Every great world power finds its place and makes it way in the world after its own fashion. The phrase "the Russians are coming" sounds completely different
from "the Americans are coming." And the cry of "the Chinese are coming" is something else yet again. It's impossible to confuse the Chinese with anyone else
when it comes to expansion.
The Chinese expansion is quiet, unobtrusive, creeping. The world will have no idea how it woke up one morning to find itself enmeshed in a transparent but
unbreakable net – one that says "Made in China," of course. The most obvious examples of this process at work is how Chinese consumer goods took over America
without firing a single shot and how the yeasty rise of China's economy has taken root in the slumbering eastern regions of Russia. Now the time has come for
the Middle Kingdom, the master of order, to turn its eye to Africa, that huge and singularly masterless continent, the exploitation of which the United
States, the European Union, and Russia have all failed to get around to.
While Moscow and Washington squabble over spheres of influence in the Near East and in the post-Soviet region, where control over energy resources and energy
flows are inextricably bound up together with risks and expenses that cannot be dismissed as minor, that clever Chinese monkey, which has traditionally
preferred to observe the two grappling tigers from a lofty perch in the mountains, is gaining access to coveted raw goods in another part of the world and
under different circumstances – i.e., without conflict, that undesirable but also unavoidable byproduct of hydrocarbons and metals in other regions of the
world. There's no need to butt heads with anyone, and no need to prepare an asymmetric response. Quietly – that's how the Chinese are coming.
Even while they themselves do not pay the requisite amount of attention to Africa, the other world powers have also cleared the way for China to realize its
plans. Last year's visit by President Vladimir Putin to South Africa, which was the first visit by a Russian head of state to the Black Continent since the
collapse of the Soviet Union, didn't cut it. For Moscow, Africa is still something abstract and far away. We still haven't found the answer to the question
that arose at the beginning of the 1990s, after the disappearance of the Soviet sphere of influence: what is to be done with Africa? President Bush has also
visited Africa only once, in 2003, and even a passing glance at Washington's foreign policy doctrine shows that Africa doesn't even rate a mention among
America's priorities. In essence, it has fallen to Beijing to simply pick up the gold brick of Africa from the ground.
However, it would an impermissible oversimplification to say that the Chinese are headed to Africa solely for the resources that are so vital for China's
economy. That is nothing but the simplest explanation, the one that lies on the surface of things. In reality, the stakes in this game are much higher and
have nothing to do with exploiting Africa's natural treasures. The possibility that Chinese peacekeepers will be sent to the region with an international
mandate means just as much as economic contracts and projects. Once China has achieved that, it will have received a kind of international superpower
certificate, one that will confer upon the country not only economic but also geopolitical leadership. And it will all be done without any pomp and
circumstance – meaning that neither President Bush nor President Putin will notice until it has already happened.