Editor's Notes

Friday, October 30, 2009
True North Perspective
Vol. 4, No. 49 (200)

While U.S. plays world cop China builds hospitals, railways, roads
and wins valuable investment contracts to American cries of 'foul'

'One can hardly blame the U.S. for sour-grape declarations. The Americans continue to spill blood and money in the “graveyard of empires” while China, without firing a shot walks away with a juicy plum, one of the largest copper fields in the world.'

George W. Bush, with the help of Osama bin Laden, suckered the West into an invasion of Afghanistan October 7, 2001. Bristling with arms, the military industrial complex that runs Washington was convinced that movie actor John Wayne (in real life a cowardly two-time draft dodger during World War II) would continue to win all wars everywhere.

Hundreds of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of dead and wounded later, the U.S. has been outfoxed in Iraq (although it doesn't know it yet) and is up against the wall in Afghanistan where the U.S. military has just suffered the highest monthly number of dead since their attack.

Meanwhile, Washington has pulled its Fourth Fleet out of mothballs and set this armada to patrol the coasts of Central and South America. The decision has been justified with the claim that it is necessary in the fight against drugs. Don't believe it. This disinformation (a euphemism for lie) is spouted to camouflage the concern the U.S. has about the development of democratically elected governments that prefer to govern themselves independent of American hegemony. The Fourth Fleet is supported by seven new air bases in Colombia.

All this global military action and posturing is happening while, in Afghanistan, under the guns of the U.S., the poppies grow row on row and the country has become by far the leading producer of heroin. Maybe what's missing is the Fourth Fleet and a canal to get it there.

Meanwhile, China leads with diplomacy and trade in Africa, Asia, and South America, not to forget growing footholds in Australia and even Canada.

China's latest primary coup is winning a $3.5 billion contract to develop Afghanistan's Aynak copper field, the largest foreign direct investment project in the history of Afghanistan.

One can hardly blame the U.S. for sour-grape declarations. The Americans continue to spill blood and money in the “graveyard of empires” while China, without firing a shot walks away with a juicy plum, one of the largest copper fields in the world.

American James R. Yeager, who served as an Advisor to the Ministry of Mines in Afghanistan during the tender process, said no independent oversight existed to insure true transparency of the process.

"Unless there is change in the process to make it open and transparent and unless the U.S. government establishes a policy for resource development to assist the private sector, China will continue to gain undue influence on the Afghan economy and ultimately Afghan society as a whole," Yeager said. "This will be harmful to everything America is trying to accomplish in bringing stability, and a self-sustaining market economy to Afghanistan."

Former U.S. Congressman Don Ritter, who has been engaged with Afghanistan for 30 years, said something must be done so that the billions of dollars and the lives sacrificed by the U.S. in Afghanistan are given some credit in the contract process.

"The bottom line is this: we need a policy on developing mines and minerals and oil and gas in Afghanistan that allows an honest, open competitive process," Ritter said. "Otherwise, the market economy so crucial to the future of the Afghan people and the governance of the country will be dominated by the Chinese way of doing business."

The size of the bid — almost double the expected amount — surprised other potential foreign investors.

By some estimates, the 28-square-kilometer copper field in Logar Province could contain up to $88 billion worth of ore. But there is no power plant in the area that can generate enough electricity for the mining and extraction operations. And Afghanistan has never had the kind of railroad needed to haul away the tons of copper that could be extracted.

That is why a large part of the Chinese bid includes the cost of building a 400-megawatt, coal-fired power plant and a freight railroad passing from western China through Tajikistan and Afghanistan to Pakistan.

Indeed, the cost of building so much infrastructure in a volatile security environment like Afghanistan is prohibitive for many private firms. But Niklas Norling, an expert on China and Central Asia at the Stockholm-based Institute for Security and Development, says the price tag is tolerable for a Chinese state firm because the project contributes to Beijing's plans for the development of western China and its regional trade links.

"You have to see this in the context of China's great western development program, which has led to major investment into the western provinces [of China] and, of course, also crossborder connections to Central Asia, South Asia, and Iran," Norling says.

"In order to develop the west [of China], they need energy resources, and they need other resource materials. So far, Afghanistan has remained virtually untouched by Beijing's concerns, in contrast to China's involvement in Central Asia, Pakistan, and Iran.

"The past few years have seen investments into the Karakorum Highway in Pakistan, the Gwadar port [in Karachi], [and] a multibillion-dollar pipeline from Kazakhstan to Xinjiang [Uyghur Autonomous Region]. China has signed a $100 billion, 25-year energy contract with Iran. And so on and so on," Norling continues. "So, of course, this forms part of a greater strategy."

Part of China's greater strategy includes the $175 million it has contributed toward the reconstruction process of the post-Taliban Afghanistan since 2002.

One symbol of this investment is financing the construction of a new modern hospital in Afghanistan's capital Kabul that was inaugurated Sunday, August 16, 2009.

Inaugurated jointly by President Hamid Karzai, Chinese ambassador to Afghanistan Zheng Qingdian, Afghan Minister for Public Health Mohammad Amin Fatimi, the 350-bed hospital bore US$25 million provided by China.

"With this huge support to the health system of Afghanistan, the People's Republic of China has played a very crucial role in the enhancement of service delivery in the areas of secondary and tertiary health care" said Dr. S.M. Amin Fatimie, the Minister of Public Health of Afghanistan.

It's too bad that the Chinese example of sophistication in international relations is not likely to have a positive influence on American foreign policy, which so far seems to prefer the use and/or threat of lethal weapons over diplomacy and trade.

However, as a devout eternal optimist, I retain faint hope that President Obama can turn the good ship America toward respect for the peaceful ambitions of all nations. He's got a tough job and deserves all the support he can get.

Meanwhile, take it easy, but take it.

Looking forward.

Carl Dow
Editor and Publisher
True North Perspective

30 October 2009 — Return to cover.