24
Mar
17

Sines nas “Rotas da Seda” Chinesas

Depois de terem comprado o Pireu, o grande porto grego do Mediterrâneo, os chineses querem agora comprar Sines…

Uma comitiva chinesa (“de peso”, segundo muito boa fonte) esteve muito recentemente no grande porto de Portugal para o “inspeccionar e avaliar”. Ou seja, “estudar, já o tinham estudado, agora vieram ver in loco e apreciar a recepção”.

Os chineses, dizem fontes por dentro do processo, “ainda não mostraram o jogo”. Manifestaram a intenção de fazer em Sines “investimentos pesados” mas pouco mais adiantaram.

A entrada em força da China em Sines, sublinham-nos, teria obviamente um carácter geopolítico e um forte impacto estratégico.

“Os chineses já controlam em Portugal alguns dos principais dispositivos críticos, como a distribuição de electricidade que está nas mãos deles. Entregar-lhes mais um, o principal porto de um Estado membro da NATO e da União Europeia, é obviamente uma decisão geopolítica de consequências estratégicas incalculáveis e não um mero acto económico…”

A China tem, nos últimos anos, manifestado o seu interesse pelas ilhas portuguesas do Atlântico. O interesse chinês por Sines não é assim um acto isolado e encaixa bem na sua estratégia de red flag over the Atlantic”.

Sobre este interesse chinês nos Açores, algumas explicações já foram avançadas. Felix F. Seidler, do Institute for Security Policy, University of Kiel, reconhece e equaciona esse interesse: “Is China interested in a military base in the Azores? These are strange news. There appear to be grounds for suspicion that the hype about China’s rearmament has found a new hook. But that’s far from it! China’s interest in the Atlantic is growing.”

A posição portuguesa neste quadro apresenta uma perigosa vulnerabilidade. Assim, para Seidler, “the unknown variable is debt. Will Beijing buy so many Portuguese bonds that Lisbon cannot say no? Or will Europe exploit Portugal’s dependence on Euro rescue funds for its geopolitical aims to eliminate any designs China has on the Azores?”

 

Seidler enumera, por outro lado, as limitações chinesas para projectar a sua potência no Atlântico Norte e conclui que elas não são obstáculo à prossecução da estratégia red flag over the Atlantic”, cujas razões económicas, estratégicas e geopolíticas também explica. E conclui que, se os chineses atingissem tal objectivo, “it would be a strategic disaster”… Ora, provocar “um desastre estratégico” no coração da NATO vale bem uns esforços para ultrapassar algumas limitações. Ou, parafraseando um célebre rei da França, “o Atlântico Norte vale bem uma missa”…

Diz Seidler: “From these current practical limitations it would be easy, but wrong, to stop the discussion about China’s role and potential operations in the Atlantic.

In order to show its flag in the Atlantic, it would be sufficient for China at this point to use the airport and the ports for, let’s say, a “scientific research station.” Incidentally, such a station would be an excellent opportunity for electronic espionage – signals intelligence (SIGINT). Furthermore, as a former emergency runway for the Space Shuttle, Lajes Field might also be of interest for China’s space program.

Into the Heart of NATO

This new development in the territory of a NATO country must be seen in the context of China’s efforts in another NATO member, Iceland. China has heavily invested in the country’s ports and infrastructure because Beijing in the long-term expects an ice-free Arctic to open new shipping routes. Meanwhile in Greenland, whose foreign policy is administered by NATO member Denmark, vast quantities of important resources have also caught China’s eye and spurred development plans.

China is attempting to protect and project its strategic interests in the Atlantic and is doing so within NATO countries. This broader trend should not be dismissed without broader analysis. Such moves – note the plural – are something entirely new.

As stated above, the idea of an operational Chinese naval and aerial presence appears bizarre. Why should China try to station hardware, either civil or military or dual-use, on the other side of the world in the midst of a “hostile inland sea”? Viewed strategically, however, and it’s apparent that such a move would be a stab in NATO’s heart. In Iceland, China’s concerns (so far) are civilian and economic projects, but if the Portuguese government allowed the Chinese, in whatever form, a permanent presence on the Azores, it would be a strategic disaster.

What would happen if the U.S.’ Indo-Pacific antagonist settles into the home territory of the Alliance, in which the U.S. has since 1949 set the tone? The signaling effect within and outside NATO would be devastating. Obviously, NATO has never faced only friendly states, as members’ borders were often the literal front lines of the Cold War. But there are few parallels with the potentially hostile (a designation based on privately held beliefs of China’s intent and cyber efforts) power in the midst of the Alliance’s area. Would NATO Europe, as it is now termed in U.S. parlance, permit such a development by acquiescence or inaction, NATO Europe’s image in Washington would reach a new low.

Some of you may be thinking, but doesn’t the Malacca Strait, Gulf of Aden, Suez Canal, and Strait of Gibraltar separate China from the Atlantic? The answer again is due to the developments in the Arctic.

In the long term, China’s shortest way into the Atlantic no longer leads through the bottlenecks of the Indian Ocean, but via the Arctic, once the Northeast Passage is ice-free. Regardless, it requires little to imagine Chinese ships, after a stop at the newly opened port in Pakistan’s Gwadar, sailing by the Horn of Africa and through the Mediterranean for a short visit further into the Atlantic. Due to the evacuation of Chinese nationals from Libya in 2011 we could see a recognized requirement for presence for the first (and not last) time.

Heading South

Pop Quiz: Where have Chinese pilots performed their first takeoffs from an aircraft carrier? In the Pacific? Wrong. In the South Atlantic? Right. It is on the Brazilian carrier “Sao Paulo” that Chinese pilots trained for takeoffs and landings. With the initiation of such military ties, it’s possible that the Chinese pilots and their Brazilian trainers will someday have the opportunity to meet again alongside their carriers during port visits and joint exercises.

Such a vision may or may not come to pass, but China’s interest in the South Atlantic is nothing new, due to Nigeria’s and Angola’s oil, construction projects across the continents, booming markets, and vast extractive industries. Potential sites for Chinese naval bases in the South Atlantic are already discussed openly. If somewhat of a new development for the North Atlantic, Chinese interest in the Azores fits into the picture of China’s pivot to Africa further to the south.

Despite all the speculation: Calm down

China is years or decades away from establishing military superiority in expeditionary operations. China’s military has more than enough work to do in the East and South China Sea working under the slogan “Learning by Doing“. It remains to be seen if and how far the dispute with Japan about the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands escalates, which could seriously alter China’s naval development trajectory. Further, the Chinese naval presence off the Horn of Africa since 2008 only exists, because it is welcomed by the U.S., India, and other countries in the fight against piracy.

For the foreseeable future, what China does in the Atlantic will have zero operational military relevance. The strategic and political implications are what matters. In London, with its own not-inconsiderable South Atlantic interests, and in Paris, these geopolitical developments will be watched closely. Washington, London, and Paris are likely able to bring enough pressure to bear on Lisbon that China will not settle on an island in NATO’s heart. The unknown variable is debt. Will Beijing buy so many Portuguese bonds that Lisbon cannot say no? Or will Europe exploit Portugal’s dependence on Euro rescue funds for its geopolitical aims to eliminate any designs China has on the Azores? We will see.”

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As buscas da Autoridade da Concorrência ao “lodo no cais” de Sines e outros portos andam envoltas num espesso mistério ou, mais poeticamente, num denso nevoeiro… Se o “lodo no cais” já era um opaco segredo, a investigação da AC apresenta-se ainda mais opaca e os seus resultados são um enigma bem escondido. E tudo isto se passa, claro, num exemplar Estado de Direito!

Na origem dessa investigação esteve uma denúncia. A investigação da AC não terá encontrado nada do que era denunciado. A denúncia é, depois de encerrada a investigação de resultados nulos, classificada por alguns como maldosa e caluniosa. O nome do denunciante consta (ao que por aí se diz) no processo da AC. Os maldosamente denunciados querem agora processá-lo. E acusá-lo de uma manobra para condicionar a concorrência. Mas para isso é preciso que apareça a investigação da AC. A tal coberta de mistério…

Curiosamente (ou talvez não…), a empresa do denunciante foi das primeiras a ser “visitada” pela AC acompanhada da PSP… Os ofendidos por tal denúncia não querem agora acreditar que o “atraso” no aparecimento oficial dos resultados da investigação (com o nome do denunciante…) seja uma manobra para o proteger. Tal coisa é, obviamente, impensável e impossível num exemplar Estado de Direito. Conclusão, à moda de Santo Agostinho que, mesmo quando errava, era um sábio: os mistérios dos portos são insondáveis…

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