La Silenciosa Conquista China

Article excerpt

La silenciosa conquista china Juan Pablo Cardenal and Heriberto Araújo Crítica, S.L., 2011, Softcover, 304 pages

REVIEWED BY JOSÉ LUIS LEÓN-MANRÍQUEZ

A flurry of new books dedicated to understanding the implications of China's expanding global influence across the developing world has appeared in recent years. La silenciosa conquista china (The Silent Chinese Conquest), written by two China-based journalists, Juan Pablo Cardenal and Heriberto Araújo, stands out for the investigative journalistic approach the authors have brought to the phenomenon.

Cardenal, who has worked for the Spanish newspaper El Economista, and Araújo, then with the Mexican news agency Notimex, set out to uncover the effects of China's global expansion and its pursuit of raw materials, energy sources and new export markets. Their work is the product of five years of on-the-ground research across 25 countries and interviews with 500 people. While scholarly work has tended to focus on China's relations with separate regions, Cardenal and Araújo bring together empirical evidence of the Chinese presence throughout the "Third World" in a single volume.

Apart from its own merits, the book has aroused wider public attention after the Spanish Embassy in Beijing denied the authors the use of its diplomatic facilities in April to present the work, arguing that "to do so could anger the Chinese government." The Mexican embassy offered its own premises, and the controversy has helped the book's sales. La silenciosa conquista china has now been published in five Spanish-language editions, and is being translated into other languages.

The authors did not begin with an explicit hypothesis. Nor did they use a sophisticated methodology to integrate their empirical findings. Instead, they followed journalistic intuition and a passion for, as they wrote, "going where the footprint of the giant is most evident: the developing world." The result is part road trip chronicle, part anthropological study and part journalistic reporting-with a dash of concepts from economics and political science.

Cardenal and Araújo identify two key actors that drive China's global ambitions. At a micro level, Chinese merchants travel to developing countries, establish fluid channels of commercialization for low-priced merchandise, and then repatriate the profits. At a macro level, state capitalism, through powerful public companies, negotiates investments in exchange for a constant flow of energy, minerals and food. The work of these companies is complemented by state financial institutions such as the China Development Bank (CDB) and China Eximbank. As the authors note, these two "policy banks [...] have already managed to displace the World Bank as the top lender in the developing world." At critical times, all of these players can count on the support of China's network of foreign diplomatic delegations.

Throughout the book's eight chapters, the authors balance the positive and negative aspects of China's expansion. Cardenal and Araújo point to investment in infrastructure (e.g., highways, dams, airports, and hospitals) as among the most praiseworthy byproducts of Chinese overseas economic activities. Countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Angola and Sudan have received immense Chinese resources to restructure-and even create-new public works. This is in addition to Chinese donations of highly symbolic construction projects, such as a soccer stadium in Costa Rica or national theaters in various African countries. An additional positive consequence is the supply of inexpensive Chinese consumer goods to the low-income sectors of developing countries.

Despite these benefits, the authors note that "often, China's actions are certainly debatable, when not openly polemical," and they identify seven questionable characteristics of the Chinese presence. …