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Saturday, July 13, 2024

FOREIGN MEDIA ON CHINA #519

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GOOD MORNING FROM LONDON

“THE AMERICANS ARE COMING”

FOREIGN AFFAIRS

ORIANA SKYLAR MASTRO is a Centre Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University, and the author of Upstart: How China Became a Great PowerShe has maintained a military career with the US Air Force and was Political Military Affairs Strategist for the Pacific Air Forces from 2016 to 2020. She was also named the Air Force’s Individual Reservist Company Grade Officer of the Year in both 2016 and 2022.

She combines a study of China with her ongoing military career and in a recent article in Foreign Affairs under the title The Pivot That Wasn’t she poses the question;- Did America Wait Too Long to Counter China?  

Mastro is acquiring a reputation for “understanding” China. She deserves attention because she embraces American thinking – in the military and in the world of academia (and she operates in both sectors) – that the US needs to “act” against China. She is the voice of the current Cold War thinking in Washington that China is the major threat to world peace and needs to be stopped in its tracks.

In preparing this article I have drawn upon an article that Ms Mastro has written in Foreign Affairs – the best go-to publication for keeping abreast of US thinking of world affairs.

Mastro opens with a quote from  Henry Kissinger in Foreign Affairs – the center of gravity of international affairs is importantly shifting from the Atlantic to the Pacific and Indian Oceans.” And, more recently, a quote from President Biden that “the future of the twenty-first-century economy is going to be largely written in the Indo-Pacific.”

Mastro contends correctly that Asia is the world’s most strategically important region today. It is home to over half the world’s population and boasts six of the world’s twenty-five largest economies, fourteen of its twenty-five biggest militaries, and four of the nine countries with nuclear weapons. Asian-Pacific states have been engines of worldwide growth, accounting for over 70 percent of the increase in global GDP over the last decade.

China alone, Mastro notes, has contributed a staggering 31 percent of the increase of over 70% in global Gross Domestic Product over the last decade. The region hosts nineteen of the top one hundred universities, according to the Times Higher Education’s ranking, and ten of the twenty-five countries that filed the most patents in 2021.

She observes that “if the United States wants to remain the planet’s most powerful country, it will have to tap into Asia and prevent China from dominating it.”. So here, right at the outset, Mastro makes clear that in her view China wants to dominate Asia and that the US has to act now to prevent China from achieving its goal

Ms Mastro is respectful of China’s emergence as a world power of significance but her loyalty is to the US, and in particular to the US Military and her worry is that the US has awoken too late to ensure that China’s coming of age does not undermine the goal of the US to maintain its position as – using her words – “the planet’s most powerful country”.

She continues “Countering China requires more than just a pivot. Washington must mobilize, including by stocking more of the right weapons and gaining increased military access to China’s neighbours. Only then will the United States be able to deter Chinese aggression, strengthen its presence in Asia, and safeguard its interests in the region.”

This is the US speaking when she says that the US must “stock more of the right weapons…gain increased military access to China’s neighbours…deter Chinese aggression,,,safeguard US interests”

The United States cannot compete with China simply by doing more of the same. Washington needs new ideas and strategies, and it can start by rethinking its alliances. For example, Ms Mastro insists that;-

  1. “the United States might organize collective responses not only to military attacks but also to economic ones.
  1. When dealing with countries governed by distasteful authoritarians, the United States should double down on diplomacy instead of disengaging.
  1. Washington should also spend more money in developing countries and attach fewer political conditions to such support.
  1. The US should cozy up to Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam—by offering economic enticements and security guarantees in exchange for the right to build bases, access maritime routes, and fly over their territory.
  1. The United States should get tough in the South China Sea, where China has constructed and enlarged artificial islands to reinforce its territorial   claims 
  2. The U.S. Navy should escort fishing and oil exploration vessels from allied countries when China threatens their operations.
  1. The US Navy should support non-allied Southeast Asian countries, such as Vietnam, in exchange for greater support of U.S. military operations in the region.
  1. If China escalates its aggression in the area, the United States should signal that it will reconsider its neutrality on the question of disputed territories, such as the Paracel and Spratly Islands.
  1. Washington must also try to build consensus among Southeast Asian claimants regarding the sovereignty of those islands. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam squabble among themselves about maritime boundaries and natural resources—and China takes advantage of their disagreement.”

Ms Mastro concludes;- “.The United States has wasted a great deal of time, but it isn’t too late to deal with China’s rise. But prioritizing Asia is just the first step in managing competition between the United States and China. The next phase requires national mobilization. And the clock is ticking”

GRAHAM PERRY COMMENTS;-

This is a call to arms. “The clock is ticking” says Ms Mastro. The US has been slow off the mark. China is on the front foot. There is no time to waste. We must prepare for battle. How else is it possible to interpret the meaning of Ms Mastro’s article. Consider again her language;-

organise collective responses…[China is a country of] distasteful authoritarians…cozy up to Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam… offering economic enticements and security guarantees in exchange for the right to build bases, access maritime routes, and fly over their territory…get tough in the South China Sea… If China escalates its aggression in the area, the United States should signal that it will reconsider its neutrality on the question of disputed territories, such as the Paracel and Spratly Islands… Washington must also try to build consensus among Southeast Asian claimants regarding the sovereignty of those islands.

The US always tries to portray China as the new expansionist, acquisitive imperialist power. The US shares a boundary with just two countries – Canada and Mexico. China shares a boundary with fourteen countries. The US deliberately misinterprets China’s strict protection of boundaries and frontiers in order to paint China as the country preparing to invade neighbouring countries in pursuit of a Greater China policy. The US seeks to frighten China’s neighbours into believing that, but for US military might, China would rampage through S-E Asia.

This is the Domino Theory of the Vietnam War all over again. The US justifies the deaths of 67,000 US soldiers in Vietnam in pursuit of a policy to safeguard Vietnam’s neighbouring countries. The US failed. Vietnam was triumphant and no other country fell into the Communist orbit. Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand all remain independent sovereign countries. The Domino Argument was a False Argument designed to destroy Vietnam. Vietnam survived. The US suffered a big defeat. The returning body bags prevented President Johnson from seeking a second term as President.

Now the bogey man is China. But for the US military presence in Asia China would be rampant so the theory goes. The Domino Argument was false and the ‘China is Imperialist’ Argument is also false. Behind it lies the 700+ US military bases with the overwhelming majority  – as the late John Pilger established – containing weapons aimed at China.

Now is the time to focus, again, on the Thucydides Principle promoted by Professor Allison. War occurs, concludes Allison, when an established power is challenged by a rising power. Today the US is challenged by China but at this point it is necessary to emphasise that China is the rising power because it has released the creative skills and the developing energy of its 1.4m people – not for the purpose of domination, expansion, or acquisition  but to achieve economic progress and rising prosperity. No Chinese military aircraft fly over San Francisco or New York. China does not have even one soldier in an overseas base – in comparison with the 700+ military bases outside America, China has just one base in Djibouti which exists to serve China’s large (and unarmed) maritime fleet.

China reads the US as a military power operating off of China’s land mass. The facts speak for themselves. 700 military bases do exist and the focus of US activity is China. China needs “to be put in its place” says the military thinking of Ms Mastro – and for Ms Mastro read the whole US military establishment – the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, West Point and the Central Intelligence Agency.

This is “History At Work”. In 1949 China was the Sick Man of Asia. Today it is about to become the Largest Economy in the World. Today China describes itself as a “moderately prosperous country” with the ambition to be a “prosperous country” by 2049. Time is on China’s side with, annually, the largest number of STEM graduates. Time is not on the side of the US. The Thucydides Principle is at work and the US, the established power, is struggling to stay ahead. It has overreached itself. It cannot sustain a war in Ukraine, a war in Gaza and the challenge of China.

A final observation – China is not looking to replace the US as the new Imperialist Power. China views the world’s future through the perspective of multi-centres of power distributed throughout the world. The globe is changing and the distribution of power will take into account the growth of Argentina and Brazil in South America; Nigeria and South Africa in Africa, and Indonesia, India and China in Asia. The world is changing. It seems static but changes in the distribution of economic power will bring about a multi-polar world. China will take its place alongside, and not atop, the emerging powers in the period up to the year 2100. Ms Mastro’s approach is out of date and the world is not safe from a final desperate throw of the dice by an over-reaching US. The US is coming.

GRAHAM PERRY.

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