The Anti-China Narrative: the Escalation for War

BRIAN BECKER: Welcome. I’m Brian Becker in discussion with K.J. Noh. President Trump continues to blame China for the spread of the coronavirus, and for the concurrent downturn in the global economy. The conservative right-wing media, meanwhile, has pushed a steady anti-China narrative. And it’s not just the right-wing. It’s also the media that calls itself “liberal.” It appears that the president is preparing to launch a cultural war against China this election season, and he thinks it’s a winning strategy.

KJ Noh is a peace activist and a scholar on the geo-politics of Asia, and he’s a frequent contributor to CounterPunch and Dissident Voice. KJ, welcome.

KJ NOH: Thank you, Brian.

BRIAN BECKER: KJ, when we talked to you on Monday, we played Donald Trump’s campaign ad where he basically is attacking his opponent, Joe Biden, the nominee for the Democratic Party, as basically being a stooge for China, for being soft on China. Anyway, you mentioned China will be what the election in 2020 is all about. You also mentioned that there was a right-wing, a Texas congresswoman who was using even more vitriolic anti-China rhetoric in her campaigning.

And at the end of that discussion, we said to each other, well, why is this happening? There’s been a geostrategic shift in U.S. policy. It’s not just Donald Trump. It’s not just this right-winger in Congress. There’s been a reorientation of U.S. military and foreign policy, again, which now targets China as an enemy, rather than a mix of being a cooperative country as well as a competitor. Now it’s full-scale animus. What accounts for the shift? 

KJ NOH: In 1992, there was the leaked Defense Planning Guidance document,authored by Paul Wolfowitz.This was a plan for full spectrum dominance, ensuring that the United States would remain the “unipolar global hegemon”. This was developed and elaborated into the 1997 Project for the New American Century, and then it was developed further into the declaration in 2011 of the Pivot to Asia. And what we see now is the legacy of these various doctrines that have codified into the US national defense strategy and National Security strategy.. Essentially what these documents are claiming is that China and Russia, and Iran, North Korea, and violent Islamic extremist groups are the enemies of the United States. Russia and China are referred to as “revisionist powers”; Iran, North Korea, and violent Islamic extremist groups are referred to as “rogue states.” That’s really only a semantic difference related to their stature and power, but essentially, they are considered to be enemies and existential threats to the U.S. and the U.S.-imposed world order. China, as the most significant power, is the greatest threat, and must be treated as such.

And the National Defense Strategy and the Nuclear Posture Review session goes on to name the tactics of grayzone, or hybrid warfare, essentially, “a long-term strategic competition refined with seamless integration of multiple elements of national power– diplomacy, information, economic, finance, intelligence, law enforcement, and military”– to prevent the rise and the ascension of China by any means necessary. The key element of this, for our purpose, is the information warfare. We have to think that bullets are being chambered and discharged: these are articles, essays, and opinions; speeches, press releases, declarations; comments, interviews, memes. Some of this is like the heavy artillery, like the New York Times, and the Washington Post, others are flak and harassing fire that you see in comment sections, discussion boards, social media. But the essential point is that the U.S. is engaged in full-scale warfare, and in particular, full-scale information warfare.

And so this is the situation that we’re in where everything is propaganda — we’re in a universe of almost global deceit. It’s very, very similar– I invite people to think of the run-up to the Iraq War as a precedent. It’s very, very similar to that situation—the drumbeat demonization; the allegations of deliberately building a weapon of mass destruction (virus in this case), or the allegations of leaking or deliberately spreading this deadly virus, the allegations of concealment and cover-up, the allegations of deliberate malfeasance. At the same time, we see the undermining of global institutions like the WHO (similar to the attack on UNSCOM/IAEA)1 that are trying to attest that what the US is claiming is not true. We also see similar types of “secret intelligence”, “satellite imagery”, leaks, and other types of underhanded tricks to influence the public against China.

BRIAN BECKER: I agree with you, KJ. It’s very, very similar to the run-up to the Iraq War. It was a preparation for war in the whole period running up to it. And the preparation wasn’t just after George W. Bush took office, or it wasn’t after 9/11. It accelerated then, but in 1998, under Bill Clinton, the U.S. Senate unanimously, at the time, voted that regime change was the official policy of the U.S. government towards Iraq. Using the instrument of very, very lethal deadly sanctions against the Iraqi people, 8,000 people per month were dying, according to the UN’s own statistics and according to their own sanctions coordinator, from the loss of food and medicine for Iraqis.

But the difference between Iraq and China is that China is a global power. One out of every five human beings in the world is Chinese. The Chinese military, unlike the Iraqi military, is not hobbled. It’s not surrounded. It’s not defanged. It’s very robust. It’s growing. It’s modernizing. The idea of conflict with Iraq, as horrible as that was and as a criminal as that was, it was a local conflict. Conflict with China raises the spectre of global war.

KJ NOH: Absolutely. And so here’s the other point, which is quite terrifying, is in the early documents and planning that I mentioned, is the notion that the use of nuclear weapons, and nuclear war– limited nuclear war– is thinkable. This was why there was an early preparation to withdraw from INF (Intermediate Nuclear Forces) treatyii, and a subsequent massive updating and increase in nuclear capability, including the production of “usable” (low yield) nuclear weapons. So these tactics, strategies, and doctrines were embedded into this systemic preparation to escalate against China. I remind people that China has at least five key geostrategic vulnerabilities. If you think of China as representing the profile of the face– if you think of the nose as Korea, Taiwan as the chin, Hong Kong as the jaw,  the South China Sea as the neck or the throat, and Xinjiang and Tibet as the back of the head, the occiput, you realize that these are the key vulnerabilities of China. And what we’ve seen over the past several years is a concerted attempt to attack China, or strip off, or delegitimate, or create disruption, threat or disruption in all of these regions. 

BRIAN BECKER: KJ, it seems unthinkable that the United States military and foreign policy planners actually prefer major power conflict. That would be something from which the United States and humanity might not survive. On the other hand, inching toward war, and pressing and applying maximum pressure in these five areas of vulnerability that you mentioned, it’s obviously the U.S. climbing the escalation ladder. And China must, as all targeted entities do, must respond. It must prepare. It must retaliate. It must also climb the escalating ladder. It’s easy to get on the first and second rung of the escalation ladder. It’s very hard to get off of it.

How do you back down without appearing to be weak? And this is precisely what does lead to war, even when war isn’t the main objective of those who have initiated the process. I think in the case of the United States, the real goal is to basically do to China what happened to the Soviet Union– to topple the government, to put so much pressure on it, that it begins to fracture, the centrifugal political, ethnic, religious, or social forces start to tear it apart. But even with that said, the danger of war is real.

KJ NOH: Absolutely. The danger of war is real. And i think there are several people– I think there’s a large group of people, not all of them– who actually believe that war is winnable against China in some form or another. There are doctrines of war that have been mapped out since—actually before–the declaration of the Pivot to Asia. One is called AirSea Battle in 2010– which was translated into Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver of the Global Commons. It is essentially the idea that China should not be allowed to defend its territorial integrity in its littoral or territorial waters. And then there have been strategic studies on war with China by the RAND Corporation, one of which was entitled “Thinking through the Unthinkable.iii” And the wargaming in this document argues that if the United States had a war, a limited shooting war, with China, in the South China Sea—which is the main artery that supplies China with fuel and allows trade– then as a result, shipping would be disrupted, and China’s economy would be completely wrecked—it would lose 25-30% of GDP and the U.S. would prevail as a result.

This document also warns that after 2025, due to China’s continual growth and development, it would become more and more difficult for the US to win in war, so the recommendation implied in this document is that it’s better to start a war sooner rather than later. And then last but not least, I hate to mention this, but there are millenarian Christians in the top brass of the U.S. administration. I think this is a conflict of interest, if you will, to be in a position responsible for the security of the country while simultaneously holding an ideology that wishes for the end of world so they can be raptured. This makes me I wonder if these individuals are thinking clearly, rationally, and scientifically about the possibility and costs of war.

BRIAN BECKER: KJ, given the dangerous road that the American government is embarked on– and I think without any real debate. I mean, there’s almost no debate. It’s just emerged as this consensus position that we must hate China, fear China, prepare for conflict with China, demonize China in all those five areas that you mentioned, you know, no debate. And yet, there have to be rational thinkers, people who may not be ideologically sympathetic to China, not sympathetic to socialism or communism or the Communist Party of China, but who think this is crazy.

Yes, it’s fine for general who are thinking only in geostrategic terms, or religious fanatics who think that the Rapture is coming anyway, so let’s get on with it. But there’s a lot of other human beings who are not ideologues, who think that this must be just crazy, but you don’t hear their voices right now. Is that a consequence of the witch-hunting atmosphere that’s being created?

KJ NOH: I think that’s exactly correct. It is exactly a witch-hunt. And everybody’s being told, “You’re either with us or against us.” You must hate, fear, scape goat and demonize the Chinese. This is our consensus, and this is what we’re going to run our political platforms on. This is going to organize how we interact with the rest of the world for the foreseeable future. China is the “greatest threat to the world.” This is the consensus doctrine.

In order to reinforce that, then you have this constant information warfare. You know, just one quick example is that the Chinese have covered up the seriousness of the virus, which resulted in the US not knowing, and being caught unawares. This allegation is constantly making the rounds. But then if we ask, “How do you know that there was a cover-up?” The response is, ”We have proof: we were spying on the Chinese—we have clear, unimpeachable intelligence showing that they were covering up the seriousness of the outbreak. At that point, we can legitimately say, well, if you had the intel, how can you say you didn’t know? How can you say that you were caught by surprise and weren’t able to respond? 

But you know, there’s no longer any logic. Logic fails, math fails, the facts fail once we enter this alternative universe of complete and total disinformation.

BRIAN BECKER: We’re going to leave it right there. We were joined from San Francisco by KJ Noh. He’s a peace activist and scholar on the geo-politics of Asia and he’s a frequent contributor to Counterpunch and Dissident Voice. You’re listening to Loud & Clear. We have a lot more. Stay with us.

i For example, UNSCOM, the UN agency was attacked by US for not agreeing with the US allegations of WMD.

ii CSBA/ONA drafted in 2010 a war doctrine called AirSea Battle–a war doctrine which did not name but was clearly aimed largely for China. In it, author Andrew Krepinevitch argued for the need to void the INF Treaty. In 2011, the Pacific Pivot was declared.  Not long after that, in 2011, the CFR started to argue for voiding the INF Treaty. In 2018 Trump declared–as if on his own volition–that he was dropping out of the INF Treaty (based on the pretext that the Russians had “violated” it). In August of 2019, he withdrew fully, and immediately started distributing offensive missiles on China’s periphery. 

On May 6th, Reuters reported on the hardware being deployed or planned for deployment: tomahawk cruise missiles along the 1st island chain, short range “Naval Strike Missiles”, new Long-range Anti-Ship Missiles, Land attack Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missiles. Stealth-based cruise missiles, as well as hypersonic glide vehicles are also in development.  This also comes in the heels of the deployment of THAAD missiles in South Korea, with their immensely powerful X-band radar, new armaments sent to Taiwan, aggressive maneuvers in the SCS

iii In 1962, systems theorist Herman Kahn, wrote a short tome called “Thinking about the unthinkable”.  It  was a rational, reasoned, “mature”, game-theoretic analysis about how the US could survive and win a nuclear war.

In 2016, at RAND (Kahn’s former home base), David C. Gompert drew up a Kahn-inspired war strategy called “Thinking through the unthinkable.” about how to wage war with China and prevail: (fight war in the South China Sea; make it long and costly; choke off Chinese fuel supplies and trade, and the Chinese economy; preferably before 2025).  


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