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Next phase of Belt and Road: Xi's own military-industrial complex

March 12, 2018 8:00 am JST (Updated March 12, 2018 1:16 pm JST)

China up close

Beijing envisions high-tech arms exports as it extends its web of influence

KATSUJI NAKAZAWA, Nikkei senior staff writer

Chinese President Xi Jinping adjusts his suit at the end of the opening session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 5. © Reuters

BEIJING -- Reporters covering the National People's Congress, China's parliament, headed to a Beijing hotel on March 6 to watch Chen Min'er, the Communist Party secretary of Chongqing and a rising star in Chinese politics. Chen is a confidant of President Xi Jinping, and reporters listened to his every word as he presided over a parliamentary session on Chongqing policies.

Few reporters, meanwhile, seemed to show interest in a potentially important statement by another participant. At the session, Zhu Huarong, the president of automaker Chongqing Changan Automobile, stood up and said: "Following the guidance of "Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era," we will make use of Chongqing's prosperous defense industry and integrate it with the private sector to lead the development of defense-related science and technology. Furthermore, with those developments in hand, we will head to overseas markets cultivated by the Belt and Road Initiative."

Zhu doubles as an executive at state-owned defense supplier China South Industries, where he leads science and technology development. His words reflect a plan within the Chinese leadership that envisions the establishment of a U.S.-style "military-industrial complex," an informal alliance between that country's military and the arms industry.

Zhu hinted of building a military-industry complex in Chongqing and exporting high-tech arms across Belt and Road countries.

The Belt and Road Initiative is a modern day revival of Silk Road trade routes, especially to Europe and Africa, through infrastructure projects. It is a central piece of China's "influence operations," or a way to expand China's sphere of influence by strengthening economic ties.

Zhu Huarong, chairman of Chongqing Changan Automobile, speaks at the 2016 China-U.S. Automotive Industry Summit in Beijing in April of that year. © Reuters

Premier Li Keqiang also mentioned military-civilian integration in the government work report that he delivered to the NPC the day before.

Chongqing is connected to Central Asia and Europe by train, and is geographically well-situated. Its rail connections already deliver computers and various industrial goods to Central Asia and Europe.

For Chen Min'er, success in advancing military-civilian integration could be the icing on the cake as he solidifies his credentials as successor to Xi.

In the U.S., defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon work closely with the Pentagon to develop state of the art weapons and equipment. Arms are a major export for the U.S., alongside airplanes, computers and agricultural products.

And through arms exports, the U.S. maintains unrivaled influence over countries in the Middle East and Asia.


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