Below is the translated overview of a new activist research1 project from the independent Taiwanese collective Events in Focus (焦點事件), with a call for donations to help fund the project. Their perspective differs from ours in some ways,2 but we’ve decided to translate this overview and help them raise money since this is the most serious Sinophone investigation into Chinese overseas investment that we know of so far, with at least a few mainland and Hong Kong Maoists, Trotskyists and anarchists expressing support for the project.3 It therefore seems important to introduce Events’ research to English readers through this and possibly future translations, and eventually to respond to it through our own writings on the topic.4
Scroll down for the Chinese original.
Events in Focus is an independent media platform in Taiwan that focuses on social movements, and, through this focus, hopes to help advance those movements. At the end of 2017, we launched our project “Belt and Road in the Great Game,” which hopes to break through national borders by taking the political, economic and social-developmental dimensions of the global conflict between major capitalist powers as its starting point. The project traces the outlines of China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI), developing international reports about issues of global consequence.
Last year (2018), onsite investigations into Indonesia’s Bandung-Jakarta High Speed Rail and the “City Without Slums (KOTAKU)” projects were completed and published. Afterwards, we revisited earlier research on global neoliberalism in the 1990s, using as a case study the local and international movements against the Narmada dam projects in India funded by loans from the World Bank, and examining the Bank’s implementation of the “Environmental and Social Framework” (ESF).
This year (2019), we plan to visit the Japanese-designed and Chinese-invested hydropower plant at Batang Toru, North Sumatra, in order to learn about the threat it poses to local tribes and ecology. We also plan to travel to Thailand, Laos and other areas along the Mekong River basin in order to learn about international competition and cooperation in river management and hydrological infrastructure as they relate to Indochina’s most important river, with its headwaters in Southwestern China (where it is known as the Lancang River).
The basic methodology used in these reports is as follows: First, we get in touch with locals who are affected by these international projects, conducting interviews and transcribing reports. Then we gather related materials, ranging from individual cases to records relating to the entire project, in order to formulate a more complete perspective.
In July of this year, Hong Kong’s anti-extradition movement broke out, and we produced a series of reports related to this. Beyond the immediate appearance of the movement, we also addressed Hong Kong’s political and economic history, highlighting Hong Kong’s role as an essential gateway for the Belt and Road Initiative, even as it becomes gradually more integrated into the greater Pearl River Delta region.
Within these reports, we discovered that the BRI is inextricably linked to the infrastructure development plans originally formulated by the countries along the route, as well as to the competition between different imperial powers in these regions.
For example, each country’s hydrological infrastructure can often be traced back to Japanese Imperial influence prior to the Second World War. The reservoir projects in Korea and Manchuria are one instance, but similar projects were implemented across Southeast Asia under Japanese occupation. After the war, such projects continued under the guise of “reparations.” After this came the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, or the development banks of countries like the US and Japan, all using loans to advance the interests of the countries that controlled them.
That is to say, whether as imperial colonies or “dependent developers,” policies beneficial to the international flow of capital have been continuously advanced in these countries for a hundred years. After the new millennium, China’s abrupt rise has led it to export surplus capital, and in this regard it is no more than one among numerous competitors. Or maybe we can say that China’s “Going Out” is also its entry into an arena built by the imperialists.
Therefore, aside from interviews, we plan to do more discussions and textual research this year. We also intend to visit Japan to learn about both the history and the current state of capital exports across Asia in service of the profits of Japanese transnationals. We also hope to understand how, after the 1990s, Japanese civil society has acted to scrutinize international infrastructure banks.
Aside from this, in order to obtain a systematic understanding of the phenomenon, we also plan to explore the relationship between BRI and its major players: China’s state-owned enterprises. Unlike the global “neoliberalism” of the 1980s-1990s, China has not pursued large scale “privatization.” Instead, through policies that forced reforms on the state-owned sector, China’s state-owned enterprises became simultaneously dominated by the bureaucracy and profit-oriented. At the turn of the millennium, they went from fulfilling domestic demand to serving export production. And today, they are taking the lead in the BRI.
The valorization of state-owned capital via capital exports is what makes China different from other large capitalist countries. This is a distinguishing feature of China’s “bureaucratic capitalism.” Grasping the state-owned enterprises, then, is also essential for grasping the core of the BRI. This is the main thing that we are working on this year.
As an independent media organization aligned closely with social movements, an important part of our work is the facilitation of interconnections and dialogue between different movements. This project, “Belt and Road in the Great Game,” was launched with the understanding that any such work limited by borders or nationality is insufficient. We hope to break through the limits of culture and locality in order to facilitate understanding between ordinary people of different countries and regions, or even help to further the possibilities for interconnectedness.
We chose the BRI as our starting point in this project because it marks an important milestone in the development of the global capitalist system following the Cold War. After the end of the Cold War, the conflict between different factions of international capital and the major powers that back them became even more intense. We hope that by paying attention to the BRI’s development we will be able to find not just the hegemonic interests of capital, but also discover the fundamental grassroots perspectives in different countries, and their potential for action. Therefore, this project should be understood to be anti-imperialist and anti-colonial, not “anti-communist” or “anti-China.
The project has to be carried out continuously for an extended period of time, otherwise it won’t bear fruit. Events in Focus is just a small group and requires assistance. But since we don’t want to rely on any one benefactor or funding program, we’d rather rely on distributed, small-sum donations for our work, in order to maintain its independent character.
Calling for donations is itself an important part of our media advocacy, as it helps to foster relationships with our supporters and readers. It is, in itself, a movement. This is an important reason for our own “Going Out.” As we extend our antennas to make contact with others across the globe, we hope to make friends around the world.
Donations can be made via credit card, either as a single donation or a monthly one. (Donations will be converted into Taiwan Dollars. Currently 1 US Dollar exchanges for approximately 30 Taiwan Dollars.)
English page for monthly donations: https://eventsinfocus.neticrm.tw/en/civicrm/contribute/transact?reset=1&id=7
English page for one-off donations: https://eventsinfocus.neticrm.tw/en/civicrm/contribute/transact?reset=1&id=5
《焦點事件（Events in Focus）》是台灣以社會運動為關注核心，並以「媒體」這個角色，進行運動實踐的獨立媒體。2017年底推出「帶路博奕」計畫，希望脫離國境的限制，以資本主義大國之間的衝突，這個全球政治、經濟、社會發展的新形勢為出發點，沿著中國「一帶一路」倡議沿線，發展國際報導，關注全球議題。
去年（2018），完成了印尼「雅萬高鐵」沿線，以及「沒有貧民窟的城市（KOTAKU）」計畫的採訪與報導之後，也整理了1990年代，從印度到全球，反對世界銀行對納瑪達河流域（Narmada River）水利設施貸款的運動，以及之後世界銀行所發展出「環境暨社會框架（Environmental and Social Framework,ESF）」的實踐，以及其在全球新自由主義中，扮演的角色。
- The authors avoid the Chinese term for “research” (研究) because that is associated with academic research. Instead they use the term for “reporting” (報導) and emphasize that its purpose is to link up with and support “grassroots movements” against capitalist expropriation, exploitation and exclusion, so we’ve translated this as “activist research.”
- We will develop a more detailed critique through future engagements with their work, but the essence of our differences should be apparent from this document. With its emphasis on activism, “independent media” and “grassroots social movements,” the orientation of the group seems to point toward a political constellation of social movement radicalism more fitting the anti-globalization movement of twenty years ago than today’s era of riots, strikes and insurrections, all being met with increasingly violent suppression.
- Over the past few years, one hot topic of debate among mainland Maoists has centered on the question of whether China has become an imperialist power, but those answering this question in the affirmative have yet to conduct original research on the matter, and at least one group has told us privately that they consider Events’ investigation to be particularly important because “no one may speak on a matter without first conducting an investigation” (没有调查，没有发言权). We plan to write about this debate at some point in the future.
- One point of difference between our perspective and that of Events that should be mentioned is that we disagree with their acceptance of the Chinese state’s conflation of outward investment in general with the Belt and Road Initiative. The state’s interest in conflating the two is clear: it makes the process of capital exports appear to be planned and controlled, with the major monopolies (thoroughly integrated into the managerial bureaucracy of the ruling class) playing the key role. Critical projects analyzing this topic should not accept such presumptions at face value. Countries that are officially Belt and Road participants do not seem to receive proportionally more Chinese investment, and private firms play a key role often not recorded by official statistics—data which is notoriously incomplete, almost all derived from the Ministry of Commerce, at best, and hyperbolic news reports, at worst. In that regard, the attempt by Events to supplement official data with on-the-ground investigation is invaluable.