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Is China Seeking Global Port Dominance?

Though in recent years its growth has faltered and investment in its flagship infrastructure program, the Belt and Road Initiative, has slowed, “China has already secured a significant stake in a network of global ports that are central to world trade and freedom of navigation,” The Washington Post (subscription) reports.

What’s going on: When Chinese President Xi Jinping announced his plan for the Maritime Silk Road—the oceanic part of his trade-focused Belt and Road Initiative—“China had stakes in 44 ports globally … A decade later, China owns or operates ports and terminals at nearly 100 locations in over 50 countries, spanning every ocean and every continent. Many are located along some of the world’s most strategic waterways.”

Why it’s important: Though the project—which has been funded primarily by Chinese government–owned entities—purports “to enhance and streamline China’s access to worldwide markets,” experts say there seems to be a strategic reason for the ports Beijing is targeting.

  • “China is now the world’s premier commercial maritime power,” and the growing port network “give[s] Beijing a window into the business dealings of competitors and could be used to help China defend its supply routes, spy on U.S. military movements and potentially engage U.S. shipping, according to analysts.”

What’s being done: However, the U.S. and its allies are working to provide alternatives, according to Voice of America.

  • In the past few months, the Biden administration “has increased the amount of U.S. public and private funds for a multilateral program to build infrastructure in developing nations, surpassing the $30 billion figure that it announced in May.”
  • The Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, a Group of Seven initiative, aims to narrow the infrastructure gap in low- and middle-income countries, pledging to raise $400 billion by 2027.
  • “Observers have said its unspoken second objective is to offer higher-quality infrastructure projects to developing nations than those offered by China’s BRI.”
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