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At a recent arms expo in Peru, China was selling a 22,000-ton helicopter amphibious assault ship and an export version of its relatively advanced Yuan-class attack submarine.

In Venezuela, China is helping the Caracas government circumvent U.S. arms embargoes by helping repair Venezuela’s U.S.-made gas turbine engines on frigates, he said.

“Another company was marketing several short range ballistic missiles—with no apparent consideration about how it might promote a regional missile arms race,” Fisher said. “The basic U.S. policy is to ‘welcome’ China’s growing influence in Latin America but it is now time for Washington to use both positive and negative pressures to limit China’s strategic military reach into this hemisphere.”

Tkacik said China is quietly evolving on the global stage and implanting itself across the map with major overseas Chinese communities.

“And if they [Chinese nationals] get in trouble, as they did in Libya in 2011, China’s navy and air forces can coordinate to support them,” he said. “This support of émigré Chinese communities around the world has become an overt dictum of China’s new security policy.”

China also has set up commercial bases in key chokepoints around the Caribbean, through its Chinese-run port facilities in Panama, Bahamas, Trinidad, and Venezuela over the past decade.

Tkacik said those facilities are partly aimed at drawing American attention and easing U.S. geopolitical pressure in Asia.

China also is investing heavily in Africa, the Middle East, and Indian Ocean region.

“At bottom, however, China’s strategic targets are closer to home: East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific,” Tkacik said. “That’s why Washington’s Pivot to the Pacific unsettles Beijing so.  It threatens to check Beijing’s rising new influence in the Asia-Pacific.

Tkacik said Chinese naval patrols in U.S. economic zones have been carried out for years through Chinese ocean fishing fleets.

“It doesn’t need to send out military vessels to Guam or Hawaii or the Aleutians except to ‘tweak’ the U.S.,” he said.