How China uses its infrastructure projects for strategic ends

Beijing has been rapidly gaining foothold in key areas using its economic might to meet its strategic ends.&nbsp | &nbspPhoto Credit:&nbspiStock Images

Over the past week reports emerged that the US found that China was building a secret port near Abu Dhabi based on classified satellite imagery. The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday citing sources that the Biden administration warned the UAE government that it could be some sort of military installation. A Chinese military presence could hinder ties between the US and one of its closest Mideast allies, warned the US, after which the construction was halted.

The report further said that the Emirati government appeared to be unaware of the military nature of the facility, and quoted a UAE Embassy spokesman in Washington as saying, “The UAE has never had an agreement, plan, talks or intention to host a Chinese military base or outpost of any kind.”

One can never be sure whether or not Abu Dhabi was ignorant of the Chinese plans, but what one knows for certain is that if it were indeed a military base, then it would not be the first time China was engaging in such cloaked missions.

Over the years, China has been gaining a foothold in strategically significant areas in the Indian Ocean region. Beijing started operating its first overseas military base in Djibouti in 2017. The presence in other countries was through the promise of economic and infrastructure partnerships — Belt and Road Initiative being the fulcrum of the exercise.

From Hambantota in Sri Lanka to Gwadar and Karachi in Pakistan, China has established its presence at key points as foreign military bases to serve its expansionist agenda.

Going by UAE’s stated ignorance of the military base in Port of Khalifa, China was ostensibly on a covert mission. In other countries, not so much. Known to be a big bully with no scruples when it comes to self-serving, Beijing has been arm-twisting countries with its economic might. The protests on the streets of the host countries like Pakistan seem to be of no matter to the governments, as the Yuan finds its way into the pockets of the political elites, who have no qualms in letting the Dragon bulldoze its way to serve its strategic interests. And it is this economic might and manipulation that lets China worm its way into the territories of the countries that might be an Indian ally in every other respect. Case in point: Port of Khalifa.

India and UAE have enjoyed good bilateral relations. Indians make up the largest minority ethnic group in the Gulf country, making up roughly 38 per cent of its total residents. UAE and Israel — the two countries that have been among China’s largest trading partners — are a part of the ‘Middle Eastern Quad’ along with the US and India. The Quad was ostensibly envisaged by the US to clip Beijing’s wings of ambition in the Middle East.  However, the economic ties now seem to bypass all other concerns. UAE’s top trade partners in 2020 were China, India, Japan, the US and Saudi Arabia, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The saving grace is there in the form of Uncle Sam, who has been keeping an eye on Chinese expansionism. Thanks to its might and a gripe against China that it shares with India, the US is likely to check any Chinese military presence in its allies’ territories. On its part, India has to maintain and tap on the goodwill and resources it has with the countries in the Chinese ‘sphere of influence’ with the hope to stave off the Dragon.

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