Jurrick Oson is a big man, forty-six years old, with muscles bulging inside his bright purple sleeveless T-shirt. He was raised to work around nets, fish, tides, and weather, and his skin is leathery from a lifetime at sea. His boat had always been moored at the end of a dirt track, with shacks and small stalls on one side and the gently lapping sea on the other. It was a colorful, chaotic old vessel, painted in yellows, greens and blues, and she plied her trade as such boats had done for thousands of years.

 

Excerpted from Asian Waters: The Struggle Over the South China Sea & the Strategy of Chinese Expansion by Humphrey Hawksley

China’s Second Heavy Machinery Group in southwestern China’s Sichuan Province is the proud owner of “the world’s biggest closed-dye hydraulic press forge”, at 22,000 tons a piece of very heavy machinery indeed. The forge is able to exert 100,000 tons of force on a piece of metal, powerful enough to warp the hardened alloys used in aircraft engines and mining drill bits into shape. More than twice enough. The most powerful forge in the United States has only half the capacity, but seems to do just fine.

The predominant narrative on Sino-African relations is relatively simple. After more than three decades of sustained economic expansion, China is an economic juggernaut, with trade and investment overflowing its borders and into the global market. One the one hand, China, with its overcapacity, seeks new markets and new places from which to secure natural resources to keep the economic machine going. On the other, Western disengagement from Africa since the end of the Cold War has been filled in part by China, and China-Africa relations need to be understood as the logical outcome of the marginalization of Africa in the age of globalization in which Africa is hungry for development, investment, and capital.

Africa is, as far as development is concerned, the next frontier. China is leading the charge in setting up factories and businesses across the continent. McKinsey’s Irene Yuan Sun writes in The Next Factory of the World that this will help Africa become a “global manufacturing powerhouse” as it follows China’s path to industrialization. However optimistic this may sound, Sun argues that not only did China do this itself during the 1990s and 2000s, but that it is already working in Africa.

In January 2018, Australian Senator Sam Dastyari of the Labor Party resigned. It was the culmination of a year-long scandal involving foreign donations and influence peddling. In his support for China’s claims in the South China Sea, Dastyari disagreed with the China policy of both the government and the Australian Labor Party. It was revealed that Dastyari had accepted money from Huang Xiangmo, a Chinese businessman with links to the Chinese Communist Party.

The South China Sea, notes Bernard Cole, a former US Navy captain who also taught maritime strategy at the National War College, covers four million square kilometers, has significant energy resources, and contains trade arteries through which one-third of the world’s commerce transits. Its geographic location astride the Southeast Asian littoral makes it the maritime gateway between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. China’s claim of sovereignty over the entire sea and conflicting claims by other countries in the region make the South China Sea a geopolitical flashpoint and potential scene of military conflict among regional and global powers.