Recently I attended a private dinner and was part of a conversation on the burning topic of these days – economic crisis in Sri Lanka and Pakistan. One of the guests in the gathering, an expert in Greek mythology, jokingly commented that most of the mayhems in the world today could be attributed to the “Atë” of the 21st Century – reincarnated on 23 July 1921 as the Chinese Communist Party”. To many of us oblivious of Mythos, he explained that Atë (pronounced Aite) was the eldest daughter of Zeus and is considered the goddess of evil and misfortune (Homer’s Illiad, Book 19). She was known to lure men into actions that would end in their demise usually. Though that time the story of Atë was a filler in a serious discussion, but an afterthought convinced me that what he said was not illogical. After all, so many countries have been lured by the CCP through benefactions, also called China debt trap diplomacy, and slowly all of them are heading into ruins. CCP is another name for guile, greed, and cruelty – typical Atë like qualities.
Guile – the first curse of Atë
The most appropriate example of guile in modern times is the China Debt Trap Diplomacy, brainchild of the CCP.
Sri Lanka and Pakistan, two countries which could not stop bragging about the generosity of their so called “all weather friend” till sometime back, have already seen the face of Atë and are now pleading to the world to save them. But there are many others in evil eye of the Atë.
One of the earliest successes of China’s debt-trap diplomacy was Tajikistan which not only lost gold, silver and mineral ore mines, but also 1158 sq kms of strategic Pamir Mountains territory. Later, Africa became the favourite playground of the Atë. Djibouti, Zambia, Angola and Ethiopia have debts to China equivalent to more than 20% of their GDP. In lieu, Djibouti has become a de-facto Chinese colony; Zambia is on the verge of losing two airports, hydropower project (ZESCO) and some precious mines (copper, cobalt, gold, nickel etc.); Angola is forced to sell all its oil to China; and the civil war-torn Ethiopia has been brought on knees by over 400 Chinese companies dominating the state. Other African countries which are being depredated by China include Kenya, where ownership of Port of Mombassa is under threat and Uganda where loss of Entebbe International Airport is inevitable.
Beyond its favourite playground, 21st century’s Atë, the China’s Communist Party, is reigning havoc on numerous small and middle-income economies.
Laos was forced to sign concession agreement allowing a Chinese-owned company to control its national power grid; Maldives and Solomon Islands have lost a few islets; Argentina has been denied access to and oversight of a Chinese satellite tracking station on its own territory; Ecuador is forced to sell 90% of its oil to China; and Venezuela and Kyrgyzstan have made official statements recently regarding likelihood of losing properties to Chinese debt.
Europe, the so called ‘Modernisation Hub’ of the world, too could also not save itself from the Atë jinx. Montenegro was enticed by the CCP by funding an A-1 motorway. Poor Montenegro didn’t realise that it was on a path of creating a world record of building the costliest highway ($23.8 million per kilometres) and one road has practically mortgaged the whole country. Such is the witchery of this 21st century Atë that whichever country has been seduced by it, could not save itself from misery imposed upon it.
Greed – the second curse
Greed, another attribute of Atë, is an inherent characteristic of the CCP.
The foundation of the CCP itself is carved in greed and the way the party gained power through the Chinese civil war is a testimony of its cupidity and avarice.
Soon after Kuomintang was pushed out from mainland China, Tibet became the first victim of CCP’s greed for world dominance. Annexation of Tibet and controlling the territory till date through massacre of innocent populace and implementation of barbaric laws is a shame for China as a country. India was the second victim of the CCP’s greed, when China started a war in 1962, and occupied large Indian territory. Despite occupying Indian landscape, the greed of the barbaric party has not quenched, and it still lays claim on the Arunachal province of India and continues its misadventures on the Northern frontier. China has territorial disputes over land and at sea with numerous countries like Japan, Philippines, Vietnam, Nepal, Bhutan and Taiwan, which clearly indicates the greed of its ruling force. The Belt & Road Initiative (BRI), which the CCP claims to be a game changer for global prosperity is nothing but yet another trick to subjugate the weak countries in Asia, Africa and elsewhere to China’s economic domination.
Cruelty – the third curse
Guided by a totalitarian ideology CCP deprives citizens of their rights on a sweeping scale and systematically curtails freedoms to retain power. Chinese civilians cannot practice the religion or belief of their choice, express their opinions openly or form/ join groups of their choosing without fear of harassment, arrest or retribution. Authorities regularly detain those who do not conform to CCP ideology. Minorities (Uyghur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, Christians, and Falun Gong practitioners) are subject to mass arbitrary detention, strict surveillance, political indoctrination, torture, forced abortions and sterilization, and state-sponsored forced labour. Xinjiang is a proof of CCP’s extreme malice where more than one million locals are detained since 2017 in internment camps and are facing torture, rape, forced ingestion of drugs, sexual assault and other horrific abuses. The PRC is continuing its decades-long campaign to eradicate Tibet’s unique religious, ethnic, cultural, and linguistic identity. People in Hongkong are also under extreme misery and being handled through draconian national security legislation. The worst is that these brutalities remain veiled as CCP strictly controls telecommunication, internet and media.
As one contemplates over the characteristics of the Chinese Communist Party in wake of the arguments presented above, it is evident that CCP is indeed the Atë of the 21st Century. However, the cure for the Atë jinx is also available in the Greek mythology.
The power of Atë is in the desires of her victims. It is the desire of poorer countries which lure them towards China for a quick money for infrastructure development and once they are in China debt trap diplomacy, there is no survival. The only way to be safe from this 21st Century Atë is to avoid and isolate her. Sri Lanka and Pakistan are testimony of the fact that there are no friends of CCP – every nation is a potential victim. It is important for middle and low income economies to realise that the there are no short cuts to development. Any easy path could be a delusion created by the Atë to lure you into a deadly trap.