China Builds up
Strategic Sea Lanes
January 18, 2005
By Bill Gertz/ The Washington Times
China is building up military forces and
setting up bases along sea lanes from the Middle East to project
its power overseas and protect its oil shipments, according to
a previously undisclosed internal report prepared for Defense
Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
“China is building strategic relationships
along the sea lanes from the Middle East to the South China Sea
in ways that suggest defensive and offensive positioning to protect
China's energy interests, but also to serve broad security objectives,”
said the report sponsored by the director, Net Assessment, who
heads Mr. Rumsfeld's office on future-oriented strategies.
The Washington Times obtained a copy of
the report, titled “Energy Futures in Asia,” which
was produced by defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.
The internal report stated that China is
adopting a “string of pearls” strategy of bases and
diplomatic ties stretching from the Middle East to southern China
that includes a new naval base under construction at the Pakistani
port of Gwadar.
Beijing already has set up electronic eavesdropping
posts at Gwadar in the country's southwest corner, the part nearest
the Persian Gulf. The post is monitoring ship traffic through
the Strait of Hormuz and the Arabian Sea, the report said.
Other “pearls” in the sea-lane strategy include:
Bangladesh: China is strengthening its ties to the government
and building a container port facility at Chittagong. The Chinese
are “seeking much more extensive naval and commercial access”
Burma: China has developed close ties to
the military regime in Rangoon and turned a nation wary of China
into a “satellite” of Beijing close to the Strait
of Malacca, through which 80 percent of China's imported oil passes.
China is building naval bases in Burma
and has electronic intelligence gathering facilities on islands
in the Bay of Bengal and near the Strait of Malacca. Beijing also
supplied Burma with “billions of dollars in military assistance
to support a de facto military alliance,” the report said.
Cambodia: China signed a military agreement
in November 2003 to provide training and equipment. Cambodia is
helping Beijing build a railway line from southern China to the
South China Sea: Chinese activities in
the region are less about territorial claims than “protecting
or denying the transit of tankers through the South China Sea,”
the report said.
China also is building up its military forces in the region to
be able to “project air and sea power” from the mainland
and Hainan Island. China recently upgraded a military airstrip
on Woody Island and increased its presence through oil drilling
platforms and ocean survey ships.
Thailand: China is considering funding construction of a $20 billion
canal across the Kra Isthmus that would allow ships to bypass
the Strait of Malacca. The canal project would give China port
facilities, warehouses and other infrastructure in Thailand aimed
at enhancing Chinese influence in the region, the report said.
The report reflects growing fears in the
Pentagon about China's long-term development. Many Pentagon analysts
believe China's military buildup is taking place faster than earlier
estimates, and that China will use its power to project force
and undermine U.S. and regional security.
The U.S. military's Southern Command produced
a similar classified report in the late 1990s that warned that
China was seeking to use commercial port facilities around the
world to control strategic “chokepoints.”
A Chinese company with close ties to Beijing's communist rulers
holds long-term leases on port facilities at either end of the
The Pentagon report said China, by militarily controlling oil
shipping sea lanes, could threaten ships, “thereby creating
a climate of uncertainty about the safety of all ships on the
The report noted that the vast amount of oil shipments through
the sea lanes, along with growing piracy and maritime terrorism,
prompted China, as well as India, to build up naval power at "chokepoints"
along the sea routes from the Persian Gulf to the South China
“China ... is looking not only to build a blue-water navy
to control the sea lanes, but also to develop undersea mines and
missile capabilities to deter the potential disruption of its
energy supplies from potential threats, including the U.S. Navy,
especially in the case of a conflict with Taiwan,” the report
Chinese weapons for sea-lane control include new warships equipped
with long-range cruise missiles, submarines and undersea mines,
the report said. China also is buying aircraft and long-range
target acquisition systems, including optical satellites and maritime
unmanned aerial vehicles.
The focus on the naval buildup is a departure from China's past
focus on ground forces, the report said.
“The Iraq war, in particular, revived concerns over the
impact of a disturbance in Middle Eastern supplies or a U.S. naval
blockade," the report said, noting that Chinese military
leaders want an ocean-going navy and "undersea retaliatory
capability to protect the sea lanes.”
China believes the U.S. military will disrupt China's energy imports
in any conflict over Taiwan, and sees the United States as an
unpredictable country that violates others' sovereignty and wants
to “encircle” China, the report said.
Beijing's leaders see access to oil and gas resources as vital
to economic growth and fear that stalled economic growth could
cause instability and ultimately the collapse of their nation
of 1.3 billion people.
Energy demand, particularly for oil, will increase sharply in
the next 20 years - from 75 million barrels per day last year
to 120 million barrels in 2025 - with Asia consuming 80 percent
of the added 45 million barrels, the report said.
Eighty percent of China's oil currently passes through the Strait
of Malacca, and the report states that China believes the sea
area is “controlled by the U.S. Navy.”
Chinese President Hu Jintao recently stated that China faces a
“Malacca Dilemma” - the vulnerability of its oil supply
lines from the Middle East and Africa to disruption.
Oil-tanker traffic through the Strait, which is closest to Indonesia,
is projected to grow from 10 million barrels a day in 2002 to
20 million barrels a day in 2020, the report said.
Chinese specialists interviewed for the report said the United
States has the military capability to cut off Chinese oil imports
and could “severely cripple” China by blocking its