Africa · China

China the lion

There’s yet another (American) article that portrays China as a predatory entity intent on locking horns with the current world alpha male and competing for dominance worldwide. If that’s not enough, the author is Eliot Spitzer, the former NY governor who saw his meteoric political career crash after a lurid prostitute scandal. In the Slate piece, Spitzer is inspired by some wildlife safari life-and-death struggle in the Serengeti and calls China a “lion” (which is a step up from being called wolves) and urges the US not to be a gazelle. You can probably start the eye-rolling now, except that he makes some sense. Basically his main point is that China is a giant presence in Africa, overwhelming nations with widespread investment and trade. Yet inspite of this though, Africans do not really have any special feelings for China and its values and beliefs, as opposed to American ones.  This is what Spitzer says: “there is a clear emotional connection to what America represents—a deeper appeal that can compete with, if not always surpass, the luster of Chinese gold.” What does America represent, one might ask? Well, Hollywood movies, the NBA, fast food, but also democracy, freedom of speech, and a multicultural society that embodies different races, cultures and faiths. This might be piling it on a bit thick, don’t mistake me for a pro-US fanatic, but there is truth that China might be leading in the economic arena, but in terms of the other things that are important in life, like political and judicial systems, media freedoms, topnotch scientific and medical innovation, and creative and social ideas and values, China lags behind the West. I can attest to this a little, as I recall the black South African engineer whose firm did business with Huawei but didn’t have good impressions with his Chinese colleagues or the tour guides and travelers in a campsite talking about the Chinese presence in Zimbabwe in a disapproving way.

Spitzer does lay it on a bit thick, as he brings in the Brazilians, the Indians and Russians and says that just like China, they’re all deficient to America. He even says that “nobody in Kenya wants to grow up to be Chinese,” which might be true, but then I’m sure not everybody wants to be American either. But brush aside the political incorrectness and bluntness, and his points are quite valid, which end in him calling on the US to boost its soft power appeal worldwide. I may not like that, but really is there any alternative? Who knows, in a few decades, maybe kids around the world will be wearing Li-Ning sneakers and CBA jerseys, driving BYD and Jeely cars, watching the latest Chinese flicks and learning Mandarin, hoping to study in Chinese universities. Until then, don’t get too mad when you read stuff like Spitzer’s article.


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