By Umar Farooq
The U.S. is growing concerned over China's moves to expand its influence worldwide through both military and economic means.
In a report published Monday, the Pentagon said China is working towards outnumbering the U.S. military presence in the Indo-Pacific and replacing it as the foremost power in that region.
"The Department is concerned by actions China’s government has taken that are out of step with international norms, diminish countries’ sovereignty, or undermine the security of the United States, our allies, or our partners," the Pentagon said.
China currently has a military base in Djibouti and is expected to open more in other countries, allowing them to "sustain operations abroad and hold strategic economic corridors at risk".
The report also said that China's One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, while also an economic venture, is a foreign policy tool used by the country to deter other nations from speaking out against or confronting Beijing on issues it finds sensitive.
The same is said about the 21st Century Digital Silk Road project, which Chinese President Xi Jinping has advocated for alongside OBOR.
"While providing benefits to host countries, these projects will also facilitate China’s efforts to expand science and technology cooperation, promote its unique national technical standards, further its objectives for technology transfer, and potentially enable politically-motivated censorship," the Pentagon said in the report.
The OBOR initiative could also help bolster military advantages by allowing the Chinese naval access to areas like the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea
"China seeks this presence based on its changing military focus and expanding international economic interests, which are increasing demands for the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] to operate in more distant maritime environments to protect Chinese citizens, investments, and critical sea lines of communication," the Pentagon said.
The report also asserts that increased global activities by Beijing have been leveraged to obtain political influence in other countries, citing 17 examples where Chinese investment abroad led to negative effects on the host countries’ economies.
In some cases, China used "economic coercion to achieve specific political objectives".
While the Defense Department noted that not all of Beijing's activities were a problem, they would respond by building a more lethal force to gain military advantage, strengthening allies and partners, and potentially reforming the department.
Although the U.S. is open to working with China in areas of mutual interest, Washington will confront Beijing over its market-distorting practices, failure to respect intellectual property and cyber intrusions into commercial networks, the report added.