China’s One Belt One Road Initiative connects Asia to Europe. However, visionaries have wondered how to connect China to Latin America as part of this initiative. China-Latin American trade has increased by 1,200% or from $10 to $130 billion between 2000 and 2009. The challenge is physical. There is a vast Pacific Ocean separating China from Latin America. China has the ability to create islands in record time with the MV Tian Kun Hao. Hawaii has acted as a gateway to Asia for the United States. What about the equivalent of a Chinese Hawaii from a strategic point of view? The author proposes that China will create an island in the Pacific that is more or less equidistant from China and Latin American. This island will act as an extension of the One Belt and One Road Initiative.
Would the island be sovereign Chinese territory? If China builds the island on the high seas beyond any national jurisdiction, 200 plus nautical miles from a nation, then China may construct artificial islands that according to Article 87 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea treaty (UNCLOS) would be sovereign Chinese territory! If China was building a military base in the middle of the Pacific Ocean then the US would be opposed to such a project regardless of legality. However, the island proposed in this essay would have peaceful goals!
The island could be named after Zheng He the admiral who might have arrived in the Americas before Columbus. The Island could also be called “Lucky Eight Island” for reasons that will become apparent later in this essay. I think the Zheng He name could be the more official formal name for Chinese audiences and Lucky Eight could be the more vernacular informal name for none Chinese audiences. This island will have both infrastructure and educational goals.
A traveler traveling from Beijing to Mexico City wastes a lot of time using hub airports that do not support the goal of connecting these two cities. The traveler has to go to hub airports in the US such as Dallas, Vancouver, Chicago, Los Angeles and even Amsterdam that are out of the way. The island will act as a hub airport connecting Chinese cities to Latin American cities. The distance from Beijing to Mexico City is 12,450 km. The Boeing 777, the most common airplane in the world, has a range of 9,704 to 15,844 km. An island more or less 6,000 km from Beijing and Mexico City would allow a Boeing 777 to reach just about any city in China or Latin American from that island. A Boeing 777 has a speed of 950 km/h. In theory with a one hour layover, a traveler could travel from Beijing to Mexico City in 14 hours via the island versus the usual 18-20 plus hours the traveler now has to travel.
The Chinese cities the island airport hub serves might include Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenzhen. The following Latin American cities are economically important to China. Bogotá, Lima, Mexico City, Panama City and São Paulo. There are students from five Central American countries that could easily go to the island from Mexico City or Panama City. The diplomatically important countries are Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.
The traveler to cities in China other than Beijing or Shanghai can arrive at other Chinese cities with only one layover rather than two or even three layovers as is currently the case. As a specialized hub airport, layover times should be minimal but longer layovers are inevitable. The airport should be designed with pod style accommodations as a design priority rather than a design afterthought.
Japanese tourists go to Guam to buy US goods! Could the Chinese island be a place where Latin Americans go to buy Chinese goods? Conversely, could the island be a place where Chinese go to buy Latin American goods? Business to customer sales are part of any airport. However, could business to business also be done on the island?
The island will have advanced communication infrastructure that connects China with Latin America either via satellite and/or an underwater fiber optic cable connection. The island could house a submarine branching unit connecting Chinese cities to Latin American cities. Chile and China are already working on an underwater fiber optic cable connection.
The island will provide a place in which Chinese and Latin Americans can learn together and from each other. The island will house a trilingual university. The best and the brightest Chinese learn Spanish. The best and the brightest Latin Americans learn Chinese. English is used as a transitional language in the first two years but eventually the students move to all Chinese classes for the Latin Americans and all Spanish classes for the Chinese. Trilingual graduates will be in demand in any number of fields. However, the university could focus on creating top of the line aviation management, logistics, telecommunications, translation studies and tourism-hospitality departments. The aviation management students can do internships in the airport. The logistics students will act as leaders that have the skills to increase trade between China and Latin America. The tourism students will acts as leaders that can increase tourism between China and Latin America.
The foreign language department will focus on Chinese, English and Spanish. There will be a further emphasis on translations studies and computer-assisted translation in particular. The wide spread use of applications like Google Translate show that ultimately computers will play a larger and larger role in translations tasks. The department may also offer classes in Portuguese and Japanese for those students interested in becoming quadrilingual.
The advanced communications infrastructure capability on the island could be used to promote distance learning between China and Latin America. This distance learning project includes regular and guest professors from China that are on the island teaching students throughout Latin America and vice versa. An advanced communication system will also allow Chinese and Latin American researchers to communicate with each other more effectively. The university can act as a convenient physical space where researchers can finalize research face to face that has already been done largely in cyberspace. The university should be able to host international conferences involving the Americas and China. The university hotel can be used by university guests. The tourism and hospitality students will do internships in the university hotel.
A university affiliated online educational TV station based on the island will take advantage of the communications infrastructure. Telecommunications majors will do internships in the television station. The TV station will send Chinese television shows, with educational and/or cultural merit to appropriate Latin American audiences including students and academics in Latin America. The students in the translation studies program will translate the Chinese shows into Spanish for Latin American consumption. Latin American television with educational and/or cultural merit will in turn be translated into Chinese and aimed at appropriate audiences in China. The translations studies students gain valuable real life translation experience via this project. Large audiences in China and Latin America gain a broader international outlook from this programming.
Later, original programming made by students under the direction of professors at the island university could be part of the project. The student made programming could focus on Chinese-Latin American connections. A series of modules designed to teach Spanish speakers Chinese could be one of the projects of this television station. Also, a series of modules designed to teach Chinese speakers Spanish could be a project of this television station.
Culture shock is always a problem when students study abroad but distance acts as a remedy of sorts for the students in the college. The location of the island means Chinese students are more or less seven hours from home in China. Obviously the Latin American students are also more or less seven hours from home. This means students can more conveniently go home and recharge than if home was 14 to 20 hours away! The communications infrastructure could be used to allow the students easy two way video communication with friends and family back home. The university should obviously have a rich extracurricular environment. Busy students have less time to be homesick!
Student electives and student clubs can act as extensions of the cross-cultural focus of the university. Classes in Chinese cuisine and Latin American cuisine would be logical electives. Chifa is a fusion of Chinese Cantonese cuisine and Peruvian cuisine and could be the signature cuisine of the university. A cooking club could be an outgrowth of these classes. The faculty sponsor should probably be a member of the tourism and hospitality department and the students of this department should take a lead role in the cooking club. Latin American students teach Chinese member Latin American dishes and vice versa. The creation of original fusion dishes that combine Chinese and Latin American elements should be encouraged.
China is of course famous for wushu and classes in wushu make sense in this university. Latin America does have some very effective martial arts such as the Brazilian martial art capoeira, Colombian grima, and juego del garrote. The author of this paper does have some martial arts experience in both Chinese and Latin American martial arts. I think Chinese and Latin American martial arts would complement each other. Latin American martial arts are more modern than wushu and reflect modern realities such as the use of modern weapons like machetes for offense and specialized moves that act as a defense against firearms. The use of hand stand techniques in capoeira seem fantastical until you realize that shooting a moving leg is a difficult task compared to shooting someone in the chest. A leg wound is also less likely to lead to death than a chest wound. In contrast, Chinese martial arts use more ancient and even exotic weapons and generally provide no defense against firearms but have no equal in terms of variety of weapons and variety of techniques. A martial arts club might be a good place for students to explore a fusion of these martial traditions. Surfing and scuba diving could both be classes and clubs that do not serve a cross cultural function but take advantage of the island location. The elective classes act as introductions to an area of interest while the clubs with the appropriate faculty sponsorship allow the student to gain additional expertise in their interest area.
As a central Pacific Ocean outpost of China, the island could make soft power inroads among Pacific island populations. The children of local Pacific island elites could receive substantial scholarships to attend the university or even have full-tuition scholarships depending on circumstances. There will be a need for custodial labor and clerical workers on the island. Most Pacific islands suffer youth unemployment that is estimated at being around 23 percent! The educational television station could broadcast TV shows over the air that are of value to Pacific island populations. China probably has a special interest in better diplomatic relations with the following Pacific islands: Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.
In an earlier megaproject proposal, I suggested there are several advantages to a donut shaped island. Belgium has suggested a donut shaped island can store energy generated by wind power as described in Wired. The center of the donut is a fresh water lake. This provides a source of drinking water, fresh water fish and a shark free area to practice water sports such as sailing and scuba diving.
If you have two donut shaped islands side by side and touching then you get a figure eight shaped island! Eight is a lucky number in Chinese culture! One donut shaped island is used for the airport. The airport island is bigger because airports use up a lot more space than universities. Plus, there is always the possibility that the island grows from being a hub airport connecting China and Latin America to becoming a hub airport that connects Asia and the Americas as a whole! The other donut shaped island is used for the university. Below is a conceptual diagram of the eight shaped island.
The B2B center, B2C mall and government services center sit where the two islands meet. Perhaps the building housing both the B2C mall, B2B center and government service center are in an eight story building. The top floor of the building allows a view of both lakes as well as the Pacific Ocean and houses a 5 star fusion seafood restaurant as well as many other restaurants. The B2C mall occupies the lower floors and the B2B center occupies the top floors. Can a floor of the mall be designed so that virtual reality entertainment is more immersive than in a less modern mall?
The area where the two islands meet provides natural shelter for ships and yachts. My own experience with harbors is that big cruise ships and relatively smaller ships such as yachts should be kept separate to some extent but both types of ships need access to similar supplies. The cruise ship harbor and the marina for small boats should have equal access to the B2B center/B2C mall. Hopefully the island becomes a trilingual outpost in the Pacific that attracts both cruise ships from Asia and the Americas and smaller boats from neighboring islands. The marina with student interns from the tourism department can offer tours in Spanish/Chinese and/or English of surrounding Pacific islands.
Security at the Eastern B2B center/B2C mall exits can prevent unauthorized personnel from exiting into the university island. In general I would say the university island should be off limits to all but university related personnel. Do you really want random travelers from the airport, harbor and/or marina wandering around the university? The students of course have free access to both islands with their student IDs. There could be a K12 boarding school next to the university and that extra layer of security will make the parents happy. Cameras can be mounted on the outside of the B2B center/B2C mall. The external cameras mean that the airport, harbor, marina and university can be observed to some extent with these cameras.
One floor of the building should be dedicated to government services including city hall type functions, customs, the police station and the coast guard. I would suggest a hardened basement for the government services. Typhoons are common in the Pacific Ocean. The basement facility should be strong enough to survive even a super typhoon. The people of the island need leadership no matter how bad the situation.
One lake could have an aquaculture area that farms high value edible Chinese freshwater fish. Another aquaculture area could farm high value edible Latin American freshwater fish used in cooking. Fish of course is also available from the surrounding Pacific Ocean. The university cooking club and the B2C mall restaurants will have an incredible diversity of fish to use for fusion recipes! Fish produce feces! I don’t want to swim in fish feces or drink fish feces. The second lake is used for water sports and drinking water.
The island could have a casino! After all the island is shaped like a lucky eight! The island could even have a five star resort area that allows recreational marijuana usage. The potential revenue could be huge and that revenue could in turn fund the loftier goals of the university. A wall could separate the interesting part of the airport island from the rest of the island.
The university offers dual degrees. You get a bachelors from a Chinese university and a Latin American university. The students become trilingual. These are significant academic advantages that other universities around the world cannot offer. Latin American middle class students will probably be happy with the academic advantages. However, students that come from Latin American elites and have the money to study in Western countries and party would be valuable to China but might find the island “boring”.
If the five star resort had a three day minimum occupancy then Latin American students could go to the resort to “blow off steam” during a three day weekend. Marijuana will remain illegal on the airport island and the university island except for the resort area. Marijuana is only legal at the resort and you have to stay at the resort for at least three days or at least you have to pay for three days at the resort. Chinese students with mainland China passports could be barred from going to the resort or maybe not. Overseas Chinese that have passports from other countries other than China can stay at the resort just like Latin American students. Wealthy Overseas Chinese are another group that could be valuable for the projection of Chinese soft power.
The rise of Frankencracy in the US means the US has given up on its traditional leadership role in the Americas. The unilateral attack of NAFTA by the US means the Americas can no longer trust the US as a reliable long term partner in regional development. The rise of Frankencracy also means the demise of a potential tripolar global order. New political structures need to be created for a prosperous global future. China’s One Belt One Road Initiative will bring prosperity to millions in Asia and Europe. Hopefully this proposal means that Latin American can also benefit from China’s One Belt One Road Initiative.