Chinese Military Bases Through The Belt and Road Initiative
China's Belt and Road Initiative (also known as "One Belt, One Road") is an ambitious international network including a "belt" of overland corridors, including railways and oil and gas pipelines, and a maritime "road" of shipping lanes.
The Belt and Road initiative includes 71 countries in Asia, Africa and Europe, accounting for half the world's population and a quarter of global GDP. The total value of projects in the scheme is $3.67 trillion and China has reportedly invested $200-300 billion between 2013 and 2018 with overseas loans of over $90 billion as of April 2019.
However, while China claims that the initiative is a win-win economic development project aiming to improve international relations and build up developing countries, many see it as something quite different. China's Belt and Road Initiative has been called a Chinese Marshall Plan, a state-backed campaign for global dominance, a stimulus package for a slowing economy and a massive marketing campaign for something that was already happening.
Many of the ports involved in the Belt and Road Initiative are dual-use commercial and military bases. These military bases through the Belt and Road Initiative fuel the notion that the initiative is about more than just economic development and international relations.
Concerns Over China's Military and Economic Influence
Despite China's huge investment in the initiative, the construction contracts awarded to Chinese firms add up to more than $340 billion, far exceeding its investments. The benefits China gains from the initiative coupled with the negative impacts on a lot of partner countries lead some to believe that the Belt and Road Initiative is really about gaining political influence and control over these countries.
For example, Djibouti, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, the Maldives, Mongolia, Montenegro, Pakistan and Tajikistan will owe more than half of all their foreign debt to China. There are concerns over the use of "debt-trap diplomacy" to gain strategic advantages such as in territorial disputes in the South China Sea or even on human rights violations. In 2011, China wrote off an undisclosed debt owed by Tajikistan in exchange for 1,158 sq km (447 sq miles) of disputed territory.
Military Bases Along the Belt and Road
There are many concerns over China's increased commercial influence translating to an expansion of military influence. Analysts say that almost all the ports through the Belt and Road Initiative can be dual-use for commercial and military purposes. At the scale that the Belt and Road Initiative imposes, this would give China huge military influence in the east. In 2017, China established its first overseas military base in Djibouti and Sri Lanka signed a 99-year lease agreement selling its port of Hambantota to a Chinese state-owned country, after struggling to pay its $1.5 billion debt, that many worry will become another military base through the Belt and Road Initiative.
The biggest concern for many involves one of the largest projects in the Belt and Road Initiative in the Pakistani port of Gwadar. Many believe that this port will be controlled by the Chinese Navy making it potentially a very significant military base through the Belt and Road Initiative. China has reportedly not asked for military access to Pakistan's port of Gwadar suggesting claims of growing one belt one road Chinese military power are false. However, Chinese Defence Minister announced that China was "ready to provide security guarantees" for projects involved in the initiative which indicates a willingness to impose military power through the Belt and Road Initiative.
China, Its Military and the Belt and Road Initiative
The notion that China's Belt and Road Initiative is merely about mutual economic development and building international relationships and is really a hidden plot to gain political and military dominance over half of the world is a very negative perspective of a potentially highly beneficial international project. However, while claims that China's Belt and Road Initiative aims to catch developing countries in debt-traps and expand military presence are largely speculative, the huge scale of the project and leverage China will have over multiple countries poses a very significant concern for the future.