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Global reach: China's Commercial-Military Empire

Written by André Ken Jakobsson, Ph.D. Candidate at Center for War Studie

International institutions that focus on advancing commercial interests is being placed center stage by great and small powers alike in the ongoing competition of global influence. Wednesday the Philippines announced their strongest yet declaration of wanting to join the US led 12 member Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that currently counts Asian powers such as Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam as well as Australia and New Zealand but not China. While the Chinese are also engaging in institutionalized efforts of economic cooperation through for example participation in 10+3 ASEAN meetings and collaboration with the Russian led Eurasian Economic Union, China is busy constructing an immense global network of bilateral connections and investing in countries all over the world in order to build opportunities for economic growth and political allegiance.

The website Defense One has an elaborate piece on China's global economic reach that maps out the "outsized latticework of global infrastructure that is said to be rooted in a fierce competitiveness learned from 19th-century America." China has the grand strategic vision of a modern day Silk Road which is captured by the formulation of Chinese president Xi's "One Belt, One Road" vision that will allow a land-and-sea based East-West trading route that China is carving out via enormous infrastructure investments. The impressive endeavor counts investments even in a railway project that runs through the Amazon rainforest in Brazil and ends in Peru - both places of course with sea access. And in line with global aspirations China identifies itself as a near-Arctic state with legitimate Arctic interests.

One example of linking the commercial with the military, is China investing in the Arabian Sea port at Gwadur in Pakistan in order to secure delivery of oil and natural resources that normally travels through the Malacca Strait but that line could potentially be cut off if hostilities with the US ensues. Another example (while not unheard of in world history) is the Chinese government recently approved a plan to ensure that civilian ships can be used in support of China's maritime forces if needed.

This very well-researched analysis at Defense One rounds off with a classical realist insight - namely that history has a way of repeating itself: "Some of the infrastructure China is creating around the world will align with Western economic interests. But to the extent that it does, that will be inadvertent. Some of the most modern transportation infrastructure going up not only in China, but around the developing world, is deliberately linked to China. It is meant to make the global economy a friendly place for Chinese commerce. That does not make China’s ambitions necessarily menacing or pernicious. But it does make them China-centric. It’s worth remembering that this way of doing economic development is not a Chinese invention. As Michael Pillsbury, author of “The Hundred Year Marathon,” tells Quartz, China’s ambitions are rooted in “a fierce sense of competitiveness which they claim they learned from the America of the 1800s.”"

Read the full analysis and enjoy the information rich graphics here.