Opinion

China’s Ocean Ambitions Know No Limit

By Ernest Istook
July 21, 2020 at 5:00 am ET

While the mass media focuses on President Donald Trump’s tweets, they should pay more attention to China’s fleets, both military and commercial. Both are growing faster than any other country’s. Now, some people would let Chinese ships extend their international domination by handling America’s internal transportation as well.

They should heed the alarm bells that are ringing. The latest is from the Center for Strategic & International Studies, a renowned bipartisan think tank. CSIS just issued a report on the rise of China’s shipping industry, aided by massive government subsidies, routing billions through military and business accounts (which in China are intertwined).

“Chinese companies are increasingly dominant across the entire global maritime supply chain,” the CSIS study begins, “controlling the world’s second-largest shipping fleet by gross tons and constructing over a third of the world’s vessels in 2019.

The report states that Chinese companies ]also produce 96 percent of the world’s shipping containers,  own seven of the 10 busiest ports in the world, driven by focused state support. The authors say China has made state-owned China Merchant Group the largest port and logistics company in the world and the world’s third largest shipping firm.

China is not content merely to control its own coasts. The Wall Street Journal reports the U.S. State Department is poised to issue a formal condemnation of China’s aggressive military efforts to control the entire South China Sea. The Financial Times commissioned a multinational study that catalogs how “Chinese investments in foreign ports is speeding up,” listing scores of global ports where China has bought control in recent years, spending tens of billions to do so.

These purchases include every continent except Antarctica, facilities at both ends of the Panama and Suez Canals, and they are potential footholds for the military as well as used to dominate trade. One example is Djibouti, on the horn of Africa, where almost $10 billion bought a place where China now has 10,000 military stationed, in addition to port facilities.

Even the ancient Greek port of Piraeus is now majority-Chinese controlled. Piraeus is the port which Athens built to dominate the entire Mediterranean, prompting their leader Themistocles to proclaim, “He who controls the sea controls everything.”

It may not be a full 100 percent, but 90 percent of world trade does go by sea. That explains the headline that Forbes placed on its analytical article: “China’s Seaport Shopping Spree: What China Is Winning By Buying Up The World’s Ports.”

Despite COVID-19, China’s plans are unimpeded since President Xi Jinping in 2013 announced the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI, also known as “One Belt, One Road” or “String of Pearls), which now reaches into 138 countries.

The lone setback came last year when President Trump forced China to divest one of those pearls, its $1.9 billion share in the major terminal at Long Beach, Calif.

Yet others would allow China to dominate internal U.S. trade like it bigfoots ocean trade. Currently the United States blocks this through our 100-year-old Jones Act, which protects our national security interest. Simply put, the Jones Act requires domestic water-borne shipping (between any two points in the United States) must use vessels that are American-built, American-owned and American-crewed. Similarly, we have other laws that limit foreign trucks and aircraft from serving within our domestic market.

So why would anyone want to repeal the Jones Act? Advocates claim it will save money if we turn the work over to foreign interests that can undercut American companies, thanks to the subsidies, lower regulations and lower wages, and not to mention the slave labor and human rights violations for which China’s Communist leadership is well-known.

They should read the warning, sounded also by a Frontiers of Freedom white paper: “China cannot expand into the domestic trade waters of the United States, because the Jones Act prohibits it.” It’s not about the money; it’s about our national security, which exists to protect America’s values.

Former Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.) practices law, teaches political science and is a distinguished fellow with Frontiers of Freedom.

Morning Consult welcomes op-ed submissions on policy, politics and business strategy in our coverage areas. Updated submission guidelines can be found here.

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!