- China’s Silent Army: The Pioneers, Traders, Fixers, and Workers Who Are Remaking the World in Beijing’s Image by Juan Pablo Cardenal and Heriberto Araujo
If we were to see reportage on China as falling into either the glass-is-half-full or the-glass-is-half-empty category, China’s Silent Army, by two Spanish journalists, Juan Pablo Cardenal and Heriberto Araujo, definitely falls into the half-empty category. Despite the fact that Beijing has in the last three decades jettisoned Marxism ideology and embraced global capitalism with a vengeance, the authors still view Communist China as being sinister and out to conquer the world in its image. Furthermore, China is doing it with an army of Chinese citizens from all walks of life: “pioneers, traders, fixers and workers”—patriots who are integral members of the emerging Chinese empire with one accord of conquest. Like most titles of books distributed by publishers with sales in mind, China’s Silent Army [End Page 578] seems more sensational and alarmist than the authors would have it. Nevertheless, they also seem anxious to show their views regarding China’s rapacious drive throughout the world.
In their effort to confirm their assumption, Cardenal and Araujo traveled far and wide to various parts of the world to get the facts “on the ground” (a phrase repeated with pride throughout the book) to do their investigative reporting. They risked dangerous situations of lawlessness, which threatened their lives. Regardless, they were doggedly determined to see for themselves and, wherever possible, to obtain interviews with significant people involved in China’s frenetic drive to take over the planet. China has been building infrastructures of roads, airports, schools, hospitals, and even sports stadiums for developing countries (many neglected by the departed colonial powers and their native successors) in exchange for China’s insatiable need for energy and natural resources to fuel and supply their factory of the world. The countries the writers visited were mostly in the undeveloped world, postcolonial places, many isolated and sparsely populated with little or no mechanisms of social control, or checks and balances, except the iron hand of dictators. In such newly exploitable places, the Chinese companies, most of which are “state-owned” (another term repeatedly used in the pejorative sense), do business on a basis of noninterference into the domestic polity of the receiving country. No questions are asked regarding the indigenous government’s policies, however harmful to its own people. The authors especially sought the candid views of local victims of injustices and, if present, their advocates for better working conditions, more humane treatment, and compensation.
Although they do not mention China’s silent army, Cardenal and Araujo do seem to have a monolithic view of the Chinese presence in the world, despite the diverse agendas of the latter. The authors try to avoid their prejudicial Cold War perceptions. Even after denying that “the Chinese diaspora forms part of some monolithic entity that is following the lead of the Chinese party-state to unite against their Western rivals” (p. 40), their endless litany of examples of ruthless exploitation affirms what they deny. Such can be seen in the thousands of petty Chinese entrepreneurs going door-to-door with their overstuffed bags of affordable made-in-China merchandise everywhere in the metropolis of Cairo; China’s illegal deforestation of Siberia, enabling Chinese factories to build a third of the world’s furniture; China’s exploitation of the precious jade of Burma, whose miners work under dangerous and inhuman conditions; China’s creation of casinos for gambling and prostitution in Burma’s isolated jungles; the thousands of miles of pipeline built across the central Asian countries of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan that convey Turkmenistan’s natural gas to the People’s Republic; China’s depletion of copper and iron ore in Latin America; and China’s construction of dozens of dams...