Monday, 27 September 2010

China: The New "British Empire"?

Dear friends & readers, permit me a gloss on life rather than theology, for a moment:

"China is building a blue water navy, even as it is helping to fund and construct ports in Burma, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The Chinese will not have naval bases in these countries: India would find that far too provocative, and the Chinese are taking pains so others see their rise as peaceful and non-hegemonic. Rather, these harbors will be visited by Chinese warships and will provide warehousing for Chinese consumer goods destined for the Middle East. China is building a far-flung trading network, ultimately to be protected by its warships -- the British Empire refitted for a 21st-century era of globalization."
Robert Kaplan, 'While US Is Distracted, China Develops Sea Power', Washington Post, September 26, 2010. (click on post title to read article)

He makes nations great, and he destroys them; he enlarges nations, and he abandons them (Job 12:23)

It didn't surprise me when experts started making the rather obvious prediction that the 21st century would be China's century just as the 19th C. was Britain's century and the 20th C. America's. My grasp of economics may only be at the high-school level (but at least, unlike most theologians and church leaders, I've studied the subject!), but I understand that a country's wealth and ultimately it's power in the world is dependent on its capacity to produce goods and services that the world wants to buy. Since just about everything we want to buy is now made in China, just as in previous centuries it was made in the industrial powerhouses of Britain and the US, it stands to reason that China is raking in lots of cold, hard cash while most of the world runs a trade deficit against it...Australia excepted, for reasons I will come to explain in a minute.

It will come as no surprise to those familiar with history then what China is doing with the wealth its manufactured goods bring it...exactly what Britain did in the lead-up to its period of hegemony on the world stage: it is building a navy to protect its trade routes from competitors and pirates (yes, we still have pirates in the southern seas!) and extending its sphere of political influence to guarantee markets for its goods in the future and thus keep the cycle of wealth production going. Before we are too much further into this century, I predict, China's navy will outgun the US navy, at least in the southern hemishpere. What, do you think, are the likely consequences of that for Australia, which, following the collapse of Britain as a superpower after the highly symbolic and humiliating fall of Singapore in 1942, has relied on the reach of US naval power for security?

Now here's the irony in all of this. Why does Australia run a trade surplus with China whereas Britain and the US run deficits? Because we export huge amounts of iron ore, coal and other minerals to China. For example, about 24 coal trains a day pass through the city where I live bound for the coastal ports and eventually China. The Chinese demand for coal is literally eating away some of the best farmland this country has here on the Darling Downs and in central Queensland and destroying local communities in the process. And what does China do with the coal, iron ore, etc.,? Why, it makes steel to build warships, among other things.

[Pic: The Chinese fleet on parade, 2009. (c. Getty Images)]

4 comments:

vdma said...

It's hard not to buy stuff "Made in China." Our leaders have sold us out.
Rick

Matthias said...

Just saw ABC news 24 hour where Australian warships are conducting exercises with the chinese navy in the Yellow sea. Now nohting out of the ordinary here. Australia has also conducted exercises with the Indian Navy. Now what does that say?
Let s' remember that the navy policy that was announced in the Rudd years ,upset china.now we have ships working with their's. I think we need to reassess our defence policy ,perhaps with a stronger Sea frontiers ,counter terrorism/counter insurgency and peacekeeping emphasis . Obama has indicated that he is not interested in us,by his latest visit to indonesia but not coming here, and perhaps that is US policy being set for the near future. should we be like New Zealand and remember we are just a minor power,who is nevertheless prepared to defend our interests
Of course a dispesationalist would see China as being the Kings of the east taking part in the invasion of jerusalem in the Tribulation. should we view them as that as well

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Rick,
Yeah, I know, even the netbook I used for this post is "Made in China". How's that for irony?! It _is_ hard to escape the feeling that we've been sold out. There is light on the horizon though -as Chinese factory workers become politically emboldened, they are lobbying and even striking for better wages and conditions. It will eventually come full circle - the question is, how long will that take?

Matthias,
Yes, Australia has to make a fundamental choice in light of the probable retreat of the US from the southern Pacific: principled independence, likely at great financial and personal cost, or become a client state of China. Which way do you think it's going to go? (That's a rhetorical question!)

Melanchthon said...

A very interesting post, as my father served as a US Naval officer for 30 years (and exercised with the Australian Navy).

I laughed when you said "My grasp of economics may only be at the high-school level (but at least, unlike most theologians and church leaders, I've studied the subject!)" I find nearly all the "peace and justice" pronouncments that come from our church leaders to be terribly naive. One wonders if they ever picked up an economics textbook!