Comments by China's national defense spokesman last month make it about as official as it's going to get: China's navy is in the market for an aircraft carrier. This is a sign that Beijing sees its ultimate prize within grasp: emergence as East Asia's preeminent great power. So should the region, and the protector of its stability for the last half century, the United States, be worried?
First things first: China is not about to knock America off its perch as the world's sole superpower. Developing the capacity to deploy aircraft carriers is a feat of incredible complexity. China's carrier project will take at least a decade to realize, and it will require billions of dollars and a great deal of the country's military design capacity.
[...] Yet there's every reason to believe China will achieve its goal eventually and deploy multiple carriers. It will likely start by using aircraft bought from Russia but go on to develop its own weapons systems. China will end up with a much smaller ship than the American super-carriers, with weapons about a generation behind. But this will still put it far ahead of its neighbors -- no East Asian country currently has carrier capacity.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
An friend of mine, a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, drew my attention to this piece in yesterday's WSJ:
NB: A decade is not as long as it seems.
Government censorship seems to be the 'in' thing in China and Kenya this year. Governments in both states have rung in the New Year by cracking down on local media and internet sites (shock), much to the surprise and outrage of many (barring those in China, I suppose).
On January 2nd, President Kibaki signed the Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill into law. The new legislation provides for heavy fines and prison sentences for press offenses, and also gives the government - above all information and interior ministries - the authority to issue broadcast licenses and monitor the production and content of news programs. The law has given rise to much protest across Kenya, as memories of a 2006 government raid on the offices of the Standard Newspapers, the country's second largest newspaper, and a 2007 media crackdown remain fresh.
To be perfectly honest, I remain somewhat puzzled by the passage of this law, especially given that the country is still trying to rebound after the 2007 presidential election and such media restrictions may well curtail much-needed foreign investments. Kenyan media has in past days carried several somewhat biting (biting if you're a member of Parliament, that is) stories about MPs refusal to pay taxes, disclosing the fiscal excesses of Parliament, but I hesitate to accept the publication of such stories as the sole reason for the government clamping down so harshly. Then again, I could be wrong. Thoughts?
In China, too, 2009 has begun with, well, interesting developments: Chinese authorities have blocked a number of websites criticized for 'low and vulgar practices on the Internet,' among them Google's 'web page search' and 'image search' functions (kind of takes away from the point, doesn't it?). In addition, internet addicts are being sent to boot-camps (yes, seriously) where they undergo a three-month regimen of counseling, confidence building activities, sex ed (sex ed?!?) and in about 60% of cases, medication. Fabulous. Just imagine what they would do to us Western bloggers!
In all seriousness, though, it's often the case that when citizens are barred from accessing information, whatever that information may be, they more actively seek ways to evade censorship to access it. While government crackdowns a la Kenya and China may succeed (or give the impression of success) in the short-term, in the long term the result will be a populace exceptionally well-versed at evading filters and disseminating information. Media crackdowns aren't all they're cracked up to be.
China is looking to expand its mining and metal holdings in developed economies, moving beyond its focus on least-developed economies, like the Congo (though there rightly may be other reasons there). According to the FT, China is eyeing Australia, and especially Canada:
“The Chinese realise there are massive opportunities in the market,” said Keith Spence, president of Global Mining Corp, a China-focused resource investment company.A year ago, they were going to Africa to acquire early-stage development assets. But now they are looking for larger tonnage, longer life, later-stage assets. There is less of an emphasis on emerging markets, because now there is choice.”
Moves to purchase more developed mining assets mirror trends in the agricultural sector. Moving beyond Africa, China has recently been buying up developed land assets in Latin America, most notably in Brazil and Argentina.
Indeed, when China's so-called "African resource grab" came to the forefront of development debates, I remained of the opinion that this was going to be short-lived. I argued then, and hold now, that for major Chinese resource companies Africa is somewhat of a testing ground - if they can do it there, they can do it anywhere. With the (continued) acquisition of capital from their African investments, and the opportunity to improve upon strategies in perhaps the most difficult of waters, I suspect that we will begin to see more and more Chinese firms trying to expand into developed economies. China will still remain in Africa, but the continent will no longer be their primary focus.