Infrastructure Imperialism and Extraction: Capital Goods, Currency Reform, and Development Politics before the First World War

On April 27, 1911 a consortium of German engineering firms attended a secret meeting in Berlin hosted by the Interior Ministry. Encompassing the entire swath of capital goods industries, they included representatives from associations of machine-tool builders and foundries, motor-factories and ironworks, agricultural machinery makers and steel industries, steam-engine and sewing-machine works. Alongside the densely networked trade organizations and the professional association of German engineers, top capital goods firms such as Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg , Allgemeine Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft, Borsig, Gutehoffnungshütte, Gasmotoren-Fabrik Deutz, and Henschel sent delegates. The organized machinery manufacturers requested that Imperial German diplomats report on the state of demand for their products in Egypt, Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Finland, Japan, British India, Canada, Mexico, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Spain, and Turkey. Their survey detailed a slew of potential industrial applications and asked in rapid succession, “Which countries are currently fulfilling this demand? What types of firms are the customers? How can one succeed in the place? A good agent? Catalogues? Where are the major and minor workshops of the railroads? What are the tariff rates?” Beginning with the German colonial leasehold in Qingdao and the coal country of northeastern China, this paper focuses on the articulation of logics linking currency reform, trade expansion, and infrastructure-building--via debt, and economic reforms to bolster fiscal capacity while undermining sovereignty. These logics became practice among financial syndicates in concert with capital goods firms with expertise for constructing railways, bridges, dams and earthworks to refashion the economies of regions. Although historians have discovered the afterlife of “Dollar Diplomacy” and imperial financial dealings in the Japanese project to simultaneously develop and exploit Manchuria as “Manchukuo,” this paper traces out the legacies of the multipower “Reorganization Loan” to China beyond East Asia to metrics of development and later multilateral investment in infrastructure-building projects.