Beijing’s shipping lines carry more containers than those from any other country. The Chinese carriers together controlled 20 per cent of all container shipping handled by the world’s top container lines.
In terms of container ports, China already rules the seas. Almost 75 % of the world’s top 50 ports had some degree of Chinese investment by 2017, up from about one-fifth in 2010, according to the Financial Times.
And those ports handled 67 per cent of global container volumes, up from 42 per cent in 2010. If only containers directly handled by Chinese port operators are measured, the level of dominance is reduced but still significant. Of the top 10 port operators worldwide, Chinese companies handled 39 per cent of all volumes, almost double the second largest nation (Drewry).
China’s coastguard has the world’s largest maritime law enforcement fleet, its navy is the globe’s fastest growing among major powers and its fishing fleet is over 200,000 vessels.
The emergence of China as the superpower of the seas is logically challenging the classic Western command of the waters. Strategic tensions are already evident in the South China Sea, where the Chinese Government has pledged to enforce its claim to disputed islands.
China perceives the seas in the same way as Alfred T. Mahan, the 19th century American strategist. “Control of the sea,” Mr Mahan wrote, “by maritime commerce and naval supremacy, means predominant influence in the world; because, however great the wealth of the land, nothing facilitates the necessary exchanges as does the sea.”