Inventing the Chinese Threat

John Glaser, August 17, 2012

“Since the disappearance of the Soviet Union,” writes James Dobbins at RAND Corp., “China has become America’s default adversary, the power against which the United States measures itself militarily, at least when there is no more proximate enemy in sight.”

I know what you’re thinking: What has China ever done to us? What villainous offense have they committed to our well-being or our interests? It can’t possibly be the case that China is our “default adversary” just because the Soviet Union is gone, can it?

Well, yes it can. As Colin Powell, former Secretary of State and retired four-star general, said about the fall of the Soviet Union, Washington was remorseful that we “lost our best enemy.” The system – the “whole structure,” Powell explained, “depended on there being a Soviet Union that might attack us.” He said Mikhail Gorbachev sat across the table from him at the time and said apologetically “Ah, General, I’m sorry, you’ll have to find a new enemy.”

When people in Washington and their surrogates in the mass media punditry crow about our other trumped up threat, they at least have a laundry list of alleged transgressions. You know the list: they support terrorism, they want to wipe Israel off the map, they’re secretly building nuclear weapons, they killed US soldiers invading and occupying neighboring Iraq, etc. With China, there is no such list. China’s mere existence as anything other than a vassal state is the major transgression. As James Holmes has written in the National Interest, China “presents the sternest ‘anti-access’ challenge of any prospective antagonist.” In other words, they resist US interventionism and military presence. China is gaining power and influence, which ought to be solely American prerogatives, as far as Washington is concerned.

This is the reasoning behind President Obama’s strategic shift into Asia-Pacific, announced by the administration last year. This so-called ‘Asia pivot’ is an aggressive policy that involves surging American military presence throughout the region – in the Philippines, Japan, Australia, Guam, South Korea, Singapore, etc. – and backing basically all of China’s rivals.

More than that, the Pentagon is drawing up new plans to prepare for an air and sea war in Asia. “As part of the Air-Sea Battle concept,” reports Military.com, the US is refurbishing old WWII bases, looking “to disperse its air forces stationed at its handful of major bases in the western Pacific in the event of a major conflict with China.”

Source: BBC

The idea is to have enough US bases peppered throughout the region so that China would be too surrounded to safely attack. “Doing so would make it more difficult for China to wipe out entire squadrons sitting on the ground with surprise attacks from its long range ballistic missiles.”

Chinese officials have not appreciated this unprovoked bellicosity. In May the Chinese Defense Ministry accused the Pentagon of hyping a Chinese military threat out of thin air. Others have said these Pentagon moves could start an arms race. “If the U.S. military develops Air-Sea Battle to deal with the [People’s Liberation Army], the PLA will be forced to develop anti-Air-Sea Battle,” one officer, Col. Gaoyue Fan, said last year in a debate sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“Some Asia analysts worry that conventional strikes aimed at China could spark a nuclear war,” according to the Washington Post. Other “critics see a dangerous tendency toward alarmism that is exaggerating the China threat to drive up defense spending.”

“While China’s overall military capabilities will not equal those of the United States anytime soon,” Dobbins puzzlingly warns, “it will more quickly achieve local superiority in its immediate neighborhood, first in and around Taiwan and then at somewhat greater distances.”

In consequence, the direct defense of contested assets in that region will become progressively more difficult, eventually approaching impossible. The United States will therefore become increasingly dependent on escalatory options for defense and retaliatory capabilities for deterrence. American nuclear superiority is not likely to be much help in this regard, both because China will retain a second-strike capability and because the issues at stake in most potential crises are not of vital consequence to the United States.

So, even though China’s “local superiority” has effects that “are not of vital consequence to the United States,” it’s important that we rely on “escalatory” military options to prevent it from happening? Dobbins then suggests strategies, which are already being carried out:

One means of improving the prospects for direct defense and reducing the risk of escalation is for the United States to enable the capabilities and buttress the resolve of China’s neighbors. Such a strategy should not be—or be seen—as a U.S. attempt to encircle or align the region against China, lest it produce greater Chinese hostility.

Except that it is producing greater hostility from China. A recent report from the CSIS predicted that next year “could see a shift in Chinese foreign policy based on the new leadership’s judgment that it must respond to a US strategy that seeks to prevent China’s reemergence as a great power.”

“Signs of a potential harsh reaction are already detectable,” the report said. “The US Asia pivot has triggered an outpouring of anti-American sentiment in China that will increase pressure on China’s incoming leadership to stand up to the United States. Nationalistic voices are calling for military countermeasures to the bolstering of America’s military posture in the region and the new US defense strategic guidelines.”

There is no reason to pick a fight with China, whether it induces conventional warfare or a new Cold War. China hasn’t harmed our interests or our security. Washington just wants to flex its muscles and prove that it still represents the greatest mafia among all the world’s mafias.




26 Responses to “Inventing the Chinese Threat”

  1. The manufacturing of a "China threat" is really about economics and ideology. The so called "cold war dividend" after the collapse of the Soviet Union turned many arms manufacturing states into "basket cases" from which they sill have not escaped. Many in the US, rightly or wrongly, believe communism is evil and need to be destroyed. But it is unclear how China can be contained with the China bashing rhetoric. It has become too strong in terms of economics and military. China has just as much, if not more, money than the US to mount an arms race. It has nuclear weapons, albeit not as many as the US. But one nuclear arm hitting the US is too many. The China bashers may have to explain to the Los Angelians that their sacrifice is "acceptable:.

  2. Colin Powell was being frank and inadvertently echoing "The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism". The system needs a credible, maximal enemy to maintain the warfare state. That's it. That's the only reason. The Asia pivot may also indicate a rapprochement with erstwhile Islamist allies, as we have seen in the last two years. Will need them to take on Eurasia and Eastasia.

  3. So when the Soviets retreated to their own borders a "new" devil du-jour had to be found, and quick, so that responsibility fell on the nebulous shoulders of Al-Qaeda. An organization only as solid as the words uttered from our lie-masters in Langely and 1600 Penn. Now they pivot towards China as our empire is being threatened by its own fiscal malfeasance. You couldn't make this up!

  4. oh please. anybody who has been to china, or worked with chinese citizens at universities here in the US, know that they consider themselves the heirs to the world……and laugh at the US as a dying lion. the arrogance and overt racism of chinese males is unbelievable. Chinese neighboring states are concerned…..why should we be? A strong front with all the neighbors of China will let them know they cannot just 'claim' the entire south china sea etc etc etc.

  5. [...] Inventing the Chinese Threat (antiwar.com) [...]

  6. Bruce, that reminds me of the days when Americans were running around the world, belligerently throwing the “Almighty dollar” in people´s faces, complaining about the stupidity of the people whose country they were visiting, quick to tell everybody how “we´re the best,” etc, etc, etc. And now to hear that some other people, the Chinese, are doing the same to us is new to me, but so what? Stop crying Bruce, this is just the beginning. Take it like a man, after all, this is what Americans have been doing to the rest of the world since WW-II.

    Your leaders are idiots and everybody knows it, even your own citizens complain about them being so. Your leaders also cry about the growing power of China at the same time they run to China with their hands out, requesting for more and more money – money they are no longer capable of producing themselves. America has gone from the almighty dollar to a total lose of pride. It´s no wonder Chinese are no longer being quite about what is happening, why should they?

    Bruce, I too am an American and wish things were totally different. The really sad thing is that it will sooner or later turn into America bashing, but it gets worse – we don´t have many real friends in the world and everyday we create more enemies. It could get very lonesome and humbling for the American people and we´ll just have to get use to it all

  7. Very well said! The sooner America realises that her Empire shrinks like an old lemon, the better.

  8. [...] the country and use its existance as a thinly vieled excuse for regional militarisation truly directed at China. That, of course, would be another form of madness entirely. [...]

  9. I simply fail to see why dictators around the world are unable to keep their people totally bamboozled. It works like a charm on our folk, who have virtually free education, sophisticated media and Starbucks. Perhaps instead of marketing weaponry we should sell 'stupidify your people' kits modeled on GOP and Dem campaign baloney. We could get rich! I mean, who else is in the same league with us?

  10. China undoubtly is definately are a threat to the United States . They even told us they have not forgotten or fogiven what happend to them in Yugoslavia . Do you remember China has been practicing shooting satlelites down from out of outer space . Do you understand some satlelites are used for globle positioning to guide our missles and even planes . China foiund out that we did not accidently bomb their embassey as Bill Clinton said . No George Tennet admitted to the U.S. congress we selected the Chinese Embassey for a target . I very much suspect China would like to get even . Both China and Russia have been working overtime , ever since they were humilated in Yugoslavia , to comeup some big new surprizes they can humilitate the United States with .

  11. Hitler may have been close

  12. Ha, China can NEVER compete with America in starting wars ! Vietnam, Laos, Panama, The Caribbic, Iraq, Afghanistan and soon Iran !!!!

  13. Russia and China have no need to come up with ways to humiliate the US, the US government is doing an unbelievable job at humiliating itself, all over the world. All the Russians and Chinese have to do is sit back in front of their TV screens, eat pop corn and watch Washington in action – they could never come up with a plan of action to outdo Washington´s self-humiliating actions and statements, never.

    If we begin shooting at them, wouldn´t you expect them to destroy our GPS? They can just spot jam the satellites with lacers making them totally useless, and not have to resort to creating more debris in outer space than there already is.

  14. These idiots will keep whining about China being such a threat, but they won't stop shopping at Wal-Mart, will they?

  15. The author's point is well taken that US creates adversaries to push political agenda. GWIII's "axis of evil" speech & use of Colin Powell to propagandize UN on WMD was masterful. Presidential candidate Romney seeks kudos for "urging Obama to 'get tough on China'." The truth: China has responsibly strengthened the US and the world economy at every turn. Also, China's economic ascendancy has contributed to surging national pride (rightly so, as its middle class prospers). As nationalism surges, and military spending increases, China's neighbors become more frightened. This poses a dilemma for them. Japan, Taiwan, and South Island Sea neighbors don't want US in their countries, but they want US military dollars, and they want US to show military support. Yet, just as US President's from Washington & Jefferson to Jackson, McKinley, Roosevelt & Kennedy warned foreign countries to stay out of US "back yard," China understandably makes the same proclamation. It is hypocritical for the US to expect China to kowtow when provoked by its neighbors, when the US did not likewise capitulate when provoked during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Take the Senkaku Island dispute, for instance. China has over 6,000 years of history to support its claim to these islands. That the islands were 'awarded' by US to their joint WW-II enemy Japan without China's consent in 1972 would naturally inflame China. What right did the US have to award what did not rightly belong to the US? China, not Japan, sits on the UN Security Council. Yet, the US gives Japan, not China, respect. It would be in the best interests of both Washington and Beijing to seek greater dialog on issues of mutual concern and to refer disputes to international courts for legal and not military resolution. China and the US are the world's two greatest superpowers. Our two great nation's would do well act responsibly, not recklessly, on the world stage. Sending more students and diplomats to each other's countries to learn language/customs would improve good will and help us to avoid misunderstandings.

  16. And, at the same time, we recently targeted and killed Uighur members of the ETIM separatist group?
    So, it our anti-China policy is not only insane, it is disfunctional !

  17. The Asia pivot may also indicate a rapprochement with erstwhile Islamist allies, as we have seen in the last two years. Will need them to take on Eurasia and Eastasia.

  18. r u kidding ?
    the uighurs are very valuable assets…….. at 20m bucks per head ;-) http://tinyurl.com/7lgr56o

    see, they give good value for ur tax money ! http://tinyurl.com/nv87x6

  19. [...] to President Obama’s bellicosity in the Asia Pacific region and the indelible need to invent a Chinese threat that isn’t [...]

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