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China trying to create its own globally decisive naval force through BRI: Pentagon

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Washington, Apr 12 : China is trying to create its own globally decisive naval force through the ambitious multi-billion dollar Belt and Road Initiative, the Pentagon has told the US Congress, warning that Beijing's "unfavourable deals" strangle a nation's sovereignty like an Anaconda enwrapping its next meal.

Touted as President Xi Jinping's pet project, China is vigorously pursuing the Belt and Road initiative (BRI), offering billions of dollars of loans for infrastructure projects to different countries as it looks to expand global influence.

"China's Belt and Road Initiative in particular is blending diplomatic, economic, military, and social elements of its national power in an attempt to create its own globally decisive naval force," John Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations, told members of House Armed Services Committee during a Congressional hearing on Thursday.

"China's modus operandi preys off nations' financial vulnerabilities. They contract to build commercial ports, promise to upgrade domestic facilities, and invest in national infrastructure projects," he said.

The BRI focuses on improving connectivity and cooperation among Asian countries, Africa, China and Europe.

The project has become a major stumbling block in India-China relations as the controversial USD 60 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has been listed as its "flagship project".

India has objected to the CPEC as it is being laid through the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and boycotted a high-profile Belt and Road Forum organised by China last year.

"Slowly, as the belt tightens, these commercial ports transition to dual uses, doubling as military bases that dot strategic waterways. Then, the belt is cinched as China leverages debt to gain control and access," Richardson said.

"In the final analysis, these unfavourable deals strangle a nation's sovereignty -like an Anaconda enwrapping its next meal. Scenes like this are expanding westward from China through Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Djibouti and now to our NATO treaty allies, Greece and Italy," he told members of the House Armed Services Committee.

In his testimony, the top naval official said despite the United States' persistent work over two centuries to keep the seas open to every nation and every mariner, there are those who seek to upend this free and open order and stem the tide that has steadily lifted all boats.

"As discussed in the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS), China and Russia are deploying all elements of their national power to achieve their global ambitions," he said.

China and Russia seek to accumulate power at America's expense and may imperil the diplomatic, economic, and military bonds that link the United States to its allies and partners, Richardson added.

"These actions are not only directed at the United States: China and Russia are working to redefine the norms of the entire international system on terms more favourable to themselves," he said.

China and Russia are determined to replace the current free and open world order with an insular system, Richardson asserted.

"They are attempting to impose unilateral rules, re-draw territorial boundaries, and redefine exclusive economic zones so they can regulate who comes and who goes, who sails through and who sails around.

"These countries' actions are undermining international security. This behaviour breeds distrust and harms our most vital national interests," he told the lawmakers.

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