Ideas

Argentina Looks For Its 'Niche' in China's Trading Empire

Argentina must discern and deftly negotiate for its national interests in the rising, global trading order dominated by China.

Facing China's "Belt and Road Initiative", a.k.a. "the new silk road"
Carlos Ruckauf

-Analysis-

BUENOS AIRES — Countries have reacted individually to the spectacular progression of China's global trading plan, colloquially called the "new silk road" but officially titled the "Belt and Road Initiative".

Greece has given its approval by placing the port of Piraeus in the hands of COSCO, China's state shipping firm. It turned the port of Athens into an entry point for supersized container ships arriving from Asia to drop off goods for the European market. Trieste in Italy is becoming a similar gateway to and from central Europe.

Impoverished Africa is receiving Chinese investments with glee. India wants to make a deal that will not subordinate it to China and that will keep options open with the United States. The four-year Trump presidency alienated the United States from its allies and left a gap that communist China has filled without hesitation. President Joe Biden's new administration is expected to handle the two countries' ties more rationally, which will allow trading pacts instead of spats, despite their enduring and logical rivalries.

In Latin America, governments of differing political hues — such as Peru, Chile and Cuba — view the Belt and Road Initiative as an opportunity.

In Latin America, governments of differing political hues view the Belt and Road Initiative as an opportunity.

To analyze Argentina's present and future relationship with the People's Republic, we need to understand what it wants from us and above all, what we want from China. Understanding a superpower's objectives can be a complex task, requiring time, specialized knowledge and absence of ideological preconceptions for or against it.

From that perspective, the government's decision to remove our ambassador in Beijing (Luis María Kreckler) last December was bad news. In inter-state relations, it is important not to fall in love with the host country, as passion can blind rationality. As one of our presidents, Arturo Illia, observed in the 1960s, saying "offer" instead of "sell" does nothing to enhance the reality of a situation. A succession of Chinese leaders from Mao to Deng Xiaoping has built a centralized economic system that has yielded exponential growth using a mix of free-market, guided capitalism and efficient state-sector firms.

For over a decade now, GDP growth, farming reforms, an emergent middle class and enterprising capitalists and financiers have all helped the current president, Xi Jinping, and his team to build towards the Belt and Road Initiative.

With an enormous financial outlay, China has created firms (private, public and mixed) designed to operate key ports and participate in building road and energy infrastructures around the world.

Agreeing on the terms of exchange is of crucial importance.

The expansion and, where possible, control of a significant part of the world's trade have been objectives of several historical powers like Great Britain, Spain, Portugal or the United States. The Asiatic superpower wants the same thing today.

For us, as in other times in our history, agreeing on the terms of exchange is of crucial importance. As an example: The world's great powers (China, the United States and the European Union) will want our lithium. We should seek agreements to make electrical batteries and vehicles here, to benefit our workforce and national firms. The French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte warned that "the world will tremble when China awakes." Fortunately, the conflict China will provoke is merely commercial, though still of the utmost importance. As always, we are the ones who must decide what is in the best interests of our nation.

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Society

Oui-Haw! American Country Music Has Global Appeal

Some might ask: Why is there such a thing as International Country Music Day? Turns out the American musical genre has pockets of popularity around the world, from twanging sounds in Japan to South Africa to line dancing in France.

Japanese cover of a Dolly Parton album

PARIS — To the rest of the world, there may be nothing more American than singers with acoustic guitars crooning about beer, trucks and Southern living. But the longstanding genre has had surprising relevance faraway countries. Academic papers have even been penned on why these cultural symbols — so specific to the Yankee experience — have such global appeal.

The examples abound of the traveling power of this popular music genre that blends folk, blues slavery-era spirituals and Southern gospel. One famous story recounts that during his time as a political prisoner, South Africa's Nelson Mandela was allowed to play one song over the loudspeakers. What tune did he pick? The Dolly Parton classic "Jolene," in which the Tennessee icon pleads with another woman not to take her man.

Tokyo Sexwale, a fellow freedom fighter in the cell next to Mandela, told the podcast "Dolly Parton's America" that the choice was somehow perfectly natural: "We are all human beings. The jailed and the jailer. But we all come from one country, but we all don't want to lose. Whether it's a man or your country, nobody wants to be hurt. Don't hurt me."

With this theme of art's ability to transcend geographic boundaries in mind (and to mark International Country Music Day, here's a swinging tour of country music's worldwide influence.

Africa: Classic Country Imports And Kenya's Own Elvis

Nigerian country music singer-songwriter Ogak Jay Oke — Photo: Mgbo
  • Back in 2007, NPR reported about the popularity of country music in Nairobi, Kenya — particularly Dolly Parton and Texan singer-songwriter Kenny Rogers, who received extensive television and radio play. Reporter Gwen Thompkins highlighted how, despite cultural differences, Kenyans found strength and a common ground in songs about agriculture-based economies facing societal and political challenges. As Henry Makhoka, the head of programming at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, told Thompkins: "Most of the country music we play talks about country life, talks about the farm life and so on. That kind of environment was abundantly available where I was born."
  • In fact, country music has been popular in Africa since the 1950s, with local artists across the continent interpreting the genre's musical and thematic elements (see Ivory Coast duo Jess Sah Bi & Peter One and Nigerian country-disco pioneer Emma Ogosi). Many harken back to country music's roots; the banjo was in fact an instrument brought to the Americas by African slaves.
  • Currently, one of the biggest country stars is Elvis Othieno (a.k.a. Sir Elvis), who grew up in a country music-loving household and was inspired by Garth Brooks and Hank Williams. Originally from Kenya, Sir Levis has performed around the world — he started his first country band while living in Norway — and is part of a generation of African country stars that also includes newcomers Esther Konkara and Ogak Jay Oke, who hails from Nigeria.

Asia: A John Denver Classic Hits Home

John Denver in 1975 — Photo: Wikimedia Commons
  • Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli is known for its rich depictions of Japanese culture and mythology, so it's somewhat surprising that the 1995 animated film Whisper of the Heart centers around a country song: John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads." Denver's ode to West Virginia is a unique fit in the coming of age story about the stress of urban life in Tokyo, but Studio Ghibli is far from the first to adapt "Country Roads" to a foreign audience.
  • The song has been covered by over 150 artists (from Olivia Newton-John to Hiwain singer Israel Kamakawiwo'ole) in at least 19 different languages, from Hindi to Greek to Hebrew, often changing the lyrics to be about the singer's homeland. Researchers in 2009 found that it was the most popular American song among college students in China. (Denver was in fact one of the first American artists to tour modern China in 1985 and his music was played widely on Armed Forces Radio in countries like Philippines, Korea and Vietnam where the U.S. had an important military presence.)
  • This ode to the Appalachian Mountains also has a special meaning for many who came to the U.S. searching for the American Dream. As Jason Jeong wrote in the Atlantic, many Asian-American immigrants see the song as both "an ode to an uncomplicated vision of the United States" and "a melancholic reminder of leaving a place they called home, and everything lost to the promise of a better life."

France: Translating Country Sounds — And Dance Moves

Linedancing in France — Photo: Country-France Facebook page
  • France, a country proud of both its language and cultural output, has a long history of rock stars pillaging country standards, often completely changing the songs' meanings: from American-French singer Joe Dassin changing "City of New Orleans" into "Salut les amoureux" ("Hello Lovers") to "Five Hundred Miles Away From Home" by Bobby Bare somehow becaming Richard Anthony's "J'entends siffler le train" ("I Hear the Train Whistle").
  • Whether it's creative liberty or cross-cultural miscommunication, this trend has been popular since the days of big '60s household names like Johnny Hallyday to Eddy Mitchell to Hugues Aufray. The result usually infuses the French ennui of the "everyday man" into these American classics.
  • Line dancing has also become somewhat of a phenomenon in France, with clubs around the country (especially in more rural areas) featuring dancers who dress the part in cowboy hats and boots. According to weekly news magazine L'Express, some 4 million people — nearly 9% of the French population over 18 — have tried country-style dances.



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