China wants to procure raw materials for itself and is therefore establishing regular colonies in South America. In the small tropical state of Surinam north of Brazil, one in ten inhabitants is Chinese.
When Mr. Ma steps into the midday heat of Surinam, he puts on a colorful parasol. “The heat,” he says, as if he had to apologize, “I’m not getting used to it.” Seconds later, the oppressive tropical air doesn’t seem to bother him any more, he sets a tight pace, balances on freshly laid concrete stairs until he reaches the edge of the harbour. Rusty fishing boats lie in several rows behind each other, a crew of Indonesians, Malaysians and Filipinos scrubs decks and hangs up freshly washed laundry. Next door, a concrete mixer is roaring, workers with protective caps carry building materials around.
“I’m investing 30 million dollars here,” says Mister Ma, handing out his business card. Ma Hsing Jui, Managing Director of Surinam Sea Catch Aktiengesellschaft. 59 years old. Major exporter, investor and fishing king of Surinam. Or just as it says on his little card: “Mister Ma”.
30 years ago, the entrepreneur moved from the Hong Kong region to the small tropical state. At that time he was early. Today he is at the forefront of an economic revolution.
Chinese like him, passionate entrepreneurs with little patience and many plans, have increasingly conquered key industries in South and Central America in recent years. They have taken advantage of years of economic crisis to buy and start their own businesses. They secured access to raw materials that China needs: Grain, wood, diamonds, oil or – as in the case of Mister Ma – chilled fish. In the lean years, they were able to count on the support of the Chinese government and the well-organized networks of Chinese entrepreneurs and financiers. The region’s economic slump is over, and many raw materials are worth something again. Business is much better and the Chinese are now in many important positions.
“The ice factory is coming right up here on the shore,” says Mister Ma, “saving us time loading onto the ship. It leads through halls in which crabs and fish are processed for export, with heavy steel doors and sparkling clean stainless steel work surfaces. It smells of cleaning agents. “We are certified by health authorities all over the world,” he says proudly: 200 tons of shrimps per year, 2500 tons of fish, and that’s just one of several sites. The Minister of Finance was already here because Mr Ma is considered a model entrepreneur. He asked him how he could build one exemplary factory after the other in such a short time, and even add port extensions? “I’ve commissioned Chinese construction companies,” says Ma, laughing.
Then he gets serious and starts a small lecture. “And I learned in Shenzhen – the toughest school for entrepreneurs in the world. In Shenzhen I learned: Time is money! Use every minute of your life to make something of it”.
In the small tropical state of Surinam, the former Dutch Guiana, you can see the results of Chinese investment policy particularly well. There were Chinese emigrants here a century ago, when Asian workers were shipped to the tropics as workers for large construction projects. The new wave of entrepreneurs that has been pouring into the country for several years has ambitious entrepreneurial goals and Beijing’s blessing. The Communist Party has expressed a strategic interest in South and Central America, as a five-year plan for 2015 shows: the Chinese state wants to invest 250 billion dollars in this region, mainly in raw materials and the infrastructure to transport them.
In fact, the Chinese agreed to some spectacular projects in virtually every country: Across Nicaragua, for example, a waterway is to be built to compete with the Panama Canal. A new railway line is to be built from Peru to Brazil. New mines, oil production facilities, canals, ports and roads are under discussion everywhere – and are to be realized with the help of Chinese workers and construction companies. Even though many of the particularly spectacular large-scale projects have so far only remained announcements, the Chinese are now a familiar sight between Tierra del Fuego and the Gulf of Mexico. They are asphalting some kind of road, pulling up hundreds of social housing as a “gift” for a government, opening supermarkets and restaurants for the immigrant workers, and creating entire Chinatowns. Nowhere has this gone as far as in the small country of Surinam, where ten percent of the population officially comes from China.
“We are by far the most China-friendly country in the region,” Jim Bousaid shouts. He is the head of Hakrinbank, one of Surinam’s three largest banks. In his office tower in the capital Paramaribo, the powerful banker is enthroned on one of the upper floors, leaning over a huge desk, smoothing the broad striped shirt sleeves and explaining his family history as a greeting. “I am the descendant of Lebanese inhabitants,” he says, “but I also have a Chinese in my family.” His grandfather once came to the tropical country as a worker, a Hakka Chinese, who was shipped to South America as a largely lawless worker in one of the early waves of immigration (late 19th century and early 20th century).
The former Dutch colony (Dutch Guyana) has been independent since 1975. Surinam is now democratically governed, but its president is the former military dictator Desiré Bouterse. The country has half a million inhabitants, is almost half the size of Germany and covered by tropical rainforest.
Surinam exports raw materials such as oil, gold, aluminium and wood. Low prices recently plunged the country into a crisis. Important trading partners are the USA, the Arab Emirates and Europe, but China is becoming increasingly important as well.
Unemployment and crime have increased significantly in recent years. The government has launched a number of austerity and reform programs. Above all, however, it is waiting for investments from all over the world.