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            december 09, 2019

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Security experts warn of China's influence at US ports


China can use its financial control at foreign ports to create markets through which it can strengthen its trade relationships, according to US-China Economic and Security Review Commission chair Carolyn Bartholomew.
"By owning and/or operating a network of logistical nodes across Asia, Europe and Africa, China can control a significant portion of its inbound supply chain for essential commodities and outbound trade routes for its exports," Ms Bartholomew said at a congressional hearing in Washington on China's Maritime Silk Road initiative, reported American Shipper.
"In the event of conflict, China could use its control over these and other ports to hinder trade access to other countries."
Ms Bartholomew pointed to data that show two-thirds of the world's top 50 container ports are owned by the Chinese or supported by Chinese investments, up from 20 per cent a decade ago. Those investments include terminals at US container ports in Los Angeles and Seattle.
Officials at the Chinese state-owned Cosco acknowledged in 2018 that the company had connected its shipping routes along its Maritime Silk Road with emerging regional markets in West Africa, Northern Europe, the Caribbean and the US "to form a more comprehensive and balanced globalised network layout."
US ports' reliance on Chinese manufacturers for container gantry cranes is part of the investment concern, according to Alan Lowenthal, Democrat-California. Mr Lowenthal highlighted during the hearing that owing to this reliance, US ports have urged the Trump administration to exempt gantry cranes from Chinese tariffs.
"I think having us dependent on any one source is a problem, especially when that source is a country that doesn't necessarily see us as a friend," Ms Bartholomew warned. "We have certainly seen them use economic leverage in the tariff wars that are taking place." She added that China could use that leverage to achieve diplomatic and political gains and potentially "shut down our ports".
The economic threat can also affect military readiness, testified US Joint Chiefs of Staff logistics director lieutenant general Giovanni Tuck.
"There was a time when all we needed to do was look at physical port security, something the US Coast Guard is very equipped to do," Mr Tuck said.
"But now we're talking about the resiliency of a port and the cyber threat that can go with that, including with these mega cranes." Mr Tuck said that as the person responsible for moving American military forces to US ports prior to an overseas mission, "the last thing you want is to have something happen at that port whereby they can't actually leave".
John Garamendi, Democrat-California, used the opportunity to try to muster support for a bill he's sponsoring that would require a certain minimum amount of US oil and liquefied natural gas exports be transported on US-built and US-flagged ships - a proposal he wants to see tied to a US-China trade deal.
By promoting growth in US-flag shipping, the legislation could also help reduce reliance on Chinese ships to fuel American warships, Mr Garamendi noted.

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