The Geo-strategic vision moves mountains
René Mendoza Vidaurre
There was a long drought. The harvest dried up. The leaves on the grapevines turned black. The town went hungry, like fish thrown on the side of the river, drowning without air.
There was a man with a smile and a contagious joy.
A group came up to him and asked, “Don´t you have any compassion in this sea of suffering? He replied: to your eyes it is a drought. For me, this is a form of the joy of God.
All over this desert I see a dense cornfield, as high as the paunch of a horse, loaded with ears of corn greener than chives. I reach out my hand to touch them. How can I not?
(Poem written in Afghanistan by Rumi en 1207)
It is said that the geo-strategic rise of China is the most relevant fact of the last two decades. Scholars, politicians and business people highlight the fact that China is an opportunity for markets and resources for Latin America. In this article, I analyze more the vision behind these opportunities, a vision that “moves mountains”.
Two big visions in the last 100 years
The rise of China is happening in two ways. First, it interconnects four pillars, the “factory of the world” where everything is made under subcontracting relationships, facilitated by the “infrastructure network” of investments in roads, telecommunications, energy, logistics, sea transport and ports, all made possible by the “financial supply network” that finances those investments, and all that moved by the “stable services supply chain” that provides rules and reduces risk and investment transaction costs (A. Sheng and X. Geng, La próxima transformación de China). Secondly, in addition to supporting bilateral investments from the Chinese Development Bank, in 2014 it started to do it multilaterally: The New Development Bank that brings together the BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) under the idea of a “belt, a path” for connecting China with the economies of Asia and Europe along the new “silk road.”
In the last 100 years two large visions have been implemented using substantial resources. The first was the Marshall Plan, after the Second World War, that included the creation of the United Nations, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. The second is the China Plan with its own financial institutional arrangement. The first was the engine of trade through which the USA consolidated its hegemony; the second is the engine for the infrastructure that is putting China and the emerging countries on the world stage. In both moments, in spite of ideological differences, the vision mobilizes resources and institutions with the active role of the state. That vision can also be dangerous; both involve large investments with a disregard to their environmental, economic, social and political effects; Flyvbjerg, Bruzelius and Rothengatter (Megaprojects and Risk: An anatomy of Ambition), studying 70 years of information about megaprojects, conclude that they generally exceed their budgets and schedules, ignore their environmental impacts, are not places of “honest numbers,” and the worse projects are the ones that end up getting built.
Thinking from Latin America
In the visions described above coalitions of leaders studied territories beyond their borders, glimpsed a geo-strategic vision interconnecting investment foci; and within this framework got different families, businesses and countries involved, and acted in networks, while they mobilized resources and created a favorable institutional climate. For example, what the client requested was not financed, but what the client could carry out under a vision of development in concrete geographies (territories), and that client was advised and accompanied (oversight done) in their compliance with what was agreed; the research was not on the client´s capacity to pay, but on the harmony between the opportunities and capacities of the clients, and on an institutional arrangement that would promote investment.
In contrast, most of our countries in Latin America walk along hoping that the clouds will part and a vision might appear that results in a future that generally is a continuation of the past. We see society as part of the national container, limited by its borders. Our mentality is for the day, having more land to have more resources, in an “extensive” way in any area or work, and extracting advantages now before the laws and the government officials change. So corn and beans are planted to eat in these months, coffee is planted believing in the miraculous variety, cattle are raised based on deforestation, because today it is profitable, we provide credit with high interest rates to recover this year, in the cooperative we have members in different places so that no one controls our decisions, and we attribute everything to God and to luck. We criticize the lack of institutionality in the government, but when we are part of organizations, we go around the norms and decision making bodies out of any “good” pretext.
Toward a third vision
The Marshall Plan was complemented by the Welfare State in the European countries, which constituted a safety net for people disadvantaged by the economic changes. The China Plan, in contrast, needs much more of this complement, because the current world is even more “shrewd” than in the 1950´s and 1970´s, with few mountains of prosperity and immense valleys of poverty. The Marshall Plan suffered from a lack of ecological sustainability, while now we are living in a context of climate change, which means that any possible mega-investments have to be responsible for the planet. The Marshall Plan was imposed on countries destroyed by the war and subjected states (Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal), while now we are experiencing the information revolution with more countries climbing the mountains of prosperity.
I began this article with a poem written 808 years ago where some saw “drought, hunger and suffering” in a desert, and others saw “cornfields, ears of corn and the joy of God.” From the two large visions we learn that it is not blind faith that “moves mountains”, but the vision that makes there be faith to move mountains. If the vision of the China Plan takes into account the deficits of the Marshall Plan, includes a type of improved Welfare State, recognizes that in the developing countries, like in China, the small and medium enterprises, the rural world, agriculture and forests are important and valuable, and assess the changes of the present along with the different levels of democracy that are practiced, and above all, if all this is based on the ideas and strengths of our organized societies and their governments, we will be close to a third vision that is more inclusive and human, capable of influencing the next 100 years. And that can move mountains toward a “flatter” world.
René Mendoza has a PhD in develoment studies, is a collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation (http://peacewinds.org/research/), an associate researcher of IOB-Universit of Antwerp (Belgium) and of the Nitlapán-UCA Institute for Research and Development (Nicaragua). firstname.lastname@example.org