Four years ago while vacationing in the Central American nation of Belize I noticed that the preponderance of grocery stores in the coastal and interior towns I visited were operated by Chinese immigrants. How come?
Few of the adults appeared to speak any Spanish or English, Belize's two most important languages, indicating to me that they were recent immigrants. Their children, it seemed, handled all their business translation needs, a not uncommon occurrence among first-generation immigrants everywhere.
I concluded that Belize, a small, seemingly unimportant geopolitical player with a polyglot population and limited infrastructure, had become another object of Chinese government economic imperialism meant to gain influence and create financially dependent allies across the developing world.
China, as one New York Times writer put it, engages big time in "buying loyalty." It does so by showering needy governments with loans and investments and sending its people to establish economically Important footholds.
I may be reaching here, but my gut tells me that, given China's miserable human rights record -- and in particular its treatment of religious movements -- that Beijing's ever-spreading tentacles is an issue to which American religious groups should be paying more attention.
Yes, that means that this is also a topic to which religion-beat journalists should be paying more attention.