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Subi Reef and US Belligerence: America on the Warpath

The Spratlys, in the South China Sea, have already been built upon by Vietnam and the Philippines, others also eying them, yet only China draws the ire of USG, an opportune move for invoking the Law of the Sea to press forward America’s militarization of the Pacific specifically to engineer a power-confrontation, long in the cards, with Beijing. The Obama legacy in foreign policy has shifted from the weakening of Russia via the demonization of Putin, incitement of the coup in Ukraine, and steady economic pressure, all reinforced by NATO’s presence on its borders and suffusion of US military bases in the immediate region, initially for its own sake as a self-contained geopolitical goal, but then, more recently, with this hostile paradigm of indirect force against Russia as model and precedent to follow, attention has shifted to China, present for decades as a purposeful strategy, but under Obama Washington’s cause celebre, perhaps even to the point of crowding out Russia from the picture. Thanks to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington has no shortage of ideas about advancing the confrontation with China. Here “freedom of navigation” as the stalking horse for raising the stakes already inherent in Obama’s Pacific-first strategy and accompanying Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Seemingly devilishly clever, Obama (and of course, not alone, for he has the resources of Pentagon and intelligence-establishment brains behind him, as well as multinational corporate input) has sought to place China in a pincers-movement, two grasping jaws, militarization and trade, by which to enclose and squeeze China into if not total submission then at least a severe diminishment of global status, power, and economic might. The shift in direction toward China of course capitalizes on post-1949 policies and propaganda relentless in shaping American public opinion, with the Korean War using Ho as a proxy for the direct attack on Mao, but under Obama one discerns a qualitative escalation on all fronts, even Putin now looking somewhat better in comparison with Xi. China has become the designated Enemy of Choice in reanimating the Cold War, an obsessive preoccupation of America from the aftermath of World War II to the present, and, be assured, beyond, very much as though America requires massive defense spending (and accompanying translations into action, from war and intervention to regime change and covert operations) if its capitalism was to survive and prosper.

China is the life raft to keep America from recession and possibly worse, as well as accelerating the mal-distribution of wealth to hitherto unknown heights. As Sartre pointed out about anti-Semitism, if there were no Jews, Hitler would have had to invent them. American policymakers cling to their hostility of China as justification for constructing a quasi-fascist framework of government and society at home, defined as emphasis on the themes of ethnocentrism and xenophobia (combined together as Exceptionalism) to facilitate wealth concentration and the use of Pentagon outlays as excuse for savaging the social safety net in America—a formula euphemistically termed “austerity” rapidly spreading through the Western world, so that without China Washington would have to invent it. China is for America, what the Jew was for Nazi Germany, a scapegoat to legitimize ruling group ideology and activities in the furtherance of their own interests.

Let’s turn for immediate background to Jane Perlez’s article in the New York Times, entitled “Beijing Calls U.S. Warship’s Route in South China Sea a ‘Provocation,’” (Oct. 27), in which she quotes Lu Kang, of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, that the US guided-missile destroyer, Lassen, had committed a “’deliberate provocation’” by passing near the Subi Reef which China through extensive construction had reclaimed from the sea. Lu: “’China will firmly react to this deliberate provocation. [It] will not condone any action that undermines China’s security.’” Earlier, Lu called “the move an illegal incursion, adding, ‘The relevant Chinese authorities have monitored, followed the U.S. warship and issued warnings.’” (The Pentagon said the Lassen was “accompanied by surveillance aircraft.”) The American legal case against the dredging operation to create an island is that the Subi Reef is a low-tide elevation “not entitled to a 12-nautical-mile territorial limit, but only “a 500-meter safety zone.” Lu again: “’If the relevant party [the US] keeps stirring things up, it will be necessary for China to speed up its construction activities.’”

Be that as it may, i.e., the proper status of Subi under the Law of the Sea, this decision to build was not made in a vacuum, but rather, beyond the fact that other countries were doing the same in the South China Sea, China saw the recent shift of American policy to the Pacific, supported by carrier battle groups, joint-maneuvers with friends and allies, etc., as a clear sign of America’s hostile intent. And thus has acted accordingly. Naval power appears to be Obama’s Mahan-TR reincarnation of military strategy of a century-plus ago to back up the Open Door trade architecture, and sure enough Pacific-first is equally integrated with a still more aggressive trade architecture, the Trans-Pacific Partnership which gives American corporations the right to sue the governments of the other signatory nations (thirteen more on the Pacific Rim, China pointedly excluded from the TPP) whenever these corporations perceive an encroachment on their profits and market penetration. Anti-tobacco legislation is a no-no and other areas self-evidently compromise the sovereignty of the trading partners.

The Chinese are not blind to US intentions in the Pacific and against themselves in particular. Perlez quotes top naval brass in America on pushing ahead with the geostrategic/geopolitical agenda of maximizing American power and multinational profits in the region. E.g., head of US Pacific Command, Admiral Harry B. Harris, Jr., “has been an outspoken proponent of freedom-of-navigation patrols and has warned that the United States will conduct such forays whenever it sees fit.” Presumably with Obama’s blessing. And Harris’s predecessor, Admiral Dennis C. Blair, referring to Subi, stated, “’This is simply unacceptable to the United States, and the United States will take strong military action, which will tend to move the issues from the civilian law enforcement to the military realm. There is a general feeling outside of China that it has now settled on a sustained policy of aggressive actions to support its claims, especially in the South China Sea, and that China has abandoned any ideas of compromise and negotiated solutions to the dispute.’”

Blair may have been projecting the US position onto China, America not noticeably willing to compromise and negotiate solutions there or elsewhere. Instead, we see the objective of converting the South China Sea into an American Lake, proximity to China offering the requisite intimidation to put China in its place. Only it will not work. My New York Times Comment to the Perlez article, same date, follows:

Is anyone in Washington (i.e., the administration, the Pentagon) weighing Obama’s announcement of a Pacific-first stategy in evaluating the Chinese building activities? Simply, the US made the first move of aggressive intent by deploying major naval assets to the Pacific–and this, indisputably conjoined with the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Washington does not hide its hostility to Beijing. It is there in the open, with TPP merely an economic mode of encirclement designed to isolate and contain China, possibly with an end view to eventual dismemberment. Literally, Obama is playing with fire, Democrats acting more belligerently, if that were possible, than Republicans.

One notes a strain of desperation in US policy, as though provocation would stave off the inevitable–an end to America’s UNILATERAL superpower status. Combine Pacific-first and TPP with US-sponsored NATO moves in Europe directed against Russia, and you have the full plate of US “diplomacy,” a confrontational posture that surely cannot come to a good end.

More articles by:

Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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