Tensions between the U.S. and China are rising. In its important May 2016 report, "The Risk of Nuclear War with China: A Troubling Lack of Urgency," the Union of Concerned Scientists state: "The possibility that the United States of America and the People's Republic of China (PRC) could become involved in a nuclear war is increasing." As the report's summary says:
Twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, the governments of the United States and the People’s Republic of China are a few poor decisions away from starting a war that could escalate rapidly and end in a nuclear exchange. Mismatched perceptions increase both the possibility of war and the likelihood it will result in the use of nuclear weapons. Miscommunication or misunderstanding could spark a conflict that both governments may find difficult to stop. War between the United States and the People’s Republic of China is not inevitable, but failing to acknowledge the risks is certain to make it more likely.
The most prominent flashpoint for conflict is in the contested South China Sea, through which flow $trillions in annual trade. And it is economics that is at the heart of these rising tensions. China's economic rise - exemplified by its "One Belt, One Road" or "New Silk Road" - is tied to two powerful new financial institutions underpinning these larger developments. As Glen Ford of Black Agenda Reportexplained on The Real News Network:
"The Chinese-based infrastructure bank, is considered by the United States to be a mortal danger to its rule. That is, to U.S. imperialism in the world.
The purpose of the United States military, its huge war machine that is more expensive than all the other militaries of the world combined, the purpose of that machinery is to put the United States and keep the United States in a position to control the terms of trade, and to enforce the domination of the dollar, and to give U.S. corporations and friendly European corporations an unfair advantage in the world, advantages that nobody else has. And without those unfair advantages, and without the coercive power of the U.S. military, American and European domination of the world would be doomed and we would see an end to half a millenia of Euro-American control of the world.
That's something that the United States does not want to contemplate, and that is the source of the tensions in the world. That's why the United States did everything it could to dissuade its allies from joining this new Chinese-led infrastructure and investment bank, but many of its allies did join anyway. Including the Brits, and including Australia. And they joined because China is at the center of global economic development, and because Britain and Australia and other U.S. allies don't want to be left out of that development.
The new bank means that the U.S. and Europe cannot strangle Asian development. Because of their control, and they've been in control since the end of World War II, their control of the International Monetary Fund, of the World Bank, and their Japanese allies control of the Asian development bank. The Chinese have also been central in the creation of another bank. They're putting a whole new infrastructure together. And that bank will be operational by the end of this year. It's designed specifically to enhance the economic prospects of the BRIC nations, and that's China and India and Russia and South Africa.
The reason that this bank is so important is because it's designed to protect the currencies of those BRIC nations from attacks by world capitalist financial extortionists and players. Players like George Soros, who make a killing out of devaluing everybody else's country. So the BRICs nations have banded together to protect each others' currencies, and therefore ensure that they have a smooth road to development.
The purpose of these new banking institutions is to develop the economic potential of the world in a more rational way, and to integrate the economies not just of Asia, but also of Africa and of Latin America. It's designed to develop the world in ways that are not suited only for the profits of American and European corporations.
So we're not talking about revolutionary banks, and I don't know if there ever could be such a thing in today's world as a revolutionary bank. But these two banks do represent a great danger to U.S. imperialism, and because of that this is a very good thing for the planet."
In his presidential campaign, Trump persistently and forcefully denounced China's economic rise. Now in power, some members of his team have turned to Greek history to draw lessons from the Peloponnesian War between a rising Athens (China) and a militarily powerful Sparta (USA) to understand the nature of the looming conflict. The so-called "Thucydides Trap" posits that "What made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in Sparta." And Trump's (now former) special advisor, Steve Bannon, had this to say about the administration's view of China: “We’re at economic war with China. It’s in all their literature. They’re not shy about saying what they’re doing. One of us is going to be a hegemon in 25 or 30 years and it’s gonna be them if we go down this path." (While Bannon has left the White House, he is said to remain in regular contact with Trump.) As part of a series of revealing comments Bannon made to the American Prospect, he continued,
“To me, the economic war with China is everything. And we have to be maniacally focused on that. If we continue to lose it, we're five years away, I think, ten years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we'll never be able to recover.”
The Trump administration's anxiety over China's rise follows on Obama's earlier claim to be the "first Pacific president" and SecState Clinton's famed pivot to Asia, as outlined in her 2011 article in Foreign Policy, America's Pacific Century. The idea behind the pivot is summed up in this commentary:
The “pivot to Asia” meant that the U.S. was extending and deepening its regional military alliances in order to confront and encircle Russia and China. The goal would be to cripple their economies and foster social unrest leading to political instability and regime change. The U.S. onslaught for greater empire depended on the cooperation of proxies and allies to accomplish its strategic goals.
The so-called pivot to Asia had a two-pronged approach, based on an economic trading pact and various military treaty agreements. The entire U.S. strategy of retaining global supremacy depended on securing and enhancing its control over its regional allies and proxies. Failure of the Obama regime to retain Washington’s vassal states would accelerate its decline and encourage more desperate political maneuvers.
Without a doubt, every military decision and action made by the Obama Administration with regard to the Asia-Pacific Region has had only one purpose – to weaken China’s defense capabilities, undermine its economy and force Beijing to submit to Washington’s domination. In pursuit of military supremacy, Washington has installed an advanced missile system in South Korea, increased its air and maritime armada and expanded its provocative activities along China’s coastline and its vital maritime trade routes. Washington has embarked on a military base expansion campaign in Australia, Japan and the Philippines.
Tensions over the South China Sea are certain to rise. A recently released study by RAND Corporation, War with China,predicted that by 2025 “China will likely have more, better, and longer-range ballistic missiles and cruise missiles; advanced air defenses; latest generation aircraft; quieter submarines; more and better sensors; and the digital communications, processing power, and C2 [cyber security] necessary to operate an integrated kill chain.” And, increasingly, the scenarios for war with China are being imagined.
A relationship already in decline, inherited from Obama, has been made worse by the Trump junta. Even before an increasingly dangerous North Korea exposed divisions between the world's two biggest economies, relations between the U.S. and China were souring. Following a rather friendly meeting in April between 45 and Chinese President Xi Jinping, recent American actions have upped the level of tension:
Weapons to Taiwan. Days before China celebrated the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to the mainland from the British, the U.S. said it plans to sell $1.4 billion in arms to Taiwan in what is seen by Beijing as an affront to the "One China" policy. A U.S. State Department spokeswoman told reporters however that there has been no change to the United States' official acknowledgement that Taiwan and mainland China are a single entity. Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang argued last week that by selling arms to Taiwan, the U.S. has "severely violated international law" and jeopardized China's sovereignty and national interests."
New sanctions on Chinese individuals. The U.S. imposed new sanctions on a Chinese shipping company and two Chinese citizens tied to North Korea. The Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network also proposed banning U.S. financial institutions from doing business with the Bank of Dandong. Asked about the U.S. sanctions on Friday, the Foreign Ministry's Kang said that China consistently opposes unilateral sanctions imposed outside the U.N. framework. "We strongly urge the U.S. to immediately correct its mistake, so as not to impact bilateral cooperation on relevant issues," he said.
Harsh words on steel and aluminum. Trump hinted this week via his favorite communication mode - Twitter - that his administration may be gearing up to protect the U.S. steel industry. That came after three senior administration officials told Reuters last week that the U.S. president was growing increasingly frustrated with China over North Korea and other issues, and was considering possible trade actions against Beijing. Options include tariffs against steel imports.
As a China analyst noted, "Washington's recent moves in South China Sea, plans for steel tariffs and the rubber-stamping of an arms sale to Taiwan indicate that Trump is shifting toward a more hard-line approach on China."
On This Page The remainder of this page is given over to the highly-respected work of John Pilger, Pepe Escobar, and Jack Smith. Pilger has won acclaim with his recent film "The Coming War on China." We provide his own commentary on the film, as well as our transcripts of several interviews on the subject. Escobar has written extensively on The New Silk Road (his work will also be found on the subpage devoted to the topic), and on this page we provide two of his commentaries on the increasing potential for conflict between the U.S. and China. A commentary by Smith, "Hegemony Games: USA vs PRC" provides a fitting conclusion to the page where, as he says: "Big changes are beginning to take shape. Matters of peace or war are involved."
The Coming War on China
In his sixtieth documentary film, John Pilger details the growing tensions between the world largest military power, the United States, and the world's second - and rising - economic power, China.
As a review of the documentary in The Guardian notes: "Pilger politely reminds us that Nobel peace laureate Barack Obama presided over a massive increase in nuclear spending and a new strategic objective, the super-modern "pivot to Asia," which for the arms business is like the exploitation of a lucrative new market." In another interview, Pilger says the film is intended help make critical sense of a situation in which "a strange and dangerous atmosphere currently separates the world’s greatest military power, the United States, and a country that will almost certainly become the world’s greatest economic power, China."
John Pilger Writes about "The Coming War"
Today, more than 400 American military bases encircle China with missiles, bombers, warships and nuclear weapons. by John Pilger... When I first went to Hiroshima in 1967, the shadow on the steps was still there. It was an almost perfect impression of a human being at ease: legs splayed, back bent, one hand by her side as she sat waiting for a bank to open. At a quarter past eight on the morning of 6 August, 1945, she and her silhouette were burned into the granite. I stared at the shadow for an hour or more, unforgettably. When I returned many years later, it was gone: taken away, ‘disappeared’, a political embarrassment.
Like the renewal of post-Soviet Russia, the rise of China as an economic power is declared an 'existential threat' to the divine right of the United States to rule and dominate human affairs.
I have spent two years making a documentary film, The Coming War on China, in which the evidence and witnesses warn that nuclear war is no longer a shadow, but a contingency. The greatest build-up of American-led military forces since the Second World War is well under way. They are on the western borders of Russia, and in Asia and the Pacific, confronting China. The great danger this beckons is not news, or it is news buried and distorted: a drumbeat of propaganda that echoes the psychopathic campaign embedded in public consciousness during much of the 20th century. Like the renewal of post-Soviet Russia, the rise of China as an economic power is declared an ‘existential threat’ to the divine right of the United States to rule and dominate human affairs.
To counter this, in 2011 President Obama announced a ‘pivot to Asia’, which meant that almost two-thirds of U.S. naval forces would be transferred to Asia and the Pacific by 2020. Today, more than 400 American military bases encircle China with missiles, bombers, warships and, above all, nuclear weapons. From Australia north through the Pacific to Japan, Korea and across Eurasia to Afghanistan and India, the bases form, says one U.S. strategist, ‘the perfect noose’.
A study by the RAND Corporation – which, since Vietnam, has planned America’s wars – is entitled War with China: Thinking Through the Unthinkable. Commissioned by the US Army, the authors evoke the Cold War when RAND made notorious the catch cry of its chief strategist, Herman Kahn – ‘thinking the unthinkable’. Kahn’s book, On Thermonuclear War, elaborated a plan for a ‘winnable’ nuclear war against the Soviet Union. Today, his apocalyptic view is shared by those holding real power in the U.S.: the Pentagon militarists and their neoconservative collaborators in the executive, intelligence agencies and Congress. The current Secretary of Defense, Ashley Carter, a verbose provocateur, says U.S. policy is to confront those ‘who see America’s dominance and want to take that away from us’.
'Punish' China In Washington, I met Amitai Etzioni, distinguished professor of international affairs at George Washington University. The U.S., he writes, ‘is preparing for a war with China, a momentous decision that so far has failed to receive a thorough review from elected officials, namely the White House and Congress.’
This war would begin with a ‘blinding attack against Chinese anti-access facilities, including land and sea-based missile launchers… satellite and anti-satellite weapons’. The incalculable risk is that ‘deep inland strikes could be mistakenly perceived by the Chinese as pre-emptive attempts to take out its nuclear weapons, thus cornering them into “a terrible use-it-or-lose-it dilemma” [that would] lead to nuclear war.’
In 2015, the Pentagon released its Law of War Manual. ‘The United States,’ it says, ‘has not accepted a treaty rule that prohibits the use of nuclear weapons per se, and thus nuclear weapons are lawful weapons for the United States.’
In China, a strategist told me, ‘We are not your enemy, but if you [in the West] decide we are, we must prepare without delay.’ China’s military and arsenal are small compared to America’s. However, ‘for the first time,’ wrote Gregory Kulacki of the Union of Concerned Scientists, ‘China is discussing putting its nuclear missiles on high alert so that they can be launched quickly on warning of an attack… This would be a significant and dangerous change in Chinese policy… Indeed, the nuclear weapon policies of the United States are the most prominent external factor influencing Chinese advocates for raising the alert level of China’s nuclear forces.’
Professor Ted Postol was scientific adviser to the head of U.S. naval operations. An authority on nuclear weapons, he told me, ‘Everybody here wants to look like they’re tough. See, I got to be tough… I’m not afraid of doing anything military, I’m not afraid of threatening; I’m a hairy-chested gorilla. And we have gotten into a state, the United States has gotten into a situation where there’s a lot of sabre-rattling, and it’s really being orchestrated from the top.’
I said, ‘This seems incredibly dangerous.’
‘That’s an understatement.’
Andrew Krepinevich is a former Pentagon war planner and the influential author of war games against China. He wants to ‘punish’ China for extending its defences to the South China Sea. He advocates seeding the ocean with sea mines, sending in U.S. special forces and enforcing a naval blockade. He told me, ‘Our first president, George Washington, said if you want peace, prepare for war.’
In 2015, in high secrecy, the U.S. staged its biggest single military exercise since the Cold War. This was Talisman Sabre; an armada of ships and long-range bombers rehearsed an ‘Air-Sea Battle Concept for China’ - ASB - blocking sea lanes in the Straits of Malacca and cutting off China’s access to oil, gas and other raw materials from the Middle East and Africa.
It is such a provocation, and the fear of a U.S. Navy blockade, that has seen China feverishly building strategic airstrips on disputed reefs and islets in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Last July, the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled against China’s claim of sovereignty over these islands. Although the action was brought by the Philippines, it was presented by leading American and British lawyers and can be traced to then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In 2010, Clinton flew to Manila. She demanded that America’s former colony reopen the U.S. military bases closed down in the 1990s following a popular campaign against the violence they generated, especially against Filipino women. She declared China’s claim on the Spratly Islands – which lie more than 7,500 miles (12,000 kilometres) from the United States – a threat to US ‘national security’ and to ‘freedom of navigation’. Handed millions of dollars in arms and military equipment, the then government of President Benigno Aquino broke off bilateral talks with China and signed a secretive Enhanced Defense Co-operation Agreement with the U.S. This established five rotating U.S. bases and restored a hated colonial provision that American forces and contractors were immune from Philippine law.
Under the rubric of ‘information dominance’ – the jargon for media manipulation on which the Pentagon spends more than $4 billion – the Obama administration launched a propaganda campaign that cast China, the world’s greatest trading nation, as a threat to ‘freedom of navigation’.
CNN led the way, its ‘national security reporter’ reporting excitedly from on board a U.S. Navy surveillance flight over the Spratlys. The BBC persuaded frightened Filipino pilots to fly a single-engine Cessna over the disputed islands ‘to see how the Chinese would react’. None of the news reports questioned why the Chinese were building airstrips off their own coastline, or why American military forces were massing on China’s doorstep. The designated chief propagandist is Admiral Harry Harris, the U.S. military commander in Asia and the Pacific. ‘My responsibilities,’ he told The New York Times, ‘cover Bollywood to Hollywood, from polar bears to penguins.’ Never was imperial domination described as pithily.
Malleable media and obsequious partners Harris is one of a brace of Pentagon admirals and generals briefing selected, malleable journalists and broadcasters, with the aim of justifying a threat as specious as that with which George W. Bush and Tony Blair justified the destruction of Iraq.
In Los Angeles in September, Harris declared he was ‘ready to confront a revanchist Russia and an assertive China… If we have to fight tonight, I don’t want it to be a fair fight. If it’s a knife fight, I want to bring a gun. If it’s a gun fight, I want to bring in the artillery… and all our partners with their artillery.’
These ‘partners’ include South Korea, an American colony in all but name and the launch pad for the Pentagon’s Terminal High Altitude Air Defense system, known as THAAD, ostensibly aimed at North Korea. As Professor Postol points out, it targets China.
In Sydney, Australia, Harris called on China to ‘tear down its Great Wall in the South China Sea’. The imagery was front-page news. Australia is America’s most obsequious ‘partner’; its political elite, military, intelligence agencies and the dominant Murdoch media are fully integrated into what is known as the ‘alliance’. Closing the Sydney Harbour Bridge for the motorcade of a visiting American government ‘dignitary’ is not uncommon. The war criminal Dick Cheney was afforded this honour.
Although China is Australia’s biggest trader, on which much of the national economy relies, ‘confronting China’ is the diktat from Washington. The few political dissenters in Canberra risk McCarthyite smears in the Murdoch press. ‘You in Australia are with us come what may,’ said one of the architects of the Vietnam War, McGeorge Bundy. One of the most important U.S. bases is Pine Gap near Alice Springs. Founded by the CIA, it spies on China and all of Asia, and is a vital contributor to Washington’s murderous war by drone in the Middle East.
The ascendancy of the Pentagon in Washington is reflected in the record $5 trillion the United States has spent on aggressive wars since 9/11.
In October, Richard Marles, the defence spokesperson of the main Australian opposition party, the Labor Party, demanded that ‘operational decisions’ in provocative acts against China be left to military commanders in the South China Sea. In other words, a decision that could mean war with a nuclear power should not be taken by an elected leader or a parliament but by an admiral or a general.
This is the Pentagon line, a historic departure for any state calling itself a democracy. The ascendancy of the Pentagon in Washington – which Daniel Ellsberg has called a silent coup – is reflected in the record $5 trillion the United States has spent on aggressive wars since 9/11, according to a study by Brown University. The million dead in Iraq and the flight of 12 million refugees from at least four countries are the consequence.
‘I state clearly and with conviction,’ said Obama in 2009, ‘America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.’ Under Obama, nuclear warhead spending has risen higher than under any president since the end of the Cold War. A mini nuclear weapon is planned. Known as the B61 Model 12, it will mean, says General James Cartwright, former vice-chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that ‘going smaller [makes its use] more thinkable’.
Peaceful resistance The Japanese island of Okinawa has 32 military installations, from which Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan and Iraq have been attacked by the United States. Today, the principal target is China, with whom Okinawans have close cultural and trade ties.
There are military aircraft constantly in the sky over Okinawa; they sometimes crash into homes and schools. People cannot sleep, teachers cannot teach. Wherever they go in their own country, they are fenced in and told to keep out.
A hugely popular Okinawan movement has been growing since a 12-year-old girl was gang-raped by U.S. troops in 1995. It was one of hundreds of such crimes, many of them never prosecuted. Barely acknowledged in the wider world, the resistance in Okinawa is a vivid expression of how ordinary people can peacefully take on a military giant, and threaten to win.
Their campaign has elected Japan’s first anti-base governor, Takeshi Onaga, and presented an unfamiliar hurdle to the Tokyo government and the ultra-nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plans to repeal Japan’s ‘peace constitution’.
The resistance leaders include Fumiko Shimabukuro, aged 87, a survivor of the Second World War, when a quarter of Okinawans died in the American invasion. Fumiko and hundreds of others took refuge in beautiful Henoko Bay, which she is now fighting to save. The U.S. wants to destroy the bay in order to extend runways for its bombers. As we gathered peacefully outside the U.S. base, Camp Schwab, giant Sea Stallion helicopters hovered over us for no reason other than to intimidate.
Across the East China Sea lies the Korean island of Jeju, a semi-tropical sanctuary and World Heritage Site declared ‘an island of world peace’. On this island of world peace has been built one of the most provocative military bases in the world, less than 400 miles (650 kilometres) from Shanghai. The fishing village of Gangjeong is dominated by a South Korean naval base purpose-built for U.S. aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and destroyers equipped with the Aegis missile system, aimed at China.
A people’s resistance to these war preparations has become a presence on Jeju for almost a decade. Every day, often twice a day, villagers, Catholic priests and supporters from all over the world stage a religious mass that blocks the gates of the base. In a country where political demonstrations are often banned, unlike powerful religions, the tactic has produced an inspiring spectacle.
The world is shifting east, but the astonishing vision of Eurasia from China is barely understood in the West One of the leaders, Father Mun Jeong-hyeon, told me, ‘I sing four songs every day at the base, regardless of the weather. I sing in typhoons – no exception. To build this base, they destroyed the environment, and the life of the villagers, and we should be a witness to that. They want to rule the Pacific. They want to make China isolated in the world. They want to be emperor of the world.’
I flew to Shanghai for the first time in more than a generation. When I was last in China, the loudest noise I remember was the tinkling of bicycle bells; Mao Zedong had recently died, and the cities seemed dark places, in which foreboding and expectation competed. Within a few years, Deng Xiaoping, the ‘man who changed China’, was the ‘paramount leader’. Nothing prepared me for the astonishing changes today.
I met Lijia Zhang, a Beijing journalist and typical of a new class of outspoken mavericks. Her best-selling book has the ironic title Socialism Is Great! She grew up during the chaotic and brutal Cultural Revolution and has lived in the U.S. and Europe. ‘Many Americans imagine,’ she said, ‘that Chinese people live a miserable, repressed life with no freedom whatsoever. The [idea of] the yellow peril has never left them… They have no idea there are some 500 million people being lifted out of poverty, and some would say it’s 600 million.’ She described modern China as a ‘golden cage’. ‘Since the reforms started,’ she said, ‘and we’ve become so much better off, China has become one of the most unequal societies in the world. There are lots of protests now: typically, land being grabbed by officials for commercial development. But farmers are more aware of their rights; and young factory workers are demanding a better wage and conditions.’
Mao offered to meet Franklin Roosevelt in the White House, and his successor Harry Truman, and his successor Dwight Eisenhower. He was rebuffed, or willfully ignored.
China today presents perfect ironies, not least the house in Shanghai where Mao and his comrades secretly founded the Communist Party of China in 1921. Today, it stands in the heart of a very capitalist shopping district; you walk out of this communist shrine with your Little Red Book and your plastic bust of Mao into the embrace of Starbucks, Apple, Cartier, Prada. Would Mao be shocked? I doubt it. Five years before his great revolution in 1949, he sent this secret message to Washington. ‘China must industrialize,’ he wrote. ‘This can only be done by free enterprise. Chinese and American interests fit together, economically and politically. America need not fear that we will not be co-operative. We cannot risk any conflict.’ Mao offered to meet Franklin Roosevelt in the White House, and his successor Harry Truman, and his successor Dwight Eisenhower. He was rebuffed, or wilfully ignored. The opportunity that might have changed contemporary history, prevented wars in Asia and saved countless lives was lost because the truth of these overtures was denied in 1950s Washington ‘when the catatonic Cold War trance,’ wrote the critic James Naremore, ‘held our country in its rigid grip’.
Eric Li, a Shanghai venture capitalist and social scientist, told me, ‘I make the joke: in America you can change political parties, but you can’t change the policies. In China you cannot change the party, but you can change policies. The political changes that have taken place in China this past 66 years have been wider and broader and greater than probably in any other major country in living memory.’
The world is shifting east, but the astonishing vision of Eurasia from China is barely understood in the West.
For all the difficulties of those left behind by China’s rapid growth, such as workers from the countryside living on the edge in cities built for conspicuous consumption, and those Tiananmen brave-hearts still challenging ‘the centre’, the Party, what is striking is the widespread sense of optimism that buttresses the epic of change. The world is shifting east, but the astonishing vision of Eurasia from China is barely understood in the West. The ‘New Silk Road’ is a ribbon of trade, ports, pipelines and high-speed trains all the way to Europe. China, the world’s leader in rail technology, is negotiating with 28 countries for routes on which trains will reach up to 400 kilometres an hour. This opening to the world has the approval of much of humanity and, along the way, is uniting China and Russia; and they are doing it entirely without ‘us’ in the West.
We – or many of us – remain in thrall to the U.S., which has intervened violently in the affairs of a third of the members of the United Nations, destroying governments, subverting elections, imposing blockades. In the past five years, the U.S. has shipped deadly weapons to 96 countries, most of them poor. Dividing societies in order to control them is U.S. policy, [as early and as explicitly as the time of George Kennan] as the tragedies in Iraq and Syria demonstrate. ‘I believe in American exceptionalism with every fibre of my being,’ said Barack Obama, evoking the national fetishism of the 1930s. This modern cult of superiority is Americanism, the world’s dominant predator. Accompanied by a brainwashing that presents it as enlightenment on the march, the conceit insinuates our lives.
In September, the Atlantic Council, a U.S. geopolitical thinktank, published a report that predicted a Hobbesian world ‘marked by the breakdown of order, violent extremism [and] an era of perpetual war’. The new enemies were a ‘resurgent’ Russia and an ‘increasingly aggressive’ China. Only heroic America can save us.
There is a demented quality about this war-mongering. It is as if the ‘American Century’ – proclaimed in 1941 by the American imperialist Henry Luce, owner of Time magazine – has ended without notice and no-one has had the courage to tell the emperor to take his guns and go home.
Thom Hartmann. If you’ve watched any of Donald Trump’s rallies, you might have heard him rant and rave against China. The way he put it, and continues to put it, China is America’s mortal enemy and adversary for the 21st century and beyond. Donald Trump, however, isn’t the only person to think this way – the so-called Pivot to Asia, that President Obama made the centerpiece of his long-term foreign policy agenda was also predicated, in large part, on the idea that China is a potential adversary that needs to be countered, perhaps by force. But is China really our enemy? Or are we just turning them into one. And are we risking nuclear annihilation in the process? These questions are at the heart of The Coming War On China, a shocking new documentary by legendary film-maker John Pilger. John, you start out this documentary, not by talking about China, but with a long section about U.S. nuclear testing in the Pacific. Why was that?
John Pilger. Well, its about the possibility, if not the prospect, of nuclear war. The issue of nuclear war and the risk of nuclear war was said to have gone away – it never went away. And we’re reminded by this current situation with China and also with Russia, of course, two nuclear-armed powers. The whole Cold War issue that so consumed us, the possibility of facing a nuclear armaggedon, that’s very much an issue now. The whole issue with China is, I would use that rather bland word, ‘unnecessary,’ but its happened. And what’s interesting is that its been happening for some years but its almost as if its only just been noticed. There has been quite a bit of news…about China building air strips on the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, and almost nothing about the fact that the U.S. has surrounded China with some 400 military bases that stretch all the way from Australia through the Pacific up through Asia, Korea, Japan and across Eurasia. And that’s probably one of the most revealing maps I’ve used in the documentary, based on David Vine’s excellent research in Base Nation, which shows China encircled, as if by some noose. And these are, as I say, warships, bombers, battle groups, the U.S. Navy has low-draft ships just outside Chinese waters – this is the kind of provocation, the kind of scenario, if you like, just before a war. But why? This makes no sense, and of course, its about dominance and the U.S. feeling insecure – at least the administrations in the U.S. feeling that they’re position as top-dog in the world is being challenged.
TH. In the movie you describe an incident in Okinawa during the Cuban Missile Crisis, that I had no recollection of, or of that story of ever being told. Tell us about that, and what should that incident tell us?
John Pilger. Yes, I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis very well, and there was no suggestion of a possible threat in the East. In fact, what happened was, and we have one of the former missileers who gave testimony to a United Nations committee that a false order was received in a missile site on Okinawa. These missiles were aimed at China and North Korea. … The hearo of this piece was a U.S. captain who questioned the fact that he’d been given an order to fire a missile at China… He ordered several of his crew to go to another launch pad, which had accepted this order, draw their 45s, and tell them to stop. It was the kind of drama that one imagines, but really believes it doesn’t actually happen, but it did happen. The former missileer, John Bornay, who tells us in the film what happened, describes coming out into the fresh air that day, and discussing how they almost blew the earth to pieces. That’s the threat of nuclear weapons, and at the moment we have Okinawa absolutely bristling – we don’t know with nuclear weapons, maybe, and the ones that were almost fired were secretly on Okinawa – but bristling in 32 U.S. installations about 500 miles from China. That’s the kind of risk we are observing today – or we should be.
TH. You talk about how America maintains roughly a thousand military bases around the world, as you mention in the movie, as you graphically demonstrate, essentially this noose around China. To what extent are these new U.S. military bases, as opposed to those left over from World War II?
John Pilger. Some are left-overs. Okinawa is, if you like, a left-over from World War II – the marines took it, and claimed it as their own, and really haven’t given it up, even though it’s a province of Japan. But, from this so-called left-over base, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Iraq and Afghanistan have all been attacked by the aircraft that are based on Okinawa. And at the moment, as I learned when I was on Okinawa, the whole configuration of these bases is towards China and North Korea. Down the road on JeJu Island, on the southern most tip of Korea, built by the South Korean Navy – purpose built for the U.S. – where nuclear submarines and destroyers equipped with the new Aegis missile will be based. That’s about 400 miles from Shanghai. This neckless of bases, some of which you say, left-over, but many others such as this new one built in Korea – also in Korea on the mainland we’re about to see the Thad missile defense system, ostensibly aimed at North Korea to protect South Korea, but that’s nonsense, they’re aimed at China. It’s the same missile defense system that they’re talking about putting into Europe – its not a defense system, of course, its very provocative.
The West struggles to understand China because the West doesn't have a free media.
TH. You interviewed a former aid to Deng Joiu Ping, and he had this to say about China in your film: “If BBC broadcast something, they are happy to always mention this communist dictatorship, this autocracy, with this kind of label you cannot understand China as it is. But if you watch BBC, or CNN, or read Economist, and try to understand China, it will be a failure, it will be impossible.” So why does the West struggle to understand China? And how does that relate to our current tensions?
John Pilger. The West struggles to understand China because the West doesn’t have a free media. And that’s it in a nutshell. And those who haven’t woken up to that, especially given recent events, when you had an entire U.S. election campaign with these great issues of war and peace effectively left out, not up for debate. We do not have the kind of free movement of information that we’re so proud that we do have. That’s the short answer to that. Why is it that, as I mentioned at the beginning, the news talks about the airstrips that China is building in the South China Sea, but [not] anything to do with the U.S. buildup, this so-called Pivot to Asia, which I would suggest most of the American public has never heard of, and yet it represents the biggest buildup of air and naval forces, in the world, since World War II? It wasn’t an issue. It wasn’t discussed. Its downplayed, and that includes the so-called respectable media – New York Times, Washington Post, and the rest – we seem to be in that catatonic embrace of the Cold War. The difference with the old Cold War is that there were red lines then, red lines that you only crossed at your extreme peril. And both sides knew where they were. These days there are no red lines, you have American-led NATO forces on the western borders of Russia – that would have been unheard of during the old Cold War. You have, as I just mentioned, a great armada of U.S. Navy now heading for China – you have the greatest seagoing military exercise in recent memory – Operation Talisman Sabre – which rehearsed a blockade of China across the Straits of Mallaca, that happened only last year. We don’t know about this, that’s my point. And why don’t we know? That’s a question for us.
TH. In your film, social scientist and businessman Eric Lee had this to say about the relationship between the United States and China: “There has never been two countries more inter-dependent with each other than China and the U.S., in history. China is the largest trading nation in the world, in history, so China’s economy, their lives, are linked to the entire world, including America and the West, all the other countries. Interdependence between these two countries and among all the nations in the world speak to peace.” John Pilger, given that, why are we threatening China with this naval Asian pivot, and why has the U.S. surrounded China with military bases?
John Pilger. There’s a long answer to that, Thom, and it doesn’t have anything to do with Donald Trump, or really any other president. Its about a rapacious foreign policy, that’s run pretty well in a straight line since the Korean War. And its about dominance. Listen to Aston Carter, the present defence secretary, and he’s made it very clear, he’s a very verbose, provocateur, he likes speaking in public, speaking his mind, and he says ‘those who confront us, wishing to deny our dominance, they will have to deal with us.’ And he was referring to China, and Russia, but mainly China. That’s an attitude, that’s a policy, that has become almost vivid since 9/11. It existed before that, it’s existed since 1950. The invasion of Iraq in 2003, which cost probably a million lives and dispossessed about four million people, all of it based on deception. That was part of that policy. So there’s a long answer to your question, but the short answer is that China has become the second biggest economic power in the world – it may well be the biggest economic power in the world, now – and there’s never been a rise like it, and the U.S. knows that its dominance, for instance, across trade deals [is threatened]. Goodbye to all those U.S. dominated trade arrangements and banking arrangements. The Chinese have set up a parallel banking system that challenges the whole Breton Woods architecture of banking. And China has become the developer, the builder, not only the workshop, but the builder, leaving the United States with one, well-defined power, that of its military. That’s why the sabres are being rattled, because that is the power of the United States. … There was a panel in the U.S., I think last year, in which General James Cartwright made some very interesting remarks about the interval of decision-making when a country knows its possibly going to be attacked with nuclear weapons – its about 12 or 15 minutes. China, until recently, according to the literature, kept its nuclear weapons on low alert, meaning they separated the missiles and the warheads. They’re now on high alert.Why? In China there many like Eric Lee. He was educated in the United States, they admire so much about the U.S. Once strategist said to me, ‘we’re not you enemy, but if you want us to be your enemy we have to prepare.’ And that is, certainly, the reluctant view in Chinese ruling cirlces.
TH. One of the points made in your documentary is that...China has always been more inward looking than outward looking, they have never done the British Empire thing. Is that still the case, that they’re not expansionist, and what is the appropriate American response to the Chinese economic growth?
John Pilger. The United States should stop threatening the world, and stop threatening nuclear powers. There’s a very good interview in my film with Professor Ted Postal who was a former advisor the head of U.S. naval operations, now at MIT, and he said ‘Why is this happening? Why don’t we sit down with people? Why don’t we connect?’ The reason for that is that the U.S. still operates a kind of 19th century foreign policy, a gun-boat policy. Its so out of date that no one wants it because everybody knows where it could lead. Is China expansionist? Yes, China has secured its borders, there’s the example of taking over Tibet and its sphere, but beyond that, apart from one small installation in Jibouty, there are no Chinese military bases. There is a lot of economic and infrastructure activity around the world, especially in Africa. Africa is very interesting, where the Chinese have gone in and, instead of the old Western routine of saying that counties can only develop on our terms – on World Bank terms, IMF – the Chinese have gone in and said, lets have your raw materials, and we’ll build roads and bridges and ports for you. The U.S. response to that has been entirely military, so you have right through Africa, AFRICOM, which is the newest U.S. military command with headquarters now in Addis Ababa, has a military presence in almost all the countries in Africa – military presence – in which military hardware is given to often unstable governments, a 19th century, imperial way of dealing. The Chinese, on the other hand, yes they’re expanding, but they’re expanding in business terms, not in military terms. They are, as I said earlier, probably the biggest economic power in the world now, so they’re going to expand. But no one wants expansion in military terms, because its dangerous, and that’s what U.S. expansion is. Unless the world is run the way the U.S. wants it run, they get the U.S. Navy – that used to be known as gun-boat diplomacy.
TH. You reference nuclear winter in your film. There’s something in your film that I just found shocking and I’d like to play this clip: “The scientific studies I teach by the scientists that predict that the Earth can be made essentially uninhabitable from nuclear war, the scientists have been begging the Obama administration – well, they wouldn’t say “begging” – but they’ve made multiple requests to meet with him to discuss these predictions because they’re peer reviewed studies and they’ve been turned down, over and over again.” Was that because its just conventional wisdom already? Is there some denial here? What’s going on?
John Pilger. Its denial, it’s a denial. That’s Stephen Starr, who is an expert in this field. He’s not giving an opinion. He’s stating what everybody knows would happen. He says that smoke would cover the Earth with one exchange between China and the U.S., and it would be too cold for 10 years to grow food crops. Now, this information has been known for a very long time, but there is a denial. If that denial is admitted, an entire industry, then, is threatened. Was it in 2014 there were federal grants of $444 billion to arms manufacturers? The complex – the great complex, whatever its called, national-security, military-industrial – but this great landscape of armaments and war-making, intelligence, that really runs the United States, and especially now with the Pentagon long in the ascendancy. Look at Donald Trump’s cabinet; it looks like a cabinet of generals to me. That inherent part of the U.S., the reality of the U.S. is threatened by this, because without a threat, as James Bradley says at the beginning of the film, what does it do?
I’m optimistic because the film shows a fantastic resistance in Okinawa, in Korea, in the Marshall Islands. These are island people who are resisting this. Its quite an optimistic film. John Pilger. When we began filming, I was well aware of what President Obama called the “pivot to Asia.” This wasn’t really getting much media at all in the West, but it was a very serious development. It meant, in effect, the greatest buildup of naval forces in the Asia Pacific since the Second World War. This was at the time that Hilary Clinton was secretary of state, and she was making a number of statements that, within the context of U.S.-Chinese relations, were provocative. She said the South China Sea was an area of national interest, national security interest to the United States. She was also saying, as we now find out through Wikileaks, she was suggesting that the Pacific Ocean should be called the “American Sea.” But, what was happening was a renewed U.S. interest in the Pacific, and at that point, the issue of China claiming islands in the South China Sea and beginning to develop airstrips was becoming a big issue. But what wasn’t an issue was the fact that China itself was surrounded by U.S. bases. I’d always been very aware of the extent of U.S. military bases around the world, especially in the Asia Pacific, and here we had 400 U.S. bases – new ones in Australia, extending all the way up through the Pacific, through the Philippines, new bases in the Philippines after they had expelled two of the big bases it had, new bases there, through Japan, Korea, all of these bases really concentrating now with one target – China. Why? I wanted to find out why, and the journey began to make this film.
The timing of the film is extraordinary, because we have a new president, Trump, and his designated secretary of state, making the kind of Cold War threats towards China that were pretty well unknown a year or two ago. Something has happened. So this development that began with Obama in 2011 – actually it began with Hilary Clinton in 2009 – has now come round to Trump, making all kinds of provocative noises towards China. That’s the essence of the film, the film asks why, but it takes some very interesting twists and turns. But its also about the threat of nuclear war that has never gone away. And, of course, any threat from one nuclear power to another suggests that nuclear war is a possibility. So that is the overall reason for making this film.
From this interview on CGTN, on February 3, 2017... CGTN. Do you think, two years on after you made this film, do you think what you were imagining, or what you were cautioning people against in that film, do you think that war is more imminent at this moment?
John Pilger. My own view, my personal view is that, although a lot of noise is coming from Trump, Trump is no more dangerous than Obama and his secretary of defense. Some of the most provocative, aggressive statements came out of the Pentagon during the Obama years. And this whole policy, if you like, of confronting China was born during the Obama years, and has been picked up by Trump. Trump clearly has a problem with China. For one thing he promised a lot people during the election campaign that he’d get them jobs again, and he blamed China for taking their jobs away. There’s a certain absurdity about this, so it seems very much part of Trump’s policies, as far as we can tell, is to change the rules of trade engagement with China. How he does that, I don’t know. There are contradictions here; for one thing he seems to be wanting to make peace with Russia; that is one coherent strand all the way through Trump’s dialogue, his electioneering; he wants to do some kind of deal with Putin. Then we must ask the question, why then is he so aggressive to China? Although Trump doesn’t represent the current U.S. national security establishment – and we’re seeing the reaction of this national security establishment to Trump as they try and put hurdles in his way even before he is inaugurated as president – but my own sense is that the United States at this very critical time in its history, when it feels its world dominance ebbing away, that it is almost doing the reverse of what Richard Nixon did in the early 70s. He is trying to divide Russia and China – to make peace with Russia and be aggressive towards China. It was the other way around with Nixon – it was make peace with China, and be aggressive to Russia.
You have to consider that Defense Secretary Ash Carter was, in my opinion, one of the most verbose provocateurs, one of the most aggressive secretaries of defense I’ve known. The man barely gets up in the morning before he’s making some aggressive statement about either China or Russia, or all the U.S. perceived enemies, and he made a very interesting speech about this time last year, to the Washington Club, in which he said, and I’m paraphrasing, ‘those who challenge the dominance of the United States, these we will confront,’ and I think that’s what this is about. I think there are many things here; there’s Trump’s own view of grandstanding on behalf of all those that he promised to make the economic situation in the United States better again. There’s also the national security establishment – the great mass in the United States – wanting to say, we are still in charge, we are still the top dog. There’s even a touch of imperial pride – I’ve always thought modern United States was essentially a 19th century country, it behaves the way Britain did in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It puts a kind of militarism first.
CGTN. What are the potential consequences of this kind of imperial sentiment, fearing the loss of face of their declining influence in the Asia Pacific, especially when we are talking about a coming war on China, if indeed a confrontation happens between the United States and China as the result of United States’ provocation? What are the implications for that region and for the world at large?
John Pilger. The implications are disastrous, of course. Any war between great states, particularly nuclear-armed states, such as the United States and China, is a disaster. And I really don’t think that those in the United States who are leading this policy of provocation really want a nuclear war. Unless you’re demented it makes absolutely no sense. But wars happen by mistake and by accident, and we’ve already seen the U.S. sending low-draught ships right up to the international line in Chinese waters. We’ve seen them challenging them, overflying the islands in the South China Sea. We’ve seen a number of provocative acts, to which China has responded, no question about that. For example, in 2015, one of biggest air/sea military exercises in history – Talisman Sabre – rehearsed a blockade on China, through the Malllaka Straits, the Longbok Stratits. The U.S. Navy, with its air/sea battle plans, have been rehearsing this kind of trade war, trade blockade on China for quite some time. I would have thought that China is building these airstrips as a defensive measure…but every time the U.S. sails one of its ships, overflys these possessions, there’s a reaction from China. That’s a very dangerous situation.
CGTN. What are the institutional roots that got the United States’ politics…to where they are today?
John Pilger. I think it began to happen around 1915 [but] the U.S. [truly] became a great military power, and a great economic power, a great institutional power, a banking power, as a consequence of the Second World War. Europe was devastated. Britain was devastated. The old imperial powers were devastated. China was devastated. The United States was not. The United States emerged in 1945 that perhaps even those running the U.S. never imagined it would become. My own view is that the U.S. assumed this almost self-given role as the world’s great power during the Korean War when it saw that it had two great competitors, particularly the Soviet Union. And it assumed this role – and its still called this in the Western press – leader of the free world. … Within the U.S. power structure that is a very powerful force – its like a political presence in the United States, and that comes back to the fact that that role has changed, that U.S. power is not as it was. It is militarily, there is nothing to match it militarily. However, Russia again is catching up, and China is certainly starting build up its military power. But, in terms of its economic power, the United States is a shadow of what it was in 1945 – 50. It is no longer, effectively, a great manufacturing state; its largest company, Apple, makes its products in Southern China. So the world has changed in the distribution of goods, of manufacturing, of workshops, of trade, and so on. There are new rules, new forces, new power. … In the 1980s,, when the Soviet Union collapsed, the United States saw itself as the victor in the Cold War. But the 80s were also the time of the extraordinary rise of China. The world has changed around the United States, and my own view is that those very powerful institutions within the U.S. have exercised such control over, for example, banking, the World Bank, the IMF, and here China has established a new bank to which a lot of America’s allies have come, so that power, which was essential to U.S. dominance, has changed.
CGTN. In making this documentary you traveled extensively in the Pacific, to Bikini Island, for instance, where the local people were used as guinea pigs to the effects of the hydrogen bomb. You also traveled to China. What did you learn about how the Chinese perceive this threat against their country?
John Pilger. I learned again, and I’ve made a number of films about nuclear weapons and the potential of nuclear war, I learned again that we must not forget the huge risk. I went to the Marshall Islands, and filmed on Bikini, to show that here’s where the nuclear age got under way. Between 1946 and 1958, the equivalent of one Hiroshima bomb was exploded, tested, in the Marshall Islands. And right in the Marshall Islands is one of the U.S.’s biggest and most secretive bases, called the Ronald Reagan Missile Test Site, and when you look at the old archive, as I did when making this film, the reason this base was set up, as the commentator said, was “the threat from communist China.” So, the connection between where the nuclear age began and was tested – apart from Hiroshima and Nagasaki – in the 1950s, at the same time, this very important base, which commands the Pacific…the whole aim of this base is China.
CGTN. The Cold War is finished. Is the threat of nuclear war still a realistic threat?
John Pilger. Yes, it is a realistic threat, and I think there is a second Cold War. It’s a completely unnecessary – the first Cold War was unnecessary, too, but this one is especially so. China and the United States, as one of my interviewees said in my film, ‘China and the United States are connected, are locked in with each other.’ No two countries, he says, have so many interests in common, that the only way forward is as a peaceful relationship. The new China, the risen China, have so much in common, the enormous trading relationships. It makes absolutely no sense whatever, and whatever problems there are, as another one of my interviewees said, the differences can be worked out [short of nuclear war]. But as I said, something changed, and with Trump it is very difficult to work out exactly what he wants and what he’s doing. What has been manufactured is a second Cold War. A second Cold War with Russia, there’s no question about that, and a secondary second Cold War with China. And the question is why. And I think it is all about the fading dominance of the United States. It is not the top dog any more, there are other great states. China is probably now the world’s biggest economic power; in the course of a generation, China has become an enormous economic power. In Washington, for those who see the world in terms of American dominance, that is seen as a threat – doesn’t make a lot of sense to those of us who prefer a peaceful world, but that seems to be the rationale.
CGTN. If these two countries were to avoid any direct conflict, in trade or in military terms, what must be done, on the side of the United States and, potentially, on the side of China?
John Pilger. In terms of U.S. presence around the world, the U.S. has probably a thousand bases across every continent and every ocean. As I mentioned at the beginning, some of the biggest and most provocative bases are in the Asia Pacific. In Okinawa, there are 32 U.S. military installations. On the Korean island of Jeju, a new base is being built by the South Korean Navy, purpose-built for the U.S. Navy for the Aegis destroyers and nuclear submarines, something like 400 miles from Shanghai, to contain China. But why? Why contain China? One U.S. diplomat said to me in the making of this film, ‘we can’t seem to come to terms with the fact that we now have to share the world.’ There is another great state on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. There’s no reason why these two can’t live with each other, and live with each other on perfectly good terms. [But] these are very uncertain times. __________
Follow The Money Radio. I want to [begin with the] topic of the plight of the Marshall Islanders in post World War II era, as they became in essence guinea pigs for the effects of American radiation testing. … I would venture that most Americans do not know much of the history of this.
John Pilger. Well the film opens in the Marshall Islands. The Marshall Islands is where, following the atomic bombing of japan,, is where the nuclear age began. Between 1946 and 1958 the United States exploded the equivalent of one Hiroshima bomb in the Marshall Islands. So everything from its earlier atomic bombs to its later hydrogen bombs were tested in the Marshall Islands. The Marshall Islands were a trust territory of the United States. The United Nations passed in trust the welfare of the Marshall Islanders to the United States, and instead the U.S. really devastated the environment, both the natural environment and the human environment. Most of your readers will have heard of Bikini [Bikini atoll, site of nuclear testing], but the Bikini swimsuit was actually named after the explosions that devastated that island of Bikini in the Marshall Islands, so its there that the whole nuclear menace really got under way. And right in the middle of the Marshall Islands, [on] the biggest Island, is the Ronald Reagan Missile Test Site, and that was set up in the 1960s with China, in effect, as its target, and that is one of its most secretive bases, so the connection with the current atmosphere between the U.S. and China - the provocations – is really centered on that particular base in the Marshall Islands, surrounded by the this history.
You know, there was a secret program called “4.1” which began as a program to examine the effect of high-yield weapons on mice. This [then] became a program to examine the effects of high-yield nuclear weapons on human beings, so the Marshall Islands are a dark history that are very much related to events today.
FTMR. A history that many Americans are not aware of but that they’ll learn when they watch the film. It provides a really striking background to the facts that you lay out. Once of the things I found staggering from the film was the pivot to Asia that took place back in 2011 under President Obama, has now led to about 400 military bases that now surround China. Its very difficult to imagine a country not feeling threatened by that. …this military-industrial complex that has been built is now basically “noosing-up” the second largest power in the world on our watch, and its difficult for many Americans to image a hot war, a full-scale war with China, but that is the thesis of your film. Talk about this coming war with China that you envision.
John Pilger. Well, the theme of willful ignorance on the part of the United States and the American people, but particularly, American elites, has been the theme of most of my films, actually, and it is the major issue today. Several times in your questions you’ve said, ‘well, we don’t really know about this’ and I think the question your listeners might like to ask themselves is why they don’t know, because the Pivot to Asia, announced by President Obama in 2011, was not a secret and yet, as you say, very few people know about it. It meant the transfer of most U.S. naval and air forces to the Asia-Pacific region by the year 2020, and the object of that was to confront China. Well that’s a pretty important thing to know about. And in the land which has – constitutionally – the freest media in the world, the depth of this almost amnesia, this denial, this willful ignorance is quite extraordinary, to the point where Trump arrives – a kind of cartoon version of everything that’s gone before, but not all that different. The kind of devastation in Syria that we’re seeing, and in Yemen, that had been carried on by the Obama administration, and before that the Bush administration, and before that, in various parts of the world, the Clinton administration, and so on. There’s a continuity – Trump is slightly unpredictable – but there isn’t a great deal of difference between him and those that have gone before.
It is probably the most urgent question that people [should] ask, ‘why don’t we know about this?’ we’re doing this on this program, and that’s all well and good, but as you rightly said, ask people about the Marshall Islands, a place absolutely devastated by the U.S. and they won’t know.
FTMR. As you look at North Korea, do you see that as the epicenter of this coming conflict with China?
John Pilger. The world should be concerned by the United States, not North Korea. Understanding the history of that part of the world you would understand the utter devastation of Korea in the so-called Korean War in the 1950s. The whole issue of North Korea - and this strange but rather predictable regime in North Korea - the whole issue can be explained by the need for a peace treaty for a war that ended in 1953, and the United States refuses to sit down and negotiate a peace treaty with North Korea. Instead we have a barrage of caricatures of this regime – many of them absolutely correct, its a very strange regime, and not a very pleasant one – but to end this danger means negotiating with North Korea. North Korea keeps popping up its missiles to say, ‘look at us, we’re still here, and we still want a peace treaty.’ They’ve made it very clear. But if you had a peace treaty, of course, there’d be no reason to have fifty thousand U.S. soldiers in Korea. That’s the reason for the present problems. North Korea isn’t a “proxy” at all for China, in fact China has tried to persuade the North Korean regime to tone down its provocations - sometimes successfully and often not - but Trump appears to be beating his chest over North Korea, and if he does attack North Korea I think people have to understand what he’s really doing, and that is he’s attacking Asia. Because, everything is close together there – Japan, China. To attack the peninsula of Korea – North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang, is a few hour’s drive from the capital of South Korea, Seoul – there would be devastation. That’s probably the most dangerous situation at the moment and, in my view, can only be deterred by people speaking about what the issues really are. Its been going on too long, there could be stability in the region. It may not be the regime that people want [in North Korea] but there won’t be the prospect of war, and nuclear war, and that’s what we’ve got at the moment.
FTMR. I wonder if you think this war is inevitable, is it inevitable given the trajectory of the United States? What can be done to change this potential future that you envision?
John Pilger. No I don’t think anything is inevitable. But there is certainly a real possibility. What often happens with the beginning of major wars, is they begin by mistake or by accident. At first, if you create this atmosphere of provocation – of a rhetorical standoff – between states, its fertile ground for a war. A form of that happened a century ago in Europe at the beginning of the First World War. That’s the real risk here. I’d like to believe that even the most deranged general in the Pentagon doesn’t want to blow us all up with nuclear weapons. I don’t think the United States wants a nuclear war, because the United States, as I’ve illustrated very clearly in my film, would itself be devastated in a nuclear exchange with a power like China. But its this provocation, this risk taking - what has happened in the last 20, 25 years is what used to be called “diplomacy” has almost been extinguished, that great powers – especially the United States, especially the United States – speak in terms of the sabre, the sabres are rattled. That’s such a primitive way of dealing with other states. So there’s been a regression, we’ve almost lost rather strange practice called diplomacy; but diplomacy often got us out of situations (when I say “us” I mean humanity) in which we might have had a war. What can be done about it? What can be done is that people begin speaking up and identifying what the real problems are. You know right through the U.S. election campaigns what we’re talking about right now wasn’t even an issue. Now there’s this absurd obsession with a complete nonsense that Russia intervened in the U.S. election, of which there is not the slightest evidence, when in fact the issue should be the very thing we’re discussing – how do you stop a war happening between nuclear armed states?
FTMR. Its worthy of note that our generation may not even fully understand the horror of war. Its almost as if our generation is detached from the horrors of war, we see war as a kind of inflationary event that might help the stock market, we don’t see it for what it truly is.
John Pilger. I think that’s a very good point, a very good historical point. If you look at the reaction in St. Petersburg, the bombing of the underground, people went about their business, that the authorities immediately made all public transport and taxis free so they could go on searching for other bombs. The same stoicism, or coolness, happened in London during the IRA campaign in the 1970s when you got into an underground train and didn’t really know if you were going to be a victim of an attack. Those two countries have known war on their own soil – the United States hasn’t. You describe it very colorfully there but the Second World War was actually quite a lucrative operation for the U.S. – not for all those soldiers who died, of course, but even the number of soldiers who died, were few compared to the 27 million who died in the Nazi invasion of Russia. So that long memory – and its not all that long – in Europe, an in Russia, and in China, China devastated for most of the 19th century and most of the 20th century, certainly up to the mid-20th century – that memory of war, and of chaos, and of dispossession is very very vivid; its not so in the United States. … And I think that’s a factor. I think its also a factor that history is not taught in schools, the whole sense of the past and how it affects the present and the future, is not taught. Technology is now so consuming us that the very basics like understanding our past, and learning from the lessons of our past, just isn’t there, and that one of the problems.
RT. Who would have predicted that all it would take for NATO nations’ liberal media to fall in love with U.S. President Donald Trump would be 59 Raytheon Tomahawk missiles being launched at one of the most impoverished countries in the world. Someone who might is our next guest. John Pilger has made more than 60 documentaries, his latest, The Coming War on China, details the greatest military buildup since the Second World War by the United States against China.
The world is celebrating Easter, a crucifixion in Palestine. What do you make of the fact that the UK-backed Israeli government is telling the UN that Gaza faces a humanitarian crisis?
John Pilger. Well its about the suppression of truth. Its about double standards. Its about the kind of moral disregard that is the hallmark of our government. It’s the hallmark of many governments, but those that always pretend to uphold all those Christian values that are embodied in Easter are the ones that also uphold a kind of incandescent hypocrisy. Gaza, is as is often said, an open prison. The people there are the inmates and their prison guards is the state of Israel. The state of Israel is the world champion in breaking international law, there’s no country that really matches it, and yet, almost laughably, it calls itself a democracy. Its courts now say that its okay to plant colonies right in the heart of the West Bank, and this is Easter, and I think if we’re going to remember anything at Easter we should remember that the people of Gaza should not be forgotten by us.
RT. You mention the breaking of law, certainly in the media here not many people mentioning that Donald Trump could have arguably broken the law with these missile strikes on Syria. Are you aware of any ironies that it happened while he was having dinner with President Xi Jinping in Florida?
John Pilger. I have no doubt, though I have no first hand evidence, that that’s the way it was planned. It was to send a message to the president of China, particularly over North Korea, that unless you haul in your friends in Pyongyang – and of course, they’re not especially the friends of the Chinese – unless you do something about that, we might fire a few missiles over there too. It will be rather different, of course, because the missiles could open up a world war with a nuclear power. At the very least, it would destroy one of America’s closest allies, or supplicant state, South Korea. That’s how I read that.
RT. What do you think of the reports – unnamed sources, of course, in the U.S. media – blandly telling us that the idea of nuclear weapons deployment in South Korea by the Trump administration is on the table, as is, according to NBC News, the possibility of assassination of Kim Jung Un of North Korea as a strategy?
John Pilger. They call it the “decapitation” of the state. The possibility – the contingency, if you like – of using nuclear weapons has been on the table long before Trump. It was in the dying days of the Obama era that Congress quietly took out the word “limited” from nuclear war. The Pentagon’s Law of War manual makes it very clear that it reserves the right to attack first with nuclear weapons. The air/sea battles plans for war with China are really about, as it says, conducting a blinding attack – it uses the word “blinding” – on China just so they don’t attack the United States with nuclear weapons, and that blinding attack, of course, would quickly escalate to nuclear weapons. The kind of discussion in the 1980s, that people regarded as the real threat to the existence of humanity, when a million people filled the streets of Manhattan as part of the freeze movement…all this is so contrary to how the world, ordinary people, the majority of sane humanity actually thinks. And we had a very striking example of that recently when an overwhelming majority of the members of the [UN] General Assembly voted to outlaw nuclear weapons, and, of course, the nuclear powers opposed it and their vassal states – one or two others – went along with it. But the point was, and we must not forget this, that the majority of humanity have made that move – nuclear weapons will be illegal. That would make it quite difficult for the moralizing, for crocodile tears, for double standards, coming out of Washington and London and Tel Aviv.
RT. But don’t you think the reaction of Russia and China to the U.S. military attack on Syria will embolden Donald Trump. All we heard was words, the Chinese saying that the British ambassador the UN, Mathew Rycroft, was “abusing the Security Council”, that he condemned him for distorting China’s position, Russia, of course, similarly making statements that this was bad for any kind of peace in Syria. There was no actual threat that Donald Trump feels, surely.
John Pilger. The Security Council is now a theatre of abuse. You have the absurd performance by the U.S. representative at the United Nations, with her photographs, completely bereft of any historical irony that Colin Powell had done exactly the same thing in 2003. They know that abuse will become media headlines. Look, if I’m to speculate, I think Trump fired those missiles in order to save his political skin. There was a suggestion, that was becoming a political threat to him, that he might be impeached. The movement against him – within the U.S. establishment by everyone from the CIA to the NSA to the State Department, and of the course the media, the Democratic Party and the liberal establishment – was such that in his own political terms he had to do something. So why not do what every American president does – and I don’t exaggerate, every American president in living memory – has attacked some country, in some form, in order to establish his credentials. It was interesting to hear the former Democratic candidate, Hilary Clinton, weigh in and say ‘he should have attacked all the airfields’ in Syria. It’s a festival of war. Trump used that, I believe, to save his political skin. He also used it to send messages – confused messages, perhaps – to China (and he was about to see the Chinese president). It has been pointed out to him that China and Russia are closer, in a very positive sense, than they have been for a very long time. … Its almost Mao’s dream. That’s what Mao wanted for China and the United States. China and Russia have never been closer, and closer militarily, there’s no question about that, doing military exercises together. So Trump is trying a bit of old Nixon manipulation to divide them; whether or not he will I don’t know. Its very difficult to know with Trump, so much appears to be made up as he goes along, but there is a consistency about it. Its not all that different from Obama. Trump is a slightly unpredictable cartoon version of his predecessors.
RT. Mainstream media here are telling us that its Russia and China that are the nations isolated in the new world order.
John Pilger. Isolating Russia has been a kind of overarching [U.S.] policy since 1917. The United States has regarded Russia as absolutely the enemy, as key to sustaining NATO. NATO needs the enemy of Russia. That’s why there was so much hysteria about Trump when it was suggested that he was going to do some peace deals with Vladimir Putin. That was the one glimmer of hope with the coming of the Trump era. Everything seems to have been turned on its head with Trump attacking a country he said he’d never attack. He said he had no interest in regime change in Damascus, now he has, that seems to be the policy, but is it? I don’t think we should wait around to find out. People do have a voice and I would suggest that all those people went into the streets to condemn – understandably – Trump as a new kind of fascist, and calling for his impeachment, many of whom are absolutely delighted he has attacked the wicked Assad, perhaps they may see that their voice, a world voice, is needed to prevent the kind of nuclear wars that we are beckoning, both with Russia and with China.
RT. Did it surprise even you how Donald Trump went from being an enemy himself – maybe because of what he said about NATO – to suddenly becoming, as one CNN anchor said, “the real president of the United States” in launching those missile strikes?
John Pilger: I’ve been reasonably confident all along that he would be another American president, and that has certain responsibilities. Responsibilities, first of all, to threaten, and to attack, and that he’s done. You must remember that the Tomahawk missile has been used by other presidents, used famously by Bill Clinton, used by President Bush the first, certainly by his son. You can send your ships into the Eastern Mediterranean and hurl them at a country and kill people without having your own people killed. Its almost a presidential weapon – we’ve been waiting for the Tomahawks, and here they are. So now perhaps Trump has to be really regarded by serious people as not just a grotesque comic, but as another American president, and all the consistencies that that exemplifies. That term, war, or, as Martin Luther King described the United States as "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world". He wasn’t talking about the American people, he was talking about the monoliths that run that country, and we’ve had a demonstration of it again.
Daniel Broudy: You’re now finishing up work on your latest project the title of which, it seems, can also trigger feelings of considerable dread. "The Coming War", maybe you’d agree, is pretty heavy. Can you describe the impetus for this particular look at world events, especially as you see them unfolding in East Asia?
John Pilger: The film picks up the theme of much of my work. It will set out to explain how great power imposes itself on people and disguises itself and the dangers it beckons. This film is about the United States—no longer sure of its dominance—rekindling the Cold War. The Cold War has been started again on two fronts—against Russia and against China. I’m concentrating on China in a film about the Asia-Pacific. It’s set in the Marshall Islands where the United States exploded 67 atomic bombs, nuclear weapons, between 1946 and 1958, leaving that part of the world gravely damaged—in human and environmental terms. And this assault on the Marshalls goes on. On the largest island, Kwajalein, there is an important and secretive US base called the Ronald Reagan Test Facility, which was established in the 1960s—as the archive we’re using makes clear—“to combat the threat from China.”
The film is also set in Okinawa, as you know. Part of the theme is to show the resistance to power and war by a people who live along a fence line of American bases in their homeland. The film’s title has a certain foreboding about it because it’s meant as a warning. Documentaries such as this have a responsibility to alert people, if necessary to warn, and to show the resistance to rapacious plans. The film will show that the resistance in Okinawa is remarkable, effective, and little known in the wider world. Okinawa has 32 US military installations. Nearly a quarter of the land is occupied by US bases. The sky is often crowded with military aircraft; the sheer arrogance of an occupier is a daily physical presence. Okinawa is about the size of Long Island. Imagine a bristling Chinese base right next to New York.
I went on to film in Jeju Island, off the southern tip of Korea where something very similar has happened. People on Jeju tried to stop the building of an important and provocative base about 400 miles from Shanghai. The South Korean navy will keep it ready for the US. It’s really a US base where Aegis Class destroyers will dock along with nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers—right next to China. Like Okinawa, Jeju has a history of invasion and suffering, and resistance.
In China, I decided to concentrate in Shanghai, which has seen so much of China’s modern history and convulsions, and modern restoration. Mao and his comrades founded the Communist Party of China there in the 1920s. Today the house where they met in secret is surrounded by the symbols of consumerism: a Starbucks is directly opposite. The ironies in China today crowd the eye.
The final chapter of the film is set in the United States, where I interviewed those who plan and “war game” a war with China and those who alert us to the dangers. I met some impressive people: Bruce Cummings, the historian whose last book on Korea is bracing secret history, and David Vine, whose comprehensive work on US bases was published last year. I filmed an interview at the State Department with the Assistant Secretary of State for Asia and the Pacific, Daniel Russell, who said that the United States “was no longer in the basing business.” The US has some 5,000 bases—4,000 in the US itself and almost a thousand on every continent. Drawing this together, making sense of it, doing everyone as much justice as possible, is the pleasure and pain of filmmaking. What I hope the film will say is that there are great risks, which have not been recognized. I must say it was almost other-worldly to be in the US during a presidential campaign that addresses none of these risks.
That’s not entirely correct. Donald Trump has taken what appears to be a serious if passing interest. Stephen Cohen, the renowned authority on Russia, has tracked this, pointing out that Trump has made clear he wants friendly relations with Russia and China. Hillary Clinton has attacked Trump for this. Incidentally, Cohen himself was abused for suggesting that Trump wasn’t a homicidal maniac in relation to Russia. For his part, Bernie Sanders has been silent; in any case, he’s on Clinton’s side now. As her emails show, Clinton appears to want to destroy Syria in order to protect Israel’s nuclear monopoly. Remember what she did to Libya and Gaddafi. In 2010, as secretary of state, she turned the regional dispute in the South China’s Sea into America’s dispute. She promoted it to an international issue, a flashpoint. The following year, Obama announced his “pivot to Asia,” the jargon for the biggest build-up of US military forces in Asia since World War Two. The current Defense Secretary Ash Carter recently announced that missiles and men would be based in the Philippines, facing China. This is happening while NATO continues its strange military buildup in Europe, right on Russia’s borders. In the US, where media in all its forms is ubiquitous and the press is constitutionally the freest in the world, there is no national conversation, let alone debate, about these developments. In one sense, the aim of my film is to help break a silence.
DB: It is quite astonishing to see that the two major democratic candidates have said virtually nothing of substance about Russia and China and what the U.S. is doing, and as you said it is ironic that Trump being a businessman talking about China in this way.
John Pilger: Trump is unpredictable, but he did state clearly he had no wish to go to war with Russia and China. At one point, he said he would even be neutral in the Middle East. That’s heresy, and he backtracked on that. Stephen Cohen said that he [Cohen] had been attacked just for uttering this [Trump’s points]. I wrote something similar recently and upset a social media sub-strata. Several people suggested I supported Trump.
Maki Sunagawa: I’d like to shift gears to some of your previous work that touches upon the present. In your film, Stealing a Nation, Charlesia Alexis talks about her fondest memories of Diego Garcia, pointing out that, “We could eat everything; we never lacked for anything, and we never bought anything, except for the clothes we wore.” These words remind me of the peaceful and untouched places and cultures across the world that existed before classic colonizing techniques were applied to Indigenous peoples and environments. Could you expand a bit more on the details you uncovered during your research on Diego Garcia that illustrate facts about this insidious force we still endure today?
John Pilger: What happened to the people of Diego Garcia was an epic crime. They were expelled, all of them, by Britain and the United States. The life you have just described, Charlesia’s life, was deliberately destroyed. Since their expulsion, beginning in the 1970s, the people of the Chagos have staged an indefatigable resistance. As you suggest, their story represents that of indigenous people all over the world. In Australia, the Indigenous people have been expelled from their communities and brutalized. In North America, there is a similar history. Indigenous people are deeply threatening to settler societies; for they represent another life, another way of living, another way of seeing; they may accept the surface of our way of life, often with tragic results, but their sense of themselves isn’t captive. If we “modernists” were as clever as we believe we are, we would learn from them. Instead, we prefer the specious comfort of our ignorance and prejudice. I’ve had much to do with the Indigenous people of Australia. I’ve made a number of films about them and their oppressors, and I admire their resilience and resistance. They have a lot in common with the people of Diego Garcia.
Certainly, the injustice and cruelty are similar: the people of the Chagos were tricked and intimidated into leaving their homeland. In order to terrify them into leaving, the British colonial authorities killed their beloved pet dogs. Then they loaded them on to an old freighter with a cargo of bird shit, and dumped them in the slums of Mauritius and the Seychelles. This horror is described in almost contemptuous detail in official documents. One of them, written by the Foreign Office lawyer, is titled, “Maintaining the Fiction.” In other words: how to spin a big lie. The British government lied to the United Nations that the people of the Chagos were “transient workers.” Once they were expelled, they were airbrushed; a Ministry of Defence document even claimed there had never been a population.
It was a grotesque tableau of modern imperialism: a word, incidentally, almost successfully deleted from the dictionary. A few weeks ago, the Chagossians saw their appeal to Britain’s Supreme Court rejected. They had appealed a decision by the House of Lords in 2009 that refused them the right to go home—even though a series of High Court judgments had already found in their favor. When British justice is called on to adjudicate between human rights and the rights of great power, its decisions can be almost nakedly political.
DB: In hearing over the past couple of decades people talk about the great beauty of Diego Garcia and the amazing marine leisure activities in store for anyone fortunate enough to be stationed or temporarily assigned there, I am consistently struck by the determined ignorance of those who blithely come and go undisturbed about the history of the island. Maybe it’s the media that many people consume that serve a part in creating this detached awareness. The clear line that once traditionally separated civilian commercial advertising and military public relations seems to have effectively disappeared in these mass communications. Nowadays, civilian publications carry headlines like The Best Overseas Military Base Towns Ranked. The author of a recent article points out that service members admit to their dream of “seeing the world” as a central reason that motivates their military service. I wonder if the present system allows you, encourages you to see yourself as some sort of cosmopolitan world traveler and, thus, helps develop in you a superficial sense of the wider world, which also veils hideous realities and histories, like in Diego Garcia, lying just out of sight. Do you think perhaps the process of commercializing and glamorizing these military activities has played some part in maintaining the global system of bases?
John Pilger:Persuading young men and women to join a volunteer military is achieved by offering them the kind of security they wouldn’t get in difficult economic times and by making it all seem an adventure. Added to this is the propaganda of flag-waving patriotism. The bases are little Americas; you can be overseas in exotic climes, but not really; it’s a virtual life. When you run into the “locals,” you may assume the adventure you’re on includes a license to abuse them; they’re not part of little America, so they can be abused. Okinawans know this only too well.
I watched some interesting archive film about one of the bases on Okinawa. The wife of one of the soldiers based there said, “Oh, we try to get out once a month to have a local meal to get an idea of where we are.” In flying out of the Marshall Islands last year, my crew and I had to pass through the Ronald Reagan Missile Test Site on Kwajelein Atoll. It was a Kafkaesque experience. We were fingerprinted, our irises recorded, our height measured, our photographs taken from all angles. It was as if we were under arrest. This was the gateway to a little America with a golf course and jogging tracks and cycle lanes and dogs and kids. The people watering the golf courses and checking the chlorine in the swimming pools come from an island across the bay, Ebeye, where they’re ferried to and fro by the military. Ebeye is about a mile long and has 12,000 people crammed on it; they’re refugees from the nuclear testing in the Marshalls. The water supply and sanitation barely work. It’s apartheid in the Pacific. The Americans at the base have no idea how the islanders live. They [members of the military community] have barbecues against tropical sunsets. Something similar happened on Diego Garcia. Once the people were expelled, the barbecues and water-skiing could get under way.
In Washington, the assistant secretary of state I interviewed said that the United States was actually anti-imperialist. He was straight-faced and probably sincere, if vapid. He’s not unusual. You can say to people of academic stature in the US, “The United States has the greatest empire the world has seen, and here is why, here is the evidence.” It’s not unlikely this will be received with an expression of incredulity.
DB: Some of the things you are talking about remind me of something I learned from previous friends in the State Department. There is always a risk of State Department employees or people serving in the military overseas “going local,” beginning to empathize with people in the local population.
John Pilger: I agree. When they empathize, they realize that maybe the whole reason for them being there is nonsense. Some of the most effective truth-tellers are ex-military.
DB: Maybe the fences, more than keeping the foreigners [local people] out of that area [inside], are to remind the people within the fence line that there is a barrier and sometimes you are not permitted to cross that barrier.
John Pilger: Yes, it’s “them and us.” If you go outside the fence line, there is always the risk you’ll gain something of an understanding of another society. That can lead to questions of why the base is there. That doesn’t happen often, because another fence line runs through the military consciousness.
MS: When you look back on your scouting locations in Okinawa or when you undertook certain shoots for this project, what are some of the more unforgettable and/or shocking memories you have? Are there any scenes or conversations that really stick with you?
John Pilger: Well, there are quite a few. I felt privileged to meet Fumiko [Shimabukuro], who is inspiring. Those who had succeeded in getting Governor Onaga elected and securing Henoko and the issue of all the bases on the Japanese political agenda are among the most dynamic people of principle I have met: so imaginative and gracious.
Listening to the mother of one of the young people who eventually died from his terrible injuries when a US fighter crashed into the school [in Ishikawa] in 1959 was a sharp reminder of the fear that people live with. A teacher told me she never stopped looking up anxiously when she heard the drone of an aircraft above her classroom. When we were filming outside Camp Schwab, we were (as well as all of the demonstrators) deliberately harassed by huge Sea Stallion helicopters, which flew in circles over us. It was a taste of what Okinawans have to put up with, day after day. There is often a lament among liberal people in comfortable societies confronted with unpalatable truths: “So, what can I do to change it”? I would suggest they do as the people of Okinawa have done: you don’t give up; you keep going.
“Resistance” is not a word you often hear in the West, or see in the media. It is considered an ‘other’ word, not used by polite people, respectable people. It’s a hard word to twist and change. The resistance I found in Okinawa is inspirational.
MS: Yes, I suppose when you are a part of the resistance it isn’t so easy to see its effectiveness so well. So often, when I’m doing field research, interviewing, taking notes, and writing, it takes some time for me to take a step back and look at the details more objectively to understand the larger story I’m seeing. I wonder, during the editing process for this new film, if you can talk about any new and important insights—you’ve already gained—as the storyline has come together. John Pilger: Well, making a film like this is really a voyage of discovery. You start off with an outline and a collection of ideas and assumptions, and you never really know where it’s going to go. I had never been to Okinawa, so here were new ideas and experiences: a new sense of people, and I want the film to reflect this. The Marshall Islands were also new to me. Here, from 1946, the US tested the equivalent of one Hiroshima bomb every day for twelve years. The Marshallese are still being used as guinea pigs. ICBMs are fired at the lagoons in and around Kwajelein Atoll from California. The water is poisoned, the fish inedible. People survive on canned processed junk. I met a group of women who were survivors of nuclear tests around Bikini and Rongelap atolls. They had all lost their thyroid glands. They were women in their sixties. They had survived, incredibly. They had the most generous characters and a dark sense of humor. They sang for us and presented us with gifts, and said they were pleased that we had come to film. They, too, are part of an unseen resistance.
Is War Inevitable in the South China Sea?
by Pepe Escobar...
Since the recent ruling by The Hague in favor of the Philippines and against China over the South China Sea, Southeast Asia has been engulfed on how to respond. They dithered. They haggled. They were plunged into despair. It was a graphic demonstration of how “win-win” business is done in Asia. At least in theory.
In the end, at a summit in Vientiane, Laos, the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China finally settled for that household mantra - “defusing tensions”. They agreed to stop sending people to currently uninhabited “islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features” after ASEAN declared itself worried about land reclamation and “escalations of activities in the area”. And all this without even naming China - or referring to the ruling in The Hague.
China and ASEAN also pledged to respect freedom of navigation in the South China Sea (which Washington insists is in danger); solve territorial disputes peacefully, through negotiations (that happens to be the official Chinese position), also taking into consideration the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS); and work hard to come up with a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (that’s been going on for years; optimistically, a binding text will be ready by the first half of 2017). So, problem solved? Not really. At first, it was Deadlock City. Things only started moving when the Philippines desisted to mention The Hague in the final statement; Cambodia – allied with China – had prevented it from the start.
And that’s the heart of the matter when it comes to ASEAN negotiating with China. It’s a Sisyphean task to reach consensus among the 10 members – even as ASEAN spins its role as the perfect negotiation conduit. China for its part prefers bilaterals – and has applied Divide and Rule to get what it wants, seducing mostly Laos and Cambodia as allies.
That threat by a peer competitor The strategic geopolitical centrality of the South China Sea, is well known: A naval crossroads of roughly $5 trillion in annual trade; transit sea lanes to roughly half of global daily merchant shipping, a third of global oil trade and two-thirds of all liquid natural gas (LNG) trade.
It’s also the key hub of China’s global supply chain. The South China Sea protects China’s access to the India Ocean, which happens to be Beijing’s crucial energy lifeline. Woody Island in the Paracels, southeast of Hainan island, also happens to be a key bridgehead in One Belt, One Road (OBOR) – the New Silk Roads. The South China Sea is strictly linked to the Maritime Silk Road.
The arbitration panel in The Hague (composed of four Europeans, one American of Ghanaian descent and, significantly, no Asians) issued a ruling that is non-binding; moreover, it was not exactly neutral, as China, one the conflicting parties, simply refused to take part.
Beyond these expressions of mutual ASEAN-China understanding, hardcore action will keep everyone’s juices flowing. The Pentagon, predictably, won’t refrain from its FON (Freedom of Navigation) program, which has recently featured several B-52 overflights in the South China Sea along with the usual US Navy patrols. But now Beijing is counter punching in style – showing off one of its H-6K long-range nuclear-capable bombers overflying Scarborough Shoal, near the Philippines. That only increased Pentagon paranoia, because the real game in the South China Sea revolves to a large extent over China’s aerial and underwater military strategy. To understand the progression, we need to go back to the early 1980s, when the Little Helmsman Deng Xiaoping set up China’s first Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Shenzhen. From the start, the whole Chinese miracle always depended upon China’s eastern seaboard’s fabulous capacity to engage in global trade. More than half of China’s GDP depends on global trade.
But, strategically, China has no direct access to the open seas. Geophysics is implacable: there are islands all around. And geopolitics followed; many of these are and can become a problem.
Wu Shicun, the president of China’s National Institute for South China Sea Studies, has been constant over the years; all of Beijing’s actions boil down to securing strategic access to the opens seas. This may be construed in the West as aiming for a “Chinese lake”. But it’s in fact about securing its own naval backyard. And that implies, predictably, deep suspicion about what the US Navy may come up with. The Defense Ministry loses sleep about it 24/7.
For Beijing, it’s crystal clear; the eastern seaboard must be protected at all costs – because they are the entry and exit point of China’s global supply chains. Yet as Beijing improves its military sophistication, the hegemon – or exceptionalist – machine gets itchier and itchier. Because the whole ingrained exceptionalist worldview can only conceive it as a “threat” by a peer competitor.
The larger-than-life “access” drama From Exceptionalistan’s point of view, it’s all about the myth of “access”. The U.S. must have full, unrestricted “access” to the seven seas, the base of its Empire of Bases, post-Rule Britannia system: the “indispensable nation” ruling the waves.
But now Beijing has reached a new threshold. It’s already in the position to successfully defend the strategic southern island of Hainan. The Yulin naval base in Hainan is the site of China’s expanded submarine fleet, which not only features stalwarts such as the 094A Jin-class submarine, but the capability to deliver China’s new generation ICBM, the JL-3, with an estimated range of 12,000km.
Translation: China now can not only protect, but also project power, aiming ultimately at unrestricted access to the Pacific.
The US counter punch to all this is “Anti-Access”, or A2, plus Area Denial, which in Pentagonese turns out as A2/AD. Yet China has evolved very sophisticated A2/AD tactics, which include cyber warfare; submarines equipped with cruise missiles; and most of all anti-ship ballistic missiles such as the Dongfeng 21-D, an absolute nightmare for those sitting duck billion-dollar US aircraft carriers.
A program called Pacific Vision, funded by the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessments, eventually came up with the Air-Sea Battle concept. Virtually everything about Air-Sea Battle is classified. As the concept was being elaborated, China has mastered the art of very long range ballistic missiles – a lethal threat to the Empire of Bases, fixed and/or floating.
What is known is that the core Air-Sea Battle concept, known in Orwellian Pentagonese as “NIA/D3”,“networked, integrated forces capable of attack-in-depth to disrupt, destroy and defeat adversary forces”. To break through the fog, this is how the Pentagon would trample over Chinese A2/AD. The Pentagon wants to be able to attack all sorts of Chinese command and control centers in a swarm of “surgical operations”. And all this without ever mentioning the word “China”.
So these are the stakes. The indispensable nation’s military hegemony over the whole South China Sea must always be undisputed. Always. But already it is not. China is positioning itself as a cunning, asymmetrical aspirant to “peer competitor”. For the moment Beijing ranks second in the Pentagon’s list of “existential threats” to the US. Were not for Russia’s formidable nuclear power, China would already be number one.
At the same time China does not need to launch any military offensive against an ASEAN member; it’s bad for business. The environment after The Hague’s ruling – as the Laos summit proved – points toward long-term diplomatic solutions. But make no mistake; at some point in the future, there will be a serious confrontation between the US and China over “access" to the South China Sea.
By Pepe Escobar, First Published by RT, July 27, 2016
The Real Secret to the South China Sea
by Pepe Escobar...
The South China Sea is and will continue to be the ultimate geopolitical flashpoint of the young 21st century – way ahead of the Middle East or Russia’s western borderlands. No less than the future of Asia – as well as the East-West balance of power – is at stake.To understand the Big Picture, we need to go back to 1890 when Alfred Mahan, then president of the US Naval College, wrote the seminal The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783. Mahan’s central thesis is that the US should go global in search of new markets, and protect these new trade routes through a network of naval bases. That is the embryo of the US Empire of Bases – which de facto started after the Spanish-American war, over a century ago, when the US graduated to Pacific power status by annexing the Philippines, Hawaii and Guam.
Western - American and European - colonialism is strictly responsible for the current, incendiary sovereignty battle in the South China Sea. It’s the West that came up with most land borders - and maritime borders - of these states. The roll call is quite impressive. Philippines and Indonesia were divided by Spain and Portugal in 1529. The division between Malaysia and Indonesia is owed to the British and the Dutch in 1842. The border between China and Vietnam was imposed to the Chinese by the French in 1887. The Philippines’s borders were concocted by the US and Spain in 1898. The border between Philippines and Malaysia was drawn by the US and the Brits in 1930.
We are talking about borders between different colonial possessions – and that implies intractable problems from the start, subsequently inherited by post-colonial nations. And to think that it had all started as a loose configuration. The best anthropological studies (such as Bill Solheim’s) define the semi-nomadic communities who really traveled and traded across the South China Sea from time immemorial as the Nusantao – an Austronesian compound word for “south island” and “people”.
The Nusantao were not a defined ethnic group; rather a maritime internet. Over the centuries, they had many key hubs, from the coastline between central Vietnam and Hong Kong to the Mekong Delta. They were not attached to any “state”, and the notion of “borders” didn’t even exist. Only by the late 19th century the Westphalian system managed to freeze the South China Sea inside an immovable framework. Which brings us to why China is so sensitive about its borders; because they are directly linked to the “century of humiliation” – when internal Chinese corruption and weakness allowed Western barbarians to take possession of Chinese land.
Tension in the nine-dash line The eminent Chinese geographer Bai Meichu was a fierce nationalist who drew his own version of what was called the “Chinese National Humiliation Map”. In 1936 he published a map including a “U-shaped line” gobbling up the South China Sea all the way down to James Shoal, which is 1,500 km south of China but only over 100 km off Borneo. Scores of maps copied Meichu’s. Most included the Spratly Islands, but not James Shoal. The crucial fact is that Bai was the man who actually invented the “nine-dash line”, promoted by the Chinese government – then not yet Communist – as the letter of the law in terms of “historic” Chinese claims over islands in the South China Sea.
Everything stopped when Japan invaded China in 1937. Japan had occupied Taiwan way back in 1895. Now imagine Americans surrendering to the Japanese in the Philippines in 1942. That meant virtually the entire coastline of the South China Sea being controlled by a single empire for the fist time in history. The South China Sea had become a Japanese lake.
Not for long; only until 1945. The Japanese did occupy Woody Island in the Paracels and Itu Aba (today Taiping) in the Spratlys. After the end of WWII and the US nuclear-bombing Japan, the Philippines became independent in 1946; the Spratlys immediately were declared Filipino territory.
In 1947 the Chinese went on overdrive to recover all the Paracels from colonial power France. In parallel, all the islands in the South China Sea got Chinese names. James Shoal was downgraded from a sandbank into a reef (it’s actually underwater; still Beijing sees is as the southernmost point of Chinese territory.) In December 1947 all the islands were placed under the control of Hainan (itself an island in southern China.) New maps — based on Meichu’s — followed, but now with Chinese names for the islands (or reefs, or shoals). The key problem is that no one explained the meaning of the dashes (which were originally eleven.)
So in June 1947 the Republic of China claimed everything within the line – while proclaiming itself open to negotiate definitive maritime borders with other nations later on. But, for the moment, no borders; that was the birth of the much-maligned “strategic ambiguity” of the South China Sea that lasts to this day. “Red” China adopted all the maps — and all the decisions. Yet the final maritime border between China and Vietnam, for instance, was decided only in 1999. In 2009 China included a map of the “U-shaped” or “nine-dash line” in a presentation to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf; that was the first time the line officially showed up on an international level.
No wonder other Southeast Asian players were furious. That was the apex of the millennia-old transition from the “maritime internet” of semi-nomadic peoples to the Westphalian system. The post-modern “war” for the South China Sea was on.
Gunboat freedom In 2013 the Philippines – prodded by the US and Japan – decided to take its case about Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) in the South China Sea to be judged according to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Both China and Philippines ratified UNCLOS. The US did not. The Philippines aimed for UNCLOS - not “historical rights”, as the Chinese wanted - to decide what is an island, what is a rock, and who is entitled to claim territorial rights (and thus EEZs) in these surrounding waters.
UNCLOS itself is the result of years of fierce legal battles. Still, key nations – including BRICS members China, India and Brazil, but also, significantly, Vietnam and Malaysia – have been struggling to change an absolutely key provision, making it mandatory for foreign warships to seek permission before sailing through their EEZs.And here we plunge in truly, deeply troubled waters; the notion of “freedom of navigation”.
For the American empire, “freedom of navigation”, from the West Coast of the US to Asia – through the Pacific, the South China Sea, the Malacca Strait and the Indian Ocean – is strictly subordinated to military strategy. Imagine if one day EEZs would be closed to the US Navy – or if “authorization” would have to be demanded every time; the Empire of Bases would lose “access” to…its own bases.
Add to it trademark Pentagon paranoia; what if a “hostile power” decided to block the global trade on which the US economy depends? (even though the premise — China contemplating such a move — is ludicrous). The Pentagon actually pursues a Freedom of Navigation (FON) program. For all practical purposes, it’s 21st century gunboat diplomacy, as in those aircraft carriers showboating on and off in the South China Sea.
The Holy Grail, as far as the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is concerned, is to come up with a Code of Conduct to solve all maritime conflicts between Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and China. This has been dragging on for years now because mostly the Philippines wanted to frame the Chinese under a set of binding rules but was only ready to talk until all ten ASEAN members had agreed on them first. Beijing’s strategy is the opposite; bilateral discussions to emphasize its formidable leverage. Thus China assuring the support of Cambodia – quite visible early this week when Cambodia prevented a condemnation of China regarding the South China Sea at a key summit in Laos; China and ASEAN settled for “self-restraint.”
Watch Hillary pivoting In 2011 the US State Department was absolutely terrified with the planned Obama administration withdrawals from both Iraq and Afghanistan; what would happen to superpower projection? That ended in November 2011, when then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton coined the by now famous “pivot to Asia”.
“Six lines of action” were embedded in the “pivot”. Four of these Clinton nicked from a 2009 report by the Washington think tank CSIS; reinvigorating alliances; cultivating relationships with emerging powers; developing relationships with regional multilateral bodies; and working closely with South East Asian countries on economic issues. Clinton added two more: broad-based military presence in Asia, and the promotion of democracy and human rights.
It was clear from the start – and not only across the global South — that cutting across the rhetorical fog the “pivot” was code for a military offensive to contain China. Even more seriously, this was the geopolitical moment when a South East Asian dispute over maritime territory intersected with the across-the-globe confrontation between the hegemon and a “peer competitor.” What Clinton meant by “engaging emerging powers” was, in her own words, “join us in shaping and participating in a rules-based regional and global order”. This is code for rules coined by the hegemon – as in the whole apparatus of the Washington consensus.
No wonder the South China Sea is immensely strategic, as American hegemony intimately depends on ruling the waves (remember Mahan). That’s the core of the U.S. National Military Strategy. The South China Sea is the crucial link connecting the Pacific to the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf and ultimately Europe. And so we finally discover Rosebud — the ultimate South China Sea “secret”. China under Clinton’s “rule-based regional and global order” effectively means that China must obey and keep the South China Sea open to the U.S. Navy. That spells out inevitable escalation further on down the sea lanes. China, slowly but surely, is developing an array of sophisticated weapons which could ultimately “deny” the South China Sea to the U.S. Navy, as the Beltway is very much aware.
The day the U.S. Navy is "denied" from the South China Sea is the day U.S. imperial hegemony ends.
What makes it even more serious is that we’re talking about irreconcilable imperatives. Beijing characterizes itself as an anti-imperialist power; and that necessarily includes recovering national territories usurped by colonial powers allied with internal Chinese traitors (those islands that The Hague has ruled are no more than “rocks” or even “low-tide elevations”).
The U.S., for its part, is all about Exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny. As it stands, more than Russia’s western borderlands, the Baltics or “Syraq”, this is where the hegemon “rules” are really being contested. And the stakes couldn't be higher. That’ll be the day when the U.S. Navy is “denied” from the South China Sea; and that’ll be the end of its imperial hegemony.
By Pepe Escobar, First Published in Sputnik News, July 7, 2016
Hegemony Games: USA vs PRC
by Jack Smith...
The most important political relationship in today’s world is between the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Whichever way the relationship goes will have a major impact on global developments for many decades. Big changes are beginning to take shape. Matters of peace or war are involved. This relationship between Washington and Beijing has existed somewhat uneasily since the early 1970s after the PRC broke with the Soviet Union mainly over intense ideological differences within the communist movement. In effect the Communist Party of China (CPC) joined with capitalist America in an informal tacit alliance against Russia. This was a geopolitical triumph for the U.S. but not for China. In the last couple of years Beijing and Moscow have developed a close relationship, largely as a repost to Washington’s expressions of hostility toward both countries.
China was considered a revolutionary communist country from the 1949 revolution until the deaths of party leader Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai in 1976. The left wing of the CPC was then crushed, and the leadership in 1977 went to “paramount leader” Deng Xiaoping, a long time revolutionary and high government official in many posts who had earlier been purged twice “for taking the capitalist road.”
Deng set about in 1980 to develop a dynamic capitalist economy under the slogan of “using capitalism to build socialism.” By 1990, after the U.S. and others imposed sanctions against China for the Tiananmen Square confrontation with students seeking certain democratic changes, Deng issued the following instruction to the CPC: “Observe calmly; secure our position; cope with affairs calmly; hide our capacities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership.”
The Chinese economy after 35 years is one of the wonders of the capitalist world, particularly since it is still maintained by the CPC, as are all other aspects of Chinese society. The PRC’s political system is officially described as being “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” though the socialist aspect has been abridged. For many of these decades the U.S. superpower and global hegemon has gradually sought to position China within America’s extensive orbit of states that look to Washington for leadership. Beijing came closer with warmer relations, joining the World Trade Organization, respecting the World Bank and IMF, even sharing war games with the Pentagon — but never so close as to be stifled by Washington’s dominant embrace. This didn’t inconvenience the U.S. as long as China was mainly involved with internal growth, building huge cities, massive infrastructure projects and becoming the global manufacturing center.
But then two things changed. First, by the time Xi Jinping became general secretary of the CPC and president of China less than three years ago, the PRC was about to surpass the U.S. as the world’s economic giant and was universally recognized as a significant major power. It had plenty of cash, ideas, supporters and incentives to contemplate a larger independent role for itself on the international stage. Second, given China’s growth, it evidently seemed that strict compliance with Deng Xiaoping’s defensive suggestion to hide China’s light under a bushel was outdated.
The Obama Administration is not pleased with China’s more forward stance. Relations between Washington and Beijing are cooling quickly but both countries have a mutual desire to prevent this situation from getting out of hand. The key difference, and it is of great significance to both parties, is that China opposes hegemony in principle, and the U.S. is determined to remain the global hegemon.
Contradiction is ever present in U.S. foreign/military policy, and things are rarely as they seem to an American people largely uninformed or misinformed about the realities of international affairs. This observation is occasioned by the extremes to which U.S. policy and interference around the world are being taken by the Obama Administration and its Republican congressional alter ego, obstructive on domestic matters but complicit with President Obama’s principal international monomania — the retention of Washington’s unilateral global hegemony.
The Obama Administration appears to be preoccupied day and night gallivanting throughout the world issuing dictates, administering punishments, rewarding friends, undermining enemies, overthrowing governments, engaging in multiple wars, subverting societies not to its liking, conducting remote control assassinations, listening to every phone call and examining the daily contents of the Internet lest someone get away with something, jailing honest whistleblowers, upgrading its nuclear stockpile and delivery systems, moving troops and fleets here and there, and that’s only the half of it.
This is happening for one main reason. The U.S. has arrogated world rule to itself, without authority, competition, or oversight, since the implosion of the Soviet Union nearly 25 years ago. There is nothing more important to America’s ruling elite. Every possible danger to Washington’s hegemony must be neutralized. And looming in East Asia is the cause of Washington’s worst anxieties — China.
In his victory speech after winning the 2008 election, Barack Obama — a humdrum one-term U.S. Senator with no foreign policy experience after serving several years as an obscure Illinois state legislator — announced that with his assumption to the presidency “a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.” He was referring to his own leadership restoring U.S. international domination greater than ever after eight years of blundering President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
No one seemed to think twice about this. Democrats applauded; Republicans nodded. After all, isn’t that what the United States is supposed to do?
Expanding global supremacy is a popular political promise in America. Extreme nationalism often wildly inspires the masses of a powerful country as it blinds them to the equality of nations and humanity, and guides them to another proposed conquest; and the prospect of greater profits through intensified world domination compensates the powerful corporations and families that contributed to Obama so generously in both elections. The President frequently repeats his jingoist mantra about the necessity of American “leadership,” at times accompanied by pandering clichés such as “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being.” Speaking at an Air Force Academy graduation in 2012 Obama told the cadets, “never bet against the United States of America… [because] the United States has been, and will always be, the one indispensable nation in world affairs.” Applause, hats in air, now go out and kill.
Since the vast corporate capitalist mass media is entirely in agreement with the sacrosanct principle that only the United States is morally, politically and militarily equipped to rule the world, Obama’s flag-waving imperial intentions are rarely if ever criticized by the press, Democrat or Republican. At least 90 percent of the American people obtain virtually all their scatterings of information about foreign affairs from a propagandistic ultranationalist media powerhouse controlled by just six billionaire corporations.
Many millions of Americans have opposed Washington’s frequent and usually disastrous imperialist wars. But far fewer challenge the concept of U.S. global “leadership” — the euphemism for ruling the world that allows Washington carte blanche to engage in wars or bullying whenever its perceived interests appear to be challenged. It may seem like a century, considering the carnage, but it is important to remember that Washington only obtained solo world power when the Soviet Union imploded less than a quarter century ago. The next quarter century, as a new world order is beginning to take shape in the very shadow of the old, will be rough indeed as the U.S. government resists inevitable change.
The days of American hegemony over the nations of the world are numbered. This is perhaps the main and certainly the most dangerous contradiction deriving from America’s determination to lead the world as carried forward by President Obama and undoubtedly to be continued by the next and the next administrations. There are many secondary contradictions strewn throughout the world, but almost all are related to first. The U.S. government is recklessly flailing its arms and interfering in all the global regions to impose its will in order to indefinitely continue enjoying unilateral domination and the sensation of luxuriating in the extraordinary advantages derived from being the world’s top cop, top judge, only jury, mass jailer and executioner extraordinaire. If you doubt it, just look about at the human, structural and environmental anguish created in the last 15 years by the action or inaction of Bush-Obama world leadership. Think about the trillions of U.S. dollars for destruction and death, and the paucity of expenditures for construction and life. A better world can only emerge from a better and more people-friendly political and economic global order. Obama’s policy of enhanced American “leadership” has created havoc these last six years as a result of the collusion between the Democratic White House and the Republican Congress — partners in the projection of American armed power around the world. The main target — despite all the elbowing and ranting about Russia, Putin, Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iran, Yemen, Islamic State, ad infinitum — is and will remain China. The U.S. does not want a war with China, though one is certainly possible in time. It would prefer warm, friendly and mutually beneficial relations, under one condition: The U.S. is boss, and leads, while China — rich and powerful if it wishes — is subordinate, and follows, even in its own natural sphere of influence. Beijing does not seek hegemony, but it will not kowtow to the United States.
In the midst of all this rumbling and grumbling from the White House, it may be interesting to become acquainted with the enormous but modest main national strategic goal of the Communist Party of China. It is “to complete the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects by 2021; and the building of a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious by 2049. It is a Chinese Dream of achieving the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” So goes the Chinese “menace.” China is not a newcomer to world politics and economic power, as the U.S. government has at times suggested of one of the world’s oldest and most creative civilizations. As James Petras has written: “The study of world power has been blighted by Eurocentric historians who have distorted and ignored the dominant role China played in the world economy between 1100 and 1800.”
This period ended because of Western imperialist intervention and plunder, including the Opium War, which brought about the humiliation and decline of Imperial China’s final dynasty, which fell in 1911. A form of semi-democracy/semi-feudalism prevailed until the Communist revolution of 1949, when, in the words of Mao Zedong announcing victory, “The Chinese People have stood up.” In these last 66 years China removed about 700 million citizens from poverty, and has become the world’s manufacturing center and a major economic power.
The Chinese Communist government is calibrating its rise very carefully, intent upon avoiding offense to the crouching, tail twitching American imperial dragon. On May 21, Peoples Daily quoted a recent talk by President Xi Jinping: “China aims to become stronger but not seek hegemony; the strategic choice of cooperation and win-win [for all sides] is the path that China chooses. China has always been a peace-loving nation that cherishes harmonious relations. Its adherence to the five principles of peaceful coexistence and anti-hegemonism has shown China’s determination to stick to peaceful development.”
The five principles have governed New China since the revolution. They are: “Mutual respect for each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity; mutual non-aggression; non-interference in each other’s internal affairs; equality and mutual benefit; and peaceful co-existence.” There have been a few minor lapses, but these principles have remained stable and effective all these years. China’s concept of harmonious relations is of ancient philosophical extraction. Frankly, in this writer’s view, there are times when China’s criticism of an extremely inhumane aspect of one or another state’s internal affairs would do some good — but non-interference, much less non-aggression, is vastly superior to Washington’s endless interference and aggression. Xi’s statement is an accurate representation of China’s foreign relations. This is the PRC’s long-term global strategy of development. It needs and wants peace. Washington knows all this, but that’s not the point. Xi declared that Beijing opposed the very concept of global hegemony by any nation, including itself, and, of course, the U.S.. President Obama’s primary foreign policy objective, and assuredly that of succeeding administrations, is the retention of global rule. This contradiction will eventually have to be resolved through negotiation or hostilities.
China will certainly not confront the U.S. on this matter within the foreseeable future. Beijing’s reading of the tea leaves suggests that world trends will encourage the incoming tide of multipolar world order and displace the outgoing tide of unipolar dominion. Such thinking emerges from America’s evident decline, the imminent rise of the developing nations, and the mounting dissatisfaction with the results of Washington’s global rule among countries not dependent upon Fortress Americana.
Writing in Time June 1, Ian Bremmer noted: “Emerging countries are not strong enough to overthrow U.S. dominance, but they have more than enough strength and self-confidence to refuse to follow Washington’s lead.” This is a recent development that will continue to unfold in the next decade or two. At this point, equipped with the seven league boots only possessed by a superpower, the U.S. is far ahead of its detractors in the emerging competition to determine whether only one, or many nations in combination, will shape the future. The UN may figure in this, but only after the preponderant influence of the U.S. and certain other countries is reduced and more evenly shared with the rising countries, a number of which surely realize it’s time for a change. They wish to avoid a dreadful future of devastating wars, rampant climate change, poverty and scandalous inequality.
The fact remains: Washington is determined to keep the keys to the kingdom, and it is taking measures daily to strengthen its intention to constrain China by depriving it of exercising even the regional power to which it is entitled on the basis of its huge economy, a population of 1.4 billion people, and its peaceful rise and intentions. President Obama is quite visibly seeking to confront China, politically, militarily, and economically and politically in the Asia/Pacific region. This is what the “pivot” to Asia is about, containing Chinese influence within its own geographical environment.
The U.S. is at least two decades ahead of China in war technology, equipment, nuclear weapons, various missiles, planes, ships - everything. John Reed wrote in DefenseTech a few years ago: “Even China’s newest military gear is reminiscent of Western or Soviet technology from about 20 years ago, or more.” People’s Liberation Army (PLA) leaders certainly want to catch up and are making progress, but they can only approach near proximity if Pentagon scientists decide to sleep for the next two decades. Instead, Washington’s immense military, several times that of China, is increasing the gap in real time.
U.S. military spending this year will amount to 4.5% of GNP, and that does not count a number of military expenses concealed in nonmilitary budgets such as the new 20-year multi-billion dollar program to modernize U.S. nuclear weapons and delivery systems (charged to the Department of Energy). China’s spending this year, with four times the American population, is 1.5% of GDP. China’s extremely important cyber warfare advances may or may not be equal to those of the U.S., but it is the only area of relative equivalence, and it’s causing headaches in the Pentagon.
The U.S. is frantically surrounding China with military weapons, advanced aircraft, naval fleets and a multitude of military bases from Japan, South Korea and the Philippines through several nearby smaller Pacific islands to its new and enlarged base in Australia and, of course, intercontinental ballistic missiles from the United States. The U.S. naval fleet, aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines patrol China’s nearby waters. Warplanes, surveillance planes, drones and spying satellites cover the skies, creating a symbolic darkness at noon. By 2017, the Pentagon plans to encircle China with “the most advanced stealth warplanes in the world,” according to RT. “The Air Force’s F-22s and B-2s, as well as a fleet of the Marine Corps’ F-35, will all be deployed. This buildup has been going on for three years and it is hardly ever mentioned in the U.S.
Washington seems to fear China’s military defense capability more than its potential offensive abilities, though that remains a serious concern. In the Pentagon’s annual report to Congress May 8, all 31,000 words were devoted to “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2015,” including these:
“China is investing in capabilities designed to defeat adversary power projection and counter third-party - including U.S. - intervention during a crisis or conflict…. The PLA is developing and testing new intermediate- and medium-range conventional ballistic missiles, as well as long- range, land-attack, and anti-ship cruise missiles that extend China’s operational reach, attempting to push adversary forces— including the United States — farther from potential regional conflicts. China is also focusing on counter-space, offensive cyber operations, and electronic warfare capabilities meant to deny adversaries the advantages of modern, informationized warfare…. China’s military modernization has the potential to reduce core U.S. military technological advantages.” Concern was also expressed for “China’s development and testing of missile defense.”
Much of the Pentagon report is far more objective and informative about China than statements from the White House, Congress and the provocative corporate mass media: First of all it describes China’s political goal realistically: “Securing China’s status as a great power and, ultimately, reacquiring regional preeminence.” Question — Why is the Obama Administration doing everything possible to thwart China’s regional preeminence? Answer — Because it is unwilling to share a regional portion of its own world preeminence with any country that will not bend a knee to Washington’s supremacy.
The report says accurately: “China continues to regard stable relations with the United States and China’s neighbors as key to its development. China sees the U.S. as the dominant regional and global actor with the greatest potential to both support and, potentially, disrupt China’s rise. Top Chinese leaders, including President Xi Jinping, continued to advocate for a ‘new type of major power relations’ with the United States throughout 2014. China’s ‘new type’ of relations concept urges a cooperative U.S.- China partnership based on equality, mutual respect, and mutual benefit.”
Most interestingly, the Pentagon also recognized that “Chinese leaders see a strong military as critical to prevent other countries from taking steps that would damage China’s interests and to ensure China can defend itself, should deterrence fail. China seeks to ensure basic stability along its periphery and avoid direct confrontation with the United States in order to focus on domestic development and smooth China’s rise. Despite this, Chinese leaders in 2014 demonstrated a willingness to tolerate a higher level of regional tension as China sought to advance its interests, such as in competing territorial claims in the East China Sea and South China Sea.”
The Wall Street Journal May 13 defined the South China Sea as “one of the world’s busiest shipping routes and a strategic passage between the rich economies of Northeast Asia and the Indian Ocean. As much as 50 percent of global oil-tanker shipments pass through its waters…. China often intercepts and protests over U.S. naval ships and aircraft conducting surveillance near its coastline in the South China Sea…. Six governments – China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and the Philippines — claim the waters, islands, reefs and atolls in whole or in part, making the area a potential flashpoint.” Two countries, Japan and South Korea, have claims in the East China Sea to the northwest, so eight nations are involved. China has long claimed authority over almost all the islands on the basis of evidence the other states consider inadequate.
The Obama Administration is navigating with abandon and roiling the political waters throughout both seas, enthusiastically supporting the claims of all the smaller nations against China’s claims. This is a very important and delicate matter because verified claimants are entitled to exploit energy, mineral and other abundant resources in the proximity as well as to deploy them for military purposes, if large enough, but most are tiny. This is clearly a complex matter that should be resolved over time through peaceful negotiations, and give and take dispute resolution. The continuation of America’s self-appointed role as advocate and protector of the counter-claims of smaller countries against China will only cause more trouble.
The U.S. has absolutely no authority in this matter, and it even refuses to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which is equipped to mediate territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas. Actually, Obama doesn’t give a fig about the claims. The only purpose of his intervention against China’s claims is to consolidate and expand Washington’s large and growing cheaper-by-the dozen gaggle of regional client states, some of which (Japan, S. Korea, the Philippines) have been U.S. protectorates since the end of World War II. All these countries will support America’s global political, economic and military intentions in East Asia, including that of confining China’s influence within its own borders to the extent possible. If not, they will be escorted to the door.
In this connection the U.S. is also exaggerating the fact that China is involved in land reclamation efforts in five small reefs in the Spratly Islands. It’s expanding them by adding sand and making infrastructure additions, including an airfield in one. The White house says up to is about 2,000 acres are at issue. Obama said a month ago that China was “flexing its muscles” to browbeat smaller nations into accepting Beijing’s sovereignty over disputed islands, and more recently Washington implied it might send navy ships and aircraft to the islands — but soon backed off because China’s actions were entirely legal.
In mid-May, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Daniel Russel told the Washington Post: “Reclamation isn’t necessarily a violation of international law, but it’s certainly violating the harmony, the feng shui, of Southeast Asia, and it’s certainly violating China’s claim to be a good neighbor and a benign and non-threatening power.” At that point, the heavens finally intervened with a lighter moment. Wrote the Wall Street Journal May 21: “Chinese Taoist priest Liang Xingyang is rebutting the U.S. official’s understanding of feng shui. The term, which translates directly as ‘wind water,’ refers to the Chinese philosophical system of harmonizing the human being with the surrounding environment. In fact, claims Mr. Liang, China’s reclamation efforts are improving the region’s feng shui…. Mr. Liang maintained that feng shui ‘belongs to the whole world, but the power of interpretation stays with China.’”
Soon after the Pentagon report, China outlined a new military strategy to boost its naval reach May 26. In a policy document issued by the State Council, China vowed to increase its “open seas protection,” switching from air defense to both offense and defense, and criticized neighbors who take “provocative actions” on its reefs and islands. A statement in the document declared:
“In today’s world, the global trends toward multipolarity and economic globalization are intensifying…. The forces for world peace are on the rise, so are the factors against war…. There are, however, new threats from hegemonism, power politics and neo-interventionism.”
China will speed up the development of a cyber force to tackle “grave security threats” to its cyber infrastructure. Cyberspace is highlighted as one of China’s four “critical security domains”, other than the ocean, outer space and nuclear force.
In addition to military threats, and encouraging allies to assist in containing China, Washington’s “pivot” includes strong intervention intended to increase America’s economic clout in East Asia and reduce Beijing’s. Obama’s chosen vehicle - the Trans Pacific Partnership - so favors corporations at the expense of U.S. jobs, the interests of working people, the environment and national sovereignty that many Democrats in Congress, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, are sharply opposed. In the words of Public Citizen:
The Japan Times sounded like recalcitrant U.S. Democrats when it reported May 15: “One big problem with the TPP talks is the secrecy of the negotiating process. The participants are required not to publicize developments in the talks and draft agreements while they are still being negotiated. The talks are going forward without the Japanese public and lawmakers being given relevant information on what is being discussed or agreed upon. For example, it is impossible to know the details of discussions on regulations the TPP nations can adopt for environmental protection and food safety. Even when the trade pact takes effect, the participants will be forbidden from disclosing internal documents on the negotiation process for four years.” Japan has not signed the TPP deal yet. It is demanding concessions on automobiles and agricultural products.
The Senate rejected Obama’s demand for a fast track arrangement in mid-May, 52 to 45, but after corporate howls, promises and dollars it was passed days later 62-37. Most Republicans supported the trade plan from the beginning. Winning over his own party has proven so difficult that Obama has introduced the false patriotism of anti-China rhetoric to shame recalcitrant Democrats into changing their views. Speaking in May he said: “If we don’t write the rules for trade around the world, guess what? China will.” Actually, China is far more cooperative with U.S. trade proposals than obstructive. On the TPP Beijing simply understands that it is aimed against China and that it has many shortcomings, as Warren has repeatedly pointed out.
Although China earlier appeared deeply concerned about the TPP, it now seems indifferent. Over the last several months, President Xi has combined a well-financed, spectacular package of trade, banking, and infrastructure projects that are bound to significantly advance China’s power and prestige in Asia, Europe and North Africa as well.
The two most important and far reaching projects are the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), and the visionary, immensely expensive One Belt, One Road (OBOR) project. The latter initiative is also referred to as the New Silk Road after the 4,000-mile trade route between China and the West that developed from 114 BCE to the 1450s. The accompanying maritime trade lanes were called the Spice Route. OBOR, too, consists of a land and sea route. When New China does things it’s often in a big way, often with a touch of long-past history in mind. China’s recent creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) - an exceptionally powerful economic initiative destined to benefit all of Asia and the world - was perceived by the White House as a humiliating affront. Washington worked for months to undermine the impending venture, advising allies and underlings far and near to keep out.
Beijing proposed the AIIB in October 2013; a year later, 21 nations, all Asian, gathered in Beijing and signed the memorandum establishing the bank. Six months later, the membership has expanded to 57. In mid-March, Washington’s closest ally, the United Kingdom, was among the first major western economies to join the bank, prompting an extraordinary outburst by an anonymous high official of the Obama Administration, who declared for publication: “We are wary about a trend toward constant accommodation of China, which is not the best way to engage a rising power.” President Obama had to give permission for “anonymous” to deliver so petulant and insulting a remark.
Within a couple of weeks all the major world nations had joined except Japan and the U.S. The rest knew a good deal when they saw it in the midst of prolonged economic stagnation, particularly in Europe. Remember Willy Sutton’s answer when asked why he robbed banks? “That’s where the money is.” Their economies will profit. The international news analyst M.K. Bhadrakumar reported in Asia Times May 26: ” The AIIB Charter is still under discussion. The media report that China is not seeking a veto in the decision-making comes as a pleasant surprise. Equally, China is actively consulting other founding members (UK, Germany, France, Italy, etc.). These would suggest that Beijing has a much bigger game plan of scattering the U.S. containment strategy. Clearly, the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade deal is already looking more absurd if China were to be kept out of it. The point is, AIIB gives financial underpinning for the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative, which now the European countries and Russia have embraced, as they expect much business spin-off.”
China benefits immensely, in terms of international prestige and politically as well, from the new venture. The AIIB has become a strong rival to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, two powerful U.S.-controlled financial organizations, as well as the regional Asian Development Bank, ruled by Japan and America. China is not interested in debasing these associations but in collegial modernization with Beijing having a voice. What’s the oddly named named One Belt, One Road (OBOR) project stand for? The “Belt” refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt, largely composed of countries situated on the original Silk Road from China through Central Asia, West Asia, the Middle East and Europe. The “Road” refers to the new maritime Silk Road. The initiative calls for the integration of the region into a cohesive economic area through building infrastructure, increasing cultural exchanges and broadening trade. Many of the countries that are part of the “belt” are also signed up with the AIIB. The Maritime Road is aimed at investing and fostering collaboration in Southeast Asia, Oceania, and North Africa through several contiguous bodies of water.
Journalist Binoy Kampmark points out in CounterPunch:
“The economic belt, as Xi terms it, features such concrete manifestations as high-speed rail lines [including one between Beijing and Moscow], highways, bridges, and Internet connectivity. These, in turn, will be complemented by port development that is already seeing a presence in the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean. Spearheading the drive are China’s state-owned enterprises.”
Two other countries play important supporting roles in the U.S.-China exchange - Russia and Japan.
President Xi said recently that China is devoted to “promoting a new model of major-country relationship with the U.S., keeping its comprehensive strategic partnership with Russia, [and] strengthening its partnership with the EU.” China’s partnership with Europe involves trade, investment, environmental issues and the like. With Russia it’s broader, specifically: Energy, Business and Trade, High Technology and Industry, Finance, Military and Political/Diplomatic.
China has military and political/diplomatic relations with the U.S. as well, but of a different character. According to Russian Insider: “Military: China and Russia are engaging in military exercises of increasing scale and frequency. Their respective General Staffs closely coordinate with each other. Russia has resumed arms and technology sales to China. Political and Diplomatic: China and Russia are joint founder members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. They actively coordinate their foreign policy positions with each other. They also work closely together and support each other in the UN Security Council.”
Moscow’s partnership with Beijing has become much stronger in recent years. Russia is a major nuclear power, roughly equivalent to America, with sophisticated military technology and hardware exceeding that of China, to which it is now selling offensive and defensive weaponry after a lapse of decades. The world’s two biggest countries (size and population) have long been wary of each other, but a perceived need to strengthen their defenses brings them closer. Whether they will ever form a binding formal alliance is not known, but Russia’s power adds to that of China and vice versa. Commenting on the relationship a couple of weeks ago Xi declared: ” We are strong if united but weak if isolated.”
At the same time the PRC is trying to calm an aroused Washington. Michael Swaine, a China expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington recently told the press: “The Chinese are trying to convey a more moderate and softer message. They are trying to promote the image of a more flexible power.” Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang recently declared in a widely publicized speech that that the PRC “does not have any ideas or capabilities” with which to challenge or displace America’s global command.
Russia shares with China the threat of U.S. military power on its periphery. Stratfor noted March 30: “From the Baltics to the Black Sea and now the Caspian, the United States is on the search for recruits to encircle Russia. Romania threw its lot in with the United States last year, but this year, Turkey and Turkmenistan are the ones to watch.
“All along Russia’s frontier with Europe, the U.S. military is bustling with activity. Bit by bit, the United States is expanding various military exercises under the banner of Operation Atlantic Resolve. The exercises began in the Baltics and Poland and, as of last week, expanded into Romania with plans to move into Bulgaria. So far, most of these missions are on the smaller side, consisting of only a few hundred troops at any given time, and are meant to test the U.S. ability to rapidly deploy units to countries that can then practice receiving and working with these forces. Additionally, various headquarter units from U.S. Army infantry brigades have been rotating in and assuming control of Operation Atlantic Resolve in order to practice joint command and control.” Several hundred American troops are in Ukraine training Kiev’s military.
It was symbolically significant that that Xi Jinping was seated next to President Putin at the May 9 Victory Day Parade in Moscow and that a Chinese military detachment was part of the event celebrating the 70thanniversary of the allied victory in Europe. Putin and Russian troops have been invited to participate in China’s celebration of Japan’s defeat in September. The U.S., Britain and France, Russia’s former allies, boycotted the Moscow event. The new U.S.-Japan expanded military guidelines for “defense cooperation” that was agreed in Washington between Japanese Prime Minster Shinzō Abe and the Obama Administration April 27 is of major geopolitical significance. Tokyo will now increase its military role in the region and assume a “more robust international posture,” in response to growing Chinese influence. The guidelines allow for global Washington-Tokyo cooperation militarily, ranging from defense against ballistic missiles, cyber and space attacks as well as maritime security.
China has sharply criticized the new guidelines, calling them an attempt to undermine Beijing, as well as the geopolitical architecture of the Asia-Pacific. Global Times, which is affiliated with the CPC, declared: “The new guidelines have struck a threatening pose toward China, which is the strongest driver for East Asia’s development. They should know that their aggression has sent a dangerous signal to regional stability.” Washington also renewed and strengthened America’s “iron-clad” commitment to support Japan and all territories “under Tokyo’s administration.” Japan and China are locked in a sharp disagreement about their rival claims to tiny East China Sea islets and reefs, some no more than large rocks sticking out of the water. Should the conflict become a serious confrontation the Obama Administration evidently will intervene on behalf of Japan.
The daily Indian newspaper The Hindu reported May 1: “Officials from the United States have been quoted as saying that the latest guidelines - updated for the first time since 1997 - end the geographic limits on the Japanese military to operate. Following permission from Parliament, Japanese forces can participate in military operations across the globe. ‘The current guidelines are unrestricted with respect to geography,’ U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter has been quoted as saying. ‘That is a very big change - from being locally focused to globally focused,’ he observed. Analysts point out that the changes to the U.S.-Japan pact inject more substance into President Barack Obama’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ doctrine, which the Chinese say lays the military groundwork for containing Beijing’s peaceful rise.”
Heretofore the terms of the “pacifist” constitution imposed on Japan after it was defeated in World War I confined the Japanese military to fight only in Japan and in self-defense. The right wing Abe government has sought to dispense with this constitution entirely, but a majority of the Japanese people strongly oppose such a step. Abe envisions Japan once again becoming a major military power in Asia. Actually Tokyo already wields the ninth largest military force in the world, replete with high technology weaponry.
China has just made an amazing overture to Japan in an effort to reduce tensions. M.K. Bhadrakumar reported May 27 that China has decided to extend the “hand of friendship to Japan,” describing a precedent-breaking event in Beijing May 23.
“A heavyweight politician from Japan’s ruling party leads a 3,000-member delegation (yes, 3,000) to Beijing; the Chinese hosts spread out a grand dinner for the 3,000 Japanese guests at the Great Hall of People; President Xi Jinping makes an apparently surprise but carefully choreographed appearance at the dinner; Xi makes an extraordinarily warm speech full of conciliatory sentiments belying his fame as an assertive leader, stressing the imperatives of Sino-Japanese friendship not only for the two countries but for the region and the world at large; the heavyweight Japanese politician steps forward in front of his 3,000-strong delegation and hands over to Xi a hand-written letter from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe; Xi reciprocates by conveying his best regards to Abe – a thaw in China-Japan ties seems to be at work.
“Cynics might say Abe has a habit of sending hand-written letters to counterparts in countries with which Japan has strained relations, such as South Korea. But there is something beyond the calls of public diplomacy here, as is apparent from the contents and tone of the speech Xi made while addressing the goodwill delegation from Japan. A Xinhua commentary noted, ‘The onus is now on the leaders of Japan to reciprocate the friendly tone and take concrete actions to mend frayed ties with China.’ The two neighbors are showing a spirit of pragmatism that was considered unthinkable as recently as last November when on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit Xi and Abe held a frosty meeting.”
The Financial Times reported April 30 “Washington is giving up on the idea that a risen China can be co-opted as a stakeholder in the present global order,” implicitly suggesting that Washington is going to adopt a much tougher stance toward China to preserve its geopolitical superiority. The article references a new report on China from the Council on Foreign Relations, the leading establishment voice in foreign affairs. Titled, “Revising U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China,” the newspaper reports it “outlines a plan to draw together all the elements of U.S. power with the goal of maintaining America’s ‘primacy’ in East Asia…. But balancing Beijing’s weight is one thing. Nervous as they are, China’s neighbors have a powerful economic interest in getting on with Beijing. A U.S. that sought permanent preponderance would be inviting a collision. Unstoppable forces and immovable objects come to mind.”
Both China and the United States want to keep their disputes within bounds in the proximate future, if possible. This was demonstrated after weeks of public squabbling May 16 and 17 when Secretary of State John Kerry paid his fifth visit to China. According to a May 26 report in China-U.S. Focus by Zhang Zhixin, chief of American Political Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, this is the meaning:
“As the highest-level American official who visited China this year, with a hot China policy debate going on in the U.S., and the Obama administration strongly criticizing China’s reclamation in South China Sea, [Kerry’s] visit has been regarded as a trip aimed at denouncing Beijing. However, judging from the result, Kerry’s visit is better characterized as a trip of in-depth communication.
“Early this year, American strategic circles started another round of China policy debate. From the so-called ‘cracking up’ of the CPC to the familiar rhetoric of the ‘China threat’ it made some American China watchers believe the consensus underlying the U.S. China policy is collapsing.”
Kerry’s constructive visit:
“has been of great importance at this critical moment. First, it shows that both countries would like to manage differences before crises occur…. Chinese leaders tried to reassure the U.S. side they are still committed to building a new major power relationship….
“Second, this visit made timely preparation for the coming bilateral and multilateral events — including President Xi Jinping’s first State visit to the U.S. in September — that could shape the following two year’s Sino-U.S. relations….
“Third, Secretary Kerry’s visit is a success as it deepened the understanding between two countries at this critical time, but it reminds both countries consensus is easy to reach but hard to actualize. The disputes between two countries highlighted the U.S. misinterpretation of China’s plans for future development. The U.S. side should neither overestimate its influence upon China’s future, nor underestimate China’s ability to explore its own way of development with Chinese characteristics.”
Interestingly, a similar situation to the Beijing surprise occurred weeks earlier when Kerry was sent to Moscow for talks with President Putin. Washington’s advance leaks suggested that he would read the riot act to the Russian leader because of the Ukraine situation — but the opposite happened, evidently not least because of U.S. concerns of a developing alliance between Russia and China. Kerry turned on a dime just before both meetings, as though receiving late instructions.
Apparently, the White House concluded its policy of pouting and denouncing China is churlish and demonstrably counterproductive. Even some of Washington’s allies were beginning to look askance at Oval Office shoot-from-the-hip decisions. However, nothing else has changed. The quest to retain global rule is more pronounced than ever and the danger level is getting higher. Both the U.S. and China are strong and intelligent countries. But as Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” Great changes have already started and the pace will intensify in coming decades — politically, economically, environmentally and in terms of social systems and world order. One needed change is replacing single-country global hegemony with multi-country cooperation for the advancement of humankind. The governments of several rising countries will help bring this about, if possible, but it won’t be easy.
Systemic changes are needed in our societies, as well. We cannot simply paper over the class exploitation, gross inequality, racism, poverty, state violence and the shredding of our ecology — and say that’s “change.” Billions of human beings alive today want a world where wealth is sufficiently shared so everyone has at least enough. That’s no exaggeration. Billions live in poverty. They all want out. Whether in poverty or not, who prefers to live in a world where the richest 1% of the global population own more than the remaining 99 percent? That’s our world today, and it must change.
By Jack Smith, First published in Counterpunch, June 1, 2015