That’s how I like to describe it. Whether we like it or not – much less admit it, every time we show up somewhere in tumult, the Chinese are already there or soon to show up. They will be making the big investments (like that $3-4B on a copper mine in Afghanistan) and they will be winning the big extractive contracts (like with both the Kurdish Regional Government and Baghdad in Iraq). Paraphrasing Buckaroo Banzai, “No matter where we go, there they are.” You can call it free-riding and label it clever competition, but it’s more complimentary than we in the West care to admit, because after the bombs stop, somebody has to rebuild and who are more incentivized than those resource-ravenous Chinese?
Paralleling their efforts in Sudan, where China had invested plenty to create a substantial direct oil flow, China had tried the same in Libya. And just like when Sudan split into north and south, and China quickly opened relations with the fledgling breakaway state, we now see the FT reporting yesterday that “Beijing builds closer ties with rebels to safeguard investments.” China has been a strong supporter of Qaddafi up to now, building all sorts of infrastructure at his behest, but hey! This isn’t personal, this is strictly business. The FT says the initial surveying trips have been made to Benghazi, and the humanitarian aid is being teed up. Local knowledgeable types expect Chinese nationals back on the ground in the East within 1-2 months.
Point being, the West can expect its usual silent reconstruction partner to show up – this time a bit ahead of schedule.
Eventually, the US national security establishment is going to pick up on this well-established pattern and put it to some real use. Until then, we continue to “sleep in separate bedrooms” (US does war, China does rebuild) in this awkward “marriage.”