Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only shake you down once a year, but when we do we really mean it. It costs a lot to keep the site afloat, and our growing audience, well over TWO million unique viewers a month, eats up a lot of bandwidth — and bandwidth isn’t free. We aren’t supported by corporate donors, advertisers or big foundations. We survive solely on your support.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Fearing China

by

The biblical assertion that there is nothing original under the sun finds form on a regular basis in the behaviour of states. This is particularly so regarding assumptions or more often than not, misassumptions, about military means and abilities. The entire Cold War complex was riddled with psycho-babble and speculation: If they (they being a loose term for the enemy) get this weapon before we do, what will it do to the balance of power? As ever, the weapons race was pre-eminent, giving tenured positions to game-theorists and promoters of the “prisoner’s dilemma”. Nothing was spared in terms of dollar or rouble.

Today, it is the Chinese bothering those soft-headed spenders in the Pentagon: what if they manage, by some miracle, to develop the weapons, the systems, and the means that will place the US military machine in the shade? Little time goes by between reports that extol Chinese abilities, actual or potential, and risks posed to the US.

With menace, suggestions now abound that the Chinese drone capability will outdo any American variant in due course. A certain class of destroyer, the 052D Luyang III, might well track, engage and repel the celebrated F-35. The Chinese might, just might, push US naval presence out of the Pacific with their blue water navy.

The sentiment is captured by filmmaker Peter Navarro, whose cataclysmically toned Death by China speaks of the country’s “destructive economic trade relationship” with the US, while also highlighting military prospects. “[T]he People’s Republic is moving forward at Manhattan Project speed to develop a blue water navy capable of challenging the US Navy.”

Others, such as Andrew Erickson and Gabe Collins, wish such observers were given the coldest of showers. “China’s navy is not poised to speed across the Pacific to threaten America the way the Soviet Union once did, if not worse” (The Diplomat, Aug 30, 2012). Such commentary tends to be eclipsed by enthusiastic alarmists.

According to the Reuters report last Friday, China’s expenditure last year was in the order of $145 billion, covering the modernisation of drones, warships, jets, missiles and cyber weapons. Neither the Pentagon nor China’s authorities are in agreement about the figures, with Beijing’s estimate coming in at a more modest $119.5 billion.

The authors behind the Pentagon annual report admitted of “poor accounting transparency and incomplete transition from a command economy” as reasons for possible inaccuracy in the figures. This should hardly come as a surprise to the accountants of the Pentagon’s books, which have been in sore need of a searching audit for decades. Something happens when the perceived necessity of brute defence meet the considerations of accountancy. Transparency is not the usual offspring of that coupling.

Reports feature, in startling language, the nature of Asian defence spending. The International Institute for Strategic Studies, for instance, claims in its annual report “The Military Balance 2013” that Asia’s spending overtook Europe’s for the first time last year. The statement is only alarming in relative terms – European states are spending nominally less on defence. Budget cuts and austerity measures have been extended to the military. The spending by Asian states “has been so rapid” while “defence austerity” on the part of European states has been “severe”.

Shades of a “missile gap”, the notorious exaggeration on the part of the US defence security establishment about Soviet capabilities and American vulnerabilities, are finding form in estimates of what punch Chinese forces can pack. As Christopher A. Preble’s John F. Kennedy and the Missile Gap (2004) accurately maintains, “missile-gap” pundits were motivated by economic considerations.

Kennedy, donning the outfit of the unrepentant Cold War hawk, was intent on reversing the position taken by Dwight D. Eisenhower during the 1950s – that the military should not be seen as an indispensable feature of a state’s economic growth. Pontificating about missiles and projections became part and parcel of self-aggrandized military expenditure, the famed military-industrial complex that distorted, as it continues to do, sane and considered policy. Preble even goes so far as to make the claim that “the military-industrial complex was the will of the people, and politicians throughout the Cold War era attempted to bend this will to their advantage”.

The Chinese Defence Ministry has come out with its own rebuke to US assertions: “Year after year the United States issues this so-called report on ‘Military and Security Development in China’, making preposterous criticism of China’s normal defense and military spending, exaggerating the ‘China military threat’, which is totally wrong.”

Commentators such as David C. Kang of The National Interest (May 14) don’t know what the fuss is about. True, there is a military build-up, but the trains are still under control. “East Asian regional military expenditures are at a twenty-five year low… and are almost half of what countries spent during the Cold War.” Kang goes so far as to suggest that “major East Asian countries have increased their spending about 50 percent less on average than Latin American countries since 2002.”

It all feeds into the idea that the Asia-Pacific may in time resemble the Europe of 1914, a series of pressure points that, if pressed, will see a convulsion. Shinzo Abe’s Japan is seeking to ease Japanese military constraints in the name of collective self-defence; a supine Australia is proving ever more receptive to US military overtures. Alliances threaten to engage; the gods of war wish to be propitiated. The spectre of this gloomy picture, as ever, remains China, part fantasy, part promise. The ghost of containment has come to the party, and is not leaving any time soon.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Robert Fisk
Cliché and Banality at the Debates: Trump and Clinton on the Middle East
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
David Swanson
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]