China Expands Global Reach While Leaving Suffering and Destruction in Its Wake

Posted on Saturday, July 23, 2022
by Ben Solis

AMAC Exclusive – By Ben Solis

Addressing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) earlier this month, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi cautioned member states to “insulate this region from geopolitical calculations” and “from being used as chess pieces from major power rivalry and from coercion.” The comments were a thinly veiled warning to the United States and the West to stay out of China’s way in the Indo-Pacific. But if recent events are any indication, it is China, not the United States and the West, that hopes to use every other country in the region as “chess pieces” to advance Chinese geopolitical ambitions.

Perhaps the clearest example of China’s aggressive exploitation of its neighbors is the case of Sri Lanka, where political unrest has rocked the nation in recent weeks. As Yi was delivering his remarks in Jakarta, hundreds of thousands of protestors in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo had occupied the residences of the president and prime minister, forcing them to flee and tossing the country into further chaos.

While widespread mismanagement and corruption by the Sri Lankan government undoubtedly played a large role in the country’s economic collapse, predatory Chinese lending practices also contributed to the crisis. Over the past decade, Sri Lanka has become a major target of China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI), a massive infrastructure scheme designed to expand Chinese influence around the globe.

As part of BRI, China built enormously expensive ports on the southern coast of the country – lending billions of dollars to the Sri Lankan government to do so. When the government was unable to repay the loans back in 2017, China forced them to lease the ports and thousands of acres of land around them to the Chinese government for 99 years – effectively giving the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) an outpost right on the doorstep of India, a major American ally in the region.

According to government sources, Sri Lanka will need $5 billion over the next six months to ensure basic services like hospitals and utilities continue to function, and the country is imploring the CCP to approve a renegotiation of $1.5 billion in debt to fund imports of fuel and food. But the Chinese government has thus far refused to negotiate.

China’s treatment of Sri Lanka is precisely what Wang Yi told ASEAN countries the United States would do if given more influence in the region. Yet it was the U.S.-backed International Monetary Fund which ultimately agreed to negotiate another $3 billion loan to Sri Lanka.

But China’s abuse of its neighbors and pillaging of foreign nations for its own gain does not stop there. With the Taliban’s rise to power in Afghanistan following the disastrous U.S. exit last year, the CCP saw another opportunity to expand its reach in Central Asia.

Within a matter of weeks following the U.S. evacuation, Chinese officials had met with Taliban leaders, drawing up plans for BRI-style projects inside the country. China’s economic developments included a rare earth metals mine, railways linking Afghanistan to Pakistan and other surrounding countries, and a military base in Kandahar – all under Chinese control. Without the U.S., Chinese officials promised that China will be the guarantor of peace and stability in the region.

Then on June 22 of this year, a powerful 6.1 magnitude earthquake rocked southeast Afghanistan, with tremors felt more than 300 miles away in Pakistan and India. The resulting destruction left at least 1,000 people dead and erased two villages from the map entirely. Mud and brick homes collapsed on sleeping families, many of whom had no time to escape the danger in the middle of the night.

Following the disaster, China pledged $7.5 million for recovery efforts. However, with the exception of some mattresses and tents received at the Kabul airport to much fanfare by Chinese state media, the remaining assistance has yet to arrive. In a telling omission, one tweet from Afghanistan’s Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, mentioned trucks of food and assistance from Pakistan, Iran, and Qatar, but made no mention of any aid from China.

Meanwhile, the U.S. provided some $55 million in relief efforts, funneled into the country via the U.N. and Red Cross so as to avoid it falling into Taliban hands. Other Western nations ranging from the U.K. to Australia contributed millions more, providing much-needed relief to the mostly rural villagers who were hardest hit by the quake.

Throughout the world, this same story has played out time and again. From Africa to Asia and South America, China has used its debt-trap diplomacy to force developing nations under its thumb, all in an effort to gain leverage over the United States. According to a January report from the BBC, “there are now more than 40 low and middle-income countries… whose debt exposure to Chinese lenders is more than 10% of the size of their annual economic output (GDP).” With the power to essentially collapse these countries’ economies, the Chinese Communist Party suddenly has immense political and economic influence in dozens of capitals around the world.

At the same time, the U.S.-led Western coalition has been the single greatest force in human history for lifting people out of poverty and setting nations on secure financial footing to become self-sufficient participants in the global economy. Even in the Indo-Pacific, where China has warned against alignment with the U.S., success stories like post-war Japan and South Korea are a testament to the benefits of U.S. involvement.

As a new great power competition continues to emerge between China and the United States, the record of each nation when it comes to bettering lives and outcomes is clear. For the world to build a more prosperous future, the United States must lead the way, not Communist China.

Ben Solis is the pen name of an international affairs journalist, historian, and researcher.