Brian Becker: President Trump has gone out of his way to blame China for the spread of the coronavirus which in turn has spread violence and hatred towards Chinese Americans and other Asian Americans, but it is not just Donald Trump, it is political leaders from both sides of the aisle, and it comes in the context of the reorientation of US military and foreign policy targeting China. We’re in discussion with KJ Noh from San Francisco, a peace activist and a scholar on the geopolitics of Asia, he’s a frequent contributor to Counterpunch and Dissident Voice.
The bashing of China isn’t just Trump, it’s not just a right-wing, even though Trump and the right-wing are both doing it, but rather it is across the board and it is America’s new religion — it’s an article of faith, you don’t need facts, you don’t need investigation, you just take it as an article of faith that China is evil and everything China’s doing is evil, and that and we are in an existential battle with China.
I want to play, as we get started, an audio clip. This is on CBS, it is former FDA commissioner Scott Godlieb; he is a right-wing Republican who now works in the American Enterprise Institute, an agency that promotes itself as a think tank, but it is rather a tool of corporate America in its war against anything progressive. This is Scott Godlieb being interviewed as an “expert” on CBS Face the Nation this weekend:
The president raised a lot of our concerns. China was not truthful with the world at the outset of the disease. Had they been more truthful with the world, which would have enabled them to be more truthful with themselves, they might have actually been able to contain it entirely. There’s some growing evidence to suggest that as late as January 20th they (China) were still saying that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission and the WHO has been validating those claims on January 14th — sort of enabling the obfuscation from China. People with the WHO need to do an after-action report that specifically examines what China did or didn’t tell the world and how that stymied the global response.
Even though this is a right-wing American enterprise Institute spokesperson, this is not just a right-wing talking point, this is the narrative that is permeating the American airwaves. Let’s just talk about the facts here.
KJ Noh: The facts are really, really important. The distortions are that 1) China “created” the disease, 2) China “leaked” the disease, 3) China “hid” the disease, China deliberately allowed the disease to spread globally, and 4) they’re still covering up the disease. The key thing to note, again, is that it’s always the timeline we need to focus on. We know that the first documented cases were in early December, between December 1st and December 7th. The allegations that there were confirmed cases before that in November in China seem to be poorly sourced or without foundationi. People are taking bacterial pneumonia cases (pneumonic plague) and fungal pneumonia cases and conflating them with COVID-19, but there’s no proof of that those cases were actually Covid-19ii. The first confirmed cases in China are in early December. The Chinese doctor Zhang Jixian, on December 27th, reported a cluster of cases of unusual viral pneumonia cases that did not respond to standard medical treatment, and she notifies the city’s disease control center, by the 29th, they convened an expert panel to investigate, and by December 31st they notified the WHO; on January 1st, they notified the US CDC Director Robert Redfield at his home, and by January 3rd, US HHS was notified, as well as the National Security Council. From then on a huge packet of what are called the Red Dawn emails and other key intelligence reports were circulating among top medical experts, top US security experts, and key administration officials, where they explicitly discuss and warn about the dangers and the risks of this evolving pandemic.
Now if you had missed all of that, the thing that you cannot miss is the fact that on January 23rd, with only 16 fatalities out of 830 cases, China locked down, first the city of Wuhan, then 13 cities, then the entire area of Hubei, over 57 million people on lockdown. If that doesn’t send you the message that the situation is dire, I don’t know what could. But not long after this point, certain US Senators started to sell off their stocksiii, so clearly certain top officials were in the know, so it’s not credible to assert that information was withheld. What we’re seeing right now is that this is an attempt to shift the blame, to scapegoat China for what is clearly the FYRE Festival of epidemiological responses: to blame China for the lack of US response for clearly political ends, and we see this across the board.
Brian Becker: I have another clip; this is a new ad that Donald Trump is running against Joe Biden. The clip is basically suggesting Joe Biden is an agent of the Chinese Communist party, but it’s a signal that the 2020 election maybe not about the pandemic, or mismanagement or negligence about the pandemic, nor its criminal malfeasance of American political leaders, or even the depression, or the war towards working-class American folks, but maybe that the big flagship of issues is China. Let’s listen:
This is a crisis. “This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of his hysterical xenophobia.” Biden’s son raked up a billion dollar bill with the subsidiary of the Bank of China. “ ‘China is going to eat our lunch’ come on, man, they’re not bad folks.” Since the outbreak, the Communist party has been mobilizing overseas organizations to buy local supplies and send them to China. “It is in our interest for China to prosper. What a beautiful history we wrote together.” “I’m not going nuts.”Everything in quotes is ripped from Joe Biden
When you hear the ad, not only does it sound like the anti-communist, anti-Soviet, cold war propaganda that started in the 40s — I grew up with it when I was young, and the same for most Americans which became the unofficial religion of America anti-communism and anti-Sovietism, but now we have a new unofficial religion now called Anti-China. But one thing that’s noteworthy is that they pick that little clip from Biden where he said “it is in our interest for China to prosper.” During the earlier and earlier stages of US-China relations, American political officials were not building hatred towards China, they were in fact courting China. But now the rhetoric is that China prospering is something terrible and an evil zero-sum game. It’s like we can’t have any American political leaders saying that we want another nation to prosper.
KJ Noh: Absolutely. This is exactly as you pointed out, that notion of a zero-sum game—that we are in competition, and that someone must lose. As we know, the strategic defense and strategic security position of the United States with regard to China is that China is a competitor, a “revisionist power”. It is essentially an official enemy of the United States, along with Russia, and Iran, North Korea, and the Islamic State/non-state Islamic radicalism. This is the dominant consensus view of the ruling political class within the United States right now, and therefore the kind of anodyne statements of “prosperity and cooperation,” which many politicians may have put forth at sometime, are now being weaponized against Biden.
This is not to say that any of us are supporting Biden per se, but to tie Biden to China, where the caption is “Biden stands up for China” and the other caption is “China tries to cripples America,” tells us this entire election is going to be built on xenophobia, Sinophobia, and racism. I’m going to give you one more quote — this is Republican Congressional candidate Kathleen Wall, and she is running for the 22nd congressional district in Houston, Texas. Her advertising campaign is saying “China poisoned our people with the coronavirus”, and “China is a criminal enterprise masquerading as a sovereign nation.” This is the level of rhetoric that we are looking at, and I don’t know if it has the same effect on other people, but this is sending chills down my spine.
Brian Becker: People have to think about this in perspective. In 2011, President Obama, when he was in Australia, gave a speech where he called for a pivot towards Asia. Now the United States had clearly pivoted to the Middle East for some time, and that meant the first Iraq war in 1990, and the second Iraq war in March 2003, the war in Libya, the war that the US was sponsoring against the Syrian government, the focus on Iran, and Obama was trying to start negotiations with Iran, resulting in the signing of the JCPOA (the Iran nuclear arms deal), he was making a strategic push that the US should pivot towards Asia, which meant to introduce the trans-pacific partnership, whereby China would be excluded from writing the rules of the road in international trade, and at the same time placing 60% of the US Naval assets into that part of the Pacific by the year 2020.
We see that there was a strategic reorientation not just under Trump but earlier during Obama, and clearly the US government and its foreign policy establishment does view China’s rise as a zero-sum game, while the Chinese are saying “look, it doesn’t have to be this way, our rise out of poverty does not mean that it is at your expense,” they’re trying to signal this over and over and over again. China’s foreign-policy largely appeased the US on critical issues as it was queuing out aggressive acts in the Middle East, where China could have exercised its veto against the United States but it failed to do so. What accounts from your analysis for why the US has reoriented towards China, not just Trump this has been going on now for a decade?
KJ: We can track it back to 1992 with the fall of the Soviet Union. In 1992 the Defense Planning Guidance Document came out. This was Paul Wolfowitz’s masterpiece, and this was essentially the idea that the US could not tolerate any peer competitors to its global hegemony; that the US was going to be the single global hegemon, and it would not, could not tolerate any peer competitors on the level of the Soviet Union. In other words, it was a plan for the US to dominate the world. This also coincides with a geostrategic understanding that the Eurasian mass — China and Russia — constitute a “world island” that contains most of the world’s resources, most of the world’s population, and therefore most of the world’s geo-political power — this is the theory of the pivot stateiv, which is why we use the term as “Pivot to Asia.” Control of Asia was the key to global domination.
So as a result of that, , in 1997, the Project for a New American Century was again asserting US hegemony, and this was later developed into Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s 2011 pivot to Asia, which they later renamed the “Rebalance to Asia.” Essentially it resulted in the moving of 60% of US naval capacity to the region, in the encircling of China with 400 US military bases with invasive radar and missile systems, and the building of geostrategic and military alliances with all the countries within the region against China, and the attempt to create an transpacific economic bloc that would isolate China called the Transpacific Partnership (TPP).
i With the expansion of antibody testing, there is now, a growing body of evidence that Covid-19 was circulating in Europe and other countries outside of China weeks or months before the outbreak in China. In that case, it may be that the virus was first detected in China, but was the origin of it.
ii The South China Morning Post alleges that there may have been a possible index case on Nov 17th, however this case has never been confirmed. This earlier case also does not accord with other confirmed records: the WHO records the first case as 12/08, and an article in the Lancet indicates that there may have been case on 12/01/19. There were earlier noted cases of bacterial pneumonia (pneumonic plague), but these are distinct from Covid-19. Current research shows that contrary to received knowledge, there is a large body of evidence showing that the outbreak was present in Europe and the US long before the outbreak in Wuhan, China. In other words, it may be that the Wuhan was the first place to detect it, not where it originated.