Friday, 30 September 2011


Does China's global port expansion pose a threat to US national security, especially when it concerns ports so close to the US borders such as Bahamas and Panama, or is China merely acting as a world commercial power without much choice but to secure ports around the world for transport purposes? Container shipping is the way mass transoceanic transport is carried out and the Chinese are the largest transporters of container shipping business. If they have commercial control of global ports, however, what is to prevent them from reverting them to strategic uses at some point in the future, and what would that mean for the world balance of power?

From Brazil and Bahamas, from Greece and Pakistan, China has been securing some of the world's most strategic -  commercially and militarily - world ports and laying the groundwork for global shipping preeminence in the 21st century without much of a challenge from any country. Is China merely paving the way to dominate the world's markets through ports, or is it also interested in using the ports for strategic reasons if/when necessary as some Western hawkish analysts believe? Even if China were to use commerical ports for strategic purposes far in the future, does that mean that it will be furthering or undercutting its commercial goals?

One of the lures that China uses is that it offers credit to shipping companies interested in building vessels in China, but in turn China usually demands port concessions. Setting itself up as the world's largest exporter for the 21st century, China sees that it has a stake in controlling aspects of the transport infrastructure in key countries of every continent. Through the China Development Bank, Chinese interests have permeated global markets from Europe to Latin America, from Asia to Africa.

The US and EU have been concerned about China's rapid port expansion around the world, but both US and EU are willing to tolerate a lot more in autumn 2011 than they were in autumn 2010, owing to the looming public debt crisis in which China can play a positive role buying bonds. Because China has been largely conforming to international commercial, financial and monetary rules, it is very difficult for those concerned about China's immense and sudden rise in the world economy to complain, except to warn about geopolitical consequences that commercial power will have in the future. Many critics argue that China has been 'aggressively' securing ports around the world, language not used when the Europeans and US were engaged in the exact same conduct during the Age of Imperialism and Cold War.

One major concern on the part of the US and the EU is energy and China's share of energy resources. As a potential player in Pakistan and there have been pressures on China to make a decision, for or against Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline. If China invests in the project, TAPI would be completed. However, the US has promised the Pakistanis to help with foreign financing for solar and wind energy, pipe dream that would sink Pakistan deeper into Western dependence.

China has invested $200 million to build Pakistan's port of Gwadar and if the takeover is completed it will signal a new balance of power in Pakistan, something that the US does not want. Beijing has been under pressure not to proceed with the project, but interestingly it is the Pakistanis who want China on thier soil as a counterweight to US and India.

The US has warned China about inordinate influence in Pakistan and about China's close commercial and financial ties to Iran at a time that the US is trying to isolate Iran from the world community. At this juncture the US would not use a possible Iran-Pakistan 'nuclear axis' as a pretext for military adventures, because Russia and China offer a sufficient deterrent and historic claims to having a voice to determine the regional balance of power. Who watches China as it is unquestionably on its way to global commercial dominance? The other great powers of course as they have a stake in making sure that China's growing power is checked.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

China's global port expansion is to America as Hitler's base structures along Russia's borders was to the Soviet Union just prior to Operation Barbarossa.

Oh no, Hitler reportedly said: we are just trying to deceive the Brits.