Read the Tea Leaves of China

In the action movie Bullitt, 1968, the complicated story centers on a San Francisco cop, played by the cool Steve McQueen, asked by a slimy, ambitious Senate politician to guard the supposed Chicago Mafia leader who had agreed to testify at the hearing in San Francisco of the Senate Subcommittee on Organized Crime.  The supposed criminal is killed, and the detective finds that he was an innocent party.

Fact follows fiction.  On June 24, 2019, the chairman of the U.S. House Oversight Committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), demanded to know about official records relating to President Donald Trump's meetings with Russian president Vladimir Putin.  Cummings does not resemble the King of Cool, admired for his anti-hero persona, sex appeal, sense of style, and rugged good looks, but like McQueen in the film, he is scrutinizing the wrong party.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, authoritarian and ambitious leader, is the ascending star, not President Putin.  The search and inquiry of congressional committees should focus on China, not Russia.  In today's world, China, whether stealing U.S. intellectual property; rapidly challenging the U.S. economy and trade; and seeking to command not only the leadership role in Asia, but also global dominance, is now the main rival of the U.S.  The rapidity of its development is seen, by many analysts, as the greatest threat to the U.S. 

The great American philosopher Casey Stengel, exasperated by the hapless New York Mets, the new team he was managing in 1962, asked, "Can't anyone here play this game?"  The game of politics has its hapless moments.  On the very day of Cummings's letter to White House chief Mick Mulvaney about the desired records, a new report was issued that China had infiltrated cell networks of a number of global carriers.  Among other matters, China targeted military officials, dissidents, and security bodies.  This offensive is said to be the work of a Chinese group, APT 10, known for hacking Western businesses and official agencies.  For more than a decade, Chinese groups have engaged in multiple hacking campaigns into computer systems around the world, attacking the telecom industry, searching for trade secrets and technology. 

In all spheres, political, economic, diplomatic, China has in recent years increased its role.  Even in a quite new economic activity, online food delivery, China has increased quickly, accounting now for 45% of global trade.  China is issuing licenses for commercial use of new technology, a key step in cyber-power.  In Europe, China has interests and part ownership in a considerable number of enterprises: Heathrow, Frankfurt, and Toulouse airports; car firms Peugeot, Citroën, Pirelli, and Daimler; and TV stations. 

China has become prominent in Africa, which has 30% of the world's reserves of hydrocarbons and minerals and 10% of the world's population.  China has moved in where it has seen that the West has neglected Africa.  One estimate is that there are now 10,000 Chinese-owned firms in Africa.  China has been building schools, hospitals, anti-malaria centers, and agricultural and technology demonstration centers.  It has been lending money to African countries and training African workers.  It has the Husab Uranian mine, a $4.6-billion investment, the second largest uranium mine in the world, in Namibia, where it is also building an artificial peninsula in Walvis Bay.  In the African continent, China has built shopping malls, granite factories, cotton plants, telecommunications, and fuel depots.  It has built a, $8-billion high-speed rail road in Nigeria and is working on a canal there.  In 2000, only five countries had China as their largest trading partner; now more than a hundred do.

China's diplomatic aggressiveness was shown in two recent events.  One was the visit in June of Xi Jinping to Korean leader Kim Jong-un, to discuss North Korea's nuclear weapons program and long-range missiles and U.S. sanctions.  The second was the visit, June 5–7, 2019 to Russia.  The question arises whether this visit, on the 70th anniversary of the agreement of diplomatic ties between the two countries, foretells a new strategic partnership in upgrading their hitherto uneven relationship?  Trade between the two countries has grown, now $108 billion, and there is a wide range of cooperation on economics, trade, energy, science, aerospace, agriculture, and education. 

It is no secret that China is creating a facsimile of the old empire, as well as being the second or the first most important political and economic power in the world.  Territorially, it incorporated Tibet in 1951, Hong Kong in 1997, and Macao in 1999.  Politically and militarily, China supported North Korea in the hostilities of 1950–53, helped end the Indochina war in 1954, helped form the non-aligned movement in 1955, engaged in war with India in 1962, and established its first military base outside its own territory in Djibouti in 1999.  China opened relations with the U.S. in 1979 and normalized relations with the Soviet Union in 1989.  Economically, it became a member of the OECD, a member and observer of the Arctic Council, and a member of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation organization. 

Culturally, it set up the Cultural Revolution in 1966 and held the Olympic games in Beijing in 2008.  The big change came with the arrival of Xi as president and his determination to Make China Great Again by creating a new counterpart of the legendary Road of Silk. 

This road, originally termed "one belt, one road," now is called Belt and Road Initiative.

There appear to be two roads.  One is the land route from China to Europe, the old silk road interrupted in the 15th century.  The other is the sea route: the strait of Malacca, the Indian ocean, the Red Sea, and the horn of Africa, once controlled by Portugal. 

The ambitious land programs include routes, rail, and energy lines.  Already there are important connections — e.g., China to Pakistan with another being a route crossing Burma to Singapore.  Sea route investments and commercial privileges exist in Asian ports, such as the case in Pireus, Greece and Gwadar, a strategic port in Pakistan.  Added to this are links or hubs, special zones, in many parts of the world.  Benefits obtained from this enterprise are culture and circulation of scholars, educational programs, and tourist programs. 

All this is in the context of official backing by the Asiatic Bank of Investment, BAII, located in Beijing, a bank of 69 members that finances infrastructure, and its activities are controlled by China.  It is the equivalent of the Asiatic Bank of Development, controlled by Japan.

China is a power — not a friend of the U.S., but a rival, not an automatic enemy, and even a possible partner in resolving problems, such as North Korea or Syria or the South China Sea.  The U.S. faces not only a problem with tariffs, but also the reality of a deficit with China of $379 billion in goods and services.  While recognizing that Russia is also not a friend, the U.S. congressional committees should forgo or reduce their prolonged and seemingly interminable investigations of Putin's every word and turn attention to the giant of China in the present world.  It is time to recognize that there is a strong correlation between monetary help and support for China's foreign policy objectives.

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