China’s economic rise ought not to be Washington’s only concern in regard to the Asian giant as Beijing’s intrusion into the Western hemisphere is a clear strategic threat to the US’ geopolitical interests...
Visit Cartagena on Colombia's Northern coast and you will see an unmistakable history of transatlantic imperial history unravel before your eyes. From the rows of picturesque colonial houses with their wooden banister balconies, blossoming hanging baskets and vibrantly painted exteriors through to the crumbling fortress of San Felipe de Barajas complete with the brass cannons peeking over its historical walls, the stamp of Spain's empire is intoxicating. But as the stonework of San Felipe de Barajas fades with time, somewhere down the Atlantic coastline, the hard steel of a new empire is being laid.
Plans for a 'dry Panama canal' were unveiled yesterday which propose to link the Pacific port of Buenaventura to Colombia’s Atlantic coast by rail. If the deals brokered last year by Beijing with Venezuela's state oil company PdVSA and its dealings with Brazil’s Petrobas weren't enough to convince, these latest negotiations with the Santos administration in Colombia ought to paint a clearer picture; China's scramble for Latin America is well and truly on.
The Sino-Colombian relationship has been growing for some time. Trade between the pair has leapt from $10 million to $5 billion in 30 years and Colombia’s geostrategic position as South America’s shortest northern route from the Pacific to the Atlantic coast is a clear pull for Beijing. The 491 mile, $4.7 billion railway line is therefore not such a surprising venture between the resource-crazy Chinese and the Santos administration which has focused on an economic agenda since replacing the defence-centric Uribe. But where does the US stand amongst all this?
On the plus side, it would appear that this proposed deal will be a further step toward the ongoing renovation of Latin America’s continental infrastructure and will therefore be beneficial for the neoliberal agenda in the Western Hemisphere. It is likely that the move will also prompt the US to finally ratify the free-trade agreement with Colombia which has been on the table for some four years. But amongst these economic outlooks, it is difficult to see beyond the strategic significance of a dragon in the backyard.
China’s push into the Western hemisphere is ultimately a push into the US’ traditional sphere of influence. Since the formulation of the Monroe Doctrine, the US has been particularly sensitive to outside influence in the Americas as exemplified by the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. It is unlikely that this stance will soften now. China’s economic rise is the subject of some serious column inches in Washington and worldwide, particularly now that some estimates project China’s GDP to catch up with the US’ by 2025. Add to this meteoric economic resurgence China’s human rights record and its ideological appeal to the Leftist-Latin-League headed by political performer, Hugo Chávez, and you have a problem.
Whether or not we are willing to acknowledge it and whether or not China is even consciously aware of it, Beijing is on a path to empire. As many historians have pointed out, empires exist because great powers calculate that they can obtain better access to resources through control as opposed to the open market. Surely it’s about time we open our eyes and recognise what the Dragon is up to?
by Dane Vallejo
This blog was originally published by The Henry Jackson Society, 15/02/11, at http://www.henryjacksonsociety.org/thescoop.asp?pageid=106&poid=1094