China’s Rise and its Imperialist Outcomes
While China’s approach to dealing with developing states is praiseworthy in many respects, recent revelations of China’s exploitation of other states is also equally haunting. In particular, there are two main issues with the Chinese policy toward developing states that makes China’s approaches nothing less than an imperialist action. First, China’s intentions for engaging with developing states is merely driven by its economic ambitions and needs for natural resources to maintain its own rapid industrialization and economic growth rather than by the desire to support developing countries. According to this narrative, economic growth is seen to be the new form of colonialism, and China is simply exploiting developing countries.
Secondly, in recent years, when Chinese loan recipient states have been unable to pay their debt, the direction that China has been taking has been rather more exploitative. For instance, in the case of Sri Lanka, it was reported that throughout the years, China had provided Sri Lanka loans to build a port, even at times when feasibility studies had found that the projects were not worthwhile. When the project was completed and Sri Lanka was unable to re-pay its debt, China took over the port in a 99-year lease agreement. Ultimately, Sri Lanka lost its strategic port to China. Last year, a similar case was reported in Kenya where the country was unable to re-pay its debt to China. Indeed, Chinese debt as a percentage of developing countries’ GDP has emerged as one of the key challenges that many developing countries are facing now. In some cases, China’s loans reach 100% of the recipient country’s GDP.
In this respect, some scholars have termed China’s approach as “development finance” instead of “development assistance”. Looking at the Chinese response to the emerging issues related to its role in developing countries, it feels as if the Chinese response has been, to put it in very simple terms: “We are not responsible for the colonial times and the problems that emerged from it. We will lend you money to finance your projects, and if you cannot pay back the loans, we will take over the resources you have”.
While China rise has been a blessing to developing states in many respects, its lack of recognition of institutional void and its willingness to exploit the situation is colonial. China non-interference policies and its innovative financing of infrastructure projects in developing countries are praiseworthy. However, China’s exploitation of developing countries’ natural resources is questionable. Furthermore, the high level of debt that developing states have acquired because of China’s willingness to provide finances to any type of regimes is creating a debt-trap diplomacy. In this respect, China’s rise can be characterized as imperialist.