A powerhouse of global trade, China has more shipping ports at home than any other country. The original investment added 100 more ports in at least 600 countries. And Beijing is looking for more.
Earlier this month, the Israeli port of Haifa, one of the largest maritime transport hubs in the Mediterranean, was handed over to the Chinese state Shanghai International Ports Group to operate for the next 25 years.
Another huge Chinese shipping company, Cosco Shipping, is ready to expand its footprint in Europe by taking a stake in the port of Hamburg. Negotiations are reportedly going well and an agreement is expected soon.
If Cosco succeeds, it will be the company’s eighth port investment in Europe.
The previous investment of the state-owned company was the acquisition of the port of Piraeus in Greece, one of the world’s most important shipping centers located at the junction of Europe, Asia and Africa. COSCO bought 51% of the port management company in 2016. With the approval of the Greek court last month, COSCO can now increase its stake in Piraeus to 67%.
The Chinese government does not have an official platform to summarize the overall data on China’s overseas port projects, but publicly available data show that Beijing now has a foothold in at least 100 ports in 63 countries.
As of June this year, the group has operated and operated 357 terminals in 36 ports around the world, according to data published on the Cosco official website. Its portfolio extends from Southeast Asia to the Middle East, Europe and the Mediterranean.
Also, China Merchants Group, another major port developer and operator in China, said on its website that the company completed equity acquisitions last year in eight high-quality ports in Europe, the Middle East and the Caribbean alone, expanding the group’s global port layout to 2 ports, 68 ports. ”
In a recent opinion piece published by the Daily Mail, former British Secretary of Defense and International Trade Liam Fox and former US National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane noted that China now owns 96 ports worldwide. Some of this is at the heart of maritime trade, “strategic domination of Beijing without the deployment of single troops, ships or weapons.”
In 2013, China surpassed the United States for the first time to become the world’s largest trading nation. That same year, Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed a strategic framework for the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (MSR) – part of the Wide Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
MSR’s specific trade routes connect China with Southeast Asia, Africa, and even Europe by sea. Chinese companies now own all major ports along the route.
Dr Sam Sam Bitson of King’s College London said it was understandable for China to be involved in the deal because China was continuing to supply at a steady growth rate. “China’s port, shipping and maritime trade industry is partly strategic because of its huge size and global role, it employs a large number of people and its role as a national industry that has supported the growth of many of China’s largest coastal cities,” he told VOA.
The most great country
A century ago, Captain Alfred Thayer the Great, one of the most influential American writers of his time, designated the seaport as one of the three pillars of sea power. His writings argued that Britain’s control of the sea was critical of its emergence as an influential global power. This attitude greatly influenced American policymakers.
“China has bought Mahanian construction wholesale since the Cold War,” Jesse Wiley of Maritime Strategy at the U.S. Naval War College told Chair Voice. “It’s safe to say that he is more popular in China today than in any other country in the world.”
In recent years, Chinese state media reports show that since 201, Chinese President Xi Jinping has visited a port almost every year, including the Pirius port in 2019, where China’s MSR and BRI connectivity and a project for which Xi personally came forward. The official Xinhua News Agency reported that more than once with Greek leaders.
According to Chinese experts, the establishment of seaports, including the establishment of seaports in geo-strategically important countries, is at the heart of Beijing’s global strategy. “These port connections allow Beijing to exert political influence not only in the port’s housing country, but in many cases in neighboring countries as well,” Craig Singleton, a Chinese expert at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, told VOA.
Holmes, a former U.S. Navy officer, noted that prosperity is a top priority for any government. And Beijing’s port investment means it could hold a large part of a country’s prosperity hostage, forcing its leadership to take a political stance agreed with the Chinese Communist Party. “Thus, seaports are an important contributor to China’s falling prices for commercial, diplomatic and military influence.”
Bitson of King’s College, who is a lecturer on China-related business and finance, noted that of all the agreements, “neither the government nor the countries want them to block control of their ports by Chinese companies – I highlighted this in 2017. It is time to highlight the role of the China Merchant Group in owning the port of Houston and Miami through the joint venture of Terminal Link. “
Since commercial ports could be used for military purposes, analysts have long been concerned about the security implications of the port controlled by Beijing.
China’s first foreign military base was established at the port of Djibouti, at the entrance to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. “China’s militarization of its port project in Djibouti serves as a warning to Beijing’s port interests in other countries, such as Tanzania, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan and Burma,” Singelton said.
A complex issue between the United States and Israel in recent years has been the occupation of the Chinese port of Haifa, where the Sixth Fleet of the U.S. Navy docks. Washington feared the port would allow Chinese surveillance.
Former Israeli intelligence officer Dr. Yale Pinko noted that the port could easily be used to collect naval intelligence. “You can track the location of ships and communications. Once you own and manage a port site, these are very easy to do. You can do whatever you want. You are the landlord there, ”he told VOA in a telephone interview.