Speaking of roads …

13 Jul

As argued in a recent post, China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and associated projects like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank which now gives the global south an alternative to the punitive terms of IMF/World Bank loans, 1 have lifted hundreds of millions from poverty and permanent debtor status. They promise to do the same for billions more and, in so doing, offer humankind a reason to hope in the face of a world order so assiduously normalised that only for fleeting moments can we take in the extent of its criminal insanity. 

Sometimes we have to see how good things could be to realise how bad they truly are.

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The phony motivation should be obvious. So powerful a challenge, to a world order slanted in favour of so powerful a Western elite, will be resisted using all available means. As Belt and Road has lifted hundreds of millions of China’s own out of poverty – and promises to do the same for billions more across the global south – the same West whose rulers have for centuries exploited those peoples now steps up, in the name of every reason under the sun bar the real one, its vilifying of Beijing.

The phony motivation should be obvious. But for most of us it isn’t. Labouring under two great delusions – that we have independent media able to speak truth to power, and that “we are the good guys” – few of us in the West will seriously interrogate so transparently self serving a narrative. I call it a triumph of cultural amnesia over mere factuality that so absurd a notion as a Western ‘rules based order’ 2 with the moral authority to police the planet can be given time of day by anyone with half a brain.

Two delusions? Make that three. We should add our inability, at its most acute in a Left leaning but frequently spineless intelligentsia, to distinguish scepticism from a cynicism so ingrained that its default discourse of heavy irony has long been second nature. As with dead metaphors, their original imagery lost to us through endless usage, we are no longer aware of the depths of that cynicism. Confronted with honest optimism our programmed response is to read it first as irony, second as naivety.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can dare to think big in a way that transcends the personal yet flows from the love we have – for our children, for theirs, for those yet to be and for life itself – to envisage an alternative to the dreadful road a tiny elite has taken us so frighteningly far down. A road whose milestones are ecocidal madness, endless and endlessly profitable wars, and levels of inequality as dysfunctional as they are obscene. A road whose signs point to no authentic value; only to those fake ones which, in their diverse ways, service the interests of privatised dollars.

Speaking of roads …

The late Andre Vltchek is by no means the only writer to welcome Belt and Road. Two others are Brazilian journalist Pepe Escobar and US economist Michael Hudson, both cited frequently on this site for their knowledge and analytic abilities, and for bringing a breadth and depth of vision of which corporate media are systemically incapable on so dangerous a subject. 3

But Andre brought to BRI something uniquely his: an ability to dream, yet not make dreams his master; to think, yet not make thought his aim. Or to put it another way, as he toured the global south – the rotting transportation systems not only of Indonesia and Thailand but of Japan too … the fresh hope brought to carpet bombed Laos … the capitalism-without-brakes of Macau … – he infused his impeccably empirical reporting with the eye of a poet. Is he biased? Absolutely. His siding with sanity against madness, with rational planning against free market mayhem, and above all with those who toil against a tiny elite whose investment calculations shape the world as we know and fear it, are all disgracefully partisan.

So let me invite you to set aside what you think you know of China – what you have had drilled into you by revolving-door politicians, and by corporate media which can put on a big show of independence on lesser issues but whose business models render them supine at best on all matters of non negotiable import to those who truly rule the West.

I already posted one essay, with the kind permission of its publisher, from China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Connecting Countries Saving Millions of Lives. Here I offer, in very lightly abridged form, teasers for another seven of the collection’s fifteen essays.

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Essay 1. Belt and Road Forum in Beijing and How Western ‘Reports’ Are Smearing China

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is reshaping the world. Previously at the mercy of the Western imperialist powers, their armies, propaganda apparatuses and brutal financial institutions; Africa, the Middle East, Central and Southeast Asia now have alternatives. Centuries of stagnation and humiliation under colonialist and post-colonialist regimes have begun to  end. Entire nations are freeing themselves, realizing their potential. All because of BRI; because of China and its close ally, Russia.

Huge railroad projects in East Africa and Laos (devastated by the insanely brutal Western bombing) are now connecting continents. Schools are growing, and so are medical facilities, community learning centers and cultural institutions. But BRI is not only about the economy, infrastructure and development, it is about the well-being of people, about culture, health and knowledge. It is connecting different races, philosophies, and beliefs. And rulers in the West are horrified at losing absolute control. For them, it is not (and never was) about improving the lives of hundreds of millions of impoverished individuals. They had centuries of absolute power over the planet, and all they did was enrich themselves, murdering and robbing across the globe. For them, it is about ‘winning or losing’, maintaining colonies and ‘client’ states by all means, even by the most brutal ones.

BRI is about spreading wealth everywhere. The firm belief in Beijing was and is: If the world is doing well, China will prosper too. And so, in Washington, London, and other centers of Western might, thousands of ‘professionals’ are now employed and busy smearing China and its most ambitious internationalist projects. Smearing and spreading nihilism pays well. There is no deficit when it comes to funding all those anti-Chinese ‘academic reports’, fake analyses and articles …

Essay 2.China’s BRI Could Save Destroyed Southeast Asia

Few in the West ever think about it, but Southeast Asia is one of the most depressed parts of the world. It has been through genocides, wars and atrocious military regimes. And monstrous income disparities. According to The Bangkok Post, in 2018:

The 10% poorest Thais had 0% wealth. 50% of the poorest Thais (25 million people) had 1.7% of the country’s wealth while 70% (35mn) controlled 5%.” In the same year, 1% of the richest Thais controlled 66.9% of the country’s fortune.

Indonesia is not doing much better …

Essay 3. Reason Why the West is Determined to Ignore China’s Success 

It used to be comical, but not anymore. In the past, blind hatred of China could be attributed to ignorance, and indoctrination by Western propaganda, servile academia, and mass media. But now? China’s tremendous leap forward, its excellent, humane social policies, people-oriented scientific research, and march towards “ecological civilization” are well-documented. Any who want it can easily learn the truth. Few do. China is seen negatively in almost all Western countries and their satellites, while surveys in Africa – where China is helping to break the chains of dependency on their neo-colonial masters – show that it is admired and liked …

Essay 4: Panda Diplomacy Much Better than Mafia Extortion of Collapsing West

While the United States intimidates dozens of countries, two cuddly giant pandas – a three year old male, Ru Yi, and a two year old female, Ding Ding – are settling in their new home, the legendary Moscow Zoo. Chewing bamboo shoots, two specimens of iconic Chinese bears were ‘just there’, in a good mood, making the world around them kinder and more secure. As RT observed:

Following talks at the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping went to Moscow Zoo to meet two giant pandas handed to Russia by China as a “sign of respect and trust.” “When we talk about pandas, a smile appears on our faces,” Putin told journalists, “While the pandas are well taken care of, two great countries – China and Russia – are standing next to each other, united, and cooperating on countless fronts.

The two shared many conclusions: from scientific research that will benefit our entire planet, to “ecological civilization” and protection of the environment; from energy to the effective and wise extraction of commodities. And from defense against an increasingly aggressive West, to meaningful cultural and educational programs and exchanges …

Essay 5: Now Indonesia is in Love with Trains – China’s BRI Ready to Help 

Not long ago, they were an absolute disaster: Indonesian trains. Compared to the Dutch era, the network shrank from 6,811 km to 5,910km in 1950, and to a disastrous 3,000 km recently. Just a few years ago, passengers would climb onto the roofs of dilapidated carriages, often falling to their death, or being electrocuted. Trains were so decrepit that roofs would give way and people would fall down, breaking floors and ending up on the ground, in between rails.

During Suharto’s pro-Western dictatorship, and also later, the network was dirty, cash starved and primitive. Corrupt officials concentrated on assembling and selling Japanese cars and scooters, and burning millions of gallons of gasoline. The situation became unbearable. By some counts, Indonesia has the most ‘used’ road system in the world. In the cities, traffic is so horrendous it has begun to resemble ‘permanent gridlock’. Even corrupt officials had to recognize  that without a comprehensive railroad network, Indonesia couldn’t survive. President Joko Widodo began listening to his own – and foreign – advisers …

Essay 6. City of Xi’an and Why the New Chinese Silk Road Terrifies the West?

This essay is replicated in full in my recent post, China Rising: humanity’s best hope?

Essay 7. China Creates, Macau Burns and Robs 

It is an amazing sight: monstrous US hotels and casinos, a few hundred meters from Mainland China. All the kitsch of Las Vegas or Atlantic City, but much bigger! Macau is the biggest casino sprawl in the world. Casinos, most of them in US-owned mega-hotels, make five times more money here than in Vegas.

You want Venetian; a mind-blowing temple of bad taste, with fake San Marco Square, canals and gondolas? It is all here; one of the largest buildings, and the biggest casino, on earth! You want Parisian; another vulgar monstrosity with fake Eiffel Tower lit up after dark for armies of selfie-takers? It is also here, together with fake Champ de Mars that doubles as an ice-rink.

Macau is tiny, 115 km square. But with  650,000 people, it is one of the most over-populated places in the world. There is no space to move around. Macau is a total urban nightmare and failure, propelled and ‘justified’ only by greed. But its plans are Napoleonic. The territory wants more. The Macau government, and big business from the West, want more and more visitors, more and more casinos, luxury retail stores, and profits 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Macau sucks in like a monstrous turbine billions of dollars, yuan or whatever currency manages to enter its territory. It attracts like a magnet …

Essay 8. Why is Japan so Bitter About Unstoppable Rise of China?

There used to be a pair of beautiful swings for children, near an old rural temple in Mie, where I would powerwalk, seeking inspiration for my novels. Two years ago, I noticed the swings were rusty, abandoned, and unkempt. Yesterday, I spotted a yellow ribbon, encircling and closing the structure. The decision had been made to get rid of the playground, irreversibly.

A day earlier I saw an old homeless man sleeping under a big sign advertising luxury eateries at  lavish Nagoya train station. In Yokkaichi, a city of some 350,000 inhabitants, all but a few bus lines have disappeared. The fast ferry across the bay, connecting Yokkaichi with Centrair International Airport that serves Nagoya and Central Japan, stopped operating when municipal subsidies dried up. Now people drive seventy kilometers, around the bay, burning fuel and paying exorbitant highway tolls and airport parking fees, to make their flights. What used to constitute public spaces, or just rice fields, are now parking lots. Cars (Japan has more cars per capita than the USA) are rotting in the middle of rice fields and at the edges of once pristine forests. They lose value rapidly, and it costs a lot to get rid of them properly …

The other essays in the collection are:

Essay 9. Laos – China is Building, West is Destroying and Spreading Nihilism

Essay 10. West is Losing and so It’s Bashing China and Russia ‘Left and Right’ Literally

Essay 11. Despite Western skepticism, democracy thrives in China

Essay  12. China’s success here to stay

Essay 13. Road of love on the path to development

Essay 14. Western media portrays Hong Kong hooligans as heroes. But are they?

Essay 15. Some in Hong Kong Feel Frustrated, as Their City is Losing to Mainland China

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Buy Andre Vltchek’s book here: China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Connecting Countries Saving Millions of Lives

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  1. Both IMF and World Bank loans are associated with the ‘debt trap’ discussed here. Worse, they advance, to Wall Street delight, Chicago School privatisation agendas. Michael Hudson, who specialises in debt, has noted how eyewatering repayment terms force state owned sectors into fire sales snapped up by Western investors. This 2004 IMF paper makes no bones about the fact: Governments [with low] credit ratings in emerging economies, are … forced to privatize initially at discounted prices to attract investors, given the time needed for investors to gain confidence that governments are credibly committed to pro-market reforms. [Here] international financial institutions (IFIs) may play a pivotal role. Both IMF and World Bank provide loans … to developing countries, but stipulate conditions … Since governments in developing countries often need IFI financing to stabilize their economies or fund their development programs, conditionality may generate credible commitments to the IFIs’ agendas …”
  2. It should be noted that talk in Washington, London and Paris of a “rules based order” – not at all the same thing as international law – follows the ending, in the wake of Iraq and Libya, of the free pass given to Western “humanitarian intervention” by two of the five permanent UN member states: China and Russia.
  3. Chomsky: “Media are large corporations selling privileged audiences to other large corporations. Now the question is, what pictures of the world would a rational person expect from this set up?” Chomsky again: “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion but allow vigorous debate within that spectrum. Even to encourage radical and dissident views. That way people sense there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”

5 Replies to “Speaking of roads …

  1. Interesting info on the state of world trade here: https://journal-neo.org/2021/07/21/global-shipping-crisis-far-worse-than-imagined/.

    Evidently the US are having trouble returning empty containers to China because their infrastructure is poor, and Covid is affecting labour power. Along with Covid effects elsewhere in the system (shipping) trade in manufactured goods is in danger of breaking down. Luckily we get a great deal of our food and transport workers from the nearby EU.

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