Emerging Scholars Policy Prize, China China's Port Power: The Maritime Network Sustaining Beijing's Global Military Reach
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May 23, 2023
Isaac Kardon and Wendy Leutert
One of the winning entries in the Perry World House-Foreign Affairs 2022 Emerging Scholars Policy Prize has been published in Foreign Affairs. This piece by Isaac Kardon, Senior Fellow for China Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Wendy Leutert, Assistant Professor at the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies at Indiana University, looks at China's ports and their economic position.
Over the past several years, U.S. national security officials have been intensely focused on China’s growing military power. Having not faced such a powerful challenger since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Washington now describes Beijing, as the U.S. Annual Threat Assessment put it in February, as a “near-peer competitor.” For the U.S. military, China has also become the “pacing challenge”, the benchmark for just how fast and how far it must adjust to provide effective defense in a more competitive international system.
Yet U.S. defense strategy appears poorly calibrated to the central challenges that China poses. The breakneck modernization of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), showcased in its impressive blue-water navy and increasingly lethal rocket forces, obscures another, equally important foundation of China’s global power projection: its economic position. Not only is China the largest trading partner of many countries, it also now provides much of the critical infrastructure that enables international trade. This controlling influence is especially pronounced in maritime transportation, in which Chinese firms with close links to Beijing have become leaders in financing, designing, building, operating, and owning port terminals across the globe.