Book Review: China’s Silent Army: The Pioneers, Traders, Fixers and Workers Who Are Remaking the World in Beijing’s Image

China’s Silent Army: The Pioneers, Traders, Fixers and Workers Who are Remaking the World in Beijing’s Image, was put out two years ago in Spanish by Juan Pablo Cardenal and Heriberto Araujo both who are Spanish reporters with extensive experience in mainland China. Initially I was expecting a different view on China than the current American view, I later learned that China has bought a great deal of Spain’s debt too.

Growing up in the mid 1960s and 1970s, I learned America feared two countries: The Soviet Union and Japan. The Soviets were out to take over the world and threatened us militarily and politically. Japan threatened us economically with cheap, low priced goods and trade deficit. Much later in graduate school I learned there are three things that make a superpower: Military, economic, and political power. The Soviet Union had two and faked the economic power. Japan had only economic power. Now in a new century, the world faces the rise of what could be a new superpower in the world, China. China does have the economic power and growing political power as seen in its head to head meetings with the US over Taiwan and the 2001 mid air collision and forced US landing in China of a US Navy EP-3 plane which lead to an apology from the US. Militarily, China is growing; it released pictures of its first aircraft carrier which did not alarm the US military as much as the anti-aircraft carrier missile it has developed. Although China does not have the blue water navy that was a sign of power in the last century, this is a new century with new signs of power.

The causal look into China’s growing world wide power may seem benign. China comes to a developing country and builds infrastructure. Railroads, highways, power plants, and even stadiums are built to improve the lives of the people lin the developing country. In return China gains rights to minerals, oil, and agriculture. It appears to be a win-win situation, or at least better than the conquest, enslavement (of the natives), rape of the land conducted by European nations in the Americas and Africa. In Argentina, China will help/fund the cultivation previously unfarmed land in return for a portion of the land. Costa Rica will get a new stadium and aid in return it will break relations with Taiwan. African nations receive roads and railways in return for raw materials (which are hauled out of the country on the roads and railways China built).

China needs oil to fuel its growth and has been very successful in getting it from America’s and the West’s enemies. Iran has oil and need nuclear technology and imports that are currently banned by Western embargoes. China did not and does not support the embargoes and trades, although rather quietly in banned goods. When approached on the issue China has enough political clout to ignore the concerns of other nations or when the material is too sensitive, it uses North Korea to transport goods. China is now Iran’s largest trading partner. China also befriended Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez (who was still alive at the writing of this book) and is the second largest importer of Venezuelan oil. Sudan has oil but needs to get it out of the ground and transport it. China is Sudan’s only choice. The west does not want to invest the unstable country. Russia has the technology, but not the money. China has the money and the need for oil. China has other ways of getting what it wants too. It made loans to Angola to build an airport. The loan money disappeared within the corrupt Angolan government. A second loan was made with similar results. Now it is time to repay the loan and the money is gone and the infrastructure not built, so Angola must pay back the loan with oil. Through trade or corruption China will get want it wants.

China also exports its people. The Soviet Union used to keep immigration tightly controlled, but China sees an advantage in letting its people emigrate. Chinese emigrate to developing countries because they see opportunity that they don’t have in their rapidly developing homeland. People move to countries live Egypt where even low paying jobs are more than they made in China. By hard work, under cutting the competition they can monopolize sections of the economy, like the textile industry in Egypt. Unlike other groups of immigrants who generally want to blend into the new country the Chinese remain very loyal to China. The Chinese also enjoy something Westerner’s do not: China does not have a history of colonization and the Chinese who come to build the infrastructure keep to themselves. They remain almost invisible. They live on company compounds in nicer housing than they had in China. They have little reason to go out into the city because their goal is to save money, they have everything they need on the compound, and they have no understanding of the local language.

Problems do exist. Local recognize the higher pay, better food, and conditions the Chinese workers receive. In several countries this has lead to strikes and even riots. Chinese companies avoid legal problems with bribes.

China is on its way to becoming a superpower. Looking out for its interests, it finds countries that need its help or money and slowly move in. It moves not with colonial ambition, but under the guise of friendship and mutual benefit. It’s methods are not the export of revolution, but rather a no holds barred, all out capitalism. Cardenal and Araujo present a well written and thoroughly documented work on China in the twenty-first century. A very worthwhile read for anyone interested in economics, trade, and foreign affairs.

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