By Nina Somera

Recent years have seen the reawakening of the sleeping dragon that is China. The fireworks which brightened Beijing’s skyline in the last Olympic games seemed to further herald the rebirth of a powerhouse.

“China's ambition is not just to be a manufacturing centre of the world. It wants to be a financier of the world,” said Dorothy Guerrero, China programme coordinator of Focus on the Global South.

In 2007, China's Exim Bank became world's largest export credit agency as it approved US$36.3 billion of loans and US$28.82 billion of grants. Guerrero added that its overseas development assistance (ODA) already reached US$2 billion in 2007 or higher than the ODA allotment of Belgium, Switzerland and Australia.

However, such economic performance could not be delinked from China's relationship with Southern countries especially in Africa. Albeit China has a greater identification and orientation towards the South, much of Western media has labelled the country as the “new colonialist.”

The last few years have seen China's increasing investment on oil exploration, mining and other extractive activities in African countries such as Angola, Gabon, Zambia, Tanzania and Sudan, among others. Moreover, such deals have been made under auspices of dictatorial regimes and without much regard for the local livelihood and possible displacement of communities.

China's otherwise unholy alliance with rogue African regimes, environmental footprints and human rights record have indeed become a rallying point for threatened powerhouses like the United States. This, even as China's military budget of US$59 billion is still less than the spending of US, Russia, India and France.

With the expansion of Chinese capital overseas, another China is emerging. According to /Forbes/, the total fortune of China's 400 richest was US$288 billion or more than double than in 2006. As Guerrero explained, although China claims to have lifted 400 million people out of poverty, some 135 million Chinese still earn US$1 a day. Rural to urban migration is likewise increasing.

Despite these contradictions, Chinese social movements appear to be in their formative stages, mainly because of the limitations on freedoms of expression and association. While there has been an average of 20 mass protests conducted every hour, the ranks within these movements have yet to be developed. Sensitivity is indeed the rule for most Chinese non-government organisations. As Guerrero put it, “There is a ceiling that you don't know until you hit it.”

Guerrero, Dorothy. (2008). “China's Transition, Its Role in the Global Political economy and the Challenges for Developing Countries.”

/The Economist/. March 2008 cover page.

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