US bars Pentagon from utilising Chinese port logistics platform

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The US Congress has approved a measure prohibiting the Pentagon from using any seaport worldwide reliant on the Chinese logistics platform LOGINK, the Voice of America (VOA) reported. According to Senators Tom Cotton and Representative Michelle Steel, LOGINK allows Beijing to monitor America’s military supply chain by tracking cargo and ship movements through commercial ports.

Their amendment to the National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA) for fiscal 2024 also restricts federal funding for ports using LOGINK. The bill, passed on December 14, is set to take effect six months after President Joe Biden signs the NDAA, which is pending. In an email interview with VOA, Representative Steel highlighted the severity of LOGINK’s threat, operating under the Chinese Communist Party, and expressed concern about Beijing’s investments in over 100 ports across 60 nations.

The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), which keeps track of the national security implications of US-China trade, noted that LOGINK’s visibility into global shipping and supply chains could expose US supply chain vulnerabilities and track shipments of US military cargo. “LOGINK’s visibility into global shipping and supply chains could also enable the Chinese government to identify U.S. supply chain vulnerabilities and to track shipments of U.S. military cargo on commercial freight,” USCC 2022 report stated.

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A spokesperson for the Pentagon’s US Transportation Command told VOA in an email on Tuesday, “USTRANSCOM understands the visibility into global logistics China has through their Belt and Road Initiative and related public-private arrangements.” LOGINK collaborates with over 20 ports globally, encompassing six in Japan, five in South Korea, and one in Malaysia. Additionally, there are at least nine ports across Europe and three in the Middle East affiliated with LOGINK.

Notably, the commission’s report indicates the absence of LOGINK port contracts in the US, revealing that Beijing subsidises this cost-free platform. Under the NDAA, Congress is mandated to commission a study on how foreign influence in the 15 largest American container ports “could affect” national and economic security.

Ivan Kanapathy, a former National Security Council director and current senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, “Chinese companies are operating ports in the United States, which poses a national security risk to our critical infrastructure. This report will spur policy to counter that risk.” The Chinese Embassy referred inquiries to China’s General Administration of Customs, which did not respond to VOA’s email inquiries.

Michael Wessel, a USCC member, hailed the legislation as a “major step” to address the LOGINK threat, underscoring the need for an alternative. Gabe Collins, a fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute, highlighted the absence of a viable alternative to LOGINK on its scale, estimating it gathers data on up to half of global shipping capacity. The US ban signals a need for an alternative and requires negotiations with allies and partners to remove LOGINK from their ports. The International Association of Ports and Harbours is yet to determine its members’ response to the new legislation.

Randall Schriver, former assistant secretary of defence for Indo-Pacific security affairs, revealed European leaders’ unawareness of LOGINK’s monitoring capacity, emphasising the need for thorough consideration of such matters, Voice of America reported.