A Chinese delegation is in Washington, DC this week to try and resolve its trade war with the US. It's a war the Trump administration started when it declared China's economic and trade policies a major threat to American interests.
But while the Trump administration has been focused on trade, China appears to have developed another way to challenge US power. It is using its signature overseas development policy, "The Belt and Road Initiative", to advance military interests, especially on the high seas. In the last few decades, China's Navy has gone from practically nonexistent to one of the largest navies in the world. And in the last few years, China has poured Belt and Road money into purchasing or investing in strategically located ports around the world. That money often comes with strings attached, according to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
"We found that six of the of the Belt and Road Initiative countries are countries that have benefited from debt relief the last time there was a major global debt relief package, Chairman Carolyn Bartholomew told Vice News. "And another 26 or 27 of those countries are countries that essentially have a junk bond rating. So we have to be concerned about the ability of these countries to manage the debt that China is saddling them with."
Debt gives China leverage over partner countries to dictate terms favorable for Beijing, which is especially significant considering where China is investing in these ports: next to U.S. military bases like in Djibouti; in European countries like Greece that are traditionally U.S. allies; and increasingly, in Washington's back yard of Latin America.
"None of these issues are necessarily going to be a problem unless and until there's a conflict," Bartholomew said. "Then, there has to be concern about the Chinese shutting down U.S. access."