It is clear that China is slowly changing that balance of power on many fronts. Last week saw the Chinese hosting a summit on its Belt and Road Initiative in which China invests heavily in infrastructure and other development projects in countries around the world, cementing economic links. Despite heavy US lobbying against participating in it, 125 nations attended and signed on.
[Chinese president] Xi said a total of $64bn worth of agreements had been signed during the forum, but he gave no details or acknowledged who signed them. The initiative – which he launched in 2013 – is “in sync with the times and widely supported”, he said.
China has also been pursuing a long-range economic and military strategy to counter US hegemony in both those areas. A recent news report says that the Chinese are planning to build a series of military bases to augment the economic ties it has made with many countries as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.
The US Defense Department expects China to add military bases around the world to protect its investments in it ambitious One Belt One Road global infrastructure program, according to an official report released on Thursday.
Beijing currently has just one overseas military base, in Djibouti, but is believed planning others, including possibly Pakistan, as it seeks to project itself as a global superpower.
“China’s advancement of projects such as the ‘One Belt, One Road’ Initiative (OBOR) will probably drive military overseas basing through a perceived need to provide security for OBOR projects,” the Pentagon said in its annual report to Congress on Chinese military and security developments.
Note that China currently has just one military base outside its territory. In his book How to Hide an Empire, historian Daniel Immerwahr says that military bases scattered around the globe are the new marks of empire, replacing the previous centuries’ model. In the old days, empires required direct control over large swathes of territories to ensure uninterrupted supplies of essential raw materials as well as to ensure reliable communication. But the invention of plastics and well as synthetic alternatives for fertilizer and rubber, and the development of wireless communication, now meant that the only essential raw material was oil, the major raw material for such synthesizing. This has resulted in a new form of empire in which the US is currently the undisputed leader
Empire lives on, too, in the overseas bases that dot the globe. It’s easy to think of foreign policy as an affair of the negotiating table: sovereign nation-states sit down to threaten, bargain, or cooperate. But U.S. foreign policy, nearly uniquely, has a territorial component. Britain and France have some thirteen overseas bases between them, Russia has nine, and various other countries have one – in all, there are probably thirty overseas bases owned by non-U.S. countries. The United States, by contrast, has roughly eight hundred, plus agreements granting it access to still other foreign sites. Dozens of countries host U.S. bases. Those that refuse are nevertheless surrounded by them. The Greater United States, in other words, is in everyone’s backyard. (p. 400)
All that new empires require are scattered bases to serve as transit and launching and refueling points. Immerhwar has a telling phrase to describe this new phenomenon: ‘pointillist empires’. It is this new form of empire that China is challenging.