Foreign residential areas in China were classified as “settlements” or “concessions”. In some instances, local administrative authorities were established by aliens and they were either formally or tacitly recognized. Hankou was once the largest of three former cities (the others being Hanyang and Wuchang) that now constitute modern-day Wuhan – the capital of Hubei province. Originally, Hankou had five foreign “enclaves”: British, French, German, Japanese and Russian. On 21st March 1861, China leased a “concession” in Hankou to the UK. By 1898, the UK “concession” frolicked over 115 acres.
To repel Japanese and British orchestrations for China, Eugene Chen rendezvoused with Sun Yat-sen in Canton in 1918, to prepare for the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. In 1922, Eugene became Sun’s closest adviser on foreign affairs, and developed a leftist stance of anti-imperialist nationalism and support for Sun’s alliance with the USSR. Eugene worked tirelessly with Michael Borodin, the chief Soviet foreign policy adviser to Sun.
On 4th January 1927, the Chinese Nationalist Forces occupied the concession. Fifteen days later, Eugene Chen negotiated the Chen-O’Malley Agreement that provided for a combined Sino-British administration of the “concession” zone, later to be managed strictly by the Chinese and known as The 3rd Special Zone.
Eons before Eugene was born, his father, Guangquan Chen, had participated in China’s Taiping Rebellion (1850 – 1864) and was forced to find sanctuary in the French West Indies. Here Guangquan would fall in love with Mary Longchallon (Marie Leong) and the daring couple moved to British Trinidad. Their first son Eugene Chen was born on 2nd July, 1878 in San Fernando.
Eugene’s classical schooling at CIC prepared him to qualify as a Barrister in England and Wales. His parents never spoke in Chinese to him. So he could not read nor write Chinese. Except for his appearance, nothing about him was Oriental. His library was filled with Dickens, Shakespeare, Scott, and legal tomes. Eventually Eugene migrated to England. While in London, Eugene met Sun Yat-sen who persuaded him to join him in China in 1912 to add his jurisprudential sagacity to the “troubles” facing China. Sun fled from China in 1913 but Eugene remained in Peking and became the editor of the Peking Gazette after which he founded the Shanghai Gazette. Eugene’s criticism of the government landed him in jail. But being a British citizen from Trinidad, he was released quite hurriedly.
On 24th March 1927, Chinese soldiers looted the British, American and Japanese consulates in Nanjing, killing six foreigners, including two British citizens. Eugene sent his two sons in a convoy to Borodin in Moscow and his daughters Si-lan and Yolanda travelled from Shanghai to Vladivostok in Russia using the Trans-Siberian Railway which is now integral to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Eugene Chen died on 20th May 1944. His burial in Beijing was at the Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery that is reserved for only the highest-ranking revolutionary heroes.
Today, Xi and Putin have emerged from the COVID-19 crisis of Wuhan’s notoriety as stouter allies. Until the events of 2014 in Ukraine, Moscow pursued a path to western integration for twenty-five years including membership in the G8. Russia and China have now both decided to put Benjamin to bed. Members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), an analogue to the EU in the post-Soviet space, have replaced the dollar with the Ruble and the Yuan. The people who live in EAEU member states are now removed from a situation they have no control over.
In the Soviet-era, the USSR and Beijing viewed each other with suspicion. But the fight against COVID-19 has cemented new constellations of beliefs and practices that make for a profound geopolitical shift. China’s BRI that elaborates the old Trans-Siberian Railway takes us towards a multipolar world based on peace, sovereignty and prosperity.
A world pivoting Eastward. It offers a possibility for linked growth entirely without obligations to participate in imperialist wars. China’s BRI is unnerving as it represents a way out of neo-colonial dependency. A symmetry altered by innovations like TikTok, created by China’s ByteDance.
Even Africa has a choice between the empty promises of the EU and investment from Beijing. About fifty per cent of the BRI investment went to countries that Western rating agencies consider high risk. And where there is some interest, it leads to novel forms of neo-colonial exploitation. China offers investments in infrastructure without cultural imperialism and tacit interference in the social and political development of the state. After the collapse of the coal and steel industry, Duisburg struggled with high unemployment rates. Duisport is now the westernmost junction of the BRI. Eighty percent of the trains trudging from China into Europe arrive in Duisburg. For Germans, this meant 7,000 new jobs. Berlin’s Deutsche Bahn estimates that 100,000 containers arrived in 2020.
Argentina has benefited from 300,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik Vaccine after recording nearly 1.6 million COVID-19 infections and 43,000 deaths. Chile is now China’s door to South America and the Caribbean. China’s interest in Chile is economic and political. China is interested in Chile’s tactical location and its 4,000 kilometres of coast facing the Pacific Ocean.