A critical analysis of US policy towards China
Alberto Bradanini is a former Italian diplomat. Among many positions, he was Ambassador of Italy to Tehran (2008-2012) and to Beijing (2013-2015). He is currently President of the Research Center on Contemporary China.
Versione originale italiana de la fionda
Translated and edited by BRAVE NEW EUROPE
The topic is complex, space is limited by definition, and some passages will appear apodictic. On the other hand, it gains in clarity and positioning, especially when dealing with crucial issues such as peace, war, and the future of the world.
Already in the fifth century BC, Confucius had pointed out the need for precise names. If names are manipulated and do not reflect reality,” he pointed out, “their use is a source of misunderstanding, authentic dialogue between people becomes impossible, and social life is deeply affected.
Giacomo Leopardi observed in this regard: ‘The good and the generous tend to be hated because they call something by its real name. This fault is not forgiven by mankind, which does not so much hate those who do evil, nor evil itself, as those who name it. Thus, while those who do evil obtain riches and power, those who name it are dragged to the gallows, men being very ready to suffer anything from others or from heaven, as long as they are saved by words”.
In one of his writings, Malcolm X states that ‘if we are not careful, the media makes us hate those who are oppressed and love those who oppress’. And this is also true of nations.
Simplifying a little, but for the sake of clarity, the United States, starting with Reagan, essentially – in the light of a relative downsizing on the world stage – have gradually imposed a militarisation of international relations (coups, invasions, sanctions and interference of various kinds, in Europe a daring advancement of NATO towards the East, in violation of the agreements defined at the time between Bush Sr. and Gorbachev, and so on). Not that this feature was absent under Reagan, and even before, but it was mitigated by a greater attention to the political options, and therefore less recourse to the use of force.
Already at the beginning of the 19th century, John Quincy Adams, the sixth American president, had theorised that ‘the best guarantee of the security of the United States would be expansion’. At that time, the aim was to take possession of Spanish lands on the American continent, today it is the whole world, without any limitations.
The American-centric West is home to the deadliest war machine on the planet (US military spending alone is, as is well known, equivalent to the sum of the ten nations that follow in the ranking, including China and Russia). Of course, China possesses the power of deterrence, including nuclear deterrence, which is sufficient and for a devastating war, but it does not possess – like the United States – 800 military bases scattered across 74 nations (more than 100 military bases and 65-90 nuclear devices in Italy alone, in violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty ratified by both, a violation on which the Italian political spectrum – without distinction – has for decades drawn a not very honourable veil of silence).
China has only one military base, in Djibouti, where even we Italians have one, used mainly to protect merchant ships against Somali pirates.
When one speaks of the US military-industrial complex, it sometimes escapes one’s notice that it does not only produce armaments, but extends to information, entertainment, cinema, technology, academia and so on, all lavishly financed by the so-called defence budget. It is no coincidence that in an inextricable web of internet-media, finance, and the deep state. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos – just one example among many – has bought one of the world’s biggest newspapers, the Washington Post, with the crumbs of his financial empire and shares information with the US intelligence community.
According to Milton Friedman, one of the fathers of neo-liberalism, private companies, regardless of size, have no social responsibility, they only need to maximise profits. An assertion that has become a tragic reality. This is why corporations are completely unaccountable. They are only responsible to a board of directors, not to the community, i.e. to the state, which is now deprived of the prerogatives that should reflect its independence, democratic sovereignty, and ability to make an effective social and welfare policy. The damage caused by such a well divised system, which no political principle even tries to question, and which generates tensions and conflicts, inside and outside the borders, is immense. And the New Cold War declared by the United States against China is one of its products.
According to the prevailing narrative, China then constitutes a threat to the peace and security of the West. We of course are the repository of higher values. And the rivalry would be irremediable, based on political, economic, and ideological differences, although relations between the two sides could overcome this assumption. By the end of the year, for example, China-US trade will exceed 635 billion dollars (an increase of 30% since the start of the trade war declared by Trump three years ago), demonstrating that the god of profit always has a plan B.
As for Taiwan, according to a web summary of the American Enterprise Institute meeting held on November 2 in Orlando, Florida – attended by prominent D. Trump supporters including Hal Brands, Dan Blumenthal, Gary Schmitt, Michael Mazza, John Bolton and others – even the American right recognises that reclaiming the rebellious island is not ideological or extravagant for Beijing. Even a hypothetical American-friendly Chinese government would put the recovery of the island, part of China’s historic territory, at the top of its political agenda.
Of course, for the People’s Republic it would be good if this could be done with the consent of the Taiwanese – who, as we know, are against it. Peking, however, is aware that a conflict with Taiwan would have profound repercussions on the country’s stability and economy, not to mention that Taipei’s military deterrence (regardless of possible US intervention) would not make the conquest of the island a walk in the park. In essence, in spite of the Western narrative that attributes to Beijing the will to use force – and in spite of the narcissism of Xi Jinping who would like to go down in history as the re-conqueror of the island – the Party leadership as a whole has so far shown sufficient restraint. Indeed, there is no evidence that the Chinese army is preparing to invade the island. China operates sub specie eternitatis, it knows how to wait – and rebus sic stantibus, in line with the wishes expressed by Deng Xiaoping shortly before his death – it intends to leave the solution to the problem to future generations of leaders (when the political conditions on both sides allow it). It is no coincidence, moreover, that Taipei has never crossed the critical threshold of a formal declaration of independence, which Peking is doing everything it can to avoid, finding itself exposed to a potential option that constitutes the Americans’ secret dream, a deadly trap of which the Chinese leadership is well aware.
The South and East China Sea
In a NATO document adopted in Brussels last June – of American formulation, it is superfluous to point out – it is stated that China is today a risk for western security, without, of course, any evidence of this being produced: human rights, a thorny and complex subject, the questionable anti-terrorist activities in Xinjiang, and other disagreeable areas of Chinese policy – on which one can and must be critical – have nothing to do with the security of the United States or the West. Only a fool, after all, would believe that the US really cares about the Muslims of Xinjiang in the light, if any other reason were needed, of the many wars of anti-Islamic aggression it has waged in the Middle East over the past seventy years.
In the words of the Australian ex-PM, Paul Keating, ‘China is a threat not because of what it does, but because of what it is”. It is its very existence that disturbs the superpower’s sleep. The emergence of a country that is home to one-fifth of humanity is seen as illegitimate, an insidious threat to the supremacy of that empire willed by God to rule a restless planet, the world’s only truly indispensable nation, according to Bill Clinton’s pathological lexicon. The United States cannot tolerate those who do not allow themselves to be intimidated, those who do not submit to the Mafia principle of obedience, like Europe for example, which builds its own little subservient nest of well being.
At the aforementioned Brussels summit, French President Emanuel Macron objected that perhaps, being on the other side of the world, China did not have much to do with NATO (the English acronym means North Atlantic Treaty Organisation). Biden must have listened politely. Then, after a few weeks, it was learned that the French-Australian contract for the production of conventional submarines had been replaced by one for the supply of US nuclear-powered submarines.
The French government read the news in the newspapers. The message is clear: Europe’s status as a vassalage prescribes obedience, as they say in Dante’s language, without a word. France suffered a blow to its industry and recalled its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra for a few days, and that was that.
Leaving aside an plethora of other armaments, in the Chinese seas – according to available data – the United States already has 14 nuclear submarines, each with 24 batteries of Trident missiles, each in turn equipped with 8 independent warheads. Each submarine, therefore, is capable of pulverizing 192 cities or strategic sites around the world with nuclear warheads. They will soon be replaced by a new generation of even deadlier submarines (Colombia class). China has only four noisy old-generation submarines, which cannot go very far from the coast, each with 12 single-warhead missiles, unable to reach US territory, which by 2030 could be supplemented by four more, slightly less noisy ones.
According to the Bloomberg Agency, last November, the American Air Force – just to cite one episode – carried out 94 sorties over the South China Sea. Some aircraft came within 16 miles of Chinese territorial waters. And this is, as everyone knows, a dangerous routine provocation.
Logic suggests that, since these are Chinese waters, American military activities pose a threat to China’s security, not vice versa. And we can only imagine American reactions if – by symmetry – a Chinese fleet (ships and submarines) armed with nuclear missiles were to roam the Gulf of Mexico in front of Florida. Better not to think about it (or rather, just think about Cuba ’62).
Not content with the huge disparity in firepower, the United States – Biden or Trump, in a country of private corporate domination, a president certainly doesn’t make a difference – are strengthening their military apparatus in seas far from their shores, investing in nuclear weapons and even charging Australia for them, which certainly won’t lower tensions.
To this end, they have called upon two of the so-called Five Eyes – Australia and the United Kingdom, perhaps waiting for Canada and New Zealand to join them in some extra role – creating an unprecedented alliance, the Aukus (Australia, UK, USA) , charged with containing China and specifically with guaranteeing freedom of navigation in those seas. A freedom that Peking, in truth, has never questioned.
This is how the US and UK, the nuclear weapon states, will transfer nuclear military equipment to Australia, a non-nuclear state, violating the letter and certainly the spirit of the NPT, prompting other non-nuclear weapon states to follow suit, making the Asia-Pacific region even more insecure.
Although the new US atomic submarines will not be operational for many years, right now they are pushing the arms race forward, opening another loophole in the non-proliferation regime and even threatening the legal framework of the Rarotonga Treaty, which established the nuclear-free South Pacific zone back in 1986. In short, they are going backwards, following the practice of double standards and imperial convenience, even on a crucial issue like non-proliferation.
As far as freedom of navigation is concerned, what China is challenging – under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (signed in Montego Bay in 1982) – is the right of third countries to carry out military and intelligence activities within 200 miles of the coast (in the so-called Exclusive Economic Zone, established by the Convention itself). And China is not alone in resisting this claim. India, for example, has the same dispute with the US, which, of course, does not care and continues to do as it pleases.
Since the Convention is indeed ambiguous on this point, we are faced with a typical problem of interpretation, which should be addressed through diplomatic channels and not by pulling the trigger.
Not only that, while imposing an instrumental broad interpretation of the Law of the Sea, the US is silent on the trivial fact that it is the only maritime power not to have ratified this crucial Convention, because that would have prevented US fleets from sailing freely in other people’s waters.
The hostility towards China therefore has nothing to do with security. The (not even secret) dream of American hegemony is that the Asian giant will implode and be replaced by a quarrelsome collection of weak and underdeveloped statelets, unable to challenge imperial dominance. According to this pathology, a plural world is inconceivable. Nations cannot peacefully coexist in diversity, each with its own ideological, social and economic characteristics. No, that is not allowed.
If it aims to emancipate itself, first politically (with Mao Zedong), then also economically (with Deng Xiaoping, because the political leg alone would not have been enough to free itself from colonial or neo-colonial domination), China must reckon with political, economic and (who knows?) military aggression.
A treatment, it will be said, that is not reserved only for China. We need only think of Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, Syria and so on, all of them orwellianally accused of jeopardising the security of the United States, without this arousing, I won’t say universal indignation, but at least a few smiles. In the silence of vassal nations such as those in Europe (media, academics and politicians), the reason is very clear: these are countries that do not bow to American preferences, that pursue what the National Security Council describes as successful defiance, and for this reason they are accused – with the faithful support of the media apparatus – of human rights violations, terrorism, possession of weapons of mass destruction and so on.
Already at the end of the 1940s, President Truman called the desire of poor nations to get out of underdevelopment and colonialism in their own way an “over-development”.
The list of wars, interference and serious violations of international law and ethics is well known, but it is always good to refresh one’s memory: Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, Serbia, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, 15 others in South America alone, including Nicaragua, Chile, Panama, the prisons/tortures of Guantanamo, Bagram, Abu Graib, other secret prisons/tortures, extrajudicial ‘drone’ killings, the Jullian Assange affair and that of Edward Snowden, and so on. From 1947 to 1989 alone, the United States organised 70 attempts at regime change (the euphemism for coups), 64 under cover, 6 with open military support. In 25 cases, the attempts were successful with the establishment of a friendly government, in 39 others they failed.
This caused millions of victims, refugees, destruction, degradation and so on, all in order to promote the sound values of democracy and human rights.
The target countries have been friends and enemies, large and small nations, democratic countries and dictatorships. The only criterion has been the Mafia principle of obedience: those who do not bend must be on their guard, because sooner or later they will be attacked, politically, economically and, if necessary, militarily.
It is good to make it clear that this is not a matter of prejudiced anti-American positions, since that people is the first to suffer from the amoral policies of power and unlimited enrichment of the American oligarchy. Moreover, the most emancipated consciences of this great people have always fought against such aberrations, paying a heavy personal toll.
As for the European Union, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borell, who was informed at the time of the submarine affair, declared that “the Aukus has a strong impact on the Union as a whole, and this is all the more serious since the cancellation of the Franco-Australian contract was announced on the same day as the publication of the European strategy for the Indo-Pacific”. This is how we too learned that the Union has its own Indo-Pacific strategy. With unexpected acumen, Borell then adds that the Europeans would be very concerned about the Aukus. Charming. It would be interesting to read some statistics on this. Europeans would not be worried about unemployment, job insecurity, hospital closures, decay of public services and so on. No, they would be worried about the Aukus.
Michael Roth, the German Minister for European Affairs, called the Aukus a “wake-up call for the whole European Union”, while the German Minister for Foreign Affairs, Heiko Mass (both from Merkel’s past government), said that more than the content, it is the way in which the cancellation of the French submarine contract was done that is “irritating and disappointing, not only for France, but for the whole of Europe”, adding: “for the Europeans, the problem is not so much the loss of a contract (one would have to ask the French, however, I take the liberty of noting). If the United States acts this way with France,” he continued, “the second largest economy and the country with the most powerful army in Europe, what is stopping the Americans from doing the same with other European countries?”. Amazing too. It must have escaped Heiko Mass that the US has been doing exactly that for 76 years.
Finally, in Europe (and therefore in Italy) – for reasons that there is no space to illustrate – not the Right, but not even the so-called Left recognises China’s extraordinary merit (from the point of view of values) of having created in a few decades an unprecedented wealth for a population that in history had known only hunger and misery. It goes without saying that this achievement has had a cost: if the revolution is not a gala dinner (as Mao stated), neither are the exit from underdevelopment and the emancipation from neo-colonialism a gala dinner. For the contemporary heirs of the socialist values of yesteryear, solidarity is a notion useful to collect some applause (and votes) on the miserable existence of immigrants, welcomed in the name of universal love only to be abandoned on the pavements to fend for themselves, certainly not to express full appreciation to those who have freed a billion people from poverty, without even bothering us.
Instead of the Aukus, the planet would have other urgencies to deal with: 1) the risk (as already noted) of a nuclear war that would mark the end of mankind. According to the doomsday clock, the distance to midnight, which will mark the end of the world, is now measured no longer in minutes but in seconds (one hundred seconds to be precise), all the more so since that button is now essentially entrusted to machines; 2) uncontrolled capitalism, exacerbated by omnivorous neo-liberal cruelty, which concentrates immense wealth in the hands of a few individuals; and 3) the destruction of the ecological balance, the structural reason for which lies precisely in the bulimia of private corporations interested only in profit.
In a different perspective, the United States could reflect on the bad choice of creating another unnecessary military alliance (the Aukus), and instead sit around a table like a civilised nation, to contribute to the solution of these and other emergencies. Today, unfortunately, this prospect is a chimera. The oligarchic hypertrophy of power and wealth, dangerous for the world and far from the needs of the American people themselves, cannot be contained by the weak restrictions of international law, but only by profound internal, social, value and power relations changes, as well as by a gradual rebalancing of forces on the international scene, for the achievement of which the contribution of China, Russia and other resisting nations would certainly be better appreciated if accompanied by renewed political institutions in terms of freedom and participation, a renewal framework that Western nations would also greatly need.
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