How China is colonising the Commonwealth

How China is colonising the Commonwealth

December 3, 2021

How China is colonising the Commonwealth: As Britain beats itself up over our imperial past – and slavery – countries once loyal to the Crown are kneeling to Beijing which is building its own empire and enslaving a million Uighurs

Putting an end to the Queen’s 55-year-long role as its head of state, Barbados this week became a republic. But more significantly, as well as losing a monarch, the West Indian island gained an emperor.

For, in place of Elizabeth II, a new ruler is lurking behind the scenes: the Chinese strongman leader-for-life Xi Jinping.

The 287,000 people who live in Barbados are just the latest pawns in the sights of the Beijing regime as part of its unwavering policy of world domination.

Surely, too, it was not a coincidence that this week, in a highly unusual intervention, the head of MI6, Richard Moore, delivered a razor-edged warning about what he said are ‘debt traps and data traps’ that China is laying around the world.

Putting an end to the Queen’s 55-year-long role as its head of state, Barbados this week became a republic. But more significantly, as well as losing a monarch, the West Indian island gained an emperor

Beijing, said our top spy, is ‘trying to use influence through its economic policies to . . . get people on the hook’.

In other words, it is freely giving other countries loans in the knowledge that they will be unable to pay back so they become forever dependent on China. And the ‘data traps’ refer to the way Beijing supplies and then abuses surveillance technology to obtain information on citizens.

Few places better exemplify this chilling new imperialism than the countries of the Commonwealth.

Warm words and pageantry at the ceremony marking Barbados’s transition to a republic — attended by both real royalty and the celebrity version in the shape of pop star Rihanna — may seem a world away from ruthless geopolitical rivalry.

Yet the events in Barbados are a microcosm of China’s ever-growing influence over a swathe of the planet — one in which British influence was once unparalleled.

For years, experts have warned of Beijing’s creeping grip on poorer countries — and accused the Communist regime of locking these nations in the so-called ‘debt trap’.

This is best exemplified by the Belt and Road Initiative, which has seen China funding large infrastructure projects across Asia, Africa and Central Europe on seemingly tempting but punitive terms. The lesson from Barbados is that the dragon’s biggest target is the Commonwealth.

As Britain’s global, political and economic influence dwindles, China, patient and wily, is filling the gap — and the cooperative body that unites most of our former empire is ripe for picking. That would have seemed unthinkable only a few years ago.

Putting an end to the Queen’s 55-year-long role as its head of state, Barbados this week became a republic. But more significantly, as well as losing a monarch, the West Indian island gained an emperor

The Commonwealth countries have traditionally been loyal British allies — with the memory of imperial dominance balanced by deep ties of history and culture. In the aftermath of empire, children in Commonwealth schools studied Shakespeare, played cricket and sang God Save The Queen.

But decades of neglect have taken their toll. Despite its name, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has consistently neglected our former empire. Dozens of embassies and missions in Africa, the Pacific and the Caribbean have closed as UK governments concentrated on promoting trade and investment in more promising climes.

American warnings about China’s rise fell on deaf ears.

Yet the events in Barbados are a microcosm of China’s ever-growing influence over a swathe of the planet — one in which British influence was once unparalleled

And so China has been able to forge its new empire — not from old-style conquest, but through other tactics.

The Chinese imperialists’ main weapon — ironically given their dogged adherence to the Communist creed — is money.

Most of the Commonwealth comprises medium-sized and small countries that are tired of second-class treatment. They want better infrastructure — ports, airports, power grids, roads, railways, water and sewage treatment plants.

The international economic system run by the West has not provided these investments. But China offers them, built rapidly and on seemingly advantageous terms. Beijing has spent £685 billion since 2005 wooing Commonwealth countries, according to an estimate from the Henry Jackson Society think-tank.

Even that huge sum is trivial for Beijing, with its boundless ambition, colossal military budget and high-tech weaponry.

In poor countries that get a raw deal from the rich world, China’s cash brings clout. The spending includes £5 billion in five Commonwealth Caribbean nations: Barbados, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda and Trinidad and Tobago.

The cash-strapped, crime-ridden island of Jamaica is the biggest target, benefiting from Chinese ‘investment’ to the tune of £2 billion.

China donates equipment to Jamaica’s military and police forces. It has built a network of ‘cultural centres’ offering language teaching and other facilities. During the Covid-19 pandemic, it sent test-kits, masks and ventilators.

China’s advance is under way across the Commonwealth, including in far larger member countries in Africa, Asia and the Pacific.

Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation of more than 200 million people and the second most-populous member of the Commonwealth, is now one of China’s closest allies.

China has also assiduously wooed Nigeria, the third-largest country (population 213 million).

Most of the Commonwealth comprises medium-sized and small countries that are tired of second-class treatment. They want better infrastructure — ports, airports, power grids, roads, railways, water and sewage treatment plants

Technological conquest is underway, too.

In 2019, Guyana — a neighbouring Commonwealth country — launched the Safe City System in its capital Georgetown, using equipment designed by the Beijing-sponsored telecoms giant Huawei. This includes facial recognition technology of the kind used to repress Uighurs and other Muslims in western China. Similar technology is being used in Dominica, also a Commonwealth country.

These sinister systems are the backbone of China’s surveillance state at home. Used abroad, they enable the regime to harvest foreigners’ data.

This is the ‘data trap’ highlighted by MI6 boss Richard Moore. China’s skills in decryption and artificial intelligence mean it can use data to boost its influence over countries.

It can spot patterns and anomalies that point to individuals who may be vulnerable to blackmail — for example if spending patterns reveal weaknesses in their private lives.

It also enables effective negotiation on economic and other issues. It is easy to win a game when you can see the other players’ hands.

Most worryingly, this secret data harvest can uncover Western intelligence activities.

Ian Fleming’s characters James Bond and his American pal Felix Leiter regarded Commonwealth countries almost as home turf.

China has invested more than £685billion across 42 Commonwealth member states since 2005 as the Communist Party’s extraordinary bid for global power continues unimpeded 

Their modern real-life counterparts worry that if they operate in these countries, their identities will be exposed thanks to Chinese-installed CCTV cameras, banking software and mobile phone networks.

Military influence is growing, too.A newspaper in Fiji, another Commonwealth country, disclosed in April that China had trained Fiji’s two most senior military officers.

China also established Namibia’s military staff college and trains Sri Lankan soldiers. Other African Commonwealth countries receiving Chinese military training include Cameroon and Rwanda in Africa, as well as Guyana in South America. China trains Kenya’s paramilitary National Youth Service and sponsors a ‘politico-military school’ in Uganda.

These ‘debt and data traps’, combined with China’s military influence, amount to nothing less than a redrawing of the world map.

And all this diplomatic clout is, understandably, peeling away Commonwealth countries that once reliably sided with Britain.

In a recent UN vote on Hong Kong, China received backing from 53 states, including Papua New Guinea and Antigua and Barbuda — Commonwealth countries that still have the Queen as head of state.

Other Commonwealth members voting to back Beijing included Sierra Leone, Zambia, Lesotho, Cameroon and Mozambique — all Commonwealth nations that have benefited from Chinese aid and investment.

Though the ties with China for now seem benign, the truth is very different.

Laos, Sierra Leone, and Guinea having received more than their entire GDP in investment from China

Politicians sign off on deals with China either because of their anti-western agenda, or because of personal financial interests.

But the deal for the country concerned is often far less attractive.

One danger is that ‘debt trap’.

Should a country default on a superficially generous loan, for example, the response is worthy of the fictional American gangster Tony Soprano.

Tory MP Sir Iain Duncan Smith, a stalwart critic of the Beijing regime, highlights what happened when Sri Lanka failed to make payments on a loan financing a local container port. China forced this Commonwealth nation to hand over the facility and 15,000 acres of surrounding land.

Another controversial big-ticket Chinese infrastructure project is the airport in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, where local politicians fear Beijing could seize the site amid a stalemate over a loan.

Meanwhile, Nigerian lawmakers have voted to review all loans from China. And in Kenya frustration is mounting over a botched railway project linking the capital Nairobi to the port of Mombasa.

Half-completed before it ran out of cash, the new line looks set to be a white elephant — and Kenyans are now restoring a colonial-era railway that will do the job at far less cost.

Another area in which China has seized advantage is education.

How Beijing is buying up Britain: Chinese investors ‘have spent £134 BILLION on UK assets including infrastructure, private schools and FTSE 100 firms’ 

Chinese investors have spent at least £134billion on UK assets, including private schools, infrastructure businesses and top ranked British firms.

Investors and businesses based China or Hong Kong now own stakes in key infrastructure businesses such as Thames Water, Heathrow Airport and UK Power Networks, according to the Sunday Times.

As much as £57billion is also invested in FTSE 100 companies, according to the paper.

And, as previously reported by the Mail on Sunday, Chinese firms have also invested heavily in prestigious private schools – including Thetford Grammar School and Bournemouth Collegiate College – to the tune of around £10billion.

The Chinese spending spree has boomed since 2019, according to the paper.

Almost half of the purchases uncovered in its investigation with data provider Argus Vicker are said to have taken place in the last two years.

And at least £44billion of the purchases are by Chinese state-owned businesses, the paper reports.

It warns that, due to the difficulty in tracing some investments, the total investment figure could be far higher than the £134billion calculated.

The schools backed by China-owned firms include: 

  • Bournemouth Collegiate School
  • St Michael’s School in Llanelli, Carmarthanshire
  • Bosworth Independent College in Northampton
  • Bedstone College in Shropshire
  • Ipswich High School
  • Kingsley School in Bideford, Devon,
  • Heathfield Knoll School
  • Thetford Grammar School in Norfolk
  • Wisbech Grammar in Cambridgeshire
  • Riddlesworth Hall Preparatory School in Norfolk
  • Adcote School for Girls near Shrewsbury, Shropshire 
  • Myddelton College in Denbigh, Wales
  • CATS Colleges – Campuses are in London, Cambridge and Canterbury
  • Chase Grammar School
  • Abbotsholme School, Derbyshire
  • St Bees School, Cumbria 

Foolishly, Britain treats young people from the Commonwealth studying here as if they came from any other country. They face hefty fees — £22,000 annually for an undergraduate degree — and must navigate tiresome visa rules among other stumbling blocks.

China, by contrast, heavily subsidises foreign students’ education. Sought-after courses such as medicine or engineering can be free of charge, with travel and accommodation thrown in. China reaps lifelong loyalty from such largesse.

There is another grievance that China can exploit. This stems from the Covid-19 pandemic — with rich countries accused of hoarding vaccines, leaving poorer countries much more vulnerable.

Vaccination rates in most Commonwealth countries are low — under two per cent in Nigeria, for example, and only five per cent in Kenya. These countries’ healthcare systems have struggled to cope with Covid.

Resentment over what is seen as the unfairness of our response chimes with other injustices.

In Caribbean countries, the Windrush scandal has shrivelled British prestige. People who arrived here legally to begin new lives were wrongly detained, denied benefits and, in some cases, lost their homes and jobs, while some were even deported.

Chinese propaganda gleefully highlights these woes and fans resentments.

How ironic, though, that while Britain agonises over its imperial history — and Prince Charles, in Barbados, referred to the ‘appalling atrocity’ of slavery — China happily practises imperialism right now.

The fact is that Britain devoted huge resources to extirpating slavery across its empire. But China consigns hundreds of thousands of its own citizens to labour camps.

Yet Commonwealth countries seem all too ready to overlook Beijing’s appalling record on human rights.

South Africa, a Commonwealth nation that, under Nelson Mandela, was a champion of human rights and which suffered under apartheid as recently as 1993, is silent on Beijing’s crimes.

There are some big exceptions, though. India, the largest country in the world after China — and the biggest in the Commonwealth — is a neighbour, rival and resolute foe. The two giants have skirmished in the Himalayas. China is by far India’s biggest security threat — not least because of its attempts to suborn neighbouring Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

India is pushing back hard against attempts to encircle it, prime minister Narendra Modi building strong security ties with the U.S.

Australia and Canada — also in the Commonwealth — have witnessed ruthless efforts by Beijing to exploit the Chinese diaspora, to muzzle academic and media freedom, and to punish critics.

With Britain and the United States, these two countries are part of the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence-sharing alliance. This highly successful arrangement has its roots in the wartime coalition against Hitler. But it is developing fast, with efforts to counter Chinese (and Russian) economic and political influence.

But the fifth ‘Eye’, New Zealand, is gazing with considerable — and, to its allies, concerning — interest at China.

The country’s Left-wing prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, is conspicuously silent about China’s human rights abuses, and pooh-poohs worries about its influence in her country. We are in an ‘ideological war’ with Beijing, says Sir Iain Duncan Smith.

China believes that one-party rule works best, and human rights and the rule of law come second to the national interest. The West, it insists, is beset by economic, political and cultural decline.

As Chairman Xi contemplates China’s global reach, he may reckon — as our imperial forebears once did — that across our own Commonwealth, he is building an ‘empire on which the sun never sets’.

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