Fools’ Crusade: Why United States Provocations Towards China Will Lead to Disaster

Jeff J. Brown and Jeremy Kuzmarov

[Source: ft.com]

On July 4, 2020, the U.S. Navy dispatched an unprecedented two aircraft carriers and four other warships to the South China Sea for naval maneuvers in waters claimed by China. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo subsequently broke with the official U.S. policy of neutrality in territorial conflicts in the South China Sea and declared that China’s claims to most of the Sea were “completely unlawful,” though most of the disputed territories had been part of China prior to being taken over by Japan in the 1895 Sino-Japanese War.[1]

World War III nearly erupted on August 25, 2020, when a U.S. spy plane flew into Chinese air space while the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was conducting drills.[2] Conversely, in 1963 and 1965, China shot down U2 spy planes, while capturing and imprisoning the pilots, though this time, with the international stakes much higher, Beijing did not take the bait.[3]

Provocative military policies have been accompanied by attempts to blame China for the spread of Covid-19, which President Donald Trump called “Kung Flu.” Trump’s administration has also (1) imposed high tariffs on China, (2) approved over $13 billion in arms sales to China’s enemy, Taiwan, (3) helped fast track a $3 billion sale of General Atomics drones to India whose armed forces clashed with the Chinese in June, and (4) blacklisted Chinese companies for China’s alleged aggression in the South China Sea.[4]

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated, in a speech at the Nixon library in Yorba Linda California, that

if we want to have a free 21st century, and not the Chinese century of which Xi Jinping dreams, the old paradigm of blind engagement with China simply won’t get it done. We must not continue it and we must not return to it.[5]

On July 21st, The New York Times ran a front-page article highlighting the revival of the Committee on the Present Danger, a Cold War organization that called for greater military spending to meet the Soviet threat, but whose focus is now on China.[6] Democratic Party contender Joe Biden has at times been even more hawkish than Trump, telling Foreign Affairs that the U.S. needed to get tough with China, and calling Chinese leader Xi Jinping a “thug” who “doesn’t have a democratic bone in his body.”[7] Biden and Trump’s approach appears to be supported by much of the U.S. public, as a recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that 73 percent of Americans had an unfavorable view of China, the highest in at least 15 years.[8]

The USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Groups conduct dual carrier operations in the South China Sea in July. [Source: cnn.com]

Is the U.S. Jealous?

There are a variety of factors underlying these negative views, but one clear one is jealousy. While American cities are plagued by riots, quality-of-life indicators drop[9], and the country implodes under Trump’s presidency, China, despite glaring inequalities, is in many ways prospering, and could conceivably supersede the U.S. as the dominant global power in the next half century.

Significantly, in the last decade, China has taken the lead in the race for worldwide patents, outpaced America in education, expanded its reach considerably in Africa, and launched the world’s fastest supercomputer. Its response to the Covid-19 pandemic has been more effective and its economy is expected to surpass America’s by around 2030.[10]

Over the past forty years, China has lifted 850 million of its citizens out of poverty and from 1978-2018 averaged an impressive 9.5% economic growth per year. According to the World Bank, China is the second largest economy in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) since 2018 but number one in terms of per capita purchasing power. Since 2015, China also has the largest middle class in the world. Whereas Americans rely on gas-guzzling automobiles and airplanes for travel, China has 36,000 kilometers of high-speed railway, serviced by trains running punctually and quietly over the countryside at over 350 kilometers per hour.[11]

One of Xi’s trademark initiatives is the One-Belt-One Road initiative (BRI), a global infrastructure development strategy to invest in nearly 70 countries and international organizations.[12] The “Belt” seeks to recreate the old Silk Road land trade route, and the “Road,” to create a sea-based trade route spanning several oceans. The initiative was to be consolidated through investments in large-scale gas and oil pipelines, roads, railroads, and ports as well as connecting “economic corridors.” The BRI further includes efforts at “financial integration,” “cooperation in science and technology,” “cultural and academic exchanges,” and the establishment of trade “cooperation mechanisms.” [13]

The One-Belt-One Road initiative (BRI) is a global infrastructure development strategy to invest in nearly 70 countries and international organizations. [Source: mronline.org]

Although China has contracted with Erik Prince of Blackwater to carry out security and plans to build fifty special economic zones that enable great labor exploitation by encouraging foreign investors through low taxes and wages,[14]one study found that so far, infrastructure projects advanced under the BRI have increased GDP for participating economies by up to 3.35% and social welfare by up to 2.81%.[15] The BRI was designed in part as a form of pushback against the Obama administration’s “Pivot to Asia,” which expanded the U.S. naval presence in the South China Sea, military base network in Southeast Asia, and arms sales to strategic proxies, and was combined with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free-trade agreement pushing greater corporate and investor rights excluding China.[16]

Ultimately, the United Stated repudiated the TPP and has been unable to compete with the BRI. It has responded by developing its own aid and pipeline projects in Central Asia while continuing to advance color revolutions, and sanctions along with military encirclement—the U.S. has around 132,000 troops stationed in the Asia Pacific, including 55,000 in Japan and 26,000 in South Korea[17]—and territorial harassment in the South China Sea.

China has been absorbing nonstop attacks from the U.S. since 1949. But what the Trump administration is doing may in fact be approaching what Uncle Sam did to goad Japan into declaring war in 1941. The latter measures included a large-scale naval buildup under FDR in the Pacific Seas, expanding military training and aid to Japan’s adversaries, most notably China, and imposition of an economic embargo on oil, which was designed to cripple Japan’s war machine and economy.[18] Whether China would respond to American provocations today with an attack like at Pearl Harbor is unlikely, though American policies are very dangerous nevertheless.

U.S. military bases encircle China. [Source: newint.org]

A Further History Lesson

If history is any judge, the U.S. strategy of provocation is bound to fail. Sun Tzu, who wrote The Art of War 2,500 years ago was very clear on two points: (1) avoid direct confrontation at all costs, and (2) when in doubt, retreat. China’s national leaders are well versed in this work, as well as all the other key historical texts involving governance and geopolitics.

The Chinese generally have a proud history of resisting Western imperialism, about which Americans are largely ignorant. This resistance goes back at least to the 1830s when the British began plundering China and forced onto its people illegal drugs such as opium, and later morphine and heroin. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s maternal grandfather, Warren Delano, made a fortune as partner in the premier American trading firm in China (Russell & Co.), which trafficked in opium.[19] Another of history’s biggest drug dealers, Queen Victoria, forced the ineffectual Qing Dynasty to sign the outrageous Treaty of Nanjing (1842), forfeiting Hong Kong Island, and turning it into the drug and money laundering capital of the world.[20]

For thousands of years before, the Chinese had defended themselves, mostly successfully, and established the tributary system, where they provided economic aid and spread their civilization in exchange for gifts and displays of fealty to the emperor. Ironically, starting in the 14th century, Europeans had “borrowed” China’s advanced maritime and weapons technologies, which they began using to conquer the rest of the world. Qing Emperor Daoguang (1820-1850) was unprepared for outsiders turning China’s own high-tech innovations against itself and did not adapt fast enough.

Major powers plan to cut up China for themselves; U.S., Germany, Italy, UK, France, Russia, Austria are represented by Wilhelm II, Umberto I, John Bull, Franz Joseph I [in rear], Uncle Sam, Nicholas II, and Émile Loubet. Puck, August 23, 1899, by J. S. Pughe. Westerners are blind to this 110-year episode in China’s modern history; 1.4 billion Chinese will never forget.[Source: timetoast.com]

From that point on, the United States, France, England, Russia, Germany, and later Japan, furthered their efforts to weaken China and exploit its resources.

One-fourth of humanity, which for 5,000 years was centuries ahead of every Western and Eastern civilization in terms of agriculture, industry, infrastructure, weapons, exploration, science, technology and innovation, was relegated to being dubbed the “Sick Man of Asia.”[21]

During China’s civil war, 1927-1950, the 1921-founded Communist Party of China (CPC) and other anti-imperialist supporters began calling the West’s and Japan’s pillage of the country their Century of Humiliation.[22] With the concept of the Buddhist Big Wheel of Life that keeps turning, 1839 became the people’s symbolic, cyclical nadir, and a cry of resistance to start their long climb back to the top.

The year 1839 was when Lin Zexu, the special commissioner to end the opium trade, dumped more than 20,000 chests of opium sold by British merchants in the South China Sea. When the British subsequently defeated the Qing armies in the Opium Wars, they forced China to cede Hong Kong and pay large war indemnities, and solidified a neocolonial economic arrangement and law by which British citizens would not be tried by local courts if they committed a crime on Chinese soil.[23]

Over 100 years later, on October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong stood overlooking a packed Tiananmen Square and proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), whose mission was to reverse the previous Century of Humiliation.

Within two years, the CPC had rid the country of drugs, prostitution, gambling, organized crime and Western theft and exploitation of China’s human and natural resources.

While mistakes were made in the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution and the country has evolved in many respects into a capitalist oligarchy, the Chinese Revolution set China on a path to national restoration and independence. It also vastly improved the living standard of the people through the state’s investment in health-care, education and its commitment to industrialization, full employment, and in theory, social equality.[24]

Mao Zedong, atop Tiananmen Square on October 1, 1949, announcing to his nation’s 500 million citizens that their Century of Humiliation was finally over. [Source: tjen-folk.no]

The Russian Revolution of 1917 had shocked the Western capitalist powers. But the Chinese Revolution of 1949, with one-fourth of the human race declaring their faith in communism, reverberated across the postwar Western empire like a red tsunami.[25] It was the driving force behind Harry Truman’s paranoid Domino Theory, the rise of Joseph McCarthy’s “Who lost China?” hysteria, and America’s ignominious wars in Korea and Indochina, which resulted in the slaughter of so many millions of Asians.

China’s intervention in Korea was a key step in ending China’s Century of Humiliation. Fighting on the side of North Korean troops, its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) dealt the U.S. military what Look Magazine called its most “shameful disgrace” since the Civil War, when Northern troops had “cut and run at the first Battle of Bull Run in 1861.”[26]

According to Minxin Pei, a senior associate in the China program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Chinese nationalism was “partly a creation of Western imperialism,” which had generated an overwhelming desire to overcome historic atrocities perpetrated by the West. These ranged from the Opium Wars and British acquisition of Hong Kong, to support for the Guomindang during the Chinese Civil War, turning a blind eye to Japanese imperialism in the 1930s, and killing more than 900,000 Chinese troops in the Korean War while General Douglas MacArthur threatened to drop nuclear weapons over China.[27]

In light of this history, recent provocations by the U.S. are not seen as isolated incidents by the Chinese, but as merely the latest in the long series of Western aggressions. The Chinese, according to Minxin, feel especially strongly about issues such as sovereignty and the integrity of their territory—and will vigorously mobilize in their defense—because “they still have the historical memory of Western imperialism.”[28]

China’s Road to Rejuvenation

On November 29, 2012, China’s current president, Xi Jinping, joined by the powerful members of the Politburo Standing Committee, went to the National Museum on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to announce that China was closer now than ever before to the objective of great rejuvenation, which had been pursued since the de-facto British colonization in 1839. In his speech, Xi stated that

this nation of ours suffered very gravely after the beginning of the modern era; it made enormous sacrifices, such as have rarely been seen in the history of the world. But because the Chinese people have never surrendered, and incessantly rose with force and spirit to resist, we grasped hold of our own fate in the end.[29]

The backdrop for Xi’s speech was an exhibit at the museum called Road to Rejuvenation.[30] The key word is rejuvenation, whose synonyms include renaissance, resurrection, revival and resurgence. Notice they all start with re-, which means again. For the Chinese people, they will again reach the pinnacle of civilizational success.

Road to Rejuvenation’s story about modern China’s resurgence starts, characteristically, in 1839 before the first Opium War. To enter the exhibit, you have to walk across a glass-enclosed case in the floor. Inside that case is a world map. The map shows the state of affairs across the globe in 1839, with arrows pointing to all the places where Western colonialists were pillaging most of humanity.

Pictured is a map of China from the exhibit in the 19th century when China was subjected to unequal treaties by foreign powers which greatly weakened the country. [Source: chinadaily.com.cn]

The exhibits go on to detail the Chinese people’s 110-year-long march from Western and Japanese plunder and tyranny to freedom and liberation. After 1949, they portray China’s renaissance and (re)rise through the Mao, Deng, Jiang, Hu and now Xi eras.

President Xi’s guiding vision for governing China is the concept of the Chinese Dream, which offers a riposte to the internationally coined American version.

Xi stated that “to realize the Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation is the greatest dream the Chinese nation has had since modern times… [meaning 1839].”[31] The way to fulfill the rejuvenation and dream is by sustaining socialist ideals alongside a free market and promoting the BRI. Xi has further advanced the idea of a shared global community and shared future for humankind, while pushing for the complete reunification of the Motherland, which is understood to include the reabsorption of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao.[32]

Though at once inspiring, especially when compared to the kind of political rhetoric coming out of Washington these days, Xi’s vision is also in many ways contradictory and problematic because free-market development and socialism are antithetical to one another. Xi also shows no inclination to want to advance the rights and interests of workers caught up in sweat shop labor, or farmers suffering from predatory debt, nor in trying to counteract the growing political power of China’s new class of billionaires. The call to reabsorb Taiwan could also lead to war.

Nevertheless, one should be weary of the demonization of Xi and China and underlying agenda behind it. Mike Pompeo gave ideological justification for the new Cold War, for example, when he stated in his speech at the Nixon library that Xi was tyrannizing his people and that “the free world must triumph over this new tyranny.”[33] A similar rhetoric has emerged among liberals. The New York Review of Books, for example, published an article by Harvard University professor Roderick MacFarquhar, which characterized Xi as a “red emperor” and referenced Willy Wo-Lap Lam’s 2015 book Chinese Politics in the Era of Xi Jinping, which suggested that Xi has centralized power to an unprecedented extent in modern times.[34]

This kind of negative characterization helped validate the Obama administration’s Asia Pivot policy and its expansion under Trump. In an example of human rights being adopted as a political weapon, Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the UN under President Obama, and Susan Rice, a former National Security Council adviser, have routinely denounced Beijing’s atrocities on ethnic Uighurs and repression in Hong Kong and Tibet as a basis for expanding the American military arsenal in the South China Sea and pursuing confrontation with China.[35]

While certain criticisms of China’s human rights record are warranted, the media and politicians fail to consider China’s perspective. It maintains that the Uighurs have sponsored terrorist attacks targeting Chinese citizens in Xinjiang, a hub for oil, gas and coal, necessitating the establishment of detention camps, and that the Hong Kong protesters are led by violent separatists backed by foreign powers. China also has long viewed American meetings with the Tibetan Dalai Lama as “serious interference” in China’s internal affairs and part of a campaign of destabilization dating back to the 1950s and targeting a province [Tibet] of key strategic importance. Tibet is a great water source; it also possesses the world’s largest uranium and borax deposits, large oil reserves, enormous iron deposits, over 80,000 gold mines, and the largest timber reserves at China’s disposal.[36]

China’s Growing Military Might

Premier Xi leads the Central Military Commission, the PLA’s highest decision-making body, which has committed to producing a “world class force” that can dominate the Asia-Pacific and “fight and win” global wars by 2049.[37]

While spending less than half what the U.S. spends on the military, China has evolved as a world leader in artificial intelligence (AI) and anti-ship ballistic missiles and is close to developing a hypersonic missile which can travel many times faster than the speed of sound.[38]

In August 2016, Beijing launched the world’s first quantum satellite that transmits photons, believed to be “invulnerable to hacking,” three years after the Pentagon abandoned its own attempt at full-scale satellite security.[39]

A 2016 RAND Corporation study, War with China, predicted that, by 2025,

China will likely have more, better, and longer-range ballistic missiles and cruise missiles [than the U.S.]; 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.

In the event of all-out war, RAND suggested, the United States might suffer heavy losses to its carriers, submarines, missiles, and aircraft from Chinese strategic forces, while its computer systems and satellites would be degraded and destroyed by “improved Chinese cyberwar and ASAT [anti-satellite] capabilities.” Even though American forces would counterattack, their “growing vulnerability” means Washington’s victory would not be assured. In such a conflict, the report concluded, there might well be no “clear winner.”[40]

Historian Alfred W. McCoy urges us to

make no mistake about the weight of those words. For the first time, a top strategic think-tank, closely aligned with the U.S. military and long famous for its influential strategic analyses, was seriously contemplating a major war with China that the United States would not win.[41]

China’s high-tech military is prepared for a war with the U.S. even more so than in the days of the Korean War. [Source: cfr.org]

Prominent Chinese defense intellectuals like Shen Dingli of Fudan University have long rejected the idea of countering the U.S. with a big naval build-up and argued instead for “cyberattacks, space weapons, lasers, pulses, and other directed-energy beams.” Instead of rushing to launch aircraft carriers that “will be burned” by lasers fired from space, China should, Shen argued, develop advanced weapons “to make other command systems fail to work.”[42]

Although decades away from matching the full might of Washington’s global military, China could, through a combination of cyberwar, space warfare, and supercomputing, find ways to cripple U.S. military communications and thus blind its strategic forces.[43] Then, China would have definitively overcome its Century of Humiliation and completed the road to national rejuvenation that began in 1839 and was bolstered by the Maoist revolution of 1949.

Jeff J. Brown has lived and worked with the Chinese people for 16 years. He is author of The China Trilogy, blogs and podcasts at China Rising Radio Sinoland, is the producer of China Tech News Flash!, and is the curator of the Bioweapon Truth Commission Global Online Library. His forthcoming book, Faster than a Speeding Bullet – the Chinese People’s Unstoppable Socialist Dream for Global Leadership into the 22nd Century, will be released in 2021.

Jeremy Kuzmarov is Managing Editor of CovertAction Magazine and author of four books on U.S. foreign policy including Obama’s Unending Wars (Atlanta: Clarity Press, 2019).