Today’s text, translate through AI, published in the Portuguese newspaper Diário de Notícias (printed version)
The fragilities of a giant
The economic corridors that China is building through Myanmar and Pakistan are two pillars of the New Silk Road, the gigantic ambition that President Xi Jinping formulated after coming to power in 2012. Gigantic is, in fact, an inadequate adjectivization, even minuscule, given the enormity and complexity of this ambition. Moreover, the scale of the New Silk Road has caused anxieties in many circles of geopolitical decision making in Europe, America and Asia, and explains a good part of the feeling of disapproval, of even opposition, that now exists in relation to China. In politics, as in life, unreasonable ambition ends up being a source of great conflicts.
The China-Myanmar corridor is above all an investment in pipelines - about 800 kilometres - which have already been completed and which I had the opportunity to visit about a year ago. A complementary project is currently being planned, consisting of the construction of a railroad that will follow the route of the oil and gas pipelines from the Burmese sea coast in the Gulf of Bengal to Kunming, the capital of Chinese province of Yunnan. This infrastructure is intended to facilitate China's oil imports, avoiding the long and dangerous route through the Straits of Malacca and the South China Sea. Oil and gas will come from the Middle East and Africa. The railway will be part of the link, which will continue by sea, between China, Mombasa and Djibouti, two ports of great strategic importance, both as points of entry into Africa and as bases for the transit of goods to Europe. Djibouti also offers an exceptional location for the protection of navigation between the East and Europe. Chinese, Americans, French, Japanese, Indians, and others all want to have a military presence in Djibouti. China is the only power that combines in this territory defence with economic infrastructures.
Returning to the corridor that crosses Myanmar, I noticed that the large Chinese oil, gas, and public works companies have the green light from the Burmese military and Aung San Suu Kyi's civilian government. They also consider that it is up to the Myanmar authorities to deal with the fate of the communities affected by the projects. The problem is that no one has explained anything to the people or promised any compensation for expropriations and other losses. The result, for now, as I have personally seen, is the growing hostility of different Burmese communities against the Chinese. Later, the very security of the projects may be at risk.
The Pakistani corridor is presented as the flagship in the New Silk Road universe. It begins in the Chinese region of Xinjiang and ends in the Pakistani port of Gwadar in the Indian Ocean, close to the entrance to the strategic Gulf of Oman. I did not visit this Pharaonic undertaking - an investment of US$87 billion to finance roads, railroads, power plants and special economic zones. But I see that the intention is clear. China is helping Pakistan modernize communications, power generation, industrial, and port infrastructure. In return, it has direct access to the Indian Ocean and several free zones, where it can count on Pakistan's abundant and cheap labour. It also reinforces the political and military power of a key ally in its growing rivalry with India. I know that here too, as in Myanmar and other countries where the Chinese have large-scale investment, there is the problem of acquiescence or hostility of the populations. China is seen as an ally of the regime and the regime is seen as extraneous to the interests of the people. We have again the fragility mentioned above.
There are, however, those in China who are aware of these things and know that agreements with regimes of dubious legitimacy have feet of clay. Some think tanks have already begun to debate the impact of megaprojects on affected communities in Asia and Africa, as well as the disconnect that exists between political leaders in host countries, who are in favour of Chinese penetration, and the populations, who consider their politicians to be the main beneficiaries of the investments in question. I have been surprised at the frankness of certain interventions by Chinese academics. A monolithic China, yes, but with some subtlety of tone.