Perceptions of China


The Guardian has an in-person account of who weakened the Copenhagen accords and how they did it – with his finger pointing at China. It aligns with what I’ve heard whispers of in the blogosphere since late in the talks, which either means people had assigned blame ahead of time or there’s some truth to it. I’m somewhat dubious of the idea that the intention was to humiliate Obama, and I’m also unsure how much of this is a misunderstanding of internal values (ie, trust, face, etc). But what is most important about the article is the perception of China, and who is in their ring of influence. The article specifically mentions Sudan as a China-puppet, but I’ve heard elsewhere that a lot of the G77 talking points seemed directed by China (again, we’re look at the perception rather than the truthfulness here). I’m also interested that India manages to escape blame despite supporting China on a lot of the maneuvering.

And then you have China’s reputation in its local neighborhood. Unsurprisingly, their neighbors – even their good friends like Vietnam – are becoming a little edgy. And I’m talking about a mix of the citizens and the governments. It was really a matter of time, especially with all the history between these countries, before this happened. The question is whether it will force China to modify their current cheap-labor, cheap-product export model sooner rather than later?

The other area that’s been getting a lot of press is the China-Africa relationship. In particular, China and Chinese companies are praised for their efforts at building infrastructure (roads, highways, etc.), as well as their interest-free loans and such. Of course, a lot of the loans have to be used to buy Chinese goods. And the Chinese companies dump Chinese goods that undercut local African products and drive them out of business. But the perception is that they’re doing great things there. I tried to find numbers on Western investment vs. Chinese, and couldn’t, so I can’t tell how different it really is – after all, Westerners have built schools, infrastructure, etc, but it could be small compared to what China has done. Anyway, for obvious reasons African governments and African citizens like them; one gets free a human rights pass, and the other gets cheap goods. Most importantly, China comes from a different historical position – one of mutual respect and not Western condescension. I’d be interested in a study in 5-10 years as to the effects of Chinese FDI in Africa.

Anyway, that’s where I place all this: China has strong influence in the G77, particularly with autocratic African countries. It’s starting to lose moral standing with developing Asian countries. And the West perceives Chinese companies as being more righteous than Western companies – which I predict will change within a couple of years.

Oh, and does anyone else find it interesting where India and Brazil are being cast in all this? Obama breaks into the meeting with the, uh, BICs; of the three, India is seen quietly supporting China while Brazil quietly disagrees?