5 Places Where China’s Influence is Growing

Cyberattacks and trade deficits: these were certainly on the agenda during the two-day meeting between President Barack Obama and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in southern California this past weekend. China showed no contrition about cyberespionage (the topic was overshadowed by last week’s disclosures about the U.S.’s own cyberwarfare activities) but some progress emerged on the one topic that politicians within the U.S. can’t agree on: climate change.

Emphasizing a spirit of cooperation, Obama called for joint efforts to address climate change, including sharing about clean-energy technologies and significantly cutting back on “super greenhouse gas” production — on the hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) used in air conditioners and refrigerators.

While China seems to be serious about the pollution it generates within its own borders, many questions remain about its concern for environmental issues around the world, especially in the many places in which it has invested.

China and HFCs

China, the world’s largest producer of HFCs, has so far resisted demands to lower its reliance on them. As of April, it agreed to end HFC production by 2030, spurred by a $385 million aid package put forward under the Montreal Protocol.

China has held out from agreeing to binding commitments, arguing that doing so would be unfair in view of its state of development. Numerous reports about air pollution in major cities and mismanagement of environmental resources as China develops mines in Tibet have only contributed to the sense that Beijing, while investing in solar power and other forms of green energy, is not really serious about environmental issues.

With China’s economy ranked the second-largest in the world and with predictions that it will surpass the U.S. for the #1 spot in a matter of years, it seems it is time to reconsider claims that China cannot implement more stringent environmental regulations out of fears of hampering development. As one sign of its seemingly ever-growing economic might, China has been investing heavily around the world in what amounts to the building of an “economic empire,” as Heriberto Araújo and Juan Pablo Cardenal recently write in the New York Times.

China’s Growing Economic Empire

Here are just some of the places where China’s influence is growing:

1. Ecuador
The Export-Import Bank of China is assisting in the building of three hydroelectric dams in Ecuador including the $2.3 billion Coca Codo Sinclair Dam — a 1,500 megawatt project that could damage the country’s highest waterfall, San Rafael Falls (pictured above).  The falls are part of the Sumaco Biosphere Reserve, which is located in the biodiverse transition zone between the Andes and Amazon.

2. Sudan
China also has a hand in the biggest engineering project in Africa, the Merowe Dam on the Nile in Sudan. This hydroelectric dam has been described as one of the “most destructive” in the world. It has a capacity of 1,250 megawatts and has more than doubled Sudan’s electricity generation — and has displaced some 50,000 people.

China has also invested billions of dollars in Sudan’s oil, but shown little regard for human rights. While China has shown some support for peacekeepers in Darfur, the country has abstained from voting on most United Nations measures that are intended to “entice or force Sudan to protect human rights there,” according to NPR.

3. Greece

Chinese company Cosco leased (for 500 euros or $647 million) half of the Greek port of Piraeus in 2010. The half now run by the Chinese is bustling and handling a far heavier volume of cargo than the half still owned by Greece, where workers have relatively higher wages and work according to labor rules.

Greece’s unions indeed fought the Chinese taking over half of the Piraeus’ port. As one Greek ex-employee of Cosco says, Chinese investment has resulted in “Chinese labor standards” in which workers’ safety is routinely compromised and one can be fired at any moment.

4.  Greenland

Last year, Greenland (whose minimum wage is one of the highest in the world) passed legislation that allowed for foreign workers in the country to earn salaries below the local legal minimum wage. That is, Greenland changed its own law in a concession to China, to gain access to its money and experience to develop resources in Arctic territory.

Chinese companies had said they would only invest in the “high-risk, costly exploitation of Greenland’s vast mining resources” if thousands of low-wage Chinese employees could be allowed to work in the country.

5. United States

Last week, a Chinese company, Shuanghui, made a bid to take over U.S. company Smithfield Foods, opening questions about food safety in the wake of numerous reports, and academic studies, of excessive antibiotic use on Chinese farms. Other American businesses that Chinese companies have taken over include IBM’s personal computing division and AMC movie theaters; China has also invested in a number of energy companies.

In addition, China has also become a major investor in Germany and Australia and controls oil pipelines that crisscross Asia from Turkmenistan to China.

As Araújo and Cardenal write, “it is China that needs to adapt to the world, not the other way around.” We need to hold China to its promises about reducing HFC use and also, with an eye on its growing influence around the word, fight to protect environmental resources and human and workers’ rights.

Maybe Beijing will clean up its air, but what good is this if China’s economic investments are polluting the rest of the world?

Photo via Temescal1859/Flickr


Jim Ven
Jim V1 years ago

thanks for the article.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing

Mark D.
Mark D.4 years ago

Will R. making excuses for the Chinese. They have no culture of any kind, they have proven they CANNOT be trusted. Their motivation is pure dark evil greed and no matter how they whine about "colonialism", that is NOT an excuse to destroy the last intact environments and wildlife of the earth for their selfish criminal impulses. The punishment for ANY country INCLUDING China that does such environmental genocide should be as harsh as punishment as was meted out to Nazi Germany or to Japan for genocide crimes since destruction of our world is far worse. Stop being an apologist for China or any other Asian countries' greedy global destruction by whining about how they were mistreated in the past or some such garbage, that's no excuse for crime, what those monsters are doing is a global CRIME and there is no other way to describe it.

Sheila D.
GGmaSheila D4 years ago

This is China, who has never to my knowledge kept their word about anything. This China whose labor laws are nonexistent. It looks like China is investing in as much of the World as it can. China can afford it. This is China whose environmenal policies have been non- existent as of today.

America keeps giving OUR money away to other countries without our permission, sometimes without our knowledge, while America falls apart. Bridges fall down, killing people. Water supplies are dwindling, losing jobs to India and the Philipines. Our own environment is not improving because of a Congress bought and paid for by the Big Corp Lobbiests.

I would like to know how much of that $385 Million aid pkg are we paying for? We can't feed our own people, yet we will contribute to aid China? The same China who has more people, more money than us, and dares to say it needs aid to implement environmental upgrades?

I don't know about you but it seems like bribery to me. Or blackmail on the part of China...?

Ernie Miller
william Miller4 years ago

have cash will buy they learned form us. or US

V Madonna Schizoid
Past Member 4 years ago


Danuta Watola
Danuta W4 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Peter G.
Peter G4 years ago

Napoleon Bonaparte is said to have said about China: "There lies a sleeping giant. And let him sleep, for when he wakes he will move the world."

Michael H.
Mike H4 years ago

I guess I better learn to speak Chinese.

Michael H.
Mike H4 years ago

I guess I better learn to speak Chinese.