US-China and a New Cold War


 

If there was any doubt about the idea that the world has clearly moved into a Cold War paradigm, the new national space policy of the United States dispelled that notion once and for all. It is worth reprinting some crucial excerpts for those that have not had the chance to look at the fine print. The report states:

“The United States will preserve its rights, capabilities, and freedom of action in space… and deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to US national interests…

The United States rejects any claims to sovereignty by any nation over outer space or celestial bodies, or any portion thereof, and rejects any limitations on the fundamental right of the United States to operate in and acquire data from space;

The United States considers space capabilities — including the ground and space segments and supporting links — vital to its national interests. Consistent with this policy, the United States will: preserve its rights, capabilities, and freedom of action in space; dissuade or deter others from either impeding those rights or developing capabilities intended to do so; take those actions necessary to protect its space capabilities; respond to interference; and deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to U.S. national interests;

The United States will oppose the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit U.S. access to or use of space. Proposed arms control agreements or restrictions must not impair the rights of the United States to conduct research, development, testing, and operations or other activities in space for U.S. national interests; and

The United States is committed to encouraging and facilitating a growing and entrepreneurial U.S. commercial space sector. Toward that end, the United States Government will use U.S. commercial space capabilities to the maximum practical extent, consistent with national security.

The question is just WHO would want to ‘limit’ U.S access or use of space? WHICH adversary would they wish to deny ‘the use of space capabilities hostile to the United States interests’? WHO would want to claim sovereignty ‘over outer space or celestial bodies’? Could it be a) Osama Bin Laden b) Iran c) Lindsay Lohan or d) China? Yes folks, the guessing game is over, the only power that could conceivably have ambition or the capability to use space power ‘hostile to U.S national interests’ is China, and it is clear from this document the United States and China are in one hell of a strategic tussle. This document is replete with suggestions that the Pentagon planners are ready to actively make Space the ‘final’ frontier. (Not that space hasn’t already been a strategic player via satellites and the Global Positioning System in most wars since Iraq Mark One, Alvin Toffler first letting us know of its importance eons ago) You might think this has to do with scientific advancement, and to some extent, that’s correct, the Moon having a particle that can help in the future development of nuclear fusion, helium three. Unfortunately, this mostly has to do with the space program of America’s ‘peer competitor’ China, and the so called threat of Chinese ‘asymmetrical warfare’ that might possibly bring down or impede American satellites and weapons during warfare. The idea is that the Chinese are using ‘commercial’ technology or lunar technology for military application in space, thus ‘challenging’ US military supremacy. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in the second Rumsfeld Commission (or ‘The Report of the Commission To Assess United States National Security and Space Management and Organization’) warned of a possible space ‘Pearl Harbor’ and recommended a range of options that basically protects United States hegemony in space, as does this new space policy. The idea is that hypothetically, China may be able to take out United States satellites via anti-satellite weaponry in the event of war, say during a conflict over Taiwan. The problem with this logic of course is that while China may be able to momentarily attack a US satellite, the vast inventory of US space and military technology would then rain down on the Chinese, and leave the peer competitor with very little option other than to surrender.

But that has not stopped the Pentagon planners. Space is now closer to being ‘weaponized’ as the jargon states, and ‘Star Wars’ quite literally, is a little closer to fruition. The question of course is how far the Chinese have advanced with their anti-satellite weapons. The interviews I have conducted for a book looking at US policy and China suggest that the idea that China is even close to challenging U.S military supremacy is somewhat fanciful. Most estimates have China trailing US technology by up to 20 years. However, as one Washington insider puts it

‘So there is perhaps a little bit of paranoia about what China is up to, but as the saying goes, sometimes a little bit of paranoia is good because sometimes they are after you’

It is also a paranoia that works well for the Pentagon, and the bi-partisan policy that wishes to extend American hegemony well into the mid 21st century when the Chinese economy is set to outstrip the United States and become the world’s largest economyi

The obvious question is whether it is in China’s interest to start a war with the US, thus disrupt its own economic development that is vital for future national growth, and thus increasing its international clout and prestige. Even conservative analysts concede that China is still 20 years away from challenging US military supremacy, despite the concern about its submarine and naval build up. The Chinese are building naval ports in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma. But is that any serious challenge to the US bases throughout the Pacific, including Japan, Guam, Diego Garcia, to name just a few? Hasn’t the encirclement of China in Asia (through the US ratcheting up of military and diplomatic relations with Asian countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Japan and Australia) proved the superiority of US military and diplomatic power in Asia? The answer is that this is a new ‘Cold War’ that is also economic in nature – and being fought out in territorial spheres, from Africa (Sudan) to Asia (Thailand) to Central Asia. The only way to ensure that the ‘peer competitor’ is economically contained is to keep ‘good watch’ on its trading partners, and those that can give it crucial energy supplies. During the old Cold War, Russia bought influence through local political parties and financial support. It is no different today, with China buying influence in Africa, Asia, and Latin America by the cold hard cash it offers for valuable resources. The major difference between the ‘old’ Cold War and the ‘new’ Cold War is the global economy, which means while there may be growing tensions, the reality of economic ‘interdependence’ means that everyone from Delhi to Caracas is praying for peace. Shareholders and executives worldwide are happy to see good times last, even if ‘war’ stocks (gold, uranium) are surging. However Aaron Friedberg, former national security advisor to Dick Cheney had this to say in an interview when I asked whether economic inter-dependence would prevent any conflict between the two powers: ‘I don’t think a blossoming economic relationship in itself is a guarantee of peace……’ That’s reassuring. What about US-China relations?

‘Now there is a two sided military competition underway – it’s limited and constrained compared for example to the Cold War military competition between the Soviet Union and America, but its underway and its serious and its accelerating….’ There are those that choose to argue that ‘terrorists’ and the ‘axis of evil’ are the real forces behind America’s foreign policy, but Iran or North Korea are not even close to China’s military capability, while terrorists are unable to threaten the overwhelming dominant (and extremely sophisticated) United States’ space-based military arsenal. I will not use this platform to deal with the myriad of flaws in the ‘War on Terror’ thesis in South East Asia alone, except to say that it will prove interesting meal for later journalistic endeavors. iiHowever for those who are still skeptical, let us briefly examine other factors that have illuminated the real focus of US foreign policy:

- Examine US policy papers since the mid nineties. The Quadrennial Defense Review of 2001 named Asia as the most important strategic area for the United States – over Europe and the Middle East. There was even the creation of a new strategic area called the ‘East Asian littoral’ which is the area from the Bay Bengal through to the Sea of Japan. This came out after September 11, which if logic was determining policy, would have Central Asia as the strategic area of importance. Also easy reading is the 2005 Pentagon Annual Report on Chinese Military Power, or fast forward to today, you can simply read Robyn Lim (The Geopolitics of East Asia: The Search for Equilibrium) Aaron Friedberg (The Future of Chinese US Relations – Is Conflict Inevitable?) or John Mearsheimer (China’s Unpeaceful Rise) on a future US-China tussle, all of whom come from a policy elite that has worked closely with US foreign policymakers, as well as Pentagon thinkers. Robert Kaplan’s piece for The Atlantic Monthly – How We Would Fight Chin a: The Next Cold War June 2005 details just how this may emerge, and almost as interesting is the commentary on it by Larry Chin via www.fromthewilderness.com .

- A National Energy Policy (May 2001) announced by the Bush administration which called for the President of the United States, to make the pursuit of foreign energy a major foreign policy objective, and called on the secretary of state and commerce and energy, to engage in international diplomacy for this purpose. As Michael T Klare in ‘Fueling the Dragon: China’s Strategic Energy Dilemma’ (Current History April 2006) notes ‘it would appear safe to assume that disputes arising from the competitive pursuit of foreign oil will play an increasingly critical role in the US-China relationship, possibly eclipsing such other concerns as Taiwan and the bilateral trade imbalance’. From Sudan to Venezuela, the US and China are fighting for global resources in a tussle to remain the world’s economic powerhouse. This includes oil, gas, water, steel, gold – just about any resource that either can lay their hands on. This has led to empowered ‘Chinese’ favored producers (Chavez in Venezuela) or boom time for resource rich countries like Australia (who claims to be hedging its bets but clearly a US ally.) In Africa, and other small resource rich third world countries it unfortunately signals turbulent times ahead, with both powers doing what it can to retain influence. In Central Asia, a large bidding war has been conducted, with the Chinese and the Americans fighting to increase their influence in the region. Central Asia of course is the geo-strategic backdoor to China, and part of Mackinder’s theory on great power politics. iii Indeed, the ‘Great Game’ has gone global.

- The militarization of South East Asia and US support for a militarized Japan. If the ‘War on Terror’ is indeed the Pentagon’s objective, why then has there been a steady build up of naval capability by all South East Asian nations that is focused on submarine technology if China’s naval aspirations aren’t the target? Why are US ships moving to the Pacific, and a US army command being set up in Japan? Why would the US be pushing Japan to re-militarize, (something that Chalmers Johnson has said is a direct counter to Chinese growing power)iv and encouraging Japan renounce its pacifist constitution? Why has there been no outcry to the election of a Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose grandfather was a noted war criminal, something that is sure to inflame Chinese nationalist sentiments? (Indeed Bruce Cumings from the University of Chicago stated that he thought the North Korean nuclear test was linked to the election of Shinzo Abev) And why is America trying to push through large military acquisitions by both Taiwan and South Korea if China indeed, is not the target?

- US pressure for Taiwan to push through an 11 billion dollar US arms package (which includes a Patriot anti-missile system, eight diesel submarines and 12 anti-submarine aircraft) despite protestations in Taiwan that the US is simply ‘unloading’ old weapons. The pro-independence Taiwanese President Chen Shui Bian in 2005 dismissed opposition to the package ‘irrational’ saying ‘the weapons were essential to protect against China, and the purchase needed to protect the island’s close relationship with Washington.’ vi There was delayed comment from the Bush administration this year when Shui Bian abolished the National Unification Council, an act Shui Bian himself stated was due to China’s ‘military threat’. Prominent figures in the Bush administration have been historically vocal in their support for Taiwanese independence, and despite the claim that the US administration is now distancing itself from Shui Bian, an $11 billion dollar arms package indicates the views of the US administration on reunification with the mainland.

- The promotion of a pro-US alliance consisting of Japan, Australia and India as the three major powers that leverage against the might of China. India’s close relationship with the United States (they are not only working on nuclear cooperation, but joint space projects as well) is the obvious response geo-political response to a rising China with India much touted in business circles as the ‘alternative’ to China. A resurgent militaristic Japan warns a belligerent China that its security can not be assured in North Asia, while Australia serves as Washington’s ears in the Asia Pacific, (not least through the satellite surveillance station at Pine Gap in central Australia and the US naval communications facility at North West Cape) through close relationships with US regional allies (Indonesia, Singapore) and regional missions such as the Solomon’s RAMSI mission and the Timor deployment. This is the formidable primary alliance that serves Washington in the Asia-Pacific. These three powers are vital in monitoring the sea-lanes of the Indian and Pacific that are crucial in ensuring global maritime supremacy. (Hence Australia’s reluctance in 2005 to sign the Asian ‘non aggression pact’ the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, which calls for signatories not to interfere in each other’s internal affairs. Only after it was made clear that it would not be invited to the East Asian summit without signing it did Australia go ahead with being a signatory to its pacifist declarations. Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mohamed Mahathir has been very vocal about Australia’s role as America’s ‘deputy sheriff’.)

- The maritime and naval preoccupations of Washington. This is in direct response to the naval aspirations of China, who sees naval power as vital to their ongoing economic resurgence. Using Alfred Thayer Mahn as their guide, American strategists are making sure that strategic waterways are under their control from the Straits of Hormuz to the Malacca Straits. One third of the world’s trade passes through the Malacca Straits, not just crucial energy supplies destined for Japan and China. Thus we see naval power as the crucial ‘force projection’, and US allies scrambling to achieve what is known as naval ‘inter-operability’. Analysts have talked of an ‘arms race’ in the Asia Pacific, and even Bill Gertz from the Washington Times has been open about the naval positioning of the US. ‘ The Pentagon is moving strategic bombers to Guam and aircraft carriers and submarines to the Pacific as part of a new “hedge” strategy aimed at preparing for conflict with China, Pentagon officials said yesterday…… Adm. William J. Fallon, commander of the Pacific Command, has visited Guam and told reporters that the island will become a pivot point for U.S. forces in the Pacific because of the relatively short distances to the Taiwan Strait, South Korea and Southeast Asia. Yesterday, Mr. Thomas said the Pentagon is strengthening alliances in Asia as part of the strategy’vii You can read all this first hand just by glancing through the Pentagon Reports on China, or ‘think tank’ papers such as the influential Council on Foreign Relations where the Chinese navy and submarine acquisition is a large part of these reports. An excerpt from the Executive Summary of the CFR report of 2003 may give you some idea of its contents: ‘ China is already the strongest continental military power in East Asia and destined to become an even greater power beyond its littoral borders, a sustained and robust U.S naval and air presence can offset the ability of Beijing to leverage future military capabilities into a real advantage against U.S and allied interests in the Asia-Pacific region over the next twenty years if not longer.’ viii Whilst China hawks in Washington such as Bill Gertz and John Tkacik talk of China’s ‘string of pearls’ strategy (China’s building of strategic alliances along the sea lanes from the Middle East to the South China Sea) the real naval power of China is hotly debated, with many Washington analysts privately casting serious doubts on it’s capability, saying it is on par with American naval power twenty years ago. One analyst in an interview with me called it a ‘rustwater navy’ while another dismissed the notion of Chinese military ‘pockets of excellence’ and questioned whether these were ‘pockets of adequacy, otherwise surrounded by a sea of mediocrity.’ix If in case you believe that the battle for naval supremacy was small fry in the Asia Pacific, then perhaps the sudden and inexplicable move of China-friendly Burma’s capital from Rangoon to rural Pyinmana, (400 kilometres north of Rangoon) may help you understand just how fearful China has become of any attempts to ‘interfere’ in its strategic alliances. Burma is the site of a Chinese naval port, a rather important one close to the Malacca Straits and the Bay of Bengal. It is also the site of an important listening post, many others in the Asia Pacific having been compromised by flourishing Taiwanese and US diplomacy. x Following the move there was speculation that the military leadership may be afraid of a possible US attack on the coastal capital, and that the new capital will be better placed to deal with the Indian, Chinese and Thai borders. A factor that has not been raised is the setting up of an Indian naval command off Port Blair on the Andaman Islands (situated between the Bay of Bengal and the Malacca Strait) an attempt to create an Indian ‘blue water navy’ to counter China’s own regional naval ambitions. This, as well as the strategic vulnerability of a coastal capital, cannot be discounted as a factor in the sudden move.

- The United States desperation to control and patrol one of the world’s vital sea lanes – the Malacca Strait – indicates just how advanced the US China geo-political containment policy is. A third of all world trade goes through the Strait, as well as eighty percent of China’s oil imports. If hypothetically, during a crisis, either power was to control the Strait – then the other would suffer. China clearly has more to lose than America, with its economic clout clearly dependent on the oil imports and international trade that keeps it growth in double digit figures. Due to threats of ‘terrorism’ and ‘piracy’ America has set up the PSI (Proliferation Security Initiatives) and RMSI – the ‘Regional Maritime Security Initiative’ which is designed to ‘protect’ and ‘patrol’ this waterway. Discussing the issue in the Jakarta Post in June 2006, Rio Jaslim wrote: ‘China’s fast-paced economic growth and strengthening defense capabilities place them in a position to challenge America’s leadership in the Asia-Pacific region. This latent competition will likely prompt the U.S. to adopt a strategy to contain China. This would include controlling the sea-lines of communication and strategic maritime checkpoints, such as the Strait of Malacca, and thus indirectly controlling the movement of raw materials and goods to China.

Thus, the real reason American wants to bolster its presence in the region, and specifically the Strait of Malacca, is to limit China’s access to oil, raw materials, technology and industrial equipment, and to contain the Chinese influence in the region. Using the threat of terrorism and piracy to strengthen the Proliferation Security Initiatives is the most likely strategy.’ Whilst US ally Singapore has jumped on board, Malaysia and Indonesia in the past have justifiably seen any joint patrolling as an infringement on their sovereignty, and have concerns about it violating their policy of ‘non-alignment’. ‘Non-alignment’ of course, is a reference to the choice given them of being ‘either with us, or against us’. States like Malaysia and Indonesia understand that to enrage the Chinese dragon by entering a ‘US coalition’ on the Malacca Strait could have unpleasant side effects – not least, economic repercussions down the track. The United States, however, keeps increasing the pressure, indicating just how important control of this Strait is to its global maritime and trade power in the 21st Century.xi (There was intense speculation over US aid efforts in Aceh, a province at the tip of Indonesia near the Malacca Strait, following the devastating 2004 tsunami. The public backlash to the world’s largest naval aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln sitting off Indonesian waters was not helped by media reports that US base Diego Garcia was given prior warning of the impending disaster. xii The aircraft carrier left Indonesian waters after the Indonesian government refused to allow pilots to conduct air patrols and training flights. The sensitivity of the US aircraft in the Straits can only be comprehended after understanding the disputes in the region over who has the right to ‘patrol’ these waters in light of growing US and Chinese maritime competition.) All of this goes without discussing the rise of ‘nuclear’ power among the Asian countries – Japan, South Korea, Australia, India and of course, North Korea. The emerging nuclear programs in India and Australia suggest that the 21st Century is not one that is going to be predicated on a geo-political landscape of ‘failed states’ but one of regional powers flexing their ‘nuclear’ muscles and sending serious warnings to the challenging peer ‘China’ and her allies. The recent signing of the ‘Henry Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act,” between India and America is just one signal that ‘nuclear’ power will play a major part in this geo-political power stand-off. xiii We can no longer pretend that the world is not in the midst of a New Cold War. The 21st Century battle is two giant powers fighting for supremacy using any means necessary. Ideology may be dead, but the naked grab for power by these economic and political titans is determining the boundaries of Asia. US policy in the region under the Bush administration has been aggressive and provocative, with geo-political ‘containment’ at the forefront, and economic engagement in the background. If American policy continues in this vein it may push the region perilously close to an Asian conflagration. It will be the policies of any new American administration and the subsequent response by Chinese military hardliners that will crucially determine whether there is peace in Asia in the 21st century. Maryann Keady is a freelance radio journalist and reporter. Her internet radio station ‘Asia2025.net’ will start broadcasting in February. A collection of interviews ‘China Conversations’ will be out in 2007.

i The hype around ‘partisan’ foreign policy divisions in Washington is an old tactic used against China, best illustrated via the Kissinger and Nixon negotiations with China over Taiwan. Their broken promises to China over Taiwan after ’72 were blamed on the new administration of Gerald Ford, but whether any American administration was ever going to change the policy of strategic ambiguity is another matter completely. The current American ‘congagement’ China policy has bi-partisan support – the only difference being the method and level of military adventurism. Similarly divisions between the ‘blue’(anti-China and hawkish) and ‘red’(moderate or ‘panda hugger’) teams in Washington are also greatly exaggerated.

ii Hambali, the key to the Asian ‘War on Terror’ was previously holed up in a US naval base, with no journalist able to interview him. He is now in Guantanamo Bay. US authorities will not hand him over for questioning by Indonesian or Australian authorities which makes for difficult investigation. As the Sydney Morning Herald reported on December 23 2006 ‘No US official has ever given a reason for the refusal to allow access to Hambali .Initially it was suggested that outsiders would interfere with the delicate interrogation and potentially destroy “actionable intelligence” on future attacks. But six months after Hambali’s capture this excuse was largely seen as irrelevant’ Allegations by the former Indonesian president on who was responsible for the 2004 Bali bombing were examined in David O’Shea’s ‘Inside Indonesia’s War on Terror’ SBS Dateline October 2005. More on how Australia’s Pacific Policy has little to do with ‘failed states’ and terrorism but more to do with China, see the interview with John Gershman on SBS Dateline July 2003. The skepticism over the US role in ‘War on Terror’ in the Philippines deserves its own separate examination but was raised by reporter John Martinkus, on SBS’s Dateline, May 2005.

iiiSir Halford John Mackinder’s most famous work The Geographical Pivot of History included the quote: “Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; Who rules the heartland commands the World Island; Who rules the World Island commands the World.” He argued that Euro-Asia was the ‘pivot’ of global balance and power. Central Asia is considered the ‘heartland’ in this theory.

iv In an interview with me, October 2006.

v.Interview Voice of America, October 2006.

vi Voice Of America 27th October, 2005.

vii ‘Pentagon Hedge Strategy Targets China’ Washington Times 18th March 2006.

viii Report on Chinese Military Power, Council on Foreign Relations 2003 p3.

ix These can be viewed as part of a forthcoming book of interviews out in 2007.

x See SBS Dateline February 25, 2004.

xi In 2005 Lloyd’s insurers of London ‘Joint War Committee’ declared that the Strait was in jeopardy of ‘war, strikes, terrorism and related perils’ and had it classified as a war zone. This may mean that countries will have to pay for trade to go through the Straits. In March 2006, Malaysia asked them to review this finding.

xii ‘US Island Base Give Warning’ Richard Norton Taylor, Guardian, January 7, 2005.

xiii See ‘Using India to Keep China at Bay’ Foreign Policy in Focus, Dec 12 2006 and ‘India, China, and the United States: A Delicate Balance’ Council of Foreign Relations February 27 2006. >

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