Viewed one way, all those artificial islands China has been building ever farther from their mainland across the South China sea are, as Lyle Goldstein, who teaches at the U.S. Naval War College says, the “one thing that China has done that’s so horrible over the last 10 years, that has shocked people in the national-security realm.”
This expansion of China’s national “face” to the very edges of the maritime borders of its South East Asian neighbors is an arrogant exercise in assertion and intimidation and when the Philippines challenged the Chinese encroachment and won their case in an international court, China blew off the decision, saying it amounted to nothing, and kept building new islands. As our president might say, “Bad!”
But as Lyle Goldstein hastens to add, not that bad – “They haven’t killed anyone,” he says, “resorting for the most part to deploying coast-guard cutters with water cannons. That’s a decent record of moderation for a great power.”
There’s no denying that China under its aggressive and authoritarian President Xi Jinping, has been increasing military spending at a worrisome rate. But China spends less than the United States and does not have so-called volunteers or military trainers in Ukraine, Syria or the Central African Republic like Russia, nor is it killing civilians with air-launched missiles and bombs in Afghanistan, Libya or Somalia like the U.S..
And if push came to shove in the South China sea, all those artificial islands would become known, fixed, mapped, easily-eliminated targets with all the military utility of canaries in a coal mine.
All that notwithstanding, those artificial islands have become – for the Trump administration – the military predicate for much more aggressive Western Pacific patrolling by the U.S. Navy – and the economic mandate to expand the fleet, and reopen that fabulous federal hog wallow that is the nuclear weapons program.
An expensive salute to the new reality in Washington – when it comes to dealing with China, the decorous diplomacy of the “panda huggers” has yielded almost completely to the muscle-flexing of the “dragon slayers.”
Even as sane an analyst as Michael Klare, who says the Trump intention to out-do the military spending of Russia and China opens the road to bankruptcy, weaponizes his description of Sino-American economic competition. “We are at war with China on at least two fronts:” he says, “technology and trade.”
What makes such rhetorical threat inflation dangerous is that the Trump analysis of recent trends in both technological development and trade expansion show China making up ground against the United States. Soon, it is predicted China will pass the U.S. in both the quality and the quantity of its STEM research. What will Trump do then, kick over the chess board rather than lose his queen?
When Trump’s summit in Hanoi with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ended without any agreements, with both sides leaving early, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton called the diplomatic failure a “success,” because Trump rejected “a bad deal.”
“What Bolton really meant,” our guest today John Feffer has written, “was: the summit was successful because it didn’t produce any deal.”
Trade talks with China are reportedly close to a conclusion. If they produce an agreement, the world will take a happy breath, but what if the endgame produces a no deal, Bolton-style “success?” Can the whole earth shudder?
John Feffer writes for The Nation and is the author of the dystopian novel Splinterlands (a Dispatch Books original).
He is the director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. He was an Open Society Fellow.from 2012-3.
He is the author of several books and numerous articles. His work has been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Nation, The American Prospect, Salon, The Progressive, The Christian Science Monitor, the Boston Globe, and many other publications. He has been a Writing Fellow at Provisions Library in Washington, DC and a PanTech fellow in Korean Studies at Stanford University. He is a former associate editor of World Policy Journal. He has worked as an international affairs representative in Eastern Europe and East Asia for the American Friends Service Committee.
He is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. His new book, Aftershock: A Journey into Eastern Europe’s Broken Dreams (Zed Books), has just been published. He is a TomDispatch regular.