Sunday, July 13, 2014
China is not a superpower, yet
Recently in Dar es Salaam I was on one of the invited guests when Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao was the chief guest at the ground-breaking ceremony of the Mwalimu Nyerere Foundation Square, a real estate development in Dar es Salaam jointly developed by the Mwalimu Nyerere Foundation, and China Railway Group Limited on a Build Operate and Transfer (BOT) basis, and with further funding from the International Finance Corporation (IFC).
Strong signals that China is an emerging power could be seen and heard. First, the Master-of-Ceremonies was a Chinese official who conducted the ceremony in Chinese. A Tanzanian translator provided the English translation to the invited guests. Kiswahili speakers were left to their own devices and to their ability to understand either Chinese or English.
Second, the plaque that was jointly unveiled by the Chinese vice president and Tanzanian prime minister Mizengo Pinda was inscribed in Chinese, followed by an English translation. Again, Kiswahili was found unnecessary.
If my memory serves me correctly the background music was Chinese, with a sprinkling of some Tanzanian songs.
Yet for all this display of power I could not happen notice that, in contrast to the existing power – the United States of America – China still has a long way to go. We have witnessed how every detail of a visit by an American president to Tanzania is taken over by Americans – civilian and military. Even our president’s security is seconded to the Secret Service, I am told. Mobile phone commuications were unaivalable while President Clinton visited Arusha. Dar es Salaam’s residents were asked to stay off the route President Obama’s motorcade used from the airport. And when Air Force One used the airport it was the only aircraft operating except for US military helicopters. Other aircraft were either grounded or diverted elsewhere. And, as with our president’s bobyguards, Tanzanian airport traffic controllers were replaced by Americans.
On their way to the top superpowers step on more than a few toes and, inevitably, there are millions of people across the Globe with sore toes who would like to squeeze their hands around the neck of a leading representative of a superpower. So, one can understand the motive prompting this Great Wall that shields these representatives. The difficult part is understanding the motive by government’s around the world for accepting the humiliation of hosting such leaders.
I decided during the event in Dar es Salaam that, in this context, China is not yet a superpower. No one was strip-searched or sniffed for explosives when we entered the building site, and we were free to mingle with the Chinese delegation. Perhaps the Chinese have not yet reached the stage of stepping on other people’s toes.
I could not help wondering what would have happened if the American Vice President was the chief guest. One certaintly is I would have been wearing my best underwear.