I travel around the Pacific Rim often and in the last two years have seen dramatic changes to the landscape in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia. Large tracts of land are being cleared and scraped down to accommodate the movement of resources through road, rail, pipeline and fibre optic channels for The Belt and Road initiative. The goal of the project is to provide China access to 65 per cent of world resources in 20 years. The project started in 2013 and while there was some recent push back things are on schedule.
All around the Pacific Rim, China has negotiated access to the resources needed to meet its 65 per cent goal. The negotiations take different forms but all have the same end in mind: resource extraction through air, water and land.
Stories that are beginning to surface paint a very worrisome picture and often begin with a 100-year lease agreement. China and Sri Lanka engaged in a loan agreement for infrastructure development, including a port. The deal was renegotiated when interest rates on the loan increased to a point where Sri Lanka could no longer meet its financial obligations.
Under the new deal China would forgive the loan in exchange for Chinese national ownership of the port. This arrangement opens up water to land transportation avenues as well as 12 nautical miles of fishing rights free from the rules and regulations of the host country.
These colony cities are called “Special Zones” and are springing up all around the Pacific Rim.
Monks in Luang Prabang spoke to me about their concern for the indigenous peoples who have had their land taken without consultation or compensation, often severing their nomadic pathways. Is this a horrible history repeating itself?
In the past nine months, Belt and Road has advanced through the EU, Africa and more recently, extended to Central and South America. Work is underway to expand the Panama Canal as well as cut a new canal through Nicaragua. Rail lines are planned to run north and south through South and Central America.
In July there will be an international Silk Road Festival in Vancouver. Silk Road is often used as a euphemism by the Chinese media for Belt and Road. It’s more romantic.
In my travels, I heard again and again about community plans for the Belt and Road that began with a 100-year lease for airport development, fish farming, deep sea ports and/or waterfront lands. Chinese traditionally negotiate with an eye for 100 years in the future. In the west we often negotiate with an eye for the next election, putting us a great disadvantage long term.
Powell River is on the Pacific Rim. We have a deep sea port, seafood, trees and the most critical of all, when you think 100 years out, is access to fresh water.
We as a community must start thinking 100 years out and determine the Powell River we want to leave for those who follow. We cannot afford to get lost in small town stickhandling when the risk is this high.
Maureen Mason is a Powell River resident.