The President of Colombia’s Senate Hernán Andrade Serrano has just finished a one-week
long trip to the not-long-ago sleeping giant: China. Andrade, a staunch conservative, was accompanied by other officials in a visit to set up a parliamentary cooperation with the aim of strengthening bilateral relations. The first meeting was with Wu Bangguo who together with other 8 comrades belongs to the all powerful Politburo Standing Committee. It is here where major decisions are taken. But what is really the purpose of such a trip?
Wu Bangguo was quoted as looking forward to working together with the
Colombian legislature to
improve democracy and the legal system. Many would
interpret this statement as meaning that the Chinese are eager to
learn from Colombia’s achievements in these areas, however at
the current state of Colombian political affairs it seems that the
Chinese may be in a better position to instruct Andrade and Uribe’s
government how such ‘foreign’ areas actually work.
Needless to say, neither the Chinese nor the Colombian lawmakers want
to truly start a democratization process or anything remotely
similar. In fact, Andrade would be extremely interested in imitating
the Chinese government’s monopoly on power with their single
party rule. Colombia is an exceptional pupil. After all it could be
argued that Colombia has reached, if not surpassed, China in human
rights violations, wage exploitation, deterioration of workers
rights, numbers of internally displaced citizens, crackdowns on
minorities and their discrimination.
Something else that Andrade may learn is ‘guanxi’, which
may not be familiar to Colombian politicians, but what it stands for
certainly is. ‘Guanxi’ can be roughly
defined as “relationships between or among individuals creating
obligations for the continued exchange of favors”. In the
Chinese political and business world this is a euphemism for
corruption, which costs China more
than it spends on education every year.
Hopefully this is a statistic that Colombia is not close to
Officially the reason for the trip, as Andrade candidly points out,
is obtaining Chinese investment and technology. Of course the
technological knowledge will not be easily transmitted. In the end
the Chinese, against all odds and obstacles, were and are being
capable of catching up, in technological terms, the only superpower.
Hence, it is the abundant capital to be invested in infrastructure,
energy development and port construction among others that is behind
As ‘guanxi’ indicates, this kind of cooperation does not
come cheap and the Chinese will certainly make sure that they can
squeeze as much as possible, and more. China’s appetite for
land, natural resources and commodities to fuel its growth seems
inexhaustible it now being the world’s third largest economy and steadily growing. Just last November China released its first policy
white paper on Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2006 China
released its white paper on Africa and it is well known the role that China has played in internal conflicts in Sudan, Zimbabwe, Congo,
Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria among others.
Colombian politicians do not have a problem in changing laws, promote
human rights violations, increase poverty levels, foment the number
of displaced and spread the wealth from the rightful owners of the
land and natural resources to foreign companies. In other words the
government would be selling the country to another foreign power; one
that does not publicly criticizes human rights violations and the
assassination of trade union leaders. This cooperation is based on mutual
non-interference; ‘guanxi’ at its best.
Author Sebastian Castaneda is Colombian studies psychology and political economy at the University of Hong Kong