As the United States was making a hasty, disorganised exit from Afghanistan, which it had occupied for about two decades, the Chinese authorities wasted no time in picking up the slack by offering the new Afghan Taliban government its full support and assistance in rebuilding the country.
It was a development which predictably alarmed policy wonks in the American political, intelligence and defence community. The immediate concern of the Americans was to prevent the massive American military and intelligence assets left behind in Afghan from falling into Chinese hands. The Americans reckoned that should the Chinese get their hands on such military hardware and intelligence assets this will give them valuable legs up on what they were up to in Afghanistan all these years.
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In the long term, however, the Americans are frothing in the mouth as once again the Chinese are quietly but effectively moving to profit or dislodge them from areas where they had long exercised unchallenged influence and dominance in the world.
The on-going strategic contest for global influence between the United States of America and its allies on one hand and China on the other is the hottest topic in global geo-politics.
While the Americans are busy cajoling, haranguing and enticing countries around the world about the “Chinese threat’’, China meanwhile is going ahead with massive infrastructural projects to link up vast areas of the world through its Belt and Road Initiative. And China can do this because it sits on an almost bottomless surplus of dollars to finance these ambitious geo-strategic projects. This is in addition to its massive capacity across board as the world’s second largest industrial and economic power.
The US response to this surging growth of China in the global strategic stakes is to try to ring-fence the latter with strategic alliances beginning right there in the Asian sphere and elsewhere in the world.
The latest of this move is the formation of AUKUS (sounds like awkward) a strategic Anglo-Saxon alliance involving Australia, United Kingdom and the United States. The second level of US geo-strategic move against China is to bring countries like Japan, India, Taiwan, Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam into a broad based anti-China coalition. From the reading of these arrangements by the US the AUKUS alliance of Anglo-Saxon nations ranks higher than the latter because it is composed of nations of the same tribal origin.
Elsewhere in the world, the US has noticeably cranked up its anti-China rhetoric especially in Africa. These days US officials do not attempt to pull any punches in lecturing Africans on how bad the Chinese are and how disastrous it would be for Africans to accept the “Greek gift’’ of loans and infrastructural projects that China is giving to the continent. With oil in their mouths and a gratuitously patronising tone in their voices they admonish African states not to jettison their time-old partners in the west in favour of China which will only amount to jumping from the frying pan to the fire.
Although for obvious reasons the visible theatre of the US-China strategic contest is in Asia, Africa is where the shadow boxing between the two is taking place. The reasons are many. Africa is where the fastest growing population in the world is. With its young population Africa is projected to outgrow the ageing, low birth regions of the world in the foreseeable future.
Africa, because of its huge development needs into the future, offers great opportunity as a market for products and testing of innovation. Significantly too, Africa is a huge treasure trove of strategic minerals, energy resources and agricultural products which will be needed by the vast Chinese market.
In order not to allow China outpace it in economic development as projected by most surveys, the United States would do anything to prevent China access to these vital resources and markets.
That is the kernel of the USA-China strategic contest in Africa and the world.
How and where will Nigeria and Africa pitch their tents with regards to these shifting tectonic plates in world geo-politics?
Let us take a look into how both countries range against each other.
In many respects the United States is the leader between the two. It leads in industrial production, military assets, financial services, technology and pretty much every other thing else. Its global reach and influence in political, diplomatic and economic areas is unparalleled. It is the leader between the two in both hard and soft power.
But despite all the supremacy and advantages it enjoys over China, the United States finds itself slipping in critical areas which the latter is gradually and surely taking over. Whereas American manufacturing and industrial production is stagnating, that of China, which currently lags behind America, is improving steadily. Also, whereas American military budget and production tops China’s by far, that of China is growing exponentially. Indeed in some critical areas of military and related technology like Stealth and space development, China is gaining fast on America and is projected to surpass the latter in no distant time at current rate of development.
Another important area to consider too is the economy. At present the US economy, in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), is bigger than China’s. But because China’s economy has continued to witness astronomical growth while that of US is flagging, there is every possibility that China will soon catch up and surpass America.
China’s advantage over America is manifested in some key areas. China’s billion plus population and low cost of production makes it comparatively cheaper to attract foreign manufacturing concerns to set up shop there. Also, the population is another attraction for foreign manufacturing firms to not only want to set up shop but to market and sell their products. Indeed many foreign firms, including American ones, have made a beeline to China in this regard.
It is no surprise, therefore, that China has chalked up a huge trade surplus against America. China currently is the largest holder of American bonds and this positions the country nicely in advancing its economic interests around the globe. With this, China has been able to literarily put its mouth where its money is, in terms of financing its ambitious global strategic projects.
(To be continued)