As cliche as the term may be, “money talks” represents perhaps the best possible two-word combination when it comes to accurately describing the current state of Sino-centric geopolitics. Frankly, the name of the game for those serious about embracing a realistic perspective on China’s geopolitical relationships is realizing that the sheer size of China’s economy brings about advantages as well as problems from a geopolitical perspective.
It is always important not to tackle matters pertaining to geopolitics with a strictly capital-focused frame of mind. Whenever there are so many intertwined interests involved (as tends to infamously be the case with geopolitics), it becomes clear that no, money cannot buy absolutely everything. But make no mistake: while capital alone cannot take a nation all the way geopolitically-speaking, it can definitely take it quite far.
Which brings us to… well, the pros.
For the most part, they do directly or indirectly revolve around China being able to buy its way toward geopolitical influence. Perhaps a textbook example to that effect is represented by Africa, with China growing more and more influential (to the detriment of major Western players) with each year that passed when it comes to pretty much all relevant metrics, from subjective ones such as public perception to objective perspectives such as trade volume.
In no small part, this is a result of China’s intensive spending efforts in the region compared to other major geopolitical players. Investments in a lot of “tangible” sectors such as infrastructure, favorable financing deals which come with (geopolitical) strings attached and the list cold go on and on. Or, to put it differently, through spending/investment patterns which make it clear that China is here to stay with respect to Africa.
When it comes to Asia, once again, China is most definitely managing to buy its way toward geopolitical influence rather effectively, through projects such as the Belt and Road Initiative or the Asian Infrastructure Development Bank. While the costs of such projects (especially the BRI) are most definitely projected to be staggering, the geopolitical effects are undeniable.
And not just undeniable when it comes to let’s say under-developed Asian nations. Not at all, China’s investment goals are causing significant tensions within even the European Union. For nations such as the economically-burdened PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain) countries, Chinese capital (with, once again, the Belt and Road Initiative representing a textbook example) is too hard to refuse and the EU itself cannot engage in enough additional spending to offset this temptation.
Which bring us to… well, the cons. The bad or even downright ugly, if you will.
While money represents the core variable which enabled China to build “geopolitical friendships” over the years, it is precisely money that is bringing about tensions and proving to be just as effective at creating enemies. Many of whom are precisely the entities which were more than willing to tolerate and even help China while it was under-developed.
As mentioned previously, it should come as no surprise that some European Union creditor nations don’t view China’s geopolitical ambitions in the region in an all that favorable light, being quick to point to realities such as human rights-related ones which should make European nations think not once but several times before considering China a long-term partner.
The same way, Asian economic powerhouses such as Japan and South Korea have China-related fears of their own, which leads us to… of course, the United States and its (in)famously tense relationship with China. Once again, money lies at the very core of these tensions , with the US being more than worried about the current trade deficit experienced with China.
In the end, this state of affairs leads to China occasionally engaging in geopolitical friendships not necessarily because they would have been its first choice but rather because there is no alternative. Historically speaking, China’s relationship with the USSR and later on Russia has been let’s just say “complex” but just like even NATO members such as Turkey can attest to, Russia frequently ends up being the proverbial friend of last resort… the nation other countries don’t necessarily nurture unconditional affection for but which can represent a working option whenever circumstances dictate it.
Of course, this brief analysis (willingly) leaves many complex aspects aside, which are best analyzed on a country-by-country basis. For a more in-depth perspective on China’s relationship with various nations, we would strongly recommend visiting the New Here section of ChinaFund.com and reading the geopolitical articles it links to.
As a conclusion to this article, however, it is fairly self-explanatory that at this point in time, China’s geopolitical relationships revolve around the monetary dimension more so than those of other economic superpowers. A down-to-Earth perspective on China from a politico-economic perspective needs to properly take this reality into account and if you or your organization require assistance in this matter, simply reach out to the ChinaFund.com team.