The Asia Society Policy Institute released a report that claimed Beijing may use transcontinental infrastructure projects built with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to move its military into “strategic strongpoint sites”. It comes as the US and China have ramped up military drills near Taiwan and in the South China Sea in response to growing tensions.
The report, released on Tuesday, claimed China is building multipurpose infrastructure in allied countries like Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Myanmar and Cambodia to boost trade and military movement.
It also argued China plans on creating “Sino-centric ecosystem of trade, technology, finance and strategic strongpoints”, with the intention of undermining “American influence and role as a security guarantor” in the Indo-Pacific region.
The report pointed to new commercial ports in allied countries which could meet China’s national defence requirements.
It also cited China’s exporting of its BeiDou satellite network, and its ramped up military exercises and deals with countries in the Belt and Road network.
While the report conceded China’s infrastructure network had not yet resulted in overseas military bases, it called on the US to prevent further military expansion.
It proposed the US work with overseas partners in the Indo-Pacific, such as India and Taiwan, to provide alternate infrastructure programmes.
The report added: “Whether China can effectively ‘weaponize’ the BRI … will be a function of Beijing’s choices – and those made in Washington as well.
“America’s ability to serve as an active and credible partner across multiple sectors and regions seems a necessary precondition for BRI target countries to resist the Chinese carrots-and-sticks strategy.”
The report follows the US sending a series of spy planes to watch China’s coast for naval exercises.
Tuesday saw two CL-604 plane spotted near East China Sea and South China Sea naval exercises.
Song Zhongping, a Hong Kong-based military commentator, said the US is looking to collect intelligence to “better study China’s strategic intentions in case any armed confrontations occur” amid fears of an attack.
Mr Song added: “Such provocations could become increasingly normal, but from another perspective, the PLA could take it as a great opportunity to train its military in such face-offs with the world’s biggest military power.”
It also follows US President Donald Trump ramping up anti-Beijing rhetoric in the lead up to the November 3 election.
He recently repeated threats to “decouple” the US’s economy and trade from China over a series of issues.
He added in a press briefing on Monday: “If we didn’t do business with them we wouldn’t lose billions of dollars.
“We will make America into the manufacturing superpower of the world and will end our reliance on China once and for all.”