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Proletarian issue 59 (April 2014)
World War Three in the making
US imperialism fans Asian disputes as part of its war drive against China.
Although US imperialism is currently fixated on its confrontation with Russia, following its instigation of a fascist coup in Ukraine and the subsequent decision by the people of Crimea to secede from Kiev’s authority and rejoin the Russian Federation (from which they were arbitrarily separated in 1954), it has by no means abandoned its long-term preparations for war against its other major strategic adversary – the People’s Republic of China.

Simultaneous with, and closely related to, the new ‘cold war’ against Russia, the Obama administration continues actively to pursue its so-called ‘pivot to Asia’, whose fundamental aim is to encircle China with hostile countries and military bases.

Indeed, the US, seeking to further fan territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas, has blatantly warned that a “Crimea-like” crisis could erupt in the region, as a result of what it calls China’s “revanchist tendencies”.

Speaking at a meeting of the Jakarta International Defence Dialogue, held in the Indonesian capital, on 19 March, Admiral Harry Harris, the newly appointed Commander of the US Pacific Fleet, specifically flagged up what he called “the global tensions caused by one neighbour against another in the Crimean peninsula”, something that he linked to China’s supposed “unilateral actions” and “inflammatory rhetoric”.

“Just consider the current global tensions caused by one neighbour against another in the Crimean peninsula. It’s imperative for every nation represented here today that we keep something like that from ever happening in this region of the world,” he warned delegates.

Speaking to the Financial Times on the sidelines of the conference, Harris claimed that maritime tensions in the region were at the highest point he had seen for 30 years because of China’s “destabilising” influence.

Whilst disingenuously claiming to “welcome the rise of a strong and prosperous China that adheres to international norms”, Harris made it crystal clear that what the US means by ‘international norms’ is nothing but the idea that other nations should meekly accept the global hegemony of US imperialism in perpetuity. He added:

“What worries me, though, is China’s lack of transparency at times and their revanchist tendencies. I worry about that and I think it’s destabilising the region.” (‘US Pacific Fleet commander warns Asia it faces Crimea-like crisis’ by Ben Bland, 19 March 2014)

In diplomatic parlance, ‘revanchism’ has been used since the 1870s to refer to the drive by a country to recover lost territories; thus Harris was openly accusing China of seeking territorial expansion and thereby seeking to incite other Asian nations against it.

His provocative remarks drew an immediate retort from Sun Jianguo, Deputy Chief of Staff of China’s People’s Liberation Army, who dismissed the idea that China was responsible for increasing tensions, noting that, in fact, his country was facing “pressing and immediate risks” because of actions by others.

Speaking alongside Harris, and in remarks clearly directed at the United States, Sun stated:

“We face so many disputes and some disputes are very thorny and difficult to tackle. In particular, some are trying to take advantage of these disputes to realise their own strategic objectives. Our goal is to make sure these disputes are properly managed and will not blow into conflict or war.”

The strategic objectives to which the Chinese military leader referred are those of US imperialism. By means of its ‘pivot to Asia’, the Obama administration aims at isolating China diplomatically and militarily (as well as economically through the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership), with the aim of securing continued US hegemony.

Reference to ‘international norms’ on the part of Harris, or any other spokesperson for US imperialism, means nothing more nor less than that China, and all other countries, should continue to allow the US to write the rules, interpret them as it sees fit, and enforce them (or not) as they please. Only if China agrees to accept a permanently subordinate position in the ‘world order’ is its rise to be ‘welcomed’.

US tactics are predicated on inserting itself into the territorial disputes left over from history between China and a number of south-east Asian nations. China insists that these disputes be solved through bilateral negotiations in each case, and has also repeatedly suggested that final solutions be shelved for future generations to decide, whilst proposing that regional countries jointly undertake economic exploitation of the areas concerned (such as oil exploration) for mutual benefit.

Washington, on the other hand, insists that the disputes be handled on a multilateral basis, since that provides the only pretext for the US to intervene. In fact, whilst these disputes have existed for decades, they only became acute once the US started to fish in troubled waters.

The starting point for this was in 2010, when, at a meeting convened by the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi, then secretary of state Hillary Clinton, declared that the US had a “national interest” in “freedom of navigation” in the South China Sea. As such freedom had not to that point been threatened by any power, and certainly not by China, her intervention served only to give a green light to countries such as the Philippines to escalate tensions and stage anti-China provocations, secure in the belief that they were now sheltering under a US protective umbrella.

This is essentially the same position adopted by US imperialism in the East China Sea, where Japan continues to occupy China’s Diaoyu islands. Knowing just how untenable is Japan’s claim to the islands, the US claims to ‘take no view’ on their sovereignty, yet still insists that they are covered by its obligations to Japan under a bilateral security treaty – meaning that the US would come to Japan’s aid in the event of any conflict.

Harris’s comments about China’s alleged ‘revanchism’ were just the latest bellicose volley recently directed at China by the US, its close allies and the monopoly media.

Many of them have seized on this year’s centenary of the start of the first imperialist world war to paint an utterly false analogy of China as a supposed latter-day Germany – a rising, expansionist power intent on arbitrarily redrawing the world map to its own advantage.

At the elitist World Economic Forum, held in January at the Swiss resort of Davos, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe said that relations between his country and China were in a “similar situation” to those between Britain and Germany in 1914. This can only be construed as stating that they are on the brink of war.

The same drum has been banged by the right-wing British media. The Financial Times’ chief economics commentator Martin Wolf began a 3 December 2013 article as follows:

Will we sustain an open global economy while also managing tensions between a rising autocracy and democracies in relative economic decline? That was the question posed by the arrival of imperial Germany as Europe’s leading economic and military power in the late 19th century. It is the question posed today by the rise of communist China. Now, as then, mistrust is high and rising. Now, as then, actions of the rising power raise risks of conflict. We know how this story ended in 1914. How will the new one end, a century later?” (‘China must not copy the Kaiser’s errors’)

Not to be outdone, the puppet president of the Philippines, Benigno S Aquino III, in a February interview with the New York Times called for international support against China, likening his country to Czechoslovakia facing Nazi Germany in the 1930s:

“At what point do you say, ‘Enough is enough’? Well, the world has to say it – remember that the Sudetenland was given in an attempt to appease Hitler to prevent World War II.” (‘Philippine leader sounds alarm on China’ by Keith Bradsher, 4 February 2014)

The New York Times is now also at the forefront of attempting to invoke the Crimean crisis to increase pressure on China. On 19 March, Mark Landler wrote:

But there are also striking parallels: Russia and China are both ambitious powers, riding a tide of nationalism and nursing grievances over historical slights at the hands of the West.

Whilst the article claims that “for now, administration officials say, Russia presents a harder case than China”, it continues:

‘China’s military is expanding dramatically, creating concern for a host of American allies,’ said Ian Bremmer, founder of the Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy. He said he viewed China as a greater threat than Russia, ‘and by a very large margin’.

Landler cited former under-secretary of state Nicholas Burns as saying the US should “draw clear red lines with Russia and China” and show it is prepared to honour its treaty obligations, and continued:

Robert Danin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said: ‘Russia is a traditional military power sitting atop a declining economic and industrial base. In contrast, China is a military power rooted in a strong and growing economic foundation.’

That may explain why Mr Obama, after meeting with European allies in Brussels next week, will travel a month later to Asia. There, he will follow in [US Vice President] Mr Biden’s footsteps with a tour of China’s anxious neighbours: Japan, south Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines.” (‘With Russia, as with China, unnerved US allies seek reassurances’)

The current world situation does indeed resemble a dangerous pre-war one, but rather than any far-fetched comparisons between China and Russia and expansionist imperialist powers of yore, it is the imperialist alliance, headed by the United States, that seeks to steadily tighten the noose around these two counties.

Just as in the 1930s, when Spain, Albania, Ethiopia and China all fell victim to a fascist aggressor preparing to attack the Soviet Union, so today, the successive wars against such countries as Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria are but stepping stones towards imperialism’s ultimate targets in Moscow and Beijing.
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