By Joseph Essertier, Dissident Voice, February 24, 2023
Essertier is Organizer for World BEYOND War’s Japan Chapter
These days there is a lot of discussion in the media about Chinese aggression in a wide range of areas, and the assumption is that this has huge implications for global security. Such a one-sided discussion can only lead to heightened tension and a greater possibility of misunderstandings leading to a devastating war. In order to solve global problems in a sensible, long-term way it is important to look at the situation from the perspective of all concerned. This essay will highlight some of the issues that have mostly been ignored, both in the media and in academia.
Last month it was announced that the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, may visit Taiwan later this year. In response, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning urged the U.S. to “earnestly abide by the one-China principle.” If McCarthy goes, his visit will follow on the heels of Nancy Pelosi’s visit of the 2nd of August last year, when she instructed the Taiwanese about the earliest days of the founding of our country when our “presidency” Benjamin Franklin said, “Freedom and democracy, freedom and democracy are one thing, security here. If we don’t have—we can’t have either, if we don’t have both.”
(Franklin never became president and what he actually said was, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety”).
McCarthy seems to be harboring the illusion that Pelosi’s visit was a major success and that doing as his Democratic predecessor did will build peace for the people of East Asia and for Americans in general. Or indeed that it is in the natural order of things for a U.S. government official who holds the office of the Speaker, third in line to the president, who works on making the laws not executing them, should visit the island ruled by the “self-governed” Republic of China despite our promise to the People’s Republic of China to respect the “one China” policy. The government of the Republic of China is not really self-governed in the usual sense since it has been supported by the U.S. for at least 85 years and dominated by the U.S. for decades. Nevertheless, according to proper U.S. etiquette, one must not mention that fact and should always speak of Taiwan as if it were an independent country.
“The U.S. officially adheres to the ‘one China’ policy, which does not recognize the sovereignty of Taiwan” and “has consistently supported Taiwan both economically and militarily as a democratic bulwark against the authoritarian Chinese government.” The Chinese Communist Party was able to win over most Chinese and take control of almost all of China by 1949 even after a decade of U.S. financial and military backing of their enemy Jiang Jieshi (AKA, Chiang Kai-shek, 1887-1975) and his Guomindang (AKA, the “Nationalist Party of China” or “KMT”). The Guomindang was completely corrupt and incompetent, and repeatedly slaughtered the people of China, e.g., in the Shanghai Massacre of 1927, the 228 Incident of 1947, and during the four decades of the “White Terror” between 1949 and 1992, so even today, anyone who knows the basic history can guess that Taiwan may not be the bright “beacon of freedom” and “flourishing democracy” that Liz Truss claims it is. Well-informed people know that Taiwanese built their democracy in spite of U.S. intervention.
Apparently, however, in President Joe Biden’s judgment, visits from Pelosi and McCarthy will neither make the Taiwanese feel safe and secure, nor fully demonstrate our commitment to freedom, democracy, and peace in East Asia. Thus on Friday the 17th, he sent Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for China Michael Chase. Chase is only the second senior Pentagon official to visit Taiwan in four decades. Perhaps Chase will plan a peace-pipe smoking ceremony with the “U.S. special-operations unit and a contingent of Marines” who “have been secretly operating in Taiwan to train military forces there” since at least October 2021. Adding to the peaceful atmosphere across the Taiwan Strait, a bipartisan congressional delegation, led by the noted advocate of peace Ro Khanna also arrived in Taiwan on the 19th for a five-day visit.
Insecurity in the U.S. and China
Now would perhaps be a good time to remind Americans that unlike in 1945, we do not enjoy a huge advantage over all other nation-states in terms of our safety and security, we do not live in “Fortress America,” we are not the only game in town, and we are not invincible.
The world is far more integrated economically than it was in the era when Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) appeared on the covers of U.S. magazines over and over again as a hero of Asia. Furthermore, with the advent of new weapons such as drones, cyber weapons, and hypersonic missiles that easily transcend borders, distance no longer ensures our safety. We can be hit from far-away locations.
Although some U.S. citizens are aware of this, very few are probably aware that people in China enjoy far less national security than we do. While the United States only shares land borders with two sovereign states, Canada and Mexico, China shares borders with fourteen countries. Revolving counter-clockwise from the state closest to Japan, these are North Korea, Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam. Four of the states on China’s borders are nuclear powers, i.e., North Korea, Russia, Pakistan, and India. Chinese live in a dangerous neighborhood.
China has friendly relations with Russia and North Korea, and somewhat friendly relations with Pakistan, but at present, it has strained relations with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, India, and Australia. Of these five countries, Australia is the only country far enough away from China that Chinese might have a little advance notice if and when Australians attack them some day.
Japan is remilitarizing, and both Japan and South Korea are engaged in an arms race with China. Much of China is surrounded by U.S. military bases. U.S. attacks on China could be launched from hundreds of these bases, especially from Japan and South Korea. Luchu, or the “Ryukyu” Island Chain, is riddled with U.S. bases and is located next to Taiwan.
(Luchu was annexed by Japan in 1879. The Island of Yonaguni, which is the westernmost inhabited island of the island chain, is just 108 kilometers, or 67 miles, off the coast of Taiwan. An interactive map is available here. This map illustrates that the U.S. military there is essentially an occupying army, monopolizing resources on the land and impoverishing the people of Luchu).
Australia, South Korea, and Japan have already entered into or are about to enter into alliances with the U.S. as well as with countries already allied with the U.S. Thus China is not only threatened individually by these many countries but also as a single unit by multiple countries. They have to worry about us ganging up on them. South Korea and Japan are even considering NATO membership.
China has a loose military alliance with North Korea, but this is China’s only military alliance. As everyone knows, or should know, military alliances are dangerous. Many experts believe that alliance commitments can serve to provoke and expand war. Such alliances were at fault for the situation in 1914 when the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was used as a pretext to war on a giant scale, i.e., World War I, instead of simply a war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia.
Japan, so close to China and a former colonizer, controlled by militarists, would be an obvious threat to China when viewed from a historical perspective. The government of the Empire of Japan caused horrific death and destruction during two belligerent wars against China during the half century between 1894 and 1945 (i.e., the First and Second Sino-Japanese Wars). Their colonization of Taiwan was the beginning of tremendous humiliation and suffering for the peoples of China and of other countries in the region.
The armed forces of Japan are deceptively referred to as the Self-defense Forces (SDF), but they are one of the world’s military powerhouses. “Japan has created its first amphibious military unit since World War II and launched a new class of high-tech frigates (called “Noshiro” launched by Mitsubishi in 2021), and it’s restructuring its tank force to be lighter and more mobile and building up its missile capabilities.” Mitsubishi is extending the range of Japan’s “Type 12 Surface-to-Ship Missile,” which will give Japan the capability to attack enemy bases and conduct “counterstrikes.” Soon (around 2026) Japan will be able to hit inside China, even from 1,000 kilometers away. (The distance from Ishigaki Island, part of Luchu, to Shanghai is about 810 km, e.g.)
Japan has been termed a “client state” of Washington, and Washington interferes in South Korea’s international affairs, too. This interference is so pervasive that “as things currently stand, South Korea has operational control of its military under armistice conditions, but the United States would take over in wartime. This arrangement is unique to the U.S.-South Korea alliance.” In other words, South Koreans do not enjoy full self-determination.
The Philippines will soon give the U.S. military access to four additional military bases, and the U.S. has expanded the number of U.S. troops in Taiwan. From World BEYOND War’s interactive map, one can see that, beyond the Philippines, there are at least a few U.S. bases in parts of Southeast Asia as well as several bases to the west of China in Pakistan. China got its first overseas base in 2017 in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. The U.S., Japan, and France each also have a base there.
Seeing China in this insecure and vulnerable situation vis-à-vis the U.S., we are now expected to believe that Beijing wants to escalate confrontations with us, that Beijing prefers violence over diplomatic de-escalation. In the preamble to their constitution, imperialism is clearly rejected. It tells us that it is the “historic mission of the Chinese people to oppose imperialism” and that the “Chinese people and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army have defeated imperialist and hegemonist aggression, sabotage and armed provocations, safeguarded national independence and security, and strengthened national defense.” Yet we are supposed to believe that unlike the U.S., whose constitution does not mention imperialism, Beijing is more inclined to war than Washington.
James Madison, a “father” of our Constitution wrote the following words: “Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.” But unfortunately for us and for the world, such wise words were not written into our beloved constitution.
Edward Snowden wrote the following words on Twitter on the 13th:
it’s not aliens
i wish it were aliens
but it’s not aliens
it’s just the ol’ engineered panic, an attractive nuisance ensuring natsec reporters get assigned to investigate balloon bullshit rather than budgets or bombings (à la nordstream)
Yes, this obsession with balloons is a distraction from the big story, that our government has probably backstabbed one of our key allies, Germany, by destroying Nord Stream pipelines.
The reality of today’s world is that wealthy countries, including the U.S., spy on lots of other countries. The National Reconnaissance Office has launched many spy satellites. Our government has even spied on Japanese “cabinet officials, banks and companies, including the Mitsubishi conglomerate.” In fact, all rich countries probably spy on all their adversaries all the time, and some of their allies some of the time.
Simply consider U.S. history. In almost every case of violence between Chinese and Americans, Americans initiated the violence. The sad truth is that we have been the aggressors. We have been the perpetrators of injustice against Chinese, so they have many good reasons to be suspicious of us.
Each year, our country only spends $20 billion on diplomacy while spending $800 billion on preparing for war. It is a truism, but our priorities are skewed toward violent empire building. What is said less frequently is that Americans, Japanese, and Chinese—all of us—are living in a dangerous world, one where war is no longer a sane option. Our enemy is war itself. All of us must get up off our sofas and voice our opposition to World War III while we, and future generations, have any chance at all of some kind of decent life.
Many thanks to Stephen Brivati for his valuable comments and suggestions.