment in developing its infrastructure and that of Africa is inspiring the world. The West is increasingly being left behind now as it continues to focus on fighting the War on Terror and fails to develop at home.
China’s Green Revolution
China is also rapidly inspiring the world because of its green revolution discussed below.
The green revolution is sweeping across China. China is the first country to see desert shrinkage. China’s green growth miracle explains how China resolved the conflict between development and environment. A forest has sprung up so quickly in northwest China that it is still shown on maps as the MaoWusu Desert — China’s fifth largest desert which was the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined. It is now more than 90% forest. In 33 years, 4,000 acres of desert were turned into an oasis. A solar farm was built in Datong, once known as “China’s capital of coal” which ranked third on China’s air pollution in 2005. It has also built wind farms. Datong is now leading in green energy. China is a world leader in renewable energy.
Green China Rising says that China is now scaling new technologies faster than any other country and is providing a model for the world. Although 70% of China’s energy still comes from coal which chokes China’s cities and contaminates its rivers and land with mercury, change is coming on a scale that’s hard to grasp. China is building a coal-firing plant each week, but most of these are state-of-the-art facilities – much more efficient than the older polluting plants.
In another initiative, the carbon dioxide from coal plants is being captured and used to make Coca Cola, beer, soda, dry ice, and fire extinguishers. The rest of the CO2 is stored underground. China’s “Green Gen” plant was built on land that was ocean three years ago. China’s Silk Road is now lined with wind turbines as far as the eye can see. Wind generation has exploded in China. In 2005, China was the tenth largest producer of wind turbines. China now leads the world both in wind turbines production and the number of wind turbines in use. In 2011, China added more wind capacity than all the other top 10 producers combined.
The largest wind farm in the world is in northwest China. It will be world’s first 10 gigawatt wind farm. It is 12 times larger than the world’s largest wind farm in Texas. China is building seven wind farms of this size. China’s “Gold Wind” firm has created a superior technology that is cheaper to build and is more reliable in high winds and extreme cold. Gold Wind is collaborating with the US – creating jobs in America by outsourcing the creation of parts to American firms — especially for American wind farms.
China is the world’s largest user of solar energy, saving 14 million tons of coal being burned every year. However, perhaps the most amazing new technology coming out of China now is called “Big Foot”. It is designed to clean up rivers so polluted they are not safe to even touch and makes them safe enough to swim in. China has only 7% of the world’s fresh water, but it has 19% of the world’s population – and is growing fast. So, its water crisis is urgent, especially in the large cities on its east coast. The “Big Foot” technology was presented in the US in a competition for the Mississippi River. China is partnering with the US in multiple ways now.
The China Dream
China: Time of Xi (Episode 1) – People’s Republic discusses the “China Dream” in which President Xi is working to ensure prosperity for all Chinese. It says that elimination of poverty is one of China’s key domestic goals and Xi has promised that no one will be left behind. Xi’s view is that GDP should never be the sole measure of success.
In 2016, China spent more than $10 billion on tackling poverty. Each village has Poverty Task Force
Leaders and every poor family has a folder with a plan for which a Chinese official is responsible. Rather than handing out funds to poor families, people are encouraged to participate in self-help initiatives like bee keeping or a joint kiwi farm. Roads are being built to remote villages to provide new ways to make a living. Since 2013, 60 million people have been raised above the poverty line. That’s one person every two seconds. China used to have more low-income earners than any country in the world. Today, China has more middle-income earners than any other country. In 1980, the average income was $300/year. In 2000, it was $3,000/year. In 2017, average incomes reached $10,000/year.
Starting in the 1970s, Xi served at every level of government in five provinces before becoming Vice President and then President in 2013. In the past five years, Xi visited 14 of the poorest regions of China. Each of those provinces has more people than most countries.
The video shows how ecommerce is closing the gap between villages and cities – and the whole world. The combination of state investment, private investment, and smart technology is uniquely Chinese. In 2016, rural ecommerce provided jobs for 20 million people in China for $758 billion. That was up 26% from the previous year. China has also invested heavily in rural education.
Xi has carried out the largest-scale investment in infrastructure modernization in the world. One of the most exciting projects is the bullet train. Now, there are four high-speed train lines running north to south and four east to west. The plan is to double that with eight lines running east to west and eight running north to south in time to showcase when China hosts the 2022 Winter Olympics . China is re-inventing its infrastructure as it reinvents its culture – and is inspiring the world.
China’s Bullet Trains
Why China Is So Good at Building Railways says that in 2008, China began investing in its High-Speed Railroad network. By 2018, China had more high-speed trains than the rest of the world combined! A former trip of 44 hours over a distance equivalent to Washington, DC to Dallas takes about nine hours now. China is the poorest country in the world to have high-speed rail.
China’s new high-speed train will ‘float’ over tracks to hit 370 miles an hour says that’s more than 150 mph faster than the world’s fastest passenger trains now in regular intercity service which touch 217 mph on runs between Beijing and Shanghai. The driverless train went into service this year and is designed to float above the track using a technology known as magnetic levitation, or maglev. A trip by train could be even faster than traveling by air under certain circumstances.
The fastest passenger train in intercity service in the United States is Amtrak’s Acela Express which runs between Boston and Washington, D.C. It reaches a top speed of 150 mph — but only for 34 miles of the 450-mile route. Train tickets on the Acela Express from New York to Washington, DC, frequently go for more than $200. Train tickets for the bullet trains cost about $100.
China’s ‘bullet train’ network is the largest in the world — and it’s about to get even bigger. In 2018, China’s “bullet train” network was already the largest in the world at 15,500 miles compared the second biggest high-speed rail network in Spain which is just 1,926 miles. It adds that by 2020, China plans to expand its high-speed rail network to around 18,600 miles, linking most of the nation’s big cities.
The video FIRST CLASS BULLET TRAIN in CHINA (All Time Greatest Train Seat)! provides an inside view. The video Shanghai MAGLEV TRAIN REVIEW – The FASTEST Train in the WORLD is a very different experience on a short ride in Shanghai. The video China High Speed Rail (CRH) BUSINESS CLASS REVIEW – Chinese Bullet Train shows that each seat has a TV! The video Amazing China: The incredible Chinese high-speed rail shows that Chinese trains are the fastest in the world.
The video Fastest Train Being Built in America! – NYC to DC in 60 Minutes discusses the Northeast Maglev Project which will use Japanese technology. It will be the biggest public works project in the US. The first leg from Washington to Baltimore is expected to be available in 2028.
China’s Multi-Faceted Investment Across Africa
The video “China’s Footprint in Africa” shows the deep investment China has been making in multiple sectors in a variety of African countries for several years.
US Competes Poorly With China in Africa
The Heat: US Competes with China in Africa discusses the challenges the US faces in matching China’s successful investment strategy in Africa. The video explains that there was a time when the “Washington Consensus”, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank dictated the political economy in Africa. The US provides loans mainly to deal with Ebola and AIDS.
However, with the rise of the BRIC nations, there is an increasing realization that the world has become a different place. So, now African countries are facing east and the US is playing catch-up to the massive investment China is making in Africa partnering with African nations. So, the balance of power has changed in a way that the West is not dealing with effectively. Africa is looking for win-win relationships with China, Russia, and the US. China has responded. The West has a lot to learn now.
China in Africa: Friendship, Training, Support
China is calling on the people of all countries to work together to build a community with a shared future for mankind, to build an open, inclusive, clean, and beautiful world that enjoys lasting peace, universal security, and common prosperity.
A New Era of China-Africa Cooperation Ep.1: Shared Dreams and the other four videos in the series provide deeper insight into China’s multi-faceted relationship with Africa. The Chinese relate to Africans not just with respect, but warmly as brothers and sisters. Episode 2 is Shared Aspirations. Episode 3 is Integrated Interests. Episode 4 is Connecting People. Episode 5 is Future Partnership.
China is helping Africa build infrastructure such as airports, roads, highways, harbors, railroads, and manufacturing centers. China is building clinics and hospitals to improve healthcare. It is also building schools and universities and providing various kinds of training in Africa as well as in China. It has also established banks and has created a great number of jobs in various sectors.
China has drilled 1,000 wells and built hydro power stations in eight African nations to provide easier access to clean water and to prevent water-borne diseases. China created 20 airport expansion projects with green development which facilitates tourism. China has sent 2,000 peacekeepers to several African nations, operating within the framework of the United Nations. It has built industrial parks integrated with new railroads. China built an assembly plant for cars in South Africa that will create 12,000 jobs.
Since 1963, China has sent 21,000 medical workers to 48 African nations treating tens of millions of patients. Forty-six medical aid teams consisting of nearly 1,000 doctors are working in 45 countries throughout Africa. During the Ebola epidemic, China provided humanitarian and material assistance. China launched a satellite for Algeria to facilitate telecommunications. China is supporting Africa in launching 100 projects for clean energy and is helping Africa protect its wildlife, building smart cities, and is promoting environment-friendly agriculture.
Africa has reciprocated this generous support. When China was hit by earthquakes in 2010, the government of the Republic of Congo donated 16 million RNB to rebuild the primary school. Equatorial Guinea (just 1 million people) donated 1 million euro to China. Many African countries helped by donating money. China and Africa have a collaborative relationship.
Is China The New Global Model?
Zambian economist Dr. Dambisa Moyo explains in her TED Talk “Is China the new idol for emerging economies?” that for the first time, there is a challenge to the Western model of politics and economics. She warns that the West is now out of step with the aspirations of the developing world – a world being inspired now by China. She points out that while the developed world holds up the ideals of capitalism, democracy, and political rights for all, people in emerging markets often don’t have that luxury.
Dr. Moyo makes the case that the West can’t afford to rest on its laurels and imagine others will follow. Instead, a different model embodied by China’s call for open-minded political and economic cooperation in the name of transforming the world is increasingly appealing. Dr. Moyo presents a radical blueprint for change to galvanize growth and ensure the survival of democracy in the 21st century.
Dr. Moyo is the author of:
- Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way For Africa (2010)
- How the West Was Lost: Fifty Years of Economic Folly- and the Stark Choices Ahead (2011)
- Winner Take All: China’s Race for Resources and What It Means for the World (2013)
- Edge of Chaos: Why Democracy Is Failing to Deliver Economic Growth-and How to Fix It (2018)
The charts below summarize the Western and Chinese models. Dr. Moyo says the West has two choices: compete or cooperate. She says the West should invest in the developing world. The question is how to create prosperity for all. See “TEDx Brussels 2010 – Dambisa Moyo – How the West was Lost” for Dr. Moyo’s analysis of what has gone wrong in the US and Europe — and how to fix it now.