"On June 5, 1873, in a letter to The Times, Sir Francis Galton, the cousin of Charles Darwin and a distinguished African explorer in his own right, outlined a daring (if by today's standards utterly offensive) new method to 'tame' and colonise what was then known as the Dark Continent.The invasion of Africa is one way to solve China's problems of over-population and resource shortage. It seems 750,000 Chinese have already descended onto the continent and everywhere from Nigeria to Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Angola, Chad, Sudan, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, there are Chinese gated communities and enclaves. Trade between China and Africa is £6billion today, up from £5million annually, only a decade ago.
'My proposal is to make the encouragement of Chinese settlements of Africa a part of our national policy, in the belief that the Chinese immigrants would not only maintain their position, but that they would multiply and their descendants supplant the inferior Negro race,' wrote Galton.
'I should expect that the African seaboard, now sparsely occupied by lazy, palavering savages, might in a few years be tenanted by industrious, order-loving Chinese, living either as a semidetached dependency of China, or else in perfect freedom under their own law.'
Yet Sir Francis Galton, it now appears, was ahead of his time. His vision is coming true - if not in the way he imagined. An astonishing invasion of Africa is now under way."
'The Chinese are all over the place,' says Trevor Ncube, a prominent African businessman with publishing interests around the continent. 'If the British were our masters yesterday, the Chinese have taken their place.'
China's interests in Cambodia are strategic. It is especially keen on the sea port of Sihanoukville. US Major Paul Marks, who spent a three year tour of duty in Cambodia, points out in his excellent analysis of China's Cambodia Strategy:
"Situated in the center of mainland Southeast Asia, the Cambodian port of Sihanoukville would provide an excellent base for projecting maritime power into the Gulf of Thailand and the Straits of Malacca. Cambodian airfields could also make up for China's lack of in-flight refueling capacity for warplanes providing maritime air cover. Such bases would not only protect China's interests, they would drive a wedge both within ASEAN and between ASEAN and the United States."
This November, "Zheng He", with more than 400 military personnel on board, became the first warship from the Chinese navy to dock in Cambodia's sea port in Sihanoukville.
And in February this year, the two countries laid the foundation stone of the Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone (SSEZ), the largest of its kind in Cambodia. In 2015 when the whole construction is finished, the zone will embrace some 300 companies, provide around 80,000 job opportunities and generate export volumes of $2 billion.
China's strategic intentions across Southeast Asia and Central China is worrying some in India. One columnist in India's Business Standard, Raghu Dayal, writes of his concern of China's strategy to "encircle and contain" India. He writes:
"China has been willing to take on complicated infrastructure projects in distant areas. It has sunk more than a dozen concrete pylons across the tributary of the mighty Mekong river, which will help knit together a 2,000-km route from the southern Chinese city of Kunming through Laos to the Cambodian port of Sihanoukville on the Gulf of Thailand. China is linked to Vietnam by two rail lines north of Hanoi. Singapore or Indonesia would be linked to the main Chinese south-north trunk rail line, running from Shenzen to Erenhot on the border with Mongolia, or the main Chinese east-west trunk line stretching from the port of Lianyungang on China's coast to Druzhba on the border with Kazakhstan."
In addition, there is the ASEAN-promoted Singapore–Kunming Rail Line project which will provide China with a pan-Asian rail linkage.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic relations between China and Cambodia. On Tuesday, 2nd Dec, China's top political advisor Jia Qinglin arrived in Phnom Penh, starting an official goodwill visit as guest of Cambodian Senate President Chea Sim.
And even though Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen wrote in a long essay in 1998 that China was the root of all that was evil in Cambodia, all that is in the past. China made news for giving Cambodia USD600 million in aid in 2006, and Hun Sen has more recently described China as Cambodia's "most trustworthy friend".
Historical relations between the two countries are complicated, and the Chinese diaspora in Cambodia have been hated and persecuted. Now however, these Cambodian Chinese have played a big role in building relations with the mainland Chinese.
Major Paul Marks notes in his 2000 essay that some senior members of the Cambodian People's Party are Chinese Cambodians, including:
- Minister of State Sok An (CPP)
- Minister of State and Information Minister Lu Laysreng (FUNCINPEC)
- Minister of Construction Im Chhum Lim (CPP)
In addition, Senate President Chea Sim sent his son to Hainan to study, and while "Phnom Penh Mayor Chea Sophara (CPP) has never publicly stated that he is of Chinese descent, he has acknowledged studying Chinese and enrolling his children in Chinese schools. Mayor Chea is so active within the Cambodian Chinese community that he gives the impression of being in a political campaign."
As noted by Major Marks, China scholar Michael Yahuda has said of China: "An immense gap exists between the declaratory principles of friendship, equality, mutual benefit, and noninterference that supposedly guide Chinese diplomacy, and the actual conduct of China's foreign policy, which is characterized by an exceptionally high dose of realism and a lack of openness."
China has found a good bedfellow in Cambodia, both sharing the same values of "an exceptionally high dose of realism and lack of openness".