"China is pursuing long-term, steady economic growth that bolsters its international influence and access to energy resources," General Joseph Votel, Commander of the US Central Command, told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a Congressional hearing.
"Its Belt and Road Initiative (OBOR), which includes the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), could serve as a stabilising, profit-generating project in the region, but could also improve China's military posture," he said.
General Votel said the collection of infrastructure projects provides China access to Gwadar Port in Pakistan which has the potential to increase its strategic presence in the Indian Ocean. Indian has been raising the same concern repeatedly.
"China also recently established its first overseas military base adjacent to the Bab al Mandeb (BAM) in Djibouti. While Beijing claims both locations support peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, the new military base and port allow China to project forces more permanently within the region and influence strategically valuable trade waterways," he said.
China, General Votel said, also seeks to increase its economic and diplomatic cooperation with Iran.
The general said like Russia, China has sought to arbitrate some conflicts in the Middle East region, offering to mediate between Saudi Arabia and Iran. While China will continue to develop its relationships with nations in the Middle East, Beijing will likely maintain its stance of avoiding a major role in ongoing conflicts, he noted.
General Votel said an increasingly assertive China is not only testing Russia's dominance in the economic and security arenas of Central Asia but also posing challenges to US influence.
"China seeks to capitalise on regional concerns over what it perceives as waning US influence and support," he said.
Toward this end, Beijing is building and strengthening trade, infrastructure, defence, and political relationships across the Middle East, Central and South Asia, he added.