[Marxism] China's growing economic power
lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Aug 28 06:59:41 MDT 2004
NY Times,: August 28, 2004
Across Asia, Beijing's Star Is in Ascendance
By JANE PERLEZ
NEWMAN, Australia - Chris Dunbar watched as a front-end loader carved into
a 60-foot wall of iron ore glinting in the red dirt of a vast open mine in
the big sky country of northwestern Australia. "This is as good as it
gets," said a satisfied Mr. Dunbar, 47, a manager with more than 20 years
He was boasting about the richness of the blue-black ore at the Mount
Whaleback mine, but he might as well have been bragging about the boom that
has propelled economies across the Asia-Pacific region. These days,
Australian engineers - like executives, merchants and manufacturers
elsewhere in the region - cannot seem to work fast enough to satisfy the
hunger of their biggest new customer: China.
Not long ago Australia and China regarded each other with suspicion. But
through newfound diplomatic finesse and the seemingly irresistible lure of
its long economic expansion, Beijing has skillfully turned around relations
with Australia, America's staunchest ally in the region.
The turnabout is just one sign of the broad new influence Beijing has
accumulated across the Asian Pacific with American friends and foes alike.
From the mines of Newman - an outpost of 3,000 in a corner of the outback
- to theforests of Myanmar, the former Burma, China's rapid growth is
sucking up resources and pulling the region's varied economies in its wake.
The effect is unlike anything since the rise of Japanese economic power
after World War II.
For now, China's presence mostly translates into money, and the doors it
opens. But more and more, China is leveraging its economic clout to support
its political preferences.
China's rapid gain in influence in the Asia Pacific region ranges so
broadly that it can be measured at the extremes, in countries as divergent
as rich and distant Australia and impoverished but strategically important
The military government of Myanmar is no favorite of Washington. The Bush
administration has tried since last year to use trade sanctions to coerce
Myanmar's generals to share power and release the opposition leader, Aung
San Suu Kyi, from house arrest. But the logic of the sanctions did not
impress even a local Burmese restaurant owner on the road from Mandalay to
With ceiling fans powered by scarce electricity whirring gently, he drew a
rough map of Myanmar on a bare wood table top for a recent visitor. India,
Thailand, Laos, China, he said pointing to the neighbors.
"As long as China remains friendly nothing will change," said the man, who
did not want to be named for fear of Myanmar's ruthless military
intelligence service. "China can provide everything the country needs from
a needle to a nuclear bomb."
China has in fact capsized Washington's policy with its own trade deals,
which far outweigh the value of the American penalties. The State
Department estimates that Myanmar lost about $200 million in the first year
of the ban on imports to the United States. At the same time, it said,
trade between China and Myanmar amounted to about $1 billion in 2003.
Here is where economic leverage translates into political preference. For
China, Myanmar provides is too important as a gateway to energy and other
natural resources to be thrown overboard. Not only has China offset the
American sanctions and kept Myanmar afloat with easy credit and trade, but
it has taken Myanmar's military leaders under its wing.
On a visit this spring to Myanmar's capital, Yangon, formerly Rangoon,
China's deputy prime minister, Wu Yi, pledged to expand trade to $1.5
billion in 2005. In July, Myanmar's new prime minister, Khin Nyunt, paid an
eight-day visit to China, where he was treated like an old friend.
He returned with a raft of accords on railways, a fertilizer factory and
mine exploration, as well as $150 million loan for telecommunications and a
$94 million rescheduling of debts - relatively small amounts that show how
easy it has become for China to serve as Myanmar's patron.
Chinese officials have also been willing to finance vital hydroelectric dam
projects in the absence of lenders from anywhere else. And they recently
proposed that a pipeline be built from Myanmar's west coast port of Sittwe
to Kunming, the capital of China's southwestern Yunnan Province, allowing
China more direct access to Middle East oil.
Closer to the border, the trade is in smuggled teak, a wood prized for its
beauty and durability by China's surging furniture manufacturers. The teak
trade is as illustrative as any of the symbiotic relationship between the
Chinese and Burmese authorities.
"China needs Burma's natural resources to fuel development on the border
and in Yunnan Province as a whole," Simon Phillips, the author of a report
on the trade published last year for Global Witness, a British
nongovernmental organization, said in an interview.
After China banned logging on its side of the border in 1998, Chinese
companies moved their workers - tens of thousands of them - into Myanmar,
he said. With the backing of political patrons in the Myanmar military, and
in separatist militias, the loggers carried on their work with impunity.
The benefits flow both ways. The provincial government in Kunming depends
on the companies for revenue. On Myanmar's side, aside from the money
lavished on local Burmese political patrons, there was the added advantage
that the Chinese built roads.
One of the most important highways that China has helped improve is the
main artery from the border to Mandalay, the old royal capital. These days,
the traffic is varied. Huge trucks, many of them 40-year-old hulks with
exposed engines, still haul outsized teak logs to China. Smaller vans,
piled with crates of live crabs from Myanmar's Indian Ocean ports, ply a
profitable 48-hour journey delivering delicacies for Chinese epicures.
From China, a vast assortment of cheap consumer goods for local markets
comes down the road, particularly to Lashio. On a recent day, the city
market was packed with Chinese electronics, clothes and food.
But local people, like the restaurant owner, who have watched the traffic
flows, say they mostly go one way - into China.
"Myanmar is the resource pit of China," the restaurant owner lamented. "We
send our best wood to them, our best gems, our best fruit. What do we get?
Their worst fruit and their cheapest products."
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