“China has been developing a strategy to take control of seaports across the globe in alignment with its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to achieve its geopolitical aims and acquire dominance in international shipping and global business”.
Experts believe that establishing ports in geo-strategically important countries, including those that are located near maritime chokepoints, is central to Beijing’s global strategy, the International Forum for Rights and Security stated.
“These port linkages allow Beijing to exert political influence not only in the country hosting the port but in surrounding countries as well,” Craig Singleton, a China expert at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, told VOA. Growing Chinese investment in the maritime shipping industry, both domestically and abroad, should be a major source of concern for geopolitical rivals such as the US, Europe and India.
Presently, China is home to seven of the 10 busiest ports in the world.
According to IFRAS, China has become the leading manufacturer of shipping equipment as well, producing 96 per cent of the world’s shipping containers and 80 per cent of the world’s ship-to-shore cranes and bagged 48 per cent of the world’s shipbuilding orders in 2020.
The country also boasts of world’s second-largest fleet of commercial shipping vessels and, if the US Naval Intelligence is to be believed, China has surpassed the US in terms of total battle-force ships.
As a matter of fact, Beijing either controls or has major investments in all 15 of the world’s top 15 ports by container volume. Apart from this massive domestic shipping infrastructure, China has control over 100 ports spread across 63 countries and is looking for more.
Radio Free Asia has reported that China is building a new military base at Bata on the West Coast of Africa in the Atlantic Ocean in Equatorial Guinea (EQG). The US is concerned over this development as the Chinese military presence is opposite the east coast of America.
According to the World Bank, EQG is “well endowed with arable land and mineral/hydro-carbon resources ranging from timber oil, gold, uranium, diamond, bauxite and columbite-tantalite.”
In another recent opinion piece published by the Daily Mail, the experts pointed out that, of the 96 ports owned by Chinese companies around the world, several are at key locations for maritime trade, “giving Beijing strategic dominance without having to deploy a single soldier, ship or weapons.”
It is estimated that China now controls almost one-tenth of port capacity in Europe and the Mediterranean.
The “Big Three” terminals operators, China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO), China Merchants Group (CMG), and CK Hutchison Holdings are the key stakeholders in overseas ports with over 80 per cent of ports under their control. The first two are state-owned enterprises, while CK Hutchison is a private company based in Hong Kong with close ties to mainland China.
Notably, China’s Maritime Silk Road and BRI converge at the Greek Port and President Xi had personally pushed for the port with Greek leadership.
Another Chinese shipping company, COSCO is poised to expand its footprint in Europe by taking a stake in the port of Hamburg which, if the ongoing negotiations succeed, would be its eighth port investment in Europe.
Citing Radio Free Asia, India-Pacific Defence Forum reported that for years the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been funding the expansion of the maritime vessels to assert its claims in the South China Sea.