‘The Coming War on China’ is a documentary made by the legendary investigative journalist and filmmaker Jonathan Pilger. It premiered in the UK on December 1, 2016, followed by releases in Australia, the USA, New Zealand etc. Its international television premiere was aired exclusively by Russia Today’s documentary channel RTDoc, on December 9, 10 and 11. The film has stirred, in equal measure, both interest and alarm but more so on the internet and in alternative media networks than in the mainstream press.
True, I did come across a review in the Guardian (but of course, none in the New York Times), and while Peter Bradshaw does credit Pilger with exposing the ‘historical horrors’ of the American military in the Pacific region, of America’s ‘paranoia and pre-emptive aggression’, his almost-obligatory Western recital of ‘justifiable’ concern with Putin’s Russia, and China’s record on human rights — contributes to undermining the gravity of the situation, namely, the USA’s provocative encirclement of China (Russia as well, but I’ll write on that separately). Needless to add, neither the Chinese nor the Russians have any military bases anywhere near the USA. As Peter Glaser writes, imagine ‘if China was backing various Latin American countries with money and weapons and building air and naval bases in the Caribbean with the explicit aim of bombing [the] United States to smithereens.’
It is this omission — of the 400 US bases encircling China, the horrors of nuclear war—that helps me separate real news from fake news.
How is China being painted as the ‘new enemy’? James Fallows’ article in a recent issue of the Atlantic provides a fair idea of the general template on which discussions and debates are scripted in the US, and also, by its European, and non-European, allies.
He begins by asking in a stupendously fossilised school headmaster-like manner, is China ‘going bad’? This sets the tone for the article, for the paternalistic account that follows of how eight successive US administrations (Nixon onwards) have tried to ‘engage’ with China, to ‘encourage’ its modernisation and growth, and have ‘supported’ China’s continued economic emergence. A quote from former US president Barack Obama is thrown in for good measure, ‘I’ve been very explicit in saying that we have more to fear from a weakened, threatened China than a successful, rising China.’
But in the last five years, Fallows writes ominously, dealing with China has been getting harder for the US. China is ‘much more controlled and repressive’ now. It combines ‘insecurity and aggressiveness’ on a national-strategic scale. Such paradoxes, he adds, are not unknown in US politics but of course never on a scale such as China’s. This combination also characterises Xi Jinping as a leader (‘Xi is a weak man who wants to look strong’), it has cumulatively led to a situation where China is ‘cracking down, closing up and lashing out.’
Characterised by ‘kleptocracy and personalised rule,’ bent on being ‘troublesome’ for the USA, China has now become an ‘impediment rather than an asset’; its increasing repressiveness at home negatively affects ‘China’s own people.’ Since ‘lectures and public scoldings have [not changed the] government’s behaviour’ (says the headmaster), the new US president may have no other option but to choose the ‘hard way.’
An Indian version — peppered with local flavour befitting India’s lately-gained status of becoming a US client state — is provided by Bharat Karnad of the Indian Strategic Studies. He bemoans (a) China’s belligerence, its ambition to ‘dominate Asia, to ‘replace’ the United States as the numero uno of the world (b) the Indian government’s previous ‘mistakes’ i.e., Jawaharlal Nehru’s belief in the idea of ‘give and take’, and, post-Nehru, its ‘risk-averse, passive-defensive’ attitude compounded by its complacent mindset’ which prevents it from paying China back in its own ‘hard coin’ (c) America’s ‘fatigue with foreign entanglements and wars over the past two decades’ which may well prevent it from ‘saving’ its Asian friends (i.e., India) from China, and the USA’s ‘economic, trade and investment interlinks’ with China which makes it, as a strategic partner of India, ‘unwilling and unreliable’ in challenging China’s ‘hegemonic designs.’
Since India is an ‘up and coming power’, the solution to China’s ambitions lie in a ‘political-military correlation of forces in the extended region,’ and a ‘thorough overhaul of [India’s] three armed services and proper political instruction’ which will re-orient them to regarding China as the ‘main threat.’
No mention by Karnad either, of the 400 US bases encircling China. Of the Asia Pacific region witnessing the biggest build-up of American air and naval forces in the world since World War II.
But it’s not only Karnad, India’s entire defence/security establishment mouths versions of the same story. More or less.
Thereby silencing the news that ‘China itself is under threat.’ To quote Pilger,
There are 400 U.S. bases encircling China. They start in Australia. They go through the Pacific. They go up through Japan, Korea, across Eurasia. It’s like a giant noose around China — missiles, warships, low draft warships, which can approach China just outside Chinese waters. The provocation of China that has gone on in the last five, six years, has been extreme, to the point where China itself has changed its nuclear weapons policy. It’s gone from low alert to high alert. It’s developed the kind of long-range missiles that will target the U.S. Navy. I mean, it is extraordinary. It’s not only a blockade; it’s a blackout.
What we’re talking about here, with this blockade of China, is really a nuclear threat. We’re back at the few minutes to midnight in terms of the possibility, the prospect, of nuclear war, in which the Pentagon’s law of war manual now says, its okay, in effect, to use nuclear weapons. So, we have the provocation of the newest major nuclear power.
But, unlike what many Western liberals would have us believe, it is not Donald Trump’s fault. The now-famous US pivot to Asia was launched by then US secretary of state Hillary Clinton. In an article titled ‘America’s Pacific Century’, she wrote, ‘Our military is by far the strongest and our economy is by far the largest’ (October 2011), obliterating among other things, all mention of US debt to China, which was then the No. 1 holder of US bonds (China has started selling off, its current holding is reportedly to the tune of 1.12 trillion dollars). Clinton’s article was followed by president Obama’s November 2011 speech to the Australian Parliament where the pivot was officially announced, and the US was declared a ‘Pacific nation.’ But, Pepe Escobar goes on to remind us that the decision to focus the pivot on China was actually Clinton’s, made in mid-2010, when, at a conference in Hanoi, she declared that the US had a ‘national interest’ in respecting international law in the South China Sea. ‘That was the crucial moment’ writes Escobar, ‘when the evolving US-China showdown in the South China Sea actually began —framing the whole subsequent pivot as a provocative, over-militarised gambit liable to spin out of control.’
The news now, as Pilger notes, is that China poses a threat to ‘freedom of navigation’ in the South China Sea by building airstrips on disputed reefs and islets.’ The reason for Chinese government behaviour — the 400 US military base provocation described by a former Pentagon strategist as ‘a perfect noose’ — is never mentioned.
The Australian political, military and intelligence establishments are well-integrated into US war plans. In July 2017, an Air-Sea Battle Plan for war with China, prescribing a preemptive ‘blinding’ attack, will be played by Australia, part of the biennial Operation Talisman Sabre. In October 2016, the Australian Labor Party’s defence spokesperson Richard Marles, at a conference in Hawai demanded that ‘Australian naval commanders should have the authority to provoke nuclear-armed China in the disputed South China Sea.’ The coalition government of Malcolm Turnbull is ‘building a $195 billion war arsenal, one of the biggest on earth.’
James Bradley, author of The China Mirage (2016) and a contributor to Pilger’s documentary, says, ‘If you were in Beijing and stood on the tallest building and looked out at the Pacific Ocean, you would see American warships, you would see Guam is about to sink because there are so many missiles pointed at China.’
Pilger’s documentary, however, starts not with China but with US nuclear testing in the Pacific, the Bikini Atoll within the Marshall Islands, which the US took over in 1946 as a trust territory and turned it into a ‘laboratory for the testing of nuclear weapons, and its people into guinea pigs.’ The test sites were at sea, underwater, on the reefs, in the air. Between 1946 and 1958, the US exploded 67 atomic bombs, equivalent to 7,200 Hiroshima bombs — one Hiroshima bomb every day, for 12 years. The bikini swimsuit was named after the US H-bomb detonations, but the bodies of the islanders are not as celebrated as are its wearers on western beaches, they are among ‘the most radiated in the world.’ An islander told Pilger, ‘What the Americans did was no accident. They came here and destroyed our land. They came to test the effects of a nuclear bomb on us.’
The Pentagon released its Law of War Manual in 2015. It says, ‘The United States 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.’
The Chinese response? Pilger quotes a China strategist who says, ‘We are not your enemy, but if you [in the West] decide we are, we must prepare without delay.
Okinawa Island, belonging to Japan, another client state, has become the ‘frontline of a beckoning war with China.’ The Okinawa base, a so-called leftover from World War II, was used to attack Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Iraq and Afghanistan.
A more outstanding ‘US war station’ is located on Jeju, an island on the southernmost tip of South Korea, another client state. Built on world heritage site land, it is ‘one of the most provocative military bases in the world’ being only 400 miles away from Shanghai. Nuclear submarines and destroyers equipped with the new Aegis missile will be based here. It is ‘aimed at China’s lifelines to the world in oil trade and resources.’ The THAAD missile defense systems in the South Korean mainland, ‘ostensibly aimed at North Korea to protect South Korea’ are actually aimed at China.
‘It’s all about dominance and the US feeling insecure,’ says Pilger. All about a ‘rapacious foreign policy that’s run pretty well in a straight line since the Korean War.’
Since the US does not have a free media, the American public does not know of the ‘biggest buildup’, does not know of the absence of red lines that had existed earlier during the old Cold War, which were ‘crossed at your extreme peril.’ A 12-15 minute ‘interval of decision-making’ exists when a country knows that it’s possibly going to be attacked with nuclear weapons. Until recently, China had kept its nuclear weapons on low alert (had kept missiles and warheads separate), but now they are on high alert.
Even though Pilger says his film is optimistic because of the ‘fantastic resistance in Okinawa, in Korea, in the Marshall Islands’ to the US bases and militarisation, what stayed with me was the threat of a nuclear winter. The massive firestorms created by a nuclear war would produce enough smoke and black carbon soot to block the majority of sunlight from reaching the Earth’s surface, says Steven Starr.
Risking nuclear annihilation to punish China for its capitalist successes? The crazed fantasy of an Empire driven mad from the threat of an emerging multi-polar world, where it can no longer call the shots.
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