US-China War Is No Longer Unthinkable

China offers a threatening alternative model of development that is non-capitalist, non-Western, and non-colonial. As such, it undermines the West’s neocolonial domination of the Third World and its debt-trap-based forced underdevelopment of subverience and exploitation.
— K.T. Noh1

If the United States were to posit that it could eliminate the economic challenge from China by launching an atomic war, there is no evidence that the U.S. would not do so.
— John Ross2

A Sino-American war is no longer unthinkable. As we approach a very dangerous period, possibly including WWIII and nuclear catastrophe, I fully expect a rise in frenzied sinophobia, threat inflation, vile lies about China, and further efforts to limit advanced technology to Beijing.

Here, I’m fantasizing that if blessed with the talent to write a dystopian, geopolitical, political thriller (with an edge-of-your seat movie to follow) I’d pitch a prospectus along the following lines:

In the not too distant future, the fears of the U.S. bourgeoisie are borne out when a multipolar, poly-centric international political system takes shape. China has become a global economic player, its Belt & Road Initiative won massive appeal throughout the global South and Beijing’s call for respecting the rights of all people to choose their own economic and political system has won many friends. A formidable Front of the South is clearly on the horizon. China has also taken the lead in fighting climate change and despite the U.S. best efforts, its computer chips are among the best in the world. In short, “Socialism with Chinese characteristics” will has proven its superiority to neoliberal capitalism.

As K.T. Noh writes, “China has demonstrated that it has developed an alternative, non-Western, capitalist, model of development without wars, invasion, colonization, slavery, regime change, primitive accumulation — that the world can emulate and follow.”1 Clearly, the U.S. ruling class cannot allow this 21st century threat of a good example to come to fruition and will use any means available to prevent it.

A win-win world future is inconceivable to the ruling class. They are unwilling for the United States to become just another normal country even though that would be inestimably better for ordinary citizens. As background, a two-pronged strategy emerged: first with Obama’s “pivot to Asia” in 2011 and then, in 2014, the U.S. manipulated coup d’etat and Minsk agreement in Ukraine which overthrew a democratically elected president and installed a puppet regime. Washington then baited and provoked Russia into military intervention in Ukraine in 2022.3

U.S. military planners pursued their medium term objective of weakening and even dismembering Russia in order to deny China its key geopolitical ally and force it to face the US on its own. The proxy war that the U.S. launched against Russia in Ukraine and fought to the last Ukrainian and mercenary, showed the world that Washington was willing to engage a Great Power — but the conflict ended in a stalemate. As the Pentagon anticipated, Russia was weakened but regime change was not achieved and Putin remains in power. China, even with its extended Covid pandemic, pledged a “comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination” with Moscow.

Given its military supremacy and with a vast array of bases and well over 100,000 military personnel encircling China, Washington is sorely tempted to use its military to compensate for its inexorable economic decline and to halt China’s development — before it’s too late. An ominous unknown is what Russia will do if a war with China should “go nuclear.”

American officials publicly accuse China of repeatedly violating the “ruled-based international order” but behind the scenes these same officials are heard to say, “We are an empire, albeit a benign one, and this is an American linguistic instrument designed to preserve us as a global hegemon.” She added that the rules protect US interests as its power wanes relative to China.” Besides, as another official candidly explains, “This is not about nations following rules but the one indispensable nation is making and imposing certain rules on behalf of safeguarding the free world.”4

The mass media begins amping up its China bashing and accuses the Chinese president of being evil incarnate, another Hitler. Slowly by slowly this drumbeat of propaganda succeeds in manufacturing consent for a war on China.

The likely flashpoint for military confrontation is the South China Sea and a Gulf of Tonkin-type incident is concocted by the CIA and the Pentagon. This is followed by U.S. B21’s and anti-ship missiles destroying a substantial portion of China’s maritime shipping assets. Because the U.S. is overextended in terms of military supply lines, its efforts to block Chinese trade routes and disrupt oil imports are only partially successful but U.S. submarines do manage to sink several ships attempting to sneak in and out of Chinese ports. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) retaliates by attacking American warships and bases in Guam, South Korea and Okinawa, causing tens of thousands of U.S. military personnel to perish.

A protracted military conflict ensues and in the fog of World War III, a “red line” is crossed when the Washington initiates the use of battlefield tactical nukes. The national security establishment counts on Beijing not having a survivable nuclear deterrent after absorbing a U.S. first strike. Thus, Washington’s credible nuclear threat (6,500 warheads) will prevent further escalation and compel China’s subjugation to U.S. global supremacy. However, due to hubris and miscalculation, a thermonuclear exchange results in which cities in both China and the United States are vaporized. Firestorms cause radioactive fallout unfurling in a massive plume extending some 60 miles from the blast sites. Both sides lose this geopolitical conflagration and in Washington, the long knives are out and recriminations begin.

India, which steadfastly refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, turned to Moscow as its largest oil supplier and rejected a Western world order, ascends to global leadership.

Bearing the above in mind, we know my book proposal will remain stillborn. However, that was not the fate of a speculative fiction novel appearing last year with the intriguing title, 2034: A Novel of the Next World War, by Elliot Ackerman and James Stavridis (New York: Penguin Press, 2021). It quickly rose to New York Times Bestseller list and received generally positive reviews across the mainstream political spectrum. Efraim Habers, former head of Israel’s Mossad, praised the book and described China as a “Great Threat” to the United States. And both former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and General James “Mad Dog” Mattis call the book a “realistic cautionary tale for our times.” I wouldn’t be surprised if the Netflix film is already in the casting stage.

As you’ve undoubtedly surmised, here the wily, arrogant Chinese Communist Party instigates war with the United States. Beijing uses its vastly superior cyber warfare dominance to lure an American battleship into an ambush. China then sinks a flotilla of 37 US warships in order to gain a goal “generations in the making,” — unfettered control of the South China Sea. Meanwhile, Iran seizes an F-35 out of the sky — again, using superior technology — and the pilot is taken hostage. China then sets about annexing Taiwan.

As long as Beijing refrains from engaging with ICBMs, the U.S. president orders a “limited,” multi-pronged attack on the Chinese mainland including striking the Chinese port of Zhanijing with a 150 kiloton “tactical” nuclear weapon. A “red line” is crossed. China responds by creating radioactive wastelands of San Diego and Galveston and the US president (a female) retaliates by vaporizing Shanghai in a mass murder (not other term suffices) of 30 million people. The authors write that the devastation in Shanghai “exceeded capacity for comprehension.” The book ends with India intervening as the peacemaker with the New Delhi Peace Accords. The price of the war had been staggering to both countries and in its wake, India becomes the world’s ascendant political and economic juggernaut and Iran also emerges in a highly advantageous position.

Dr. Sandeep “Sandy” Chowdhury, the US deputy national security adviser, despairs that Reagan and Kennedy’s vision of a “city on a hill” might now perish but reassures himself with the thought that “America was an idea and ideas very seldom vanish…” American was a nation of “freemen” and he fervently hopes that this spirit of America has “yet to abandon the place.”

The authors blame defeat of the storied “city on a hill” on enormous deficiencies America’s technological war fighting readiness which must be shored up before its too late. The fact that the U.S. does not prevail is meant to rattle readers (and officials) out of their complacent stupor. And related, the question hangs in the air whether the U.S. can vanquish the China threat without resort to nuclear weapons? The authors also muse whether the U.S. public will waver in its support for war after hostilities begin?

It would never occur to the authors, publishers, reviewers or indeed, the American people, that the US would be the aggressive party and initiate military conflict with China. As one of book’s characters muses, “American didn’t use to start wars. It used to finish them.” And in a recent interview, the book’s authors reveal their American exceptionalism bias when they assert that “The history of America is us striving to create a more perfect union — to hit that ideal… the essence of America is that enduring ideal, and worth investing in and it has brought us much more good than harm to this world.”5

In the novel, China is portrayed as seeking to replace the U.S. as the globe‘s most powerful country. In testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in March of 2021, Admiral Phil Davidson echoed this message when he said that China might attempt a military takeover over Taiwan in the next six years and this is “just one step along the way to supplanting the United States and its leadership in a rules-based international order.” Taiwan only bookends a larger war. Davidson added that China will militarily “attempt unilaterally changing the status quo.”6 And the Pentagon’s 2022 China Military Report to Congress, meant to convince that body to grant the largest defense budget ever, warns that China may challenge the U.S. in the global arena.

In lieu of a final conclusion, I think of a quotation attributed to Albert Einstein that “The world is dangerous not because some people do evil but because some people see it and do nothing” and bookend it with Howard Zinn’s that our problem is too much civil obedience.

However, I’m not sanguine about enough disobedient forces rising up in the United States in time to take up the gauntlet of Einstein’s “something.” And I must confess that, at times, I find myself on the edge of despondency as I sense the morbid symptoms in our midst that foreshadow WWIII, even before the climate Apocalypse.

Along with others on the left, I’ve often cited Gramsci’s injunction about “pessimism of the mind, optimism of the will” as the only answer for those committed to struggle for justice in the world.

That is, I’m convinced that we must look at the United States as it actually exists, with no illusions about the future. Noam Chomsky terms this RECD or “really existing capitalist democracy — which in its basic nature is a death sentence.” In the face of this reality, Chomsky has consistently reminded us that a moral person has only two choices: To do nothing to stop evil in the form of our belligerent warmongers who are bent on initiating war with China. This choice guarantees the worst will occur. Or we must do whatever we can to stop the Merchants of death “which is not much of choice, so we should be able to easily make it.” This course may not prove cathartic but it will put us more in touch with our humanity and that’s no small thing.

  1. K.J. Noh, “The U.S. Is Set on a Path to War with China. What is to be Done?” [] []
  2. John Ross, “What is Propelling the United States into Increasing International Military Aggression,” Monthly Review, April 24, 2022. And see, Wi Yu, “What the Pentagon Doesn’t Want You to Know About China,” Common Dreams, Dec 20, 2022; Deborah Veneziale, “Who Is Leading the United States to War?” []
  3. Benjamin Abelow, How the West Brought War to Ukraine (Great Barrington, MA: Siland Press, 2022). []
  4. Paraphrased from quote by the invariably astute political analyst Kim Petersen, “What is the Rules-Based Order.” []
  5. Ethan Rocke, “‘2034’ Authors talk about World War III, Nuclear Conflict and America’s Future,” Coffee or Die, April 14, 2022. 2034: A Novel of the Next War. The authors are Elliot Ackerman, author of several novels, spent eight years in the Marine Corps and was with elite covert CIA units in the Middle East and southwest Asia, including Afghanistan and Iraq. Retired Admiral James Stavridis former supreme commander of NATO and former Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. []
  6. USNI News, March 9, 2021. []
Gary Olson is Professor Emeritus at Moravian College, Bethlehem, PA. Contact: garyleeolson416@gmail.com. Per usual, thanks to Kathleen Kelly, my in-house ed. Read other articles by Gary.