The Inescapable Antagonism
China has stated its goals quite unambiguously. “A moderately prosperous society by 2020” is the first goal and “a strong socialist nation by 2049” as the second. But this may be simplified: China’s leadership wants its people to have a standard of living equal to that of the developed nations of the West. And that, along with restoring and preserving sovereignty, has been the main part of the Chinese program since 1949 – at least. China’s great historical achievement is to lift hundreds of millions out of poverty, accounting for most of the eradication of poverty in the recent past. This achievement is rarely mentioned in the West.
Consider the simple consequences of that fact. China has a population of 1.36 billion and the United States has a population of 320 million. So if China is to have a per capita GDP equal to that of the United States, its total GDP must be more than four times the size of the US economy. Four times.
As we have known at least since Thucydides military power flows from economic power. That is also true of “soft” power, scientific discovery and technological achievement and capacity. (This week USA Today carries a story on the rapid growth of new and original patents in China., alarming the Pentagon.) Growth in China’s economic power therefore closes the door on US global hegemony. The only way for the U.S. to maintain the hope of such hegemony is for China to change course and accept a lesser standard of living. But China will not accept such second class status voluntarily.
First such a future is not just, nor will the Chinese perceive or accept it as just. Second such a course demands that an accomplished, talented and determined people with a great culture accept a daily life less prosperous than the developed world enjoys.
Hence if the U.S. Empire to remain the first of global military powers in a way that is beyond challenge, it has no choice but to keep China down. There is an unavoidable contradiction between U.S. military dominance and Chinese economic development. Moreover even China’s economic power by itself is at odds with the hegemonic maneuvers of the U.S. Sanctions on sovereign nations, embargoes and blockades by the US will not work if China is willing to trade with the threatened nations. This forecloses U.S. economic control of other, weaker nations.
However, there is no necessary conflict between the two nations, China and the U.S., or the two peoples. The prosperity of China does not preclude a high level of prosperity in the U.S. Economic development and prosperity is not a zero sum game. As the Chinese repeat at every turn, there can be a win-win situation for all nations of the world with China’s development. That has already proven true in the present Great Recession where the Chinese economy has been the main driver of the global economy, perhaps preventing the Great Recession from tumbling into the Great Depression. That is also true for the development of other nations, India for example.
So the question is whether the United States wishes to remain the dominant military power in the world and to bring China down. Unfortunately, such anti-China strategies have already been put in place by the U.S. and they will be intensified.. The “New Silk Road Strategy” in Central Asia has been put forward by Hillary Clinton to “contain” China. Since the first term of George W. Bush, at least, the U.S. has sought to enlist India to “counterbalance” China – with limited success. So far the Indians do not seem to be taking the bait. The “Pivot to Asia” espoused by Clinton, Obama and others in the higher spheres of U.S. foreign policy has attempted to enlist Australia, the Philippines, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam against China.
Some of this follows classic patterns in diplomacy. For example, as John Mearsheimer outlines in his book, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, the goal of a regional hegemon is to prevent the rise of a regional hegemon in other parts of the globe. Mearsheimer points out that right now there is but one regional hegemon in the world, the U.S., which reigns supreme in the Western Hemisphere. The first tactic and the preferred one to accomplish the put down of another emerging hegemon is “buck passing.” In simple terms, that means getting another regional power to do the dirty work, sparing oneself the pain and cost. In that light consider the ravings from Japan’s Prime Minister Abe, backed up and encouraged, even incited by the American “think” tank, CSIS (The Center for Strategic and International Studies). And today, news arrives that Abe’s party, the ruling LDP (Liberal Democratic Party), has eliminated from its platform the pledge that Japan “will never wage war again,” a pledge in place since the end of WWII, causing considerable consternation in South Korea, China, Taiwan and elsewhere in the neighborhood!
Furthermore, the United States is in no danger from a powerful China. We are separated by a vast ocean from China, and the power of nuclear weapons makes a challenge to U.S. sovereignty impossible except on a suicidal basis. Additionally, the U.S. remains a largely self sufficient economy with resources aplenty. Only severe paranoia could lead us to fear an economically prosperous China. And more than that, as Henry Kissinger, like many others, points out in his book On China, the Chinese have no history of overseas expansion.
That was true even in the early 15th Century when China was the greatest naval power in the world, sailing giant ships to Africa and elsewhere long before Columbus set foot on a ship. There was trading, but no conquest and no enslavement. Conquest and enslavement turned out to be the work of European civilization. And even now with China the second largest economy in the world it has not a singly overseas military base even though it provides more UN peacekeeper personnel than any other nation. As Kissinger points out, American exceptionalism is missionary; it insists that all the world be like us. One can see one of the most fanatic incarnations of that in Hillary Clinton and other “humanitarian” imperialists, many regarding themselves as “progressives.” China’s exceptionalism, on the other hand, is a high self-regard for its culture but no desire to spread it. If the rest of us do not want to follow the Chinese way, then we have missed out and it is no business of the Chinese to change that in their view.
The bloody history of the U.S. over the last Century is quite a different matter. If the United States insists on its status as the dominant and unchallengeable military power, then we are on the road to conflict, certainly a new Cold War the beginning of which the “pivot” represents, and quite possibly we are on the road to WWIII. We in the United States are the ones who can control this and perhaps save the world from the very worst suffering and deadly conflict. The answer is to abandon Empire, dismantle our overseas bases, end our occupation of foreign nations, including South Korea, Japan and Germany, adopt a defensive strategy to protect our land and come home. Trade and talk, yes. Military intervention, no. We have a potential partner for peace in China. Let us give it a try. Establish trust and verify it. In short, Come Home America. A paradise awaits us here. Let us leave others in peace to construct their own.
John V. Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org