An Anti-Interventionist Looks at China

Most discussion of China in the mainstream press, especially the Left liberal press, focuses on China’s “human rights” record or freedom of press and speech or labor issues or family planning policies.  One may argue endlessly about those matters.  But they are China’s internal affairs, and for a genuine anti-interventionist they are none of our government’s business and have no place in setting foreign policy.  There is a world of difference between an anti-interventionist and an advocate for “humanitarian” imperialism, witting or not.   How does an anti-interventionist look at China?

Let us begin with some stubborn, cold hard facts about the U.S. and China.  In very round numbers the world’s annual GDP is about $60 trillion.  That of the U.S. is $15 trillion, that of the EU is $15 trillion, that of China and Japan about $5 trillion each, with China about to pull a bit ahead of Japan this year.  The per capita GDP of the U.S. is about $46,000 and that of China is about $4,000.  In sum, China is still a developing country although one with a very large aggregate GDP.  It is number two to the U.S. but not a close number two, and it trails the developed world considerably in its standard of living.

What about trade?  Is China not the world’s largest exporter?  Yes, it is; but until last year, it was number two; Germany was number one – and Germany has slipped now to number two.  So Germany with its high wages and generous social benefits was able to outdo both the U.S. and China in exports until recently.  How did Germany do this?  By exporting high quality, high tech and well-branded goods.  (Germany has not outsourced production to other countries as has the US.)  In fact, as China came into the number one exporter spot, its leaders proclaimed that they were not really number one but number one only in quantity.  They said China’s goal was to follow in Germany’s path to become an exporter of “high tech, high quality, well-branded goods.”  Why cannot the U.S. do this instead of blaming China for its unemployment?

What about China as a military “threat” to the U.S.?   The US now spends about $1 trillion a year on “national security,” a staggering 1 dollar in 15 of our total GDP and 1 dollar in 60 of the world’s GDP, a colossal waste.  And that does not include the military spending forced upon our “allies,” the NATO countries, South Korea, Japan and now India.  Simply to equal US military spending alone China would have to spend 20% of its GDP on the military, an impossibility unless development is forsaken.  Its navy is not powerful but soon it will at least be able to patrol and defend the nearby seas.  Most assuredly the US will not for long be able to sail aircraft carriers within sight of China’s shores – and that is to the good.  It will make for less tension.  Consider how the US would react if a Chinese fleet were conducting maneuvers within sight of Los Angeles or Seattle.

Next let us consider U.S. military doctrine in the ways it might affect relations with China.  U.S. doctrine is clear and unchanging from one administration to the next since the end of the Cold War.  No country is to be allowed to come close to the U.S. in military might.  The most explicit statement of this came in the Defense Planning Guide for 1994-1999, a secret document prepared in 1992 and leaked to the NYT and Washington Post. “Our first objective,” the highly classified document stated, “is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union.”

From the outset Obama has left no doubt that the policy of permanent military superiority continues under him, proclaiming just after his election, on the occasion of appointing his “foreign policy team” of Clinton, Gates, and others: “…we all share the belief we have to maintain the strongest military on the planet.” Just last week Pentagon chief, Robert Gates, declared in a speech in Tokyo that the 47,000 troops in Japan were there to “keep China’s rising power in check” and so will remain for the indefinite future.  One must also conclude that the wars in Central Asia and the implantation of US bases there, right on China’s back doorstep, and the courting of India over the past ten years are also part of the “containment” policy, whatever other purposes those wars and bases may have. This dimension of the U.S. wars is rarely discussed in the mainstream or liberal press.

The implications of this doctrine are pernicious in the extreme.  First, the very threat encourages those who might want to be friends to arm themselves to preserve their independence and sovereignty.  Second and much more important, military might grows out of economic power, as we have known at least since Thucydides.  Thus the US is declaring that China cannot have a total GDP which comes close to that of the US. Let us consider the consequences of that.  What would it mean for China if it achieved an aggregate GDP not larger that of the US but simply the same size? Quite simply, since China has four or five times our population, it would mean that China would have a per capita GDP one fourth of ours – or about $10,000 a year. That means unending poverty for the Chinese people. Thus China is forced to choose between poverty or provoking the ire of the U.S.   Such is the iron logic of US military policy.

The U.S. must either content itself to be eclipsed by China in the economic and therefore military sphere if indeed China continues to be successful in developing – or prevent China from rising to the standard of living in Europe and the U.S.  That is the meaning of the policy of “containing China.”  Sadly this policy also forecloses a win-win outcome whereby China and the US and the entire globe prosper.  US policy dictates a win-lose outcome. Such is the bellicose strategy and dismal future dictated by US military policy. And in the sweet talk from Obama and Clinton leading up to the visit of President Hu Jintao of China, there has been no suggestion of a change in U.S. military policy, not even a hint of such a change.  It is long overdue.

John V. Walsh, @JohnWal97469920, until recently a Professor of Physiology and Neuroscience at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School, has written on issues of peace and health care for several independent media. Read other articles by John V..

10 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on January 18th, 2011 at 10:41am #

    win-win policy is not and never had been an option for any empire. if u.s. continues to hold win-lose stance, it may lead to a nuclear war.
    such a view may be deemed as sane insanity! tnx

  2. commoner3 said on January 18th, 2011 at 10:38pm #

    Win win, win lose, lose lose or what have you, there is no way the earth resources can support decent living standards for 7 billion people and counting! That is the huge elephant in the room. So, talking about China population achieving living standard comparable to the West is unrealistic unless the West population are impoverished and the Chinese population replaced them in consuming.!

  3. shabnam said on January 18th, 2011 at 11:07pm #

    {So, talking about China population achieving living standard comparable to the West is unrealistic unless the West population are impoverished and the Chinese population replaced them in consuming.! }

    What is wrong with that if the west population are improverished and ….?
    They have kept us impoverished for centuries.

  4. Deadbeat said on January 19th, 2011 at 12:26am #

    There is an abundance of resources. It is Capitalism and racism that are impoverishing the world.

  5. Kim Petersen said on January 19th, 2011 at 6:28am #

    It is misleading to only look at per capita GDP because one can buy so much more in China with the same money as in the US. A better comparison is to look at PPP.
    Also to refer to China as a developing country is just plain wrong. It is both a developed country and and a developing country, and the same can be said about the US.
    Lastly, how does one militarily contain one’s banker? To do so would be a death knell to imperialism and neoliberalism.

  6. mary said on January 19th, 2011 at 6:37am #

    Purchasing Power Parity


  7. John V. Walsh said on January 19th, 2011 at 6:43am #

    Let me make two comments.
    First in reply to Kim Petersen, I considered using PPP as opposed to nominal GDP for per capita figures and there is much debate over which is better. The PPP figure is $7000 versus $4000 BUT my argument in this piece depends only on order of magnitude figures and the argument does not change with the use of PPP. And China refers to itself as a developing country; I think it is if its goal is to bring the entire 1.5 billion Chinese to Western living standards.
    Second in reply to commoner3, there is no elephant in the room but with your comments there is the ghost of a snake, named Thomas Malthus, whose ideas you are using in the way they have always been used – to keep the downtrodden, downtrodden. But you are dead wrong and so was Malthus. First, the population growth is steadily decelerating almost everywhere on the planet largely due to women getting control of their own fertility. By 2040 it will stop growing and then it will start to come down – in fact it will probably crash. (See the wonderful book, The Coming Population Crash.) On the other hand productivity has been increasing exponentially since at least 1950. So Malthus is stood on his head by the facts – population growth is slowing and will soon crash and productivity is growing exponentially. Those are facts.
    Commoner3 represents the wing of the environmental movement that is the direct heir of Malthus whose ideology provided justification for so much misery in the world. It lives on under a Green cover – unfortunately.
    John V. Walsh

  8. Don Hawkins said on January 19th, 2011 at 7:09am #

    Well John V. Walsh you make it seem so easy by 2040 it will stop growing and then it will start to come down – in fact it will probably crash. Something needs to come down alright and 2015 is a good year to be well on our way or by 2040 there will be a crash alright. Always’ the easy way out know your history.

  9. mary said on January 19th, 2011 at 10:27am #

    Newsnight is a political progamme transmitted on BBC2 every night and considered to be the most prestigious output of the state propagandist.

    A comment here from Media Lens about tonight’s ‘guest’ who follows in the footsteps of Alastair Campbell, Blair’s spin doctor, and David Frum who was Bush’s speechwriter, who both appeared earlier in the week when the topics of the Chilcot Inquiry’s call to Bliar to reappear on Friday and the revised statement on his legal advice from Goldsmith, the Attorney General in 2003, were discussed. Outrageous that this propaganda for the neocons and their war crimes continues to be transmitted.

    Newsnight…it’s been a good week for War Criminals…tonight it’s the turn of the Daddy!
    Posted by Ed on January 19, 2011, 5:08 pm

    Alastair Campbell and David Frum the other night, tonight it’s the monstrous Henry Kissinger!

    “And as China’s President Hu Jintao gives a rare press conference in Washington, we will be talking to the former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.”

  10. shabnam said on January 19th, 2011 at 3:38pm #

    Francis Fukuyama, a Neocon, wrote an essay “US DEMOCRACY HAS LITTLE TO TEACH CHINA” at Financial Times on January 19, 2011 and warned people about the status of US economic turndown:

    {But what is the Chinese model? Many observers casually put it in an “authoritarian capitalist” box, along with Russia, Iran and Singapore. But China’s model is sui generis; its specific mode of governance is difficult to describe, much less emulate, which is why it is not up for export.
    The most important strength of the Chinese political system is its ability to make large, complex decisions quickly, and to make them relatively well, at least in economic policy. This is most evident in the area of infrastructure, where China has put into place airports, dams, high-speed rail, water and electricity systems to feed its growing industrial base.

    Contrast this with India, where every new investment is subject to blockage by trade unions, lobby groups, peasant associations and courts. India is a law-governed democracy, in which ordinary people can object to government plans; China’s rulers can move more than a million people out of the Three Gorges Dam flood plain with little recourse on their part.
    Nonetheless, the quality of Chinese government is higher than in Russia, Iran, or the other authoritarian regimes with which it is often lumped – precisely because Chinese rulers feel some degree of accountability towards their population. That accountability is not, of course, procedural; the authority of the Chinese Communist party is limited neither by a rule of law nor by democratic elections. But while its leaders limit public criticism, they do try to stay on top of popular discontents, and shift policy in response. They are most attentive to the urban middle class and powerful business interests that generate employment, but they respond to outrage over egregious cases of corruption or incompetence among lower-level party cadres too.}

    He warns on the militaristic nature of the US government:

    However, if the democratic, market-oriented model is to prevail, Americans need to own up to their own mistakes and misconceptions. Washington’s foreign policy during the past decade was too militarised and unilateral, succeeding only in generating a self-defeating anti-Americanism. In economic policy, Reaganism long outlived its initial successes, producing only budget deficits, thoughtless tax-cutting and inadequate financial regulation.

    THE DEMISE OF THE EVIL EMPIRE where cuts toddlers in pieces IS NEAR:

    {These problems are to some extent being acknowledged and addressed. But there is a deeper problem with the American model that is nowhere close to being solved. China adapts quickly, making difficult decisions and implementing them effectively. Americans pride themselves on constitutional checks and balances, based on a political culture that distrusts centralised government.}

    The phony American ‘democracy’ cannot deceive anyone except the gullible people of the west.

    {Democracy in America may have an inherent legitimacy that the Chinese system lacks, but it will not be much of a model to anyone if the government is divided against itself and cannot govern.}


    The ‘Economist’ has written a critic on Fukuyam’s essay:
    {I never would have imagined that I would read a Francis Fukuyama essay 20 years later about the current direction of world history, and agree vehemently with every single word of it.}