WASHINGTON: Pakistan owes its "all weather friend" China at least USD 10 billion debt for the construction of the Gwadar port and other projects, the top US general has said, as he underlined Beijing's "predatory economics" to expand its global influence.
The strategic Gwadar Port in Balochistan province on the Arabian Sea is being built by China under the multi-billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and is considered to be a link between Beijing's ambitious One Belt, One Road (OBOR) and Maritime Silk Road projects.
"Let us look at just a few examples. Saddled with predatory Chinese loans, Sri Lanka granted China a 99-year lease and 70 per cent stake in its deep-water port," General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.
The Maldives owes China roughly USD 1.5 billion in debt - about 30 per cent of its GDP - for construction costs, he said.
"Pakistan owes China at least USD 10 billion in debt for the construction of Gwadar Port and other projects," Dunford said.
"China is diligently building an international network of coercion through predatory economics to expand its sphere of influence," he said, adding that nations around the globe are discovering the hard way that China's economic "friendship" via OBOR can come at "a steep cost" when promises of investment go unfulfilled and international standards and safeguards are ignored.
In Africa, Djibouti owes China over 80 per cent of its GDP and in 2017, the country became host to China's first overseas military base.
In Latin America, Ecuador agreed to sell 80 to 90 per cent of its exportable crude oil to China through 2024 in exchange for USD 6.5 billion in Chinese loans, he said.
And after leasing land tax-free to China for 50 years, Argentina is denied access and oversight to a Chinese satellite tracking station on its sovereign territory, unwittingly allowing the facility's use for military purposes, the US general said.
Dunford warned that if China's predatory debt tactics is left unaddressed, it will have serious implications on the US's military.
Alleging that China is extending its reach by increasing its overt military and coercive activities through its neighbours, Dunford said China's increasingly provocative behaviour in the Indo-Pacific, particularly the South China Sea (SCS), should concern all.
Between 2013 and 2018, China increased its air and sea incursions into the SCS twelve-fold.
Within those five years, it also increased deployments of offensive and defensive weapons systems to the SCS by the same order of magnitude, he said.
China's land reclamation and militarisation far exceed that of other claimants combined in the South China Sea, he said.
Between 2013 and 2015 alone, China created more than 3,200 acres in the SCS, building features within its self-proclaimed 'nine dash line' - a claim the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in 2016 has no legal basis, Dunford told the lawmakers.
Dunford also accused China of interfering in the freedom of navigation.
"China habitually threatens this freedom, using both conventional military force projection and 'gray zone' or irregular warfare activities," he said.
Citing an example, he said Chinese military vessels came dangerously close to the USS Decatur, a destroyer of the US Navy, off the coast of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
"China's force projection inside and outside the SCS disrespects and undermines our rules-based international order and threatens regional stability and security," Dunford said.