Do you lose sleep at night worrying about China dominating South and Latin America? Neither do I, but the head of U.S. Southern Command claims this is actually a thing.
“The Chinese Communist Party’s insidious, and corrosive and corrupt influences at work globally and in this region,” Navy Adm. Craig Faller said at a March 16 Pentagon news conference.
Faller’s comments raise a few questions. First of all: Why do military leaders always single out the “Chinese Communist Party” when describing China’s nefarious activities? There is no other party in China, so it’s redundant to mention that the country is run by communists – unless the John Birch Society is somehow represented in the Standing Committee of the Central Political Bureau.
Secondly: How would Americans be put at risk if China became a hegemon in the Western Hemisphere? Is the U.S. military concerned that if we don’t stop the Chinese from encroaching in Paraguay, the Godless communists will not stop until they’ve conquered Peoria, Illinois?
Being a professional jerk, I asked Faller if SOUTHCOM was concerned that if China made inroads in Venezuela, other South American countries would fall like dominoes – a reference to the Cold War “Domino Theory” about how communism spreads.
“I don’t know – don’t really know or understand the part of your question, Jeff, on the domino analogy,” Faller replied.
Faller argued that China is trying to exert more control on water and food resources in the Western Hemisphere so they can “use that leverage in international forums to push towards China’s view of a rules-based world order.”
I’m not exactly sure what that means but it doesn’t have quite the ring of “Better dead than Red!”
Before any of you accuse me of being “woke,” please understand that I am no fan of communism. But I’m also not so terrified of communist subversion that I suspect fluoridation is a plot to sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids.
That brings us to the elephant in the room: Is the U.S. military being paranoid about China’s growing influence south of the border? Since there is no easy way to ask that question, I put it directly to defense officials by asking: “If I were to describe SOUTHCOM and DOD’s position toward China as ‘paranoid,’ would I be wrong? Why?”
In response, a Defense Department spokesperson repeated the Pentagon’s mantra that China is the strategic pacing challenge globally and the Defense Department supports monitoring all current and potential risks to U.S. security in South and Central America, including Chinese political and economic engagement with countries such as Venezuela.
Moreover, China’s increasing economic power in Latin America and the Caribbean risks undermining transparency and the rule of law in the Western Hemisphere, the spokesperson said.
Another reason Americans should care about China’s increasing influence in the Western Hemisphere is their security – and the security of the United States – is linked to the wellbeing of Latin American and Caribbean countries, a SOUTHCOM spokesperson said.
China’s investments and loans in critical infrastructure and commodities in South America and elsewhere in the hemisphere are siphoning money from local companies, the spokesperson said. China’s increasing access to maritime, cyber, and space infrastructure also poses increasing risks to the United States as well as its allies and partners.
Even though not all of China’s activities are malign, Beijing is actively working against the United States in the region, in part by supporting Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, the spokesperson said. That’s why the United States imposed sanctions on China National Electronics Import & Export Corporation last year for restricting internet service in Venezuela and conducting digital surveillance on Maduro’s political opponents.
All of those comments are much more toned down than what Faller said when he indicated that Chinese investments in ports around the world could be part of its strategy to establish new bases for its growing fleet of warships.
“We look with growing alarming concern at the expansive massive blue water navy that China is using and question the intent and use of that Navy going forward,” Faller said. “So, I absolutely think that they’re on a march to do what they need to ensure the communist party stays intact. And I ask the question, why would they be looking at so many ports, including deep water ports in this hemisphere?”
My God. He’s right. If the Chinese can send their warships to South America, what’s to stop them from sailing right up the Potomac and claiming Washington, D.C., as their summer residence?
Please forgive me for sounding so dismissive but the Pentagon’s rhetoric reminds me of the 1967 movie Battle Beneath the Earth about a Chinese general’s plot to dig tunnels underneath the United States and explode nuclear weapons below American cities.
“They’re crawling under us, I tell you,” one character says. “Just like ants.”
Now, just because the Pentagon may be overhyping the threat China poses to the United States doesn’t mean that the Beijing regime is warm or cuddly. In June 1989, People’s Liberation Army tanks crushed pro-democracy protestors in Tiananmen Square and not a single Chinese leader has been prosecuted for murder.
China is currently strangling the remnants of representative government in Hong Kong, showing that its methods have become more subtle over the past 30 years but no less effective.
It is also worth noting that China’s foreign policy involves bending leaders around the world to its will, said Patrick Cronin, Chair for Asia-Pacific Security at the Hudson Institute think tank in Washington, D.C.
“China would like to win friends and influence people to help rewrite global rules and institutions to make them more agreeable to China’s interests,” said Cronin, who added that the United States neglects the Western Hemisphere at its own peril.
However, China’s activities in South and Central America do not pose a direct military threat to the United States, he said.
Rather, China’s efforts in the Western Hemisphere are part of its global strategy to dominate commerce and communications at physical and informational choke points, he said.
Long story short: The final battle against communism is likely not going to be won or lost in South America. If the Pentagon is really looking for a fight to the death, it should start combating the spread of QAnon and other conspiracy theories within the ranks. Those types of lies pose a much greater threat to our democracy than China.
But to make sure that China is not trying any funny stuff in Latin America or the Caribbean, I am publicly volunteering to go on a six-month fact-finding mission in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic to make sure the People’s Liberation Army is not trying to interfere with our precious alcohol supply.
Featured image: Chinese police trained in riot control arrive at the National airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Oct.17, 2004. It is Beijing’s first contribution to a U.N. mission in the Western Hemisphere. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)