Brzezinskian Project and China
President Barak Obama’s Pivot to East accords with the vision of the US Neo-Conservatives’ project for global domination, which we discussed it in an earlier essay and summarised below.
Former President Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski formulated the strategy two and half decades ago. His 1997 book The Grand Chessboard asserted the US could rule over a post-USSR unipolar world almost indefinitely, a belief apparently spawned by Francis Fukuyama’s earlier prediction that “Western liberal democracy [is] the final form of human government” in his 1992 volume The End of History and the Last Man. The two publications together are arguably the equivalent of the Mein Kampf of the United States’ Far-Right.
In his Chessboard, Brzezinski drew inspiration from “Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin [who] shared the assumption that Eurasia is the centre of the world and that he who controls Eurasia controls the world. A half century later, the issue has been redefined: will America’s primacy in Eurasia endure?”[p.4] With the USSR swept aside in 1991, he schemed to entrench US global supremacy almost permanently – an ambition shared by his Neo-Conservative colleagues William Kristol and Robert Kagan who dreamt up the PNAC (Project for the New American Century), intersected Fukuyama’s The End of History Illusion, and is not unlike Adolf Hitler’s delusionary pseudo-messianic End-of-History prophecy of a One-Thousand-Year-Reich.
Brzezinski added, whether the US “prevents the emergence of a dominant and antagonistic Eurasian power — remains central to America’s capacity to exercise global primacy,” [p.4] the Eurasian powers being first Russia and then China. He schemed to keep post-Soviet Russia vulnerable by blocking its access to and control over Ukraine by orienting Ukraine pro-NATO; “Without Ukraine,” assessed Stratfor, “Russia is doomed to a painful slide into geopolitical obsolescence and ultimately, perhaps even non-existence.” NATO put Brzezinskian strategy into operation when it invited Ukraine to join the military alliance in 2008, engineered the 2014 coup in Kyiv that turned Kyiv anti-Moscow and compelled Russia to intervene in Ukraine in February 2022 to pre-empt NATO missiles being placed on it’s own border. At this writing, the US-led NATO forces are “assisting” Kyiv by unleashing and sustaining the on-going proxy war against Russia in Ukraine.
The reader may recollect our assessment of the theories for war – Allison’s Thucydides Trap, Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations and the Domino Theory (popularised by Eisenhower) – each crafted to justify a particular military campaign (see Part I). Four years after President Obama pivoted East, Rosa Brooks in 2015 conjured up the End of Peace (see Part II) by creatively inventing human history as one of virtually eternal warfare, a “theory” not merely to back the anticipated War on China but a general “theory” of endless war that satisfies the Military-Industrial Complex’s addiction for super profits and legitimises ALL future wars waged by the US’ Permanent War State in the eyes of the US public.
Meanwhile the disinformation by some US ideologues, that adapted the Thucydides theory, stood reality on its head in 2021: it alleges rising China is the aggressor and that Washington is striving to establish peace, by deterring Beijing from turning the Cold War into a hot war.
Obama’s Pivot to East opened the next theatre in the War Without End against the second Eurasian challenger, China, as anticipated by the Brzezinskian strategy, by deploying the US military in the South China Sea. “The United States”, he elaborated during his 2011 address to the Australian parliament, “is a Pacific power, and we are here to stay”. He pandered to the finely honed instinct of self-interest among the white middle and working classes and educated their new generation on the link between expanding the Empire abroad and raising real incomes at home: “the Asia-Pacific is critical to achieving my highest priority, and that’s creating jobs and opportunity for the American people”.
Earlier, we had observed an awareness of the link on bumper stickers yelling “Keep Panama Canal, Keep Jobs” that sprouted in California’s Bay Area around 1976 when President Gerald Ford’s administration was negotiating the transfer of the Canal’s administration to Panama. The readers may also recollect how most British Trade Unions opposed the independence of India immediately after WWII: they worried jobs will be lost since British factories cannot run for long without the steady supply of cheap raw materials from the colonies.
While mobilizing popular support in the US for his administration’s confrontation with the PRC, Obama simultaneously issued a thinly veiled warning to Beijing “about the importance of upholding international norms and respecting the universal human rights of the Chinese people”. Perhaps he’s convinced the United States has consistently honoured the same international norms and domestic human rights; the reality, however, is harshly different both in the international arena and in the domestic context, as evidenced by the “Black Lives Matter” movement, “Project 1619” and the American Indian’s “500 Years of Indigenous Resistance”. Most Asian Americans have yet to wake up to the reality.
Many US analysts often brush aside critiques of the regrettable history of US violations and their egregious persistence today as “whataboutism”. However, most countries and peoples assess the veracity and morality of the US stance on every issue against the historical backdrop.
The US and its close ally, the United Kingdom oppose China on grounds that Beijing is violating “international law, freedom of navigation and over flight” by constructing off shore island bases in the South China Sea. How that is so is left to one’s imagination and, given their predilection for fabricating evidence – Iraq’s fictitious weapons of mass destruction, being a recent case in point, the allegation against China must be treated with considerable caution.
Beijing responds that it’s restoring maritime territorial rights violated by Southeast Asian neighbours during the Century of Humiliation (1839 – 1949). It began with the defeated Qing dynasty ceding Hong Kong in 1842 to the British Empire in the Opium War and ended when islands occupied by Japan were recovered immediately after WW2. The US government recognised its ally Republic of China’s territorial claims at the end of the War: it resolutely backed Chiang Kai-Shek’s attempts to repossess many South China Sea islands under Japanese occupation, “thereby acknowledging China’s historical claim.” Moreover, a former Chinese foreign policy chief Dai Bingguo pointed out that as recently as 1970, “42 islands and reefs were ‘illegally’ occupied by the Philippines, Vietnam and others”.
Mao Zedong’s PRC is no ally; predictably the US dismissed Beijing’s defence and manoeuvred to apply a veneer of legality to its own untenable position. The US dodged signing on the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea). Nonetheless Washington insisted Beijing must abide by the Convention but has no locus standi to initiate legal action under UNCLOS. The former Philippines President Benigno Aquino III came to Washington’s rescue; he filed for arbitration in 2013 invoking the Convention (to which The Philippines is a signatory) advised by US lawyers. In the following year he signed the 2014 EDCA (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement) to grant access for US forces at five bases in The Philippines.
The PRC’s Chinese Society of International Law categorically rejected The Philippines’ unilateral resort to Arbitration, and it declared the Tribunal’s Exparte Award “null and void”. Significantly the US ally Taiwan too dismissed the Award, thereby weakening the US ploy, backed by UK, to isolate the PRC in East Asia.
The Philippine President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, reputedly anti-American, skilfully balanced between the PRC and the US. The Arbitration Tribunal’s Award favoured some of The Philippines’ claims; but in May 2021 he scorned it: “just a piece of paper”, he said, to be consigned to “the wastebasket.” On the other hand, in September Duterte declared in the UNGA (UN General Assembly) that the “Award is now part of International Law” but desisted from pursuing the Tribunal’s ruling against the PRC, probably because China is a major trading partner and a dominant neighbouring power. At the same time, after some prevarication, he allowed US forces access to selected bases in The Philippines under the EDCA.
The neighbouring Vietnam, Indonesia and other South East Asian countries are similarly juggling the demands of the two Big Powers, as Vice President Kamala Harris discovered during her tour last year.
We dig deeper to unearth China’s rationale for building the South China Sea island air bases.
The Malacca Dilemma
In November 2003 China’s President Hu Jintao described his country’s vulnerability to a naval blockade as the “Malacca Dilemma”.
In his documentary film the “Coming War on China”, John Pilger identified more than 400, yes four hundred, western military bases both large and small, with missiles, bombers, warships and, above all, nuclear weapons set up in allied countries to surround and menace China within a ring of steel, which a US strategist gloated is “the perfect noose”. New Delhi’s naval strategy to contain China seeks to help the US tighten the “noose”. The 2004 Indian Maritime Doctrine categorically declared, the “control of the (maritime) choke points could be used as a bargaining chip in the international power game.”
In 2008, retired Indian General Sheru Thapliyal explained: “The Indian Ocean is where we could use our advantage to the maximum. If you want to choke China, the only way you can choke China is by using naval power,” by throttling the narrow 2.7 km-broad Strait of Malacca, which joins the Indian Ocean to the Pacific. The Strait is the conduit of more than 70 per cent of China’s energy imports and about 60 per cent of its world trade.
Gen. Thapliyal alluded to the Chinese-built chain of Indian Ocean ports, the so-called “String of Pearls” that includes Pakistan’s Gwadar and Sri Lanka’s Hambantota, and he added: “(t)hey know that we could attempt to choke them completely and that’s why they want these ports.” Said another retired Indian General Vijay Kapoor: “(t)heir aim in all of this is to prevent us from being able to choke them.” The Indian Navy is modernising and aims to become a 200-ship navy by 2027 whilst New Delhi has negotiated agreements for access to bases with several Indian Ocean littoral States.
The Malabar Exercises began as a bilateral initiative between the US and India navies in 1992; it expanded into a trilateral arrangement with the inclusion of Japan in 2015 and is a quadrilateral format after India invited Australia in 2020. The exercises are meant warn Beijing it cannot “convert the Indian Ocean into a China Lake.”
New Delhi justifies its approach on grounds of maintaining open sea lanes and ensuring freedom of navigation at sea, implying that Beijing is scheming to restrict maritime operations of other nations in violation of a US-inspired rules-based international order. Beijing in turn regretted that New Delhi is ganging up against China.
Beijing no doubt remembers how New Delhi interdicted China’s terrestrial trade artery to Sikkim through the Nathu La Pass during the 1962 hostilities. New Delhi opened the pass more than six decades later, in 2006; however it has been the site of repeated skirmishes between the two armies.
To neutralise economic strangulation by the combined navies of US and India, China has developed a three-pronged self-defence strategy. The first are the airstrips on the reefs and islets in the South China Sea. Second, China is complementing the island bases in East Asia with the CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) it’s swiftly building between the Arabian Sea port of Gwadar and Kashgar in western China; it’s envisaged as an alternative trade-cum-energy conduit to side step the vulnerable Strait of Malacca. The CPEC is the lynchpin of the third, the ambitious BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) to construct a network of land based trade routes in Eurasia.
The success of CPEC would make US-India geo-strategic manoeuvrings around the Malacca Strait and islands in the South China Sea largely redundant. A part of US strategy, therefore, is to vitiate the CPEC, which Prime Minister Imran Khan’s PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) government stoutly backed in the face of Washington’s implacable opposition. The no-confidence motion that ousted Khan is widely viewed in Pakistan as a Washington-engineered regime change to block CPEC. His support for the new Taliban regime in Kabul and visit to Moscow on the eve of Russia’s Special Operations in Ukraine have been additional irritants though unlikely determinants of US intervention. The new government headed by Shahbaz Sharif seems to endorse CPEC, after initial prevarications, though for how long remains to be seen.
The US and its NATO allies are aware they cannot match China’s burgeoning economic power rooted in it’s booming domestic market and a sea of skilled labour, based on about a quarter of the world’s population that is China. When, during the 19th century, free market competition did not deliver certain victory and sustained profits, Britain had unleashed the Opium Wars in the name of “free trade” to cow China, a bigger and more successful economy.
President Donald Trump sought to divide Asia and isolate China by renaming the long established Asia-Pacific as the “Indo-Pacific”, sans China. New Delhi seems to welcome the new classification hoping the Indo-US collaboration would remove Beijing as a competitor and allow India’s play as the undisputed regional hegemon. Washington’s take on New Delhi’s Indian Ocean ambitions cannot be very flattering.
Western military strategists are demonising China, to prepare the public in the US and its NATO allies for a 21st century version of the Opium Wars to crush China’s more successful economy. Old habits die hard; and this time round the War on China is supposedly to protect a US-led “Rules-Based International Order”.
[Next: Rules-Based International Order]
*Dr Sachithanandam Sathananthan is an independent researcher who received his Ph.D degree from the University of Cambridge. He was Visiting Research Scholar at the Jawaharlal Nehru University School of International Studies and taught World History at Karachi University’s Institute of Business Administration. He is an award-winning filmmaker and may be reached at: email@example.com