China’s rush to dominate world trade isn’t just about money; their goal is to also use that dominance for military advantage. Yet as it becomes clearer and clearer that China is taking control over the ability to ship goods around the globe, some in Washington are inexplicably pushing unilateral disarmament in this trade “Cold War.” Officials at the highest levels of American government and academia have started sounding the alarm and our policymakers should take heed.
In a recent report to Congress, the Department of Defense outlined how China is “leveraging civilian service and logistics capabilities for military purposes” and “uses commercial infrastructure to support all of its military operations abroad.” They further warn that China has enlisted 125 countries to sign up as partners in China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative to build transportation infrastructure, especially port facilities on every continent except Antarctica.
A just-released report by the U.S. Navy League meanwhile, cautions that ” Ninety percent of the world’s global trade travels by ship, and nearly two-thirds of global container traffic moves through Chinese-owned or invested ports.” The League also predicts that China could expand its reach into America’s domestic trade if “free-trade purists” succeeded in repealing the Jones Act, which requires internal maritime trade to use vessels that are U.S.-built, owned, and crewed.
By way of background, China offers “savings” to American shippers because its Communist government heavily subsidizes the costs and uses its military to assist its state-sponsored enterprises. As a just-issued White House report states, “Communist China, in particular, provides extreme subsidies precisely because shipbuilding is critical to national security – the sector is an integral part of the Chinese Communist Party’s ‘Made in China 2025’ strategic plan to dominate the global economy.”
Another fresh study, by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, describes how Chinese companies function as “the maritime supply arm of the People’s Liberation Army” and have built “the largest port and logistics company in the world.” This includes producing 96% of the world’s shipping containers and building over a third of the ocean-going cargo ships.
The more that China controls the means of trade, the greater their ability to restrict or deny the flow of goods to and from the United States, its allies and trade partners. We not only depend too much on China to supply and manufacture certain raw materials and goods; we also depend on them for the ability to deliver them.
Multiple billions of dollars have bought the Communist regime control of major ports that dominate trade routes and near chokepoints like the Suez and Panama Canals, as they continue their “seaport shopping spree,” as Forbes described it. One of this year’s transactions is typical: for a billion dollars, French owners sold China half-interest in 15 ports in Europe, India, Singapore, Jamaica, Iraq and Vietnam.
Similar transactions have netted the Chinese control or footholds in ports that include Darwin, Australia, Rotterdam, Athens, Djibouti on the horn of Africa, on the Arabian Sea, and in Brazil. A dozen others in Europe have also entered their sphere of influence.
The lone setback was when the Trump administration forced the Chinese to divest themselves of a major terminal at the Port of Long Beach, California, which they had acquired during the Obama years.
Conservatives have realized how Big Tech giants can control the flow of news and information; they likewise should take note of China’s control of the flow of trade. We certainly should not place ourselves more at China’s mercy as a Jones Act repeal would do.
China’s dominance of trade logistics should be recognized as a national security issue; we need to strengthen our own merchant fleet. As dramatized in the recent movie, “Greyhound,”we also need our civilian merchant marine vessels for the surge capability they can provide for America’s armed forces. The U.S. Navy may still be the mightiest in the world, but we would be more secure if our civilian fleet were also world-class.
Former Congressman Ernest Istook is a distinguished fellow at Frontiers of Freedom, which offers his white paper on this topic online for free.