China is using its government power through the Belt and Road Initiative to achieve its national security objective, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo alleged on Monday, asserting that the Trump administration is leading global efforts to inform countries about the "predatory" Chinese economics.
The Trump administration has been extremely critical of President Xi Jinping's trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and is of the view that China's "predatory financing" is leaving smaller counties under huge debt endangering their sovereignty.
“The Chinese effort to the Belt and Road activities are about using government power to achieve national security objectives,” Pompeo told reporters traveling with him in Finland.
Noting that the US has said all along that it has a huge economic interest in China’s success and vice versa, Pompeo said the BRI needs to be transparent.
“It’s got to be on a free and open basis. It can’t be with the idea that you’re going to loan a country money and then foreclose on that facility so that you can then build yourself a port or take that land and real estate. That's not appropriate. We have discouraged that. We have educated other countries around the world on that set of issues,” he said.
Where there are elements of the BRI that are truly building a bridge and it is a commercial transaction, the US welcomes China participating in those, he said.
“But where we see China behaving in ways that are truly not commercial but rather designed to further gain them either access entree for national security purposes, we don’t think that’s what those countries are really buying,” Pompeo said.
The BRI was launched by President Xi when he came to power in 2013. It aims to link Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Gulf region, Africa and Europe with a network of land and sea routes.
China is doling out huge sums of money for infrastructure projects in countries from Asia to Africa and Europe, enhancing its global influence. Concerns over BRI financing became vocal after China acquired Sri Lanka's strategic Hambantota port on a 99-year lease as a debt swap in 2017.
Earlier addressing the opening session of the Arctic Council in Finland, Pompeo slammed China for its BRI, which he said, tends to eat into the sovereignty of nations.
“China has observer status in the Arctic Council, but that status is contingent upon its respect for the sovereign rights of Arctic states. The US wants China to meet that condition and contribute responsibly in the region. But China’s words and actions raise doubts about its intentions,” he said.
Citing Sri Lanka and Malaysia, he warned Arctic nations to be aware of the real Chinese intentions.
“Let’s just ask ourselves: Do we want Arctic nations broadly or indigenous communities specifically, to go the way of former government in Sri Lanka or Malaysia, ensnared by debt and corruption? Do we want crucial Arctic infrastructure to end up like Chinese-constructed roads in Ethiopia, crumbling and dangerous after only a few years?“ he asked.
“Do we want the Arctic Ocean to transform into a new South China Sea, fraught with militarisation and competing territorial claims? Do we want the fragile Arctic environment exposed to the same ecological devastation caused by China’s fishing fleet in the seas off its coast, or unregulated industrial activity in its own country? I think the answers are pretty clear,” the top American diplomat said.
Noting that Beijing claims to be a “Near-Arctic State", he said yet the shortest distance between China and the Arctic is 900 miles.
"There are only Arctic States and Non-Arctic States. No third category exists, and claiming otherwise entitles China to exactly nothing," he asserted.
"That’s not to say Chinese investment is unwelcome – indeed, quite the opposite," he said. The US and Arctic nations welcome transparent Chinese investments that reflect economic interest and national security ambitions. Between 2012 and 2017, China invested in the Arctic nearly USD 90 billion. It’s planning to build infrastructure from Canada, to the Northwest Territories, to Siberia.
Just last month, Russia announced plans to connect the Northern Sea Route with China’s Maritime Silk Road, which would develop a new shipping channel from Asia to northern Europe. Meanwhile, China is already developing shipping lanes in the Arctic Ocean, he added.
“This is part of a very familiar pattern. Beijing attempts to develop critical infrastructure using Chinese money, Chinese companies, and Chinese workers – in some cases, to establish a permanent Chinese security presence,” Pompeo alleged.
A Pentagon report last week, he said, warned that China could use its civilian research presence in the Arctic to strengthen its military presence, including deployment of submarines – including deployment of submarines to the region as a deterrent against nuclear attack.
“We need to examine these activities closely, and we need – and we keep the experience we have learned of other nations in mind. China’s pattern of aggressive behavior elsewhere in the – excuse me – aggressive behaviour elsewhere should inform what we do and how it might treat the Arctic,” Pompeo said.