Rome—China’s premier Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s returned yesterday from a four nation tour of Latin America in which the main headline was plans to study an east-west pan-South American railroad from Brazil to Peru.
The proposal, still on the drawing boards, complements Chinese infrastructure projects in Asia that will bring a highway from China through Pakistan to the Straits of Hormuz, doorstep of the Middle East, as well as harbor facilities dotting the Indian Ocean coasts. China is already constructing a parallel Panama Canal to permit super-sized ships to pass through the isthmus and bring Chinese goods to US east coast ports without having to use American railways.
In short, Beijing presents a vision of girdling the globe to make the Middle Kingdom the hub of a vast transportation network. China is latin America’s biggest trading partner, largely exchanging its manufacturers for the continent’s resources.
But before the choo-choo crosses the Amazon, there’s this prickly trade route issue closer to home: China announced that it is building two lighthouses and an air strip on the Spratly Islands, claimed also by the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia. China seems determined create facts at sea to back up its own claim, damn the neighbors’ complaints.
Lots of commerce passes through the South China Sea and China believes it needs both territorial sovereignty and a military means to protect and dominate the route. The US disagrees, and flew a spy plane over the Spratlys to contest China’s claim. Ironically, China’s self-declared guardianship of the South China Sea route parallels late 19th and early 20th Century concerns of the United States to protect its route to the Panama Canal, on land it took from Colombia by creating a new country, Panama. One result: Guantanamo naval base in Cuba, America’s first military base abroad.
China has claimed other maritime outcroppings in nearby seas, especially alarming Japan. It seems unlikely, however, that the Chinese juggernaut, expanding trade and transport in every direction, is likely to care much about the objections.
A view that China is reviving trade routes that existed before European and American dominance of world trade.
The Washington Post says China must be stopped in the South China Sea.