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The Ring Around China


For good reason, the international Left has been wary of the UN and the WTO. And yet, despite their many drawbacks, both the UN General Assembly and the WTO as institutions held the possibility for multilateralism. There are contradictory interests across the nations, and these institutions have required these interests to be manifest and to contend. The battles within the UN General Assembly led to it being side-lined by the UN Security Council (more precisely, by its five permanent members). Bolton’s contempt for the UN is only the most vulgar demonstration of a long standing process that has led to the demotion of the world’s nations at the world’s parliament.

The Third World long demanded an International Trade Organization (since 1948). The WTO that emerged much later bore little resemblance to what had been envisaged by the Non-Aligned Movement (1973), but it was still a space for different powers with different interests to gather. During the tense debates in Havana during the United Nations Trade and Employment Conference (1948), the emergent Third World challenged the leading imperialist powers to come up with a better deal for their primary products. To no avail. And yet, the WTO provided a venue for an important debate over values and policies (the most recent example being in Cancun, when the darker nations challenged G-8 hypocrisy over tariffs and subsidies).

The demise of the UN General Assembly and the recent collapse of the WTO is only the surface manifestation of the new world order. The G-8, led by the U.S., has been keener to write bilateral or regional trade agreements (with one of the G-8 nations, generally the U.S. being dominant in these forums). More important than which country among the G-8 is dominant is the shared push to ensure that neo-liberal trade policies in particular and capitalist values in general be dominant in these economic arrangements.

In terms of the military-political arrangements, the route taken is typically regional with the U.S. as the dominant partner in the bloc. While the Middle East continues to unravel, the U.S. has stitched together an effective military-political bloc on the Asian rim whose motive is clear: to encircle China. Whatever one feels about the internal economic and political change in China, the creation of the Trilateral Security Dialogue (TSD) can hardly give comfort to anyone. It is not designed to undo the growing inequality within China, but simply to ensure that the Chinese regime feel hemmed in and continue to support the G-8 machinations.

In 2002, the governments of Australia, Japan and the United States initiated the TSD. In March 2006, the senior foreign ministers of each of these three countries met in Sydney, Australia, for a major summit. The motives for the creation of the TSD are mixed. The United States has long relied upon Japan and Australia as the northern and southern anchors of its Pacific Rim strategy. The TSD is intended to conjoin these two links into one chain. Two major regional organizations have provided the US with the means to influence East and South-East Asian politics: the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN, created in 1977) and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC, created in 1989). In addition, the US maintains a series of bilateral military and political relationships with smaller countries that ring the Asian mainland Thailand and the U. S. have a communiqué that dates to 1962, but in 2006, the two countries hosted 11,300 troops in a twelve day exercise (Cobra Gold). Singapore’s Air Force was on hand. Singapore signed an agreement with the U. S. in 2005 that acknowledged, “a strong United States military presence is vital for regional peace and stability.” The TSD will now be the core to these subsidiary mechanisms for US political intervention. It is the new hub to the spokes of ASEAN, APEC and the bilateral arrangements.

Some indicate that TSD is the Asian NATO, a Pacific Rim Treaty Organization. Australia, in recent years, has been lured by the sirens of China’s economic growth. The timing of the TSD reflects an attempt to hijack the dynamic of Australian-Chinese rapprochement. While Australia’s Foreign Minister Alexander Downer tried to reassure the Chinese that the TSD is not intended to “contain” China, his US counterpart, Condoleezza Rice, went in the other direction. She baited China en route to and at Sydney, “And I think all of us in the region, particularly those of us who are long-standing allies, have a joint responsibility and obligation to try and produce conditions in which the rise of China will be a positive force in international politics, not a negative force…. We need together to recognize that China is going to improve its military but we need to make sure that this improvement is not out-sized for China’s regional ambitions and interests.”

The Chinese military budget is currently $60, far smaller than the US military budget ($441 billion), Japan ($45 billion) and Australia ($13 billion). The TSD claims that the three countries “have a common cause in working to maintain stability and security globally with a particular focus on the Asia-Pacific region.” Many, however, see this new triad as a colossus that will only create more instability, especially since it is premised on a confrontational attitude to North Korea and an ambiguous one toward China. South Korea is not in the Asian NATO because its people want a dialogue with their northern neighbor. The US wants to add India, if it will be pliant, and it has already stitched together Thailand, Singapore and other such countries into its web. India is a prize. In 2003, a U. S. officer remarked, “We want a friend in 2020 that will be capable of assisting the U. S. military to deal with a Chinese threat.” The current nuclear deal that is slipping through Washington D. C. is part of that overall architecture.

Schumpeter, in 1942, wrote that innovation is a fundamental element in capitalism’s “creative destruction.” The term has wider resonance today. Rather than spend our ingenuity and social labor for good, our masters are eager to manufacture insecurity and fear, to creatively destroy what could be ingeniously produced. The TSD is a tentacular network that seeks to contain China and to insinuate U. S. power over Asia rather than create security for Asia’s people.

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