Chinese Laundry in America’s Backyard

One of the world’s most powerful journalistic mouthpiece – The  Economist – came up this week with a startling relevation that there might be a competitor to the famous Panama Canal coming up in the near foreseeable future. This has literally opened up the floodgates; in this context, a barrage of opinions and columns which I can reasonably predict to come up in the coming days by the global diaspora.

A place that looks as if it is still sleeping, the Brito river in Nicaragua might become the stage of a world conflict in the next decade. The main brouhaha is about a new canal being envisioned in Nicaragua, by the Chinese government-military and some big Chinese companies, which could very well pose as a competitor t the Panama Canal, providing an alternate route between the busiest sea routes in the world, joining the two biggest oceans in the world- the Pacific and the Atlantic.

Chinese billionaire, Wang Jing’s company is willing to gamble 40 billion USD on a fiendishly astute project, which would make a canal that exceeds the existing Panama canal in all aspects – allowing 500 metre long supertankers to pass through, a problem that both the Suez and the Panama face in the wake of ever-increasing size of ships.

The construction alone would be a spectacle. Some 50,000 labourers (perhaps a quarter of them Chinese) might work on site, and 2,000 diggers, dredgers and other giant machines would excavate about 5 billion cubic metres (177 billion cubic feet) of dirt, using 5 billion litres of fuel in the process. They will lay what they dig up 1.5km either side of the canal, which HKND promises to turn into new arable land about three times the size of Manhattan, partly for the 30,000 people uprooted from their homes.

Construction will no doubt damage the environment. A 107km-long, 280-metre-wide trench will be dredged through pristine Lake Nicaragua, rainforests will be uprooted, big-cat migration routes traversed and indigenous families ousted from sacred lands. Mr Wild pledges that, when finished, the reforested land along the canal route will be better cared for than it is now. But can any pharaonic enterprise, let alone a Chinese one, be trusted not to cut corners? Environmentalists will try to block it every step of the way.

Screenshot (2)

The proposed canal route

But all these considerations and grandiose plans apart, this mega project raises many dangerous questions. Nicaragua, a relatively obscure country, has willingly let go of its sovereignty and has given a concession of 100 years to the Chinese company. What future does this hold for Nicaragua? Will this project shoot-up its economy – Yes, definitely it will. But can we eliminate the thought that this is  just another of a series of Chinese incursions in foreign territory, something on the lines of South China Sea? And most importantly, will this turn out to be a 21st Century Cuban Missile Crisis, where the meek country of Nicaragua maybe used by the Chinese military as a base to target the American soil – after all they built an air strip on those disputed islands which have the capability to land any air force plane for that matter ? Who can stop if the Chinese Navy decides to send its warship on a hopscotch from one ocean to another?

These are some serious questions that need not only some very deep thought, but also some constructive action. After all USA, with its own version of “Truth, Justice & Liberty” which it continues to uphold in all corners of the world, to not do something about what’s going on in its own backyard is something surprising.

So far, America has been phlegmatic about the enterprise. Perhaps, like Jorge Quijano, administrator of the Panama Canal, it believes that financially the project is a bottomless pit and has no future. Mr Quijano reckons that for the Nicaraguan canal to earn a competitive return on investment, it would have to charge double the tolls levied in Panama, which would put off most customers.

Nicaragua’s Sandinista rulers shrug off the worry. “If China is behind the project, it will not be a big problem for Wang Jing to get the financing,” Mr Coronel says. After all, what wouldn’t China pay to see one of its naval fleets one day emerging from the Central American jungle right under America’s nose?


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