Port Facilities in Developing Countries Developed under the “One Belt, One Road” Strategy are a Cover for “Chinese Military Bases
Geopolitical Strategy for Building a “Great Nation-State” Concealed in the Name of Infrastructure Support
Article on April 12th, by Shunzo Tsukada
About Shunzo Tsukada (Visiting Professor at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University. After a 16-year career in the Ministry of Transport (now the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism) as a policy officer, he moved to the World Bank, where he served as a task manager for transport projects for 12 years, and then to the Asian Development Bank, where he served as a task manager for large-scale infrastructure projects for 8 years. In April 2008, he moved to Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, where he teaches. He specializes in social infrastructure development utilizing BOT, PPP, PFI, etc., project finance, international economics, development economics, environmental economics, and carbon credit. His degrees include Doctor of Engineering (University of Tokyo), Master of Business Administration (Cornell University), and Bachelor of Liberal Arts (University of Tokyo).
There are two national leaders in the world today who hold exceptionally powerful authority. One is in the West and the other in the East, but what they have in common is that they both have grand dreams. The former pursues the revival of a former empire and the latter the revival of a former people.
However, even though they have similar dreams, their methods of realizing them differ greatly between the two. The first is the “Trojan horse” approach, in which the enemy uses force to force a surrender and will shoot if the enemy does not comply.
The former approach is so violent and naked that it has drawn strong criticism from the world, but the latter, which wears a different cloak, is to infiltrate deeply into the heart of the other country, unnoticed, and when the time comes, reveal its true colors.
Clearly, what is being said here is that the former is the war in Ukraine by Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the latter is the One Belt, One Road initiative being promoted by Chinese President Xi Jinping. The former is not discussed here because it is still ongoing, but the latter has already been discussed in the first part of this article, and based on this, I would like to take the discussion further in this paper.
Geopolitical Risks Posed by One Belt, One Road
The geopolitical implications of “One Belt, One Road” are particularly evident in the field of port development, which is being promoted under the One Belt, One Road initiative. At first glance, the port development projects under the One Belt, One Road initiative may appear to have been developed to meet the needs of developing countries, but in fact, many of them have been selected to meet China’s military needs. These include the ports of Djibouti in the “Horn of Africa,” Gwadar in Pakistan, Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Kyaukpyu in Myanmar, and Koh Kong in Cambodia.
All of these ports are located at “choke points” in international shipping, specifically along the so-called String of Pearls, a sea lane connecting ports in southern China to the tip of Africa. Although these ports are ostensibly commercial ports, they are military-civilian ports that can be converted to naval bases if necessary.
China does not leave the operation of these ports entirely to the port authorities of the other country, but allows Chinese state-owned companies to operate them so that they can be used as military ports whenever necessary.
Specifically, Gwadar Port is operated by China Overseas Port Holdings (COPH) under a 40-year lease agreement with the port authority, and for Hambantota Port, COPH owns 70% of the port and has a 99-year lease agreement with the port authority. In the case of Caukpyu Port, CITIC owns 70% of the port and has a 50-year lease agreement with the port authority, and in the case of Koh Kong Port, UDG, which was established with investment from Chinese companies, owns 70% of the port and has a 99-year lease agreement with the port authority. When it comes to the Port of Djibouti, it was established under a security and defense treaty with China, is owned by the Chinese military, and is operated by the Chinese Navy.
Now that this has been completed, China’s next target is the Pacific Islands region, where the Second and Third Island Lines, which are the most advanced strategic defense lines against the U.S., are located.
Ports that China is building in developing countries, specifications beyond what is required for civilian use.
China is already building huge ports and airports in Vanuatu and Solomon, far beyond what these small countries need. For example, Vanuatu’s Luganville Port, built by the Shanghai Construction Group in 2017, has a wharf that is large enough to berth several large cargo ships at once (360 meters long and 25 meters deep), and its strength has been greatly enhanced to withstand the loading and unloading of heavy military equipment.
In Samoa, located on the third island chain, China considered it necessary to construct a large wharf of the same scale (300 m in length and 15 m in depth) and presented a construction proposal to the Samoan government, which once concluded a contract. In Papua New Guinea (PNG), located on the second island chain, the PNG government was considering renovating its aging Long Lam base (transferred from Australia to PNG in 1974), and in 2018, the Chinese quickly offered to do so, but Australia, alarmed by this, immediately In 2021, the Australian government awarded a contract to an Australian company to renovate the base.
The scale of these ports (both those on the String of Pearls and those in the Pacific Islands region) after renovation far exceeds the scale required for civilian use, and it is clear that they were intended from the start to be used as military bases. However, if one were to ask the Chinese about the purpose of these ports, the Chinese would surely respond that they are “purely for economic purposes, with no military intentions whatsoever.
In this day and age, no one in the know will believe the official statements of the authorities (especially those of a powerful nation) as they are, but in fact, this “dual use” approach has been the underlying philosophy of Chinese strategy since the “Sun Tzu’s Art of War,” and is not a stopgap measure. It is not a stopgap measure.
This “dual use” tactic has been clearly positioned legally, and the 2010 National Defense Modernization Law clarified it as “military-civilian integration”. The 2010 National Defense Modernization Act clarified the concept that peacetime operations should be closely linked to wartime operations.
This idea was followed in the military reform guidelines issued in 2015 and expressed as “military-civilian integration,” and in recent years, under the Xi Jinping administration, the expression has changed to “military-civilian fusion,” but the basic idea is the same.
In addition, the Defense Transportation Act of 2016 took this idea one step further, stating that all transportation facilities (even if they were built by the private sector) must be built to military facility standards so that they can be converted directly to military use when needed, and that in an emergency these In case of emergency, these facilities must be subject to military requisition.
Logistics bases in the hinterland of ports
Needless to say, military facilities are not sufficient by themselves; they can only continue to function with logistical support from the rear (logistics).
As soon as the port facilities at Gwadar, Hambantota, Koh Kong, and other ports were developed, the Chinese side proposed the development of port-parc-cities and industrial parks in the hinterlands. Developing countries often respond positively to these developments because they are beneficial for regional development, but the true aim of the Chinese side is to build supply bases for military bases on the waterfront.
Thus, ports and their surrounding facilities built under the “One Belt, One Road” initiative may at first glance appear to be civilian facilities, but in an emergency they can be converted to military use, a typical example of dual use.
To digress slightly from the main topic here, it is not only developing countries but also China’s neighbors that must be wary of China’s advances based on the dual-use approach described above. At the core of China’s tactics is the idea of “civil first, military later,” in which China advocates peaceful purposes while gradually infiltrating the other country and rising up when it has already become a reality.
In recent decades, Chinese and South Korean companies have been acquiring real estate in various parts of our country, and while many of these acquisitions are based on speculative and commercial purposes, some of them clearly threaten our national security.
For example, in 2014, a Chinese company acquired a vast 7.9 hectares of real estate on adjacent land only 3 kilometers from the Chitose Air Base of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force, but the base was unaware of such an acquisition. Similar land acquisitions have also been made by South Korean companies in Tsushima.
Such land acquisitions that could be problematic for national security should clearly be regulated, but in Japan, real estate acquisitions by foreigners have been unregulated and left unchecked (in consideration of the provision in the GATS service clause that states there shall be no difference in the treatment of foreigners and their home country nationals). Last June, however, the Critical Land Use Regulation Law was finally enacted, making it possible to regulate land use in the vicinity of areas of national security importance, such as Self Defense Forces bases.
However, the content of the regulation was significantly watered down due to the “usual” democratic criticism that it would lead to excessive restrictions on private rights (e.g., the regulation only applies to land within 1 km of important facilities such as Self Defense Forces bases, etc.). (For example, the regulation only applies to land within one kilometer of important facilities such as Self-Defense Forces bases, and it is feared that a buffer of only one kilometer is too small to be of any defensive significance.)
In any case, it goes without saying that in the 21st century, unlike the 20th century, all policies should be formulated taking into consideration not only economic factors but also geopolitical factors.
Chinese Penetration into Developing Countries’ Cyberspace
In the above, we have discussed the geopolitical risks posed by the dual use system of ports, but what the Western countries are more concerned about is China’s penetration into the cyberspace of developing countries.
As mentioned in the previous section, under the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, China will further strengthen the diffusion of information and communication technologies to developing countries, and these technologies naturally include the introduction of 5G communication standards, the installation of surveillance cameras, and the transfer of facial recognition systems. If these technologies are introduced in conjunction with the construction of smart cities and the establishment of “border economic and trade cooperation zones,” they will contribute to the enhancement of social management capabilities in urban spaces.
The concern here is that the introduction of such technologies is particularly needed by powerful states that are seeking to strengthen their surveillance of their citizens, and the transfer of these technologies to these countries could enable their transition to a controlled society, leading to a squeeze on the lives of their citizens and posing a serious threat to the liberal system. In addition, the strengthening of Chinese networks, as described in the first part of this report, functions as a nucleus for local intelligence gathering and is effective in constricting the lives of citizens, and such activities can actually be seen in major cities around the world.
President Xi Jinping is a pragmatic national leader, but he also has grand dreams, as mentioned above. At a ceremony held last July to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC), he said that China had suffered a long history of humiliation since the Opium War, but now, a century and a half later, it has finally risen from that humiliation to become the second largest country in the world after the United States. China’s remaining dream is the “restoration of a great nation-state,” and by 2050, China will realize this dream, surpassing the United States and rising to the top of the world.
China has learned from its long history that national and global domination cannot be achieved without the support of military power, and President Xi Jinping stated at the above-mentioned 100th anniversary ceremony that “the construction of a great nation-state cannot be realized without a strong military force. 3 The reason why One Belt, One Road has been given such an important place in the Party’s strategy is that it will contribute to the realization of this dream not only from an economic perspective, but also from a military one.
President Xi’s grand dream is backed by a clear historical perspective. He believes that there are two democracies in the world: the democracy promoted by the United States and the democracy promoted by China.
The former is an electoral-based system that is unpredictable, inconsistent in its policies, inefficient, and sometimes produces outrageous presidents and leaders.
In contrast, Chinese democracy is driven by the leadership of the Communist Party, is consistent, efficient, and more directly reflects the fundamental interests of the people. Comparing the two, it is clear that Chinese-style democracy is the better system and will eventually become a world trend. If the 20th century was a Pax Americana based on American-style democracy, this century will be based on a Pax-Sino (peace through China) based on Chinese-style democracy.
There is, however, one serious leap of logic in this theory. It does not question the merits of communist one-party dictatorship, in which the Communist Party is considered a priori righteous.
Although communism is an economic system that was born with the goal of fair distribution of wealth, its greatest irony is that once the organization to implement it, the Communist Party, is established, the survival of the Party takes precedence over everything else, individual rights become secondary or tertiary, and sometimes deprivation of individual freedom is even considered a right. If this is the case, then communist-led democracy is an extremely dangerous system of governance that threatens the freedom and dignity of the individual.
The world today is divided into two camps: “linear (and therefore efficient) democracy that pursues the survival of the organization and its glory” and “democracy that pursues individual rights and freedoms but has to follow a zigzagging path. The battle in Ukraine is a courageous attempt by the Ukrainian people to stand up against Russia, which advocates the former, and demand freedom and true democracy.