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Experts: China seeking to normalize military presence beyond borders

By
Megan Lebowitz
Retired Adm. Dennis Blair testified that if China is able to establish bases at key ports in Pakistan and Myanmar with secure supply lines from China, the country would have the basis for “serious projection capability” in that region of the world. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI
Retired Adm. Dennis Blair testified that if China is able to establish bases at key ports in Pakistan and Myanmar with secure supply lines from China, the country would have the basis for “serious projection capability” in that region of the world. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON -- China's Belt and Road Initiative, its military base in Africa, and increased humanitarian aid help normalize China's military presence outside its borders as part of an escalating power projection, an expert in the Asia Pacific region told a congressional commission Thursday.

Testifying before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Kristen Gunness, CEO of Vantage Point Asia, a company that provides strategic advice about Asia to businesses and government, focused on how the Belt and Road Initiative and the Chinese army's overseas deployment helps the country's expeditionary capabilities.

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The Belt and Road Initiative, launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, is a series of infrastructure and trade development initiatives across Asia, Africa and Europe. Meanwhile, China opened a military base in Djibouti in 2017 and has been providing aid abroad during humanitarian and natural crises. Experts have indicated that China may attempt to expand its military presence abroad.

Gunness said that the greatest benefit to China from its focus on improving expeditionary capabilities is that an increased involvement of the army abroad helps to normalize China's military presence beyond its borders.

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"China cultivates the narrative that [the People's Liberation Army] expeditionary capabilities contribute to international security," Gunness said. "While this is not a security framework, per se, it is a narrative that Beijing uses to justify PLA participation in overseas operations."

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Gunness remarked that China's current overseas missions are relatively limited in scope, but the United States should prepare for China to use overseas military power as a foreign policy tool.

Beijing works to align the interests of countries involved in BRI with China's national interests by creating frameworks for security cooperation that can provide a foundation for future military cooperation and potentially an expanded PLA presence abroad, Gunness said.

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Retired Adm. Dennis Blair testified that if China is able to establish bases at key ports in Pakistan and Myanmar with secure supply lines from China, the country would have the basis for "serious projection capability" in that region of the world.

However, he noted a lack of enthusiasm from the two countries.

"There's some very major practical problems in achieving that, primarily, the attitudes of both Myanmar and Pakistan, which heretofore, have shown no desire to have Chinese troops stationed in their country," Blair said.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., did not respond to a request for comment.

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