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Guest Thinkers

Chinese Money Everywhere I Turn

I came home from Sunday night’s thrilling Major League Soccer championship game sure that I would finish my weekend by writing about the explosive aftermath of the World Cup qualifying match between Egypt and Algeria. But I got diverted by glancing at Twitter, seeing this tweet, and reading a British newspaper story headlined “China pumping millions into Afghanistan.” Soccer can wait.

The China-Afghanistan story grabbed me because China keeps popping up in my research for this blog. In west Africa, for instance, “a little-known Chinese company invested $7 billion in a mining deal in Guinea, despite the international condemnation there has been for the country’s military junta,” according to a BBC report.

Back to Afghanistan and the story that triggered this post. The Daily Telegraph reports that “projects acquired to feed Beijing’s industrial base will triple (Afghan) government revenues within five years. … Afghanistan has the potential to emerge as one of Central Asia’s biggest sources of raw materials for manufacturers.”

Part of this investment will “entail the construction of roads, processing plants and railways in deprived areas that are currently dominated by the Taliban.”

How will that be managed?

Here, again, is The Daily Telegraph: “the reassurance of a massive police presence backed up by US special forces security assistance.”

In sizing up how I feel about American troops making Taliban territory safe for Chinese mining investments, I need to factor in: 1) what the project’s estimated 20,000 jobs might contribute to Afghanistan’s stability; 2) allegations that Chinese bidders bribed Afghan officials; 3) the reality that Afghanistan’s central government has few ready-made prospects for getting as much tax revenue as it needs to sustain an army and police force.

Put another way, I’m not at all sure what to make of any of this.

Finally, a quick word on why I decided to call this post “Chinese Money Everywhere I Turn.” This morning, while driving home from taking my kids to school, I heard this public-radio story about how the “Chinese Ministry of Education sends a teacher to a school in the United States, pays about half of that teacher’s salary and living expenses, and supplies educational materials such as books and computer programs.”

The principal of an Oregon school that’s taking advantage of the Chinese-funded Mandarin classes told reporter Chris Lehman:

The question I always get is, is this a gigantic propaganda move, is this an evil Communist plot on the part of China? That’s the number one kind of lingering Cold War suspicion about this program. From what I can detect, having been involved in it for two years, I see none of that.

A student said the Mandarin classes are important since “China and America are working so closely and our relationship is growing more and more.”

I hope, as the years pass, “working so closely” will prove to be the right words to sum up this complicated, rivalrous relationship.


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