How China is using energy and tech to boost influence

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Smoke is seen from a cooling tower of a China Energy ultra-low emission coal-fired power plant in Sanhe, Hebei province, China on July 18. -- REUTERS

By Arra B. Francia

BANGKOK, THAILAND — Scholars and journalists highlighted China’s efforts to strengthen its presence in energy and technology projects in several countries, as part of the world’s second largest economy’s hegemonic strategy.

A speaker at the Japan-ASEAN Media Forum noted that China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has already made $50-billion worth of investments in the energy sector.

“Investment in power plants and grids dominate China’s spending on BRI-related infrastructure, the rest was used for transport projects or more than $15 billion. Compared to energy, it’s relatively small,” the speaker said.

The Japan-ASEAN Media Forum, held last Aug. 24 to 26, invoked the Chatham House Rule, where participants are allowed to use the information they have received without identifying the speakers or that of any other participant.

While China has been focusing on energy projects, it has not necessarily leaned toward green projects or the revival of fossil fuel sources. China is said to be “playing both sides to cast influence and expand markets.”

A high concentration of China-led energy projects can be found in Latin America and Southeast Asia, or mostly developing countries. For instance, China is funding a fossil fuel-powered plant in Indonesia and a hydropower surge along the Mekong River in Laos and Cambodia.

During President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s state visit to China last July, Philippine and Chinese companies signed 19 deals worth $12.165 billion, including a 250 megawatt (MW) South Pulangi Hydroelectric Power Plant Project in Damulog, Bukidnon and thermal, hydro, and renewable power plants worth $1.5-2 billion with China Power Investment Holding.

Aside from developing countries, China also has energy projects in Australia and European countries such as Portugal, Greece, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Czech Republic.

Once it establishes these energy projects, China would then move to putting up China-centered supply chains around these structures. A speaker noted this would allow China to become a global leader in the energy field.

Aside from energy, China has also been using technology to boost its presence across the world, particularly through tech giant Huawei Technologies.

“China is trying to become a cyber superpower, and Huawei is one of the tools that they are going to use. Huawei obviously has that relation to many countries…Xi Jinping has already announced his ambition to become a cyber superpower. I think this will be through 5G,” a speaker said.

In the near future, digital technology is expected to be divided into two poles: Chinese 5G world, versus the non-Chinese 5G technology.

“I think the US will be leading the non-Chinese part, and probably Japan and Australia will be a part of the US, and maybe some ramifications will follow. This will be quite an interesting and significant separation of the world,” the speaker said.

However, there are already some counter measures being taken by the US and the European Union to counter China’s global hegemonic strategy.

“There is a heavy connotation of the more negative aspect of Chinese way of doing business. Their global hegemonic strategy will have more strength throughout the world, but there are some counter measures being taken by the US and the EU. We will also have to see how the less wealthy countries are going to react.”

The annual Japan-ASEAN Media forum aims to bring together journalists and scholars from different Japanese and Southeast Asian countries to discuss issues affecting the region.