China has significantly expanded its influence in the global maritime trade, which accounts for 90% of worldwide trade, over the past three decades, now controlling a large portion of foreign ports and manufacturing most shipping containers and ship-to-shore cranes. This dominance enables China to gather strategic data globally, a move that blurs the lines between commercial and military activities, backed by Xi Jinping’s policies that mandate Chinese companies to collect information for the government.
Maritime trade, responsible for 90% of global trade, is increasingly vulnerable due to potential information weaponization. China has been expanding its influence in this sector for three decades, now controlling a significant portion of foreign ports globally. This control is not inherently dangerous, but China’s massive information-gathering infrastructure at these ports poses a risk. The West needs to fully grasp the extent of Beijing’s knowledge and control derived from these operations to mitigate potential threats.
Almost half of the world’s top 75 container ports have some level of Chinese ownership or control, allowing China a substantial role in global maritime activities. This presence is not just in port management but extends to manufacturing a majority of shipping containers and ship-to-shore cranes. The control over such a vast network enables China to gather strategic information globally, utilizing its commercial fleets and software systems like LOGINK for intelligence and surveillance, raising concerns over the potential misuse of data collected.
China’s navy, the largest globally, gains significantly from the country’s widespread maritime infrastructure, blurring the lines between commercial and military activities. Xi Jinping’s policies have further integrated commercial endeavors with state interests, mandating companies to gather information for the Chinese Communist Party. This strategy, backed by laws that facilitate the military’s use of civilian assets, has seen about a third of Chinese-invested ports hosting Chinese naval vessels, indicating a strategic advantage in potential conflicts.
To counter China’s growing influence in maritime logistics and potential security threats, the U.S. needs to undertake a detailed risk assessment of supply chain dependencies and devise mitigation strategies. Collaborative efforts with allies and the private sector are essential to safeguard commercial and military interests globally. The U.S. government is urged to take decisive steps, including reviewing China’s influence on ports, fostering deeper partnerships with the private sector, and considering sanctions on critical Chinese technology in U.S. ports, to enhance maritime security and protect vital infrastructure investments worldwide.