In an article published last week, the Chinese Academy of Sciences explained how it will share ‘big data’ satellite and computing technologies to help other nations manage China's massive development initiatives — its One Belt One Road, 21st Century Silk Road, and Polar Silk Road programs that will crisscross much of the planet.
It is vital, however, to realize that such technologies, while useful, are far from sufficient to ensure that China’s unprecedented schemes will be environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable (see here, here, and here).
The world has never seen a development force like China: one that has a powerfully centralized leadership, is intensely ambitious internationally, lacks many of the internal safeguards provided by an open media, and is the world’s most populous nation (with over 1.4 billion people).
Chinese President Xi Jinping has worked hard to ensure that his One Belt One Road initiatives are formally inscribed into China’s national constitution, effectively making it a crime for a Chinese national to criticize the program — comparable to openly disparaging the Central Communist Party.
To make matters worse, China is mesmerized by its own propaganda: Out of 179 ranked nations worldwide, China is virtually at the bottom (176th) in terms of the openness of its public media.
Hence, what a typical Chinese citizen sees, hears, and evidently often believes is essentially pro-government advocacy and self-aggrandizement — partly because of President Xi’s continuing crackdowns on social media and public discussion.
Beyond this, China is such a massive nation that it tends, like other populous countries, to be unusually self-absorbed and self-justifying in nature.
And China wants to believe its own propaganda. That it routinely reacts with hostility and condemnation to external criticism should ring alarm bells globally.
Such nerve-wracking behavior would be less worrying were China’s model for economic and political growth not so profoundly based on global expansionism — via staggering investments in infrastructure and mining, timber, and other extractive industries that will have extraordinary ripple effects across ecosystems, societies, and economies.
Scientists working in developing nations often remark that China’s entrepreneurs and foreign investors are intensely hard-charging, hard-edged, and willing to ‘bend or break rules’ as required to achieve their aims.
Typically, such approaches are far more predatory than fair and equitable for the citizens and environments of developing nations.
To be fair, China is making impressive strides against some of its pressing internal environmental concerns, via programs aimed at replanting denuded lands, promoting solar and wind energy, and reducing air pollution, among others.
However, thanks partly to the U.S. Trump Administration’s short-sighted isolationism, China is rolling out international programs of such audacity and scope that they would be almost unimaginable in a more balanced world.
China’s leading scientists are smart and keen to collaborate internationally, but they are a lonely signpost urging “caution” against the rolling juggernaut of Chinese political, business, and financial interests that are massively expanding their foreign activities.
The hard reality boils down to this: While its political leaders try to silence international anxieties, China is so big and propelled by self-interest that it only wants to listen to itself.