- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 5, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

HONG KONG

China has traded many manufactured goods for oil from several African nations. Angola has become China’s second-largest source of crude oil, followed by Nigeria in third place. In addition, shipments of African copper, zinc and uranium are constantly heading to China.

Chinese activities are found in all quarters of the continent. In North Africa, signs of China’s crude-oil survey teams can be found in Libya, Morocco and Egypt. In West Africa, China sells arms and extracts natural resources in Algeria, Benin, Ghana, Congo and Angola. In East and Southern Africa, important trade partners include Sudan, Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya.

All this activity keeps Chinese merchant ships sailing in and out of African coastal waters very frequently.

In Europe and the Americas, Chinese merchant ships have been transporting all the made-in-China goods that flood those regions’ markets. In Latin America, the value of trade with China has increased tenfold since 2000. Cuba’s sugar, Brazil’s iron ore and Peru’s copper have been flowing to China. With the United States mired in a deepening financial crisis, Latin America will become an even more important national-interest frontier for China.

In 2007, China’s trade with Latin America reached an unprecedented $102 billion, a whopping increase of 43.5 percent from that of 2006. China’s total investment in Latin American countries reached $9.3 billion, and China is now Latin America’s third-largest trading partner. Within the next five to 10 years, China will become a much more important trading partner, investor and creditor for both Africa and Latin America.

China’s ultimate national-interest frontier is in outer space. The country has sped up its space program and is expected to send out more surveillance satellites to circle the globe.

Joining the global effort to deal with the pirate threat off the coast of Somalia has provided China with an excellent opportunity to dispatch military ships to escort its merchant fleets. This fits in nicely with the country’s intentions to build a global blue-water navy, which it has been working toward for years by reinforcing the combat capability of the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s South Sea Fleet.

The areas where pirate activities are rampant, including the Strait of Malacca between Malaysia and Indonesia and the Gulf of Aden near Somalia, are critical international sea lanes. Therefore, a presence in these crucial passages gives access to the maritime lifeline of many countries.

Fighting pirates in the Strait of Malacca in particular would give China the opportunity to make frequent forays into the Indian Ocean as well as the South China Sea and demonstrate its strength. In this case, regional players will have to get used to the presence of People’s Liberation Army Navy warships in these waters.


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