China competes with the West in “developing” us

A recent article by the New York Times (Jane Perlez, “China Competes with West in Aid to its Neighbors”, The New York Times, September 18 2006) was surveying recent Chinese investment in development projects across the world, especially Asia and Africa. One of the key issue is that

Chinese money usually comes unencumbered with conditions for environmental standards or community resettlement that can hold up major projects. The aid does not carry penalties for corruption that are being increasingly used by the World Bank president, Paul D. Wolfowitz. And China’s offers rarely include the extra freight of expensive consultants, provisions that are common to World Bank projects.

laying-rail-tracks.jpgIf we put this into broader perspective of how global capital works, this is one example of how homeostatic mechanisms not only are the governing mechanisms of markets, but also apply for governance and development in which there are different players facing different constraints and acting up different but interlocked strategies. So for example, in the last decade campaigners have pushed institutions such as the World Bank to pay some lip services to environmental issues, and to fine tune their policies in such a way as to couple environmental considerations to profit driven development projects. This form of neoliberal governance in which environmental issues and accumulation/developments goals are coupled in such a way that the former is subordinated to the latter, increases the monetary cost of overall capitalist development. Enter China, doing precisely what World Bank was openly doing up to 10 years ago before it was forced into the public relation spin of the ex World Bank president Paul Wolfenson: lend with no sort of enviornmental or social strings attached. Will campaigners now try to “shut Chinese capital down” after having tried several times to shut the G8, the World Bank and the IMF down? How can we shut down a social force — capital — that has a plurality of centers all sharing the same common drive — accumulation — but by questioning capital accumulation as a mode of life? Also note that Chinese capital is here involved in development projects that link up the host country to Chinese markets and that the World Bank judges this a trade matter (rather than development, hence of not its competence). Obviously, since Chinese capital is a driving power of global production networks worldwide, the “development” it pursuits in other civ.jpgcountries is also a matter for disciplinary trade worldwide. I have the image of a civilisation game in my mind — yes, the addicting Civ 3 game I used to play until 3 am some time ago — in which one of the different players is developing networks of roads and rails in a far corner of the map, a prerequisite for later integration of the region to the overall communication system. The civilization game played by capital has clearly more serious side effects than the computer version that at most will cost you a night of sleep.

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