Beyond ports, planes, trucks, and trains


Foreign assistance usually designates improvement in a country’s infrastructure. If the donor is enlightened, it bothers to find out what the recipient sees as a priority need. If not, wards are encouraged to bridge Tinian and Rota, like H3 in Hawaii, for ease of military maneuvers!

Pier, tarmac, road, and rail are the obvious areas of assistance. They entail not only materials and technology but also massive financing. Serendipitously, 21 countries just launched an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to balance the Japan-led West-dominated Asian Development Bank.

The four “beyond” in our title designates a form of foreign assistance, not discarding the provision of materials, technology and financing but adding a robust exchange of persons from one cultural setting to another, a partnership not only in finances and technology but in personnel as well.

This is a consequence of the massive paradigm shift that occurred when post-WWII UN idealism deteriorated quickly into Cold War as nation-states fought for ground, built fences and guarded borders to keep neighbors out, and competed for all types of resources, turned into the reality of one Earth, pictured in the ‘68 earthrise that revealed a new mindfulness of humans earthbound and earth proud, recreating life from the ordinariness of existence into a fullness that engages and involves many to an affirmation of selfhood and planet-hood without the weight of national loyalty. 

The transition begun as a process that took its own time traveling, a journey that builds its own road. Often a step forward is also negated by two steps backward, especially if the first one is either too sudden or too much for the body politic to digest and absorb. The reflexive defense mechanism tended to react doubly strong. The direction toward the unity of humankind is, however, inescapable. 

Along with the practical setup of the AIIB, China captivates human imagination with the revival of the ancient Silk Road image, with a maritime presence that once linked the Pearl River basin out of Guangdong through the Indian Ocean islands and points west, and its overland route through Central Asia to Istanbul and Europe. 

Equally significant is that the leadership of people whose nationality constitutes one out of five in the planet has now come to its own, and the powers-that-be of an old order shake in their boots, accustomed to the old methods of leadership by conquest and competition while the new blood offers partnership and collaboration.

Just so we are clear. I am not pitting China with the rest of the world. China is an old civilization with huge contradictions to deal with on its own. Deeply ingrained prejudices against the bamboo curtain give us pause; it is not easily understood. In fact, the new AIIB is an infrastructure investment bank. The NY Times called it the International Development Bank. Hardly. 

Also, Reuters focused the news on the three nations who were absent at the launch but previously indicated willingness to join rather than the 21 who inked the agreement. The news account did say that the three were lobbied (bullied?) not to participate so they sent word that they were still studying the fine print!

The history of development banks is of inflationary excess liquidity from exports that if utilized within a country’s own system, unable to return as imports (or local consumption lags), the funds are kept in the nomenclature of development, or the rhetoric of altruism. Development banks are politicized. Washington, D.C. wants to extend affirmative action to World Bank, ADB, and Inter-American Development Bank’s contractors when chosen to implement projects. 

I was employed once by a minority-owned “beltway bandit” to train cooperative unions, and savings and loan associations, on organizational development. The visiting head of the U.S. office on a ride to ADB said, “Let’s go talk to them before they discover we don’t know what we are doing.” That was meant to be funny; it was also painfully true. They cornered the contract because they were a preferred minority-owned outfit. Development banks push foreign policy agendas. 

China’s AIIB is strictly infrastructure investment. The CPC’s Central Committee had a four-day session on “socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics,” the theme for governmental operations that should be welcomed all around. China is not immediately trusted with the rule of law because of its history of ruling to keep face.

But China understands the earth and its processes, and is eager to show the world that it knows something about taking care of Mother Gaia. It is serious about the reality and integrity behind the “face.” Foreign assistance is, indeed, beyond ports, planes, trucks, and trains. Folks do not call themselves Zhongguoren, Middle Earth people, for nothing. The vibrant Silk Road, to use a Pinoy writer’s phrase, is in the heart, before it hits the ¥uan pouch.

Jaime R. Vergara | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Jaime Vergara previously taught at SVES in the CNMI. A peripatetic pedagogue, he last taught in China but makes Honolulu, Shenyang, and Saipan home. He can be reached at

Related Posts

Disclaimer: Comments are moderated. They will not appear immediately or even on the same day. Comments should be related to the topic. Off-topic comments would be deleted. Profanities are not allowed. Comments that are potentially libelous, inflammatory, or slanderous would be deleted.