Testimony of Peter T.R. Brookes
Senior Fellow for National Security Affairs and
Director, Asian Studies Center
Committee on Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Committee on
United States House of Representatives
April 6, 2005
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, it is an honor and
privilege to appear before you today to discuss the People Republic
of China's influence in the Western Hemisphere.
I want to commend you for holding this very timely hearing as
there are many questions being asked about China's growing role in
our hemisphere that should be addressed in a prestigious, open
forum such as this.
I am testifying here today as an individual, and my views do not
necessarily reflect the views of my employer, The Heritage
China's Grand Strategy
When China unleashed its unprecedented economic reforms almost
20 years ago, no one could have imagined the effect it would have
on China-or the world.
Finally freed from the shackles of an inefficient Soviet-style
command economy, China would experience a remarkable expansion in
economic growth, including near double-digit growth for the last
ten years (according to Chinese government statistics.)
These economic reforms have transformed China into a rising
power in world politics. In fact, some would argue that, today,
China is no longer a "rising power"-but a "risen power."
Chinese leaders believe that if its economic growth continues
apace, China will overcome 150 years of "humiliation" at the hands
of foreign powers, returning to its past glory as the "Middle
In China's view, eventually this economic growth will allow it
to be able to challenge, the world's most powerful nations,
including the United States, for control of the international
China is well on its way to doing just that. Today, China, the
world's most populous nation, also has the world's second largest
economy and the world's second largest defense budget, allowing
China to play key, central roles in Asian geopolitics.
But China is also becoming an increasingly important player on
the world stage. Although it has long been a permanent member of
the U.N. Security Council, and a nuclear weapons state, its
expanding economic might is resulting in growing political
influence beyond Asia as well.
It is hard to find a major international issue in which China is
not playing a role: From weapons proliferation, to human rights, to
energy security, to North Korea, Iran, Sudan, and the United
Nations-China is present. And Beijing is increasingly confident of
its high profile role in world politics.
With increasingly well-developed power derived from economic
growth, political stability, and a growing military capability,
China sees its re-emergence as a global power, on its own terms, as
If all goes according to Beijing's plans, in the next few
decades China will take its "rightful place" among the great powers
in the international system-if not atop the international
A subset of China's grand strategy is an "opportunistic" foreign
policy aimed at its main competition for pre-eminence in the
international system, the United States. China is pursuing a
foreign policy, which aims to support China's national interests,
while attempting to balance-or, perhaps, more accurately,
unbalance- the predominance of the United States across the
China is looking to "quietly" use its growing economic strength
to build new political relationships abroad, while exploiting
dissatisfaction with the United States wherever possible.
Eventually, in Beijing's estimation, once China has gathered as
many allies and friends as possible, and developed its economic and
military strength to near that of other major powers, it will be
able to challenge the United States directly, if necessary.
Put simply: China is using its burgeoning economic power to gain
political and economic influence internationally, at America's
expense wherever possible, in an effort to succeed the U.S. as the
world's most powerful nation.
For example, China has indicated that it would not support
taking Iran to the U.N. Security Council over its nuclear (weapons)
program, while signing a 25-year, $100 billion oil/gas deal with
Iran. China's decision obviously pleased Tehran.
Likewise, China also worked hard against a strong U.N.
resolution on the genocide in Sudan, which would have placed
economic sanction on the Sudanese government, in an effort to
protect its $3 billion oil investment there. Khartoum could not
have been happier with China's support.
And the PRC has taken advantage of trans-Atlantic tensions
arising from the Iraq war, too. China has seemingly convinced the
European Union, led by France and Germany, to lift the E.U.'s 1989
Tiananmen Square arms embargo.
China wants absolution for the Tiananmen Square crackdown and
Europe hopes that ending the ban will result in large commercial
deals, and, perhaps, arms deals, for European firms. The U.S.
strongly opposes lifting the ban.
Bottom line: China is pursuing a "realist" foreign policy in
order to advance its national interests. The existence of
dissatisfaction with Washington or American policies in global
capitals only makes it easier. China's grand strategy certainly
applies to Latin America and the Caribbean, too.
China's Grand Strategy in the Western
The importance of Latin America and the Caribbean to China is
multifold, but two issues predominate: Taiwan and access to raw
materials, especially energy.
The PRC will not feel its rise to power is complete without
returning Taiwan to the Mainland's political control. Taiwan and
China have been separated since the 1949 civil war, and it is
Beijing's view that Taiwan is a "renegade province" that must be
"re-unified" with the PRC.
To the tremendous frustration of the PRC, the Chinese view of
Taiwan's sovereignty is increasingly in the minority of public
opinion on Taiwan. As such, China is employing every instrument of
its national power to effect unification with Taiwan, including an
unwillingness to renounce the use of force to resolve Taiwan's
One of China's tactics is an effort to politically isolate
Taiwan internationally by enticing countries that currently
diplomatically recognize Taiwan to shift allegiances to the PRC.
The majority of the countries that recognize Taiwan are in Latin
America, Africa and the Pacific Islands.
Presently, six nations in Central America - Panama, Costa Rica,
Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala - retain full
diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Beginning with Chile in 1970, all
but one South American state - Paraguay - have moved to recognize
In the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, St. Kitts and
Nevis, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines have relations with
Taiwan. Dominica switched allegiances to the PRC last year.
For Taiwan, the states of Central America and the Caribbean, and
Paraguay represent a relatively solid regional commitment to its
status as a state separate from China. These states represent
nearly half of Taiwan's diplomatic recognition around the world,
now totaling 25 nations.
Taiwan pays dearly to retain this diplomatic recognition, and if
these states were to switch recognition from Taipei to Beijing, the
damage to Taiwan's political confidence and its claims of
legitimacy as a state would be seriously undermined in Taipei's
China's other interest, not surprisingly, is access to natural
resources, especially energy. China is scouring the planet for
resources to feed its economy's insatiable appetite for raw
materials. Since China's government is not popularly elected, its
claim to legitimacy has been its ability to improve the standard of
living of the 1.3 billion Chinese people.
Stoking the economic furnaces also allows China to continue its
unprecedented military build-up, supported primarily by Russian
arms sales, and to provide overseas aid-often without conditions-
to countries of interest in an effort to spread its influence.
China is broadly diversifying its energy sources, too. It is
trying to reduce its reliance on coal, which has made China the
world's second largest polluter. In its effort to ensure consistent
energy supplies, China is expected to divert its overseas
investments outside the Middle East to Russia, Southeast Asia
(e.g., Indonesia, Burma), Central Asia (e.g., Kazakhstan,
Uzbekistan), Africa (e.g., Angola, Sudan), and Latin American
(e.g., Colombia, Venezuela).
Petroleum leads the list of resources South American states have
to offer China. Venezuela is the world's fifth largest producer of
petroleum that produces 2.5 million barrels per day, providing the
United States with 13-15 percent of its oil imports.
China has invested over $1 billion in petroleum projects in
Venezuela and is positioning itself to invest nearly $350 million
to extract oil from eastern Venezuelan oil fields, as well as an
additional $60 million in natural gas wells. China is also seeking
to purchase petroleum from Ecuador, Argentina, Colombia, and
Latin America is an important source of a variety of minerals
and food items as well. Aluminum, copper, iron, and soybeans
constitute a large part of China's imports from Latin America. For
commercial purposes, China also obviously has a strong interest in
the Panama Canal and access to good port facilities in the
During his visits to Brazil and Argentina in November 2004,
Chinese President Hu Jintao announced plans to invest $100 billion
in Latin America over the next decade, primarily for infrastructure
and energy projects. These investments made by the Chinese
government will undoubtedly bring political influence as
Military and Security Issues
China is also on a military diplomacy offensive across the
globe.China has formed military diplomatic ties with 146 countries
and sent military attaches to 103 countries. China uses these
exchanges to gather information on the host country, as well as
other countries if possible, for military doctrine development as
well as military intelligence purposes.
In 2004, more than 100 military exchange programs took place,
involving Chinese military leaders visiting more than 60 countries
and senior officers from about 50 countries visiting China. Some
exchange programs featured joint military exercises, security
sessions involving military officers from multiple countries,
combined seminars on defense and security, and field trips.
China has military and security interests in Latin America as
well. China's presence at Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) facilities
in Cuba directed at the United States is long-standing and well
known, but China is establishing military ties in Latin America as
For example, in 2004, Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan paid a visit
to Brazil. In April 2004, Vice-Chairman of the Central Military
Commission Xu Caihou visited Cuba and called on Cuban military
units and training centers. Since the late 1990s, at least one
high-level visit has taken place every year to Venezuela.
In addition, Chinese intelligence services are, undoubtedly,
active in Latin America and the Caribbean, using Chinese front
companies, students, visitors and intelligence officers to steal
and exploit technology and commercial secrets of interest to
enhance their military prowess and economic competitiveness.
China has achieved unparalleled growth in its power, influence
and importance over the last 20 years. Its grand strategy is to
become the pre-eminent power in the Pacific-and in the
world-replacing the United States as the world's most powerful
Though that point is not here today, China is making progress on
both accounts. The PRC is seeking friends and allies to advance its
agenda in Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East-and Latin
Like most other nations, China is committed to improving the
performance of its economy and spreading its political influence.
Its actions are worrisome in Latin America and the Caribbean
because some national leaders, such as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez,
welcome the arrival of another world power to offer an alternative
to the United States.
There are challenges to China's advance in Latin America and the
Caribbean, including geographic proximity, culture and language.
But if Washington wants to neutralize China's growing influence in
Western Hemisphere, it needs to take action.
An effective strategy would include expanding its own free trade
network, helping friendly nations develop strong market economies,
and fostering closer, more cooperative security relations with our
Latin American and Caribbean neighbors.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for this opportunity to address the
Peter Brookes is
a Senior Fellow for National Security Affairs and Director of the
Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation. Prior to joining
Heritage, he served as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense
(Asian-Pacific Affairs), a Professional Staff Member with the House
International Relations Committee, with the CIA, the State
Department and the U.S. Navy.