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Navy, Marine Corps leaders warn that China is 'weaponizing capital'

Top Navy and Marine Corps officials on Wednesday expressed concern over China’s expanding global reach and said the superpower was rapidly buying up foreign land to “win without fighting.”

“When it comes to China, the bottom line there is the checkbook,” Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer told lawmakers during a House Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing.

“Not only in the dollars and cents that they are writing to support their military expansion and their technological work, but what they’re doing around the globe ... weaponizing capital.”

Spencer referred to Beijing’s current funding of a Sri Lankan port project, a move not done as aid but rather in order to secure it for themselves. 

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China has said the project is part of its $1.4 trillion "Belt and Road Initiative," which is meant to bolster trade routes by extending roads outside the country and building up ports.

“Their open checkbook keeps me up at night,” Spencer said.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller, who also spoke at the hearing, said the Chinese “are playing the long game.”

“Their concern with human rights is not there, they’ve got big bags of cash. They’re buying airfields and ports to extend their reach ... they want to win without fighting,” Neller said.

Neller also pointed to a Russian threat in all domains, including underseas, in the air and on the ground.

“The Russians, I think, are a little more in your face,” Neller said.

“I don’t think they want to fight us, personally, but I think they want to be able to impose their will and use intimidation.”

Neller added that Russia is using its military involvement in the Syrian civil war as a “live-fire evaluation” for its systems.

“We pay attention to it, it’s something we watch,” he said.

Spencer, meanwhile, said when it comes to Russia, “one of the things that keep me up is their underwater capabilities, they never let up on that.”

Russia last week touted new ballistic weapons and drone submarines that President Vladimir Putin said cannot be stopped and make defense systems "useless.”

It’s unclear, however, whether Moscow and its economy can sustain such a military buildup for long, Spencer said.