- The US military is increasingly concerned about China’s presence near major maritime chokepoints.
- Much of the world’s commercial traffic uses those waterways, and they also have strategic military value.
US military leaders are increasingly wary of Chinese activity near the maritime chokepoints through which much of the world’s commercial and military traffic passes.
The latest warnings come from the general in charge of US Southern Command and the general nominated to lead US Africa Command and echo those of other US officials who worry that China’s presence around those strategically important waterways could be used to gather information of economic and military value or to interfere with seaborne traffic.
“I was just in Panama about a month ago and flying along the Panama Canal and looking at all the state-owned enterprises from the PRC on each side,” US Army Gen. Laura Richardson, head of US Southern Command, said at the Aspen Security Conference on July 20, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
“They look like civilian companies or state-owned enterprises that could be used for dual use and could be quickly changed over to a military capability,” Richardson added.
Richardson’s predecessor often warned of China’s involvement in the region’s infrastructure, particularly its ports. Richardson continues to sound that alarm, calling Chinese activity around the canal one of her “greatest” strategic concerns.
While China doesn’t have a military presence in Latin America, the comments by US military commanders reflect concerns that China’s projects could be used to monitor activity in the canal and elsewhere around and above the region, gathering information that could have security implications.
China is pursuing the “largest military buildup in history,” Richardson said, “so one should ask themselves why, when they have this very capable military, are they putting [in] and trying to gain access to critical infrastructure in other countries across the planet?”
China’s first and so far only overseas military base is near another important maritime chokepoint: the Bab al-Mandab Strait, which connects the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea and Suez Canal.