Like ‘One Country Two Systems’, ‘Belt and Road’ is a vague slogan rather than a concrete structure or strategy. It could be broadly summarized as: Xi Jinping’s visionary Marshall Plan to ‘stitch together’ Eurasia and the Indian Ocean through win-win white-elephant asset-grab debt-traps. But even this would be an oversimplification, as all manner of slimeballs can apply the ‘Belt and Road’ label to any activity to flatter the emperor or win official approval. Here are two noteworthy recent ‘Belt and Road’ landmarks.
The first is China’s efforts to get the last Malaysian government to sign up to rail, pipeline and other projects. Malaysia’s Najib regime was facing embarrassment and international criminal inquiries after having (allegedly, of course) been rather humungously ripping off the country’s sovereign wealth fund, 1MDB. The Wall Street Journal reports that Chinese officials offered to help extricate the Malaysian leaders from their predicament as part of the infrastructure deal by, for example, recycling padded project financing into the wealth fund.
The story is behind a paywall. Go here for a synopsis, plus some other juicy details.
There is a Hong Kong (and arguably 1C2S) link: China agreed to the Najib regime’s requests to mount full digital and physical surveillance on the Hong Kong-based WSJ reporters looking into the 1MDB scandal.
Another nail in the coffin of press freedom, rule of law and autonomy in Hong Kong. But on a brighter note, this is at the officially sanctioned, professional, classy end of the ‘Belt and Road’ scale. Down at the seamier end, there’s Cambodia.
This vassal state of China now seems to be home to Macau gangster and movie-icon ‘Broken Tooth’ Wan Kuok-koi. Last year, he apparently launched a cryptocurrency in Southeast Asia, with proceeds to go to an online gambling thing (more here), and some sort of security company connected with ‘Belt and Road’ and the ‘fraternal’ Hongmen international organization.
This eye-roll-inducing sleaze-fest actually seems to be coming together, judging by recent sightings of him and movie buddy Michael Chan hanging out with the Cambodian military, whose cooperation is no doubt useful in the provision of private-sector security and, um, protection services for Chinese businessmen engaged in wholesome ‘Belt and Road’ enterprises in Cambodia.
This combination – foreign power, puppet dictator, casinos, mafia – rings a bell. Where have we seen this before? How about Batista, Havana and the mob, circa 1957?
These two tales from the ‘Belt and Road’ remind us that, just as you think things are getting bad in Hong Kong, they are so horribly worse elsewhere.