Obama Pivots, China Profits
Let’s start with a flashback to February 1992 – only two months after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. First draft of the US government’s Defense Planning Guidance. It was later toned down, but it still formed the basis for the exceptionalist dementia incarnated by the Project for the New American Century; and also reappeared in full glory in Dr Zbig “Let’s Rule Eurasia” Brzezinski’s 1997 magnum opus The Grand Chessboard.
It’s all there, raw, rough and ready:
“Our first objective is to prevent the reemergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed by the Soviet Union. This … requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power. These regions include Western Europe, East Asia, the territory of the former Soviet Union, and Southwest Asia.”
Obama’s Asia tour started this week in full regalia at the famed Jiro restaurant in Ginza, Tokyo, ingesting hopefully non-Fukushima radiated nigiri sushi (disclosure: I was there way back in 1998, when sushi master Jiro Ono was far from a celebrity and the sushi was far from atomic). Obama’s host, hardcore nationalist/militarist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, obviously picked up the bill. But the real bill comes later, as in Japan bowing to strict US demands – on trade, investment, corporate law and intellectual property rights – embedded in the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is code for American Big Business finally cracking open the heavily protected Japanese market.
Abe is a tough customer. His rhetoric is heavy on “escaping the post-war regime”, as in re-weaponizing Japan and not playing second fiddle militarily to Washington in Asia anymore. The Pentagon obviously has other ideas. Post-sushi at Jiro, what matters for Obama is to force Tokyo to bend over not only on TPP but also on keeping the weaponizing subordinated to the larger US agenda.
Beijing, predictably, sees all that for what it really is, as expressed in this Xinhua op-ed; the actions of an “anachronistic”, “sclerotic” and “myopic” superpower that needs to “shake off its historical and philosophical shackles”.
The Southeast Asia leg of the Spring collection tour is all about making sure to Malaysia and Philippines, not as strong militarily as Vietnam, that the US Navy will never be replaced as the hegemon in the South China Sea – or even allow China to reach parity with it. It’s at the heart of the “pivoting to Asia” as containment of China, whose aim is preventing China from becoming a naval power simultaneously in the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific.
The Pentagon is predictably paranoid, accusing China of waging not only one but “three warfares” against the US. The fact is Beijing is developing a state-of-the-art underground base for 20 nuclear submarines in Hainan island just as Malaysia boosts its own submarine base in Borneo and the Philippines keeps imploring Washington for more planes, ships, airstrips and cyber capabilities as protection for what it regards as its absolute priority: explore for oil and gas in the West Philippine Sea to boost the economy.
Radiate me with trade deals, baby
Thus the pivoting to Cold War 2.0 proceeds unabated, as in Washington working hard to build an iron curtain between Berlin and Moscow – preventing further trade integration across Eurasia – via instigation of a civil war in Ukraine. German Chancellor Angela Merkel remains on the spot: it’s either Atlantic high-fidelity or her Ostpolitik – and that’s exactly where Washington wants her.
As for the batshit crazy factions fully deployed across the Beltway revolving door, everything goes, from “warning” China not to pull a Crimea to advocating war in Syria and even the North Atlantic Treaty Organization entering a nuclear war, as shownhere by the appropriately denominated Anne Marie Slaughter. This is what she’s teaching her exceptionalist students at Princeton.
How’s Beijing reacting to all this hysteria? Simple: by reaping dividends. Beijing wins with the US offensive trying to alienate Moscow from Western markets by getting a better pricing deal on the supply of Eastern Siberian gas. Beijing wins from the European Union’s fear of losing trade with Russia by negotiating a free-trade agreement with its largest trading partner, which happens to the be the EU.
And then, the sterling example. Just compare Obama’s Spring collection tour, as a pivoting appendix, to the current tour of Cuba, Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. It’s a business bonanza, focused on bilateral financing and, what else, trade deals.
It’s all in the mix: Peruvian and Chilean copper; Brazilian iron and soybeans; support for Venezuelan social programs and energy development; support for Cuba in its interest for greater Chinese involvement in Venezuela, which supplies Cuba with subsidized energy.
And all this against the background of a Beltway so excited that the Chinese economy is in deep trouble. It’s not – it grew at 7.4% year-on-year for the first quarter of 2014. Demand for iron and copper won’t significantly slow down – as the Beijing-driven urbanization drive has not even reached full speed. Same for soybeans – as millions of Chinese increasingly start eating meat on a regular basis (soybean products are a crucial feedstock). And, of course, Chinese companies will not losee their appetite for diversifying all across South America.
For the large, upcoming Chinese middle class – on their way to becoming full-fledged members of the number one economic power in the world by 2018 – this Spring collection is a non-starter. He or she would rather hit Hong Kong and queue up in Canton Road to buy loads of Hermes and Prada – and then strategically celebrate with Jiro quality, non-Fukushima-radiated, sushi.
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This essay originally appeared on Asia Times.