- The Washington Times - Monday, January 17, 2005

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” in Bangladesh.

• 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 sea.

• 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.”

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