Chalmers : Coming to Terms with China


Richard Moore

A long article...for those who want the full picture



Tomgram:  Chalmers Johnson, Coming to Terms with China 

In our media lives, Asia plays a remarkably small and
fragmented role, given its growing importance in the world. 
In our press, coverage of Asia is a strange jumble of alarums,
fears, and trends:  the North Korean bomb, avian flu and SARS,
the tsunami, the Taiwan "war bill," the growth of the Chinese
Navy, anime (and remilitarization) in Japan, the U.S. military
in Indonesia, the possibility that the central banks of East
Asia may dump dollars for euros triggering an economic
cataclysm, and the normal run of monks, exotica, and strange
customs -- all adding up to conceptual chaos.  Seldom do you
find a piece that tries to put East Asia together, laying out
for us, in particular, the explosive nature of the
U.S./Japan/China triangular relationship, which in various
combinations has in the past plunged us into bloody war .

Below, Chalmers Johnson does just that and in monumental
fashion.  It's rare for us to take time out of busy lives to
consider how exactly the dots might be connected, how the
world actually works.  I urge all of you to consider doing so
in the case of Johnson's long essay.  It will repay your time
many times over.  And while you're at it, any of you who
haven't laid your hands on the first two volumes of Johnson's
Blowback Trilogy on imperial America and the loss of our
republic (the third of which is being written at this moment)
should do so immediately.  Both Blowback: The Costs and
Consequences of American Empire , and The Sorrows of Empire:
Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic are now
available in paperback and are must reads: The first was a
prophetic account, published in 2000, that laid out the
background to the attacks of 9/11; the second focuses, as no
one else has, on the dramatic story of the endless growth of
our military and its bases abroad. Tom

No Longer the "Lone" Superpower 
Coming to Terms with China 
By Chalmers Johnson 

I recall forty years ago, when I was a new professor working
in the field of Chinese and Japanese international relations,
that Edwin O. Reischauer once commented, "The great payoff
from our victory of 1945 was a permanently disarmed Japan."
Born in Japan and a Japanese historian at Harvard, Reischauer
served as American ambassador to Tokyo in the Kennedy and
Johnson administrations. Strange to say, since the end of the
Cold War in 1991 and particularly under the administration of
George W. Bush, the United States has been doing everything in
its power to encourage and even accelerate Japanese

Such a development promotes hostility between China and Japan,
the two superpowers of East Asia, sabotages possible peaceful
solutions in those two problem areas, Taiwan and North Korea,
left over from the Chinese and Korean civil wars, and lays the
foundation for a possible future Sino-American conflict that
the United States would almost surely lose. It is unclear
whether the ideologues and war lovers of Washington understand
what they are unleashing -- a possible confrontation between
the world's fastest growing industrial economy, China, and the
world's second most productive, albeit declining, economy,
Japan; a confrontation which the United States would have both
caused and in which it might well be consumed.

Let me make clear that in East Asia we are not talking about a
little regime-change war of the sort that Bush and Cheney
advocate. After all, the most salient characteristic of
international relations during the last century was the
inability of the rich, established powers -- Great Britain and
the United States -- to adjust peacefully to the emergence of
new centers of power in Germany, Japan, and Russia. The result
was two exceedingly bloody world wars, a forty-five-year-long
Cold War between Russia and the "West," and innumerable wars
of national liberation (such as the quarter-century long one
in Vietnam) against the arrogance and racism of European,
American, and Japanese imperialism and colonialism.

The major question for the twenty-first century is whether
this fateful inability to adjust to changes in the global
power-structure can be overcome. Thus far the signs are
negative. Can the United States and Japan, today's versions of
rich, established powers, adjust to the reemergence of China
-- the world's oldest, continuously extant civilization --
this time as a modern superpower? Or is China's ascendancy to
be marked by yet another world war, when the pretensions of
European civilization in its U.S. and Japanese projections are
finally put to rest? That is what is at stake.

Alice-in-Wonderland Policies and the Mother of All Financial

China, Japan, and the United States are the three most
productive economies on Earth, but China is the fastest
growing (at an average rate of 9.5% per annum for over two
decades), whereas both the U.S. and Japan are saddled with
huge and mounting debts and, in the case of Japan, stagnant
growth rates. China is today the world's sixth largest economy
(the U.S. and Japan being first and second) and our third
largest trading partner after Canada and Mexico. According to
CIA statisticians in their Factbook 2003 , China is actually
already the second-largest economy on Earth measured on a
purchasing power parity basis -- that is, in terms of what
China actually produces rather than prices and exchange rates.
The CIA calculates the United States' gross domestic product
(GDP) -- the total value of all goods and services produced
within a country -- for 2003 as $10.4 trillion and China's
$5.7 trillion. This gives China's 1.3 billion people a per
capita GDP of $4,385.

Between 1992 and 2003, Japan was China's largest trading
partner, but in 2004 Japan fell to third place, behind the
European Union (EU) and the United States. China's trade
volume for 2004 was $1.2 trillion, third in the world after
the U.S. and Germany, and well ahead of Japan's $1.07
trillion. China's trade with the U.S. grew some 34% in 2004
and has turned Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Oakland into the
three busiest seaports in America.

The truly significant trade development of 2004 was the EU's
emergence as China's biggest economic partner, suggesting the
possibility of a Sino-European cooperative bloc confronting a
less vital Japanese-American one. As Britain's Financial Times
observed, "Three years after its entry into the World Trade
Organization [in 2001], China's influence in global commerce
is no longer merely significant. It is crucial." For example,
most Dell Computers sold in the U.S. are made in China, as are
the DVD players of Japan's Funai Electric Company. Funai
annually exports some 10 million DVD players and television
sets from China to the United States, where they are sold
primarily in Wal-Mart stores. China's trade with Europe in
2004 was worth $177.2 billion, with the United States $169.6
billion, and with Japan $167.8 billion.

China's growing economic weight in the world is widely
recognized and applauded, but it is China's growth rates and
their effect on the future global balance of power that the
U.S. and Japan, rightly or wrongly, fear. The CIA's National
Intelligence Council forecasts that China's GDP will equal
Britain's in 2005, Germany's in 2009, Japan's in 2017, and the
U.S.'s in 2042. But Shahid Javed Burki, former vice president
of the World Bank's China Department and a former finance
minister of Pakistan, predicts that by 2025 China will
probably have a GDP of $25 trillion in terms of purchasing
power parity and will have become the world's largest economy
followed by the United States at $20 trillion and India at
about $13 trillion -- and Burki's analysis is based on a
conservative prediction of a 6% Chinese growth rate sustained
over the next two decades. He foresees Japan's inevitable
decline because its population will begin to shrink
drastically after about 2010. Japan's Ministry of Internal
Affairs reports that the number of men in Japan already
declined by 0.01% in 2004; and some demographers, it notes,
anticipate that by the end of the century the country's
population could shrink by nearly two-thirds, from 127.7
million today to 45 million, the same population it had in

By contrast, China's population is likely to stabilize at
approximately 1.4 billion people and is heavily weighted
toward males. (According to Howard French of the New York
Times , in one large southern city the government-imposed
one-child-per-family policy and the availability of sonograms
have resulted in a ratio of 129 boys born for every 100 girls;
147 boys for every 100 girls for couples seeking second or
third children. The 2000 census for the country as a whole put
the reported sex ratio at birth at about 117 boys to 100
girls.) Chinese domestic economic growth is expected to
continue for decades, reflecting the pent-up demand of its
huge population, relatively low levels of personal debt, and a
dynamic underground economy not recorded in official
statistics. Most important, China's external debt is
relatively small and easily covered by its reserves; whereas
both the U.S. and Japan are approximately $7 trillion in the
red, which is worse for Japan with less than half the U.S.
population and economic clout.

Ironically, part of Japan's debt is a product of its efforts
to help prop up America's global imperial stance. For example,
in the period since the end of the Cold War, Japan has
subsidized America's military bases in Japan to the staggering
tune of approximately $70 billion. Refusing to pay for its
profligate consumption patterns and military expenditures
through taxes on its own citizens, the United States is
financing these outlays by going into debt to Japan, China,
Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and India. This situation has
become increasingly unstable as the U.S. requires capital
imports of at least $2 billion per day to pay for its
governmental expenditures. Any decision by East Asian central
banks to move significant parts of their foreign exchange
reserves out of the dollar and into the euro or other
currencies in order to protect themselves from dollar
depreciation would produce the mother of all financial crises.

Japan still possesses the world's largest foreign exchange
reserves, which at the end of January 2005 stood at around
$841 billion. But China sits on a $609.9 billion pile of
dollars (as of the end of 2004), earned from its trade
surpluses with us. Meanwhile, the American government and
Japanese followers of George W. Bush insult China in every way
they can, particularly over the status of China's breakaway
province, the island of Taiwan. The distinguished economic
analyst William Greider recently noted, "Any profligate debtor
who insults his banker is unwise, to put it mildly. . . .
American leadership has . . . become increasingly delusional
-- I mean that literally -- and blind to the adverse balance
of power accumulating against it."

The Bush administration is unwisely threatening China by
urging Japan to rearm and by promising Taiwan that, should
China use force to prevent a Taiwanese declaration of
independence, the U.S. will go to war on its behalf. It is
hard to imagine more shortsighted, irresponsible policies, but
in light of the Bush administration's Alice-in-Wonderland war
in Iraq, the acute anti-Americanism it has generated globally,
and the politicization of America's intelligence services, it
seems possible that the U.S. and Japan might actually
precipitate a war with China over Taiwan.

Japan Rearms

Since the end of World War II, and particularly since gaining
its independence in 1952, Japan has subscribed to a pacifist
foreign policy. It has resolutely refused to maintain
offensive military forces or to become part of America's
global military system. Japan did not, for example,
participate in the 1991 war against Iraq, nor has it joined
collective security agreements in which it would have to match
the military contributions of its partners. Since the signing
in 1952 of the Japan-United States Security Treaty, the
country has officially been defended from so-called external
threats by U.S. forces located on some 91 bases on the
Japanese mainland and the island of Okinawa. The U.S. Seventh
Fleet even has its home port at the old Japanese naval base of
Yokosuka. Japan not only subsidizes these bases but subscribes
to the public fiction that the American forces are present
only for its defense. In fact, Japan has no control over how
and where the U.S. employs its land, sea, and air forces based
on Japanese territory, and the Japanese and American
governments have until quite recently finessed the issue
simply by never discussing it.

Since the end of the Cold War in 1991, the United States has
repeatedly pressured Japan to revise article nine of its
Constitution (renouncing the use of force except as a matter
of self-defense) and become what American officials call a
"normal nation." For example, on August 13, 2004, Secretary of
State Colin Powell stated baldly in Tokyo that if Japan ever
hoped to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security
Council it would first have to get rid of its pacifist
Constitution. Japan's claim to a Security Council seat is
based on the fact that, although its share of global GDP is
only 14%, it pays 20% of the total U.N. budget. Powell's
remark was blatant interference in Japan's internal affairs,
but it merely echoed many messages delivered by former Deputy
Secretary of State Richard Armitage, the leader of a
reactionary clique in Washington that has worked for years to
remilitarize Japan and so enlarge a major new market for
American arms. Its members include Torkel Patterson, Robin
Sakoda, David Asher, and James Kelly at State; Michael Green
on the National Security Council's staff; and numerous
uniformed military officers at the Pentagon and at the
headquarters of the Pacific Command at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

America's intention is to turn Japan into what Washington
neo-conservatives like to call the "Britain of the Far East"
-- and then use it as a proxy in checkmating North Korea and
balancing China. On October 11, 2000, Michael Green, then a
member of Armitage Associates, wrote, "We see the special
relationship between the United States and Great Britain as a
model for the [U.S.-Japan] alliance." Japan has so far not
resisted this American pressure since it complements a renewed
nationalism among Japanese voters and a fear that a burgeoning
capitalist China threatens Japan's established position as the
leading economic power in East Asia. Japanese officials also
claim that the country feels threatened by North Korea's
developing nuclear and missile programs, although they know
that the North Korean stand-off could be resolved virtually
overnight -- if the Bush administration would cease trying to
overthrow the Pyongyang regime and instead deliver on American
trade promises (in return for North Korea's agreement to give
up its nuclear weapons program). Instead, on February 25,
2005, the State Department announced that "the U.S. will
refuse North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's demand for a
guarantee of 'no hostile intent' to get Pyongyang back into
negotiations over its nuclear weapons programs." And on March
7, Bush nominated John Bolton to be American ambassador to the
United Nations even though North Korea has refused to
negotiate with him because of his insulting remarks about the

Japan's remilitarization worries a segment of the Japanese
public and is opposed throughout East Asia by all the nations
Japan victimized during World War II, including China, both
Koreas, and even Australia. As a result, the Japanese
government has launched a stealth program of incremental
rearmament. Since 1992, it has enacted 21 major pieces of
security-related legislation, 9 in 2004 alone. These began
with the International Peace Cooperation Law of 1992, which
for the first time authorized Japan to send troops to
participate in U.N. peacekeeping operations.

Remilitarization has since taken many forms, including
expanding military budgets, legitimizing and legalizing the
sending of military forces abroad, a commitment to join the
American missile defense ("Star Wars") program -- something
the Canadians refused to do in February 2005 -- and a growing
acceptance of military solutions to international problems.
This gradual process was greatly accelerated in 2001 by the
simultaneous coming to power of President George Bush and
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Koizumi made his first visit
to the United States in July of that year and, in May of 2003,
received the ultimate imprimatur, an invitation to Bush's
"ranch" in Crawford, Texas. Shortly thereafter, Koizumi agreed
to send a contingent of 550 troops to Iraq for a year,
extended their stay for another year in 2004, and on October
14, 2004, personally endorsed George Bush's reelection.

A New Nuclear Giant in the Making?

Koizumi has appointed to his various cabinets hard-line
anti-Chinese, pro-Taiwanese politicians. Phil Deans, director
of the Contemporary China Institute in the School of Oriental
and African Studies, University of London, observes, "There
has been a remarkable growth of pro-Taiwan sentiment in Japan.
There is not one pro-China figure in the Koizumi Cabinet."
Members of the latest Koizumi Cabinet include the Defense
Agency chief Yoshinori Ono, and the foreign minister Nobutaka
Machimura, both ardent militarists; while Foreign Minister
Machimura is a member of the right-wing faction of former
Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, which supports an independent
Taiwan and maintains extensive covert ties with Taiwanese
leaders and businessmen.

Taiwan, it should be remembered, was a Japanese colony from
1895 to 1945. Unlike the harsh Japanese military rule over
Korea from 1910 to 1945, it experienced relatively benign
governance by a civilian Japanese administration. The island,
while bombed by the Allies, was not a battleground during
World War II although it was harshly occupied by the Chinese
Nationalists (Chiang Kai-shek's Guomindang) immediately after
the war. Today, as a result, many Taiwanese speak Japanese and
have a favorable view of Japan. Taiwan is virtually the only
place in East Asia where Japanese are fully welcomed and

Bush and Koizumi have developed elaborate plans for military
cooperation between their two countries. Crucial to such plans
is the scrapping of the Japanese Constitution of 1947. If
nothing gets in the way, Koizumi's ruling Liberal Democratic
Party (LDP) intends to introduce a new constitution on the
occasion of the party's fiftieth anniversary in November 2005.
This has been deemed appropriate because the LDP's founding
charter of 1955 set as a basic party goal the "establishment
of Japan's own Constitution" -- a reference to the fact that
General Douglas MacArthur's post-World War II occupation
headquarters actually drafted the current Constitution. The
original LDP policy statement also called for "the eventual
removal of U.S. troops from Japanese territory," which may be
one of the hidden purposes behind Japan's urge to rearm.

A major goal of the Americans is to gain Japan's active
participation in their massively expensive missile defense
program. The Bush administration is seeking, among other
things, an end to Japan's ban on the export of military
technology, since it wants Japanese engineers to help solve
some of the technical problems of its so far failing Star Wars
system. The United States has also been actively negotiating
with Japan to relocate the Army's 1st Corps from Fort Lewis,
Washington, to Camp Zama, southwest of Tokyo in the densely
populated prefecture of Kanagawa, whose capital is Yokohama.
These U.S. forces in Japan would then be placed under the
command of a four-star general, who would be on a par with
regional commanders like Centcom commander John Abizaid, who
lords it over Iraq and South Asia. The new command would be in
charge of all Army "force projection" operations beyond East
Asia and would inevitably implicate Japan in the daily
military operations of the American empire. Garrisoning even a
small headquarters, much less the whole 1st Corps made up of
an estimated 40,000 soldiers, in a sophisticated and centrally
located prefecture like Kanagawa is also guaranteed to
generate intense public opposition as well as rapes, fights,
car accidents and other incidents similar to the ones that
occur daily in Okinawa.

Meanwhile, Japan intends to upgrade its Defense Agency (
Boeicho ) into a ministry and possibly develop its own nuclear
weapons capability. Goading the Japanese government to assert
itself militarily may well cause the country to go nuclear in
order to "deter" China and North Korea, while freeing Japan
from its dependency on the American "nuclear umbrella." The
military analyst Richard Tanter notes that Japan already has
"the undoubted capacity to satisfy all three core requirements
for a usable nuclear weapon: a military nuclear device, a
sufficiently accurate targeting system, and at least one
adequate delivery system." Japan's combination of fully
functioning fission and breeder reactors plus nuclear fuel
reprocessing facilities gives it the ability to build advanced
thermonuclear weapons; its H-II and H-IIA rockets, in-flight
refueling capacity for fighter bombers, and military-grade
surveillance satellites assure that it could deliver its
weapons accurately to regional targets. What it currently
lacks are the platforms (such as submarines) for a secure
retaliatory force in order to dissuade a nuclear adversary
from launching a pre-emptive first-strike.

The Taiwanese Knot

Japan may talk a lot about the dangers of North Korea, but the
real objective of its rearmament is China. This has become
clear from the ways in which Japan has recently injected
itself into the single most delicate and dangerous issue of
East Asian international relations -- the problem of Taiwan.
Japan invaded China in 1931 and was its wartime tormentor
thereafter as well as Taiwan's colonial overlord. Even then,
however, Taiwan was viewed as a part of China, as the United
States has long recognized. What remains to be resolved are
the terms and timing of Taiwan's reintegration with the
Chinese mainland. This process was deeply complicated by the
fact that in 1987 Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists, who had
retreated to Taiwan in 1949 at the end of the Chinese civil
war (and were protected there by the American Seventh Fleet
ever after), finally ended martial law on the island. Taiwan
has since matured into a vibrant democracy and the Taiwanese
are now starting to display their own mixed opinions about
their future.

In 2000, the Taiwanese people ended a long monopoly of power
by the Nationalists and gave the Democratic Progressive Party,
headed by President Chen Shui-bian, an electoral victory. A
native Taiwanese (as distinct from the large contingent of
mainlanders who came to Taiwan in the baggage train of
Chiang's defeated armies), Chen stands for an independent
Taiwan, as does his party. By contrast, the Nationalists,
together with a powerful mainlander splinter party, the People
First Party headed by James Soong (Song Chuyu), hope to see an
eventual peaceful unification of Taiwan with China. On March
7, 2005, the Bush administration complicated these delicate
relations by nominating John Bolton to be the American
ambassador to the United Nations. He is an avowed advocate of
Taiwanese independence and was once a paid consultant to the
Taiwanese government.

In May 2004, in a very close and contested election, Chen
Shui-bian was reelected, and on May 20, the notorious
right-wing Japanese politician Shintaro Ishihara attended his
inauguration in Taipei. (Ishihara believes that Japan's 1937
Rape of Nanking was "a lie made up by the Chinese.") Though
Chen won with only 50.1% of the vote, this was still a
sizeable increase over his 33.9% in 2000, when the opposition
was divided. The Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs
immediately appointed Koh Se-kai as its informal ambassador to
Japan. Koh has lived in Japan for some 33 years and maintains
extensive ties to senior political and academic figures there.
China responded that it would "completely annihilate" any
moves toward Taiwanese independence -- even if it meant
scuttling the 2008 Beijing Olympics and good relations with
the United States.

Contrary to the machinations of American neo-cons and Japanese
rightists, however, the Taiwanese people have revealed
themselves to be open to negotiating with China over the
timing and terms of reintegration. On August 23, 2004, the
Legislative Yuan (Taiwan's parliament) enacted changes in its
voting rules to prevent Chen from amending the Constitution to
favor independence, as he had promised to do in his reelection
campaign. This action drastically lowered the risk of conflict
with China. Probably influencing the Legislative Yuan was the
warning issued on August 22 by Singapore's new prime minister,
Lee Hsien-loong: "If Taiwan goes for independence, Singapore
will not recognize it. In fact, no Asian country will
recognize it. China will fight. Win or lose, Taiwan will be

The next important development was parliamentary elections on
December 11, 2004. President Chen called his campaign a
referendum on his pro-independence policy and asked for a
mandate to carry out his reforms. Instead he lost decisively.
The opposition Nationalists and the People First Party won 114
seats in the 225-seat parliament, while Chen's DPP and its
allies took only 101. (Ten seats went to independents.) The
Nationalist leader, Lien Chan, whose party won 79 seats to the
DPP's 89, said, "Today we saw extremely clearly that all the
people want stability in this country."

Chen's failure to capture control of parliament also meant
that a proposed purchase of $19.6 billion worth of arms from
the United States was doomed. The deal included guided-missile
destroyers, P-3 anti-submarine aircraft, diesel submarines,
and advanced Patriot PAC-3 anti-missile systems. The
Nationalists and James Soong's supporters regard the price as
too high and mostly a financial sop to the Bush
administration, which has been pushing the sale since 2001.
They also believe the weapons would not improve Taiwan's

On December 27, 2004, mainland China issued its fifth Defense
White Paper on the goals of the country's national defense
efforts. As one long-time observer, Robert Bedeski, notes, "At
first glance, the Defense White Paper is a hard-line statement
on territorial sovereignty and emphasizes China's
determination not to tolerate any moves at secession,
independence, or separation. However, the next paragraph . . .
indicates a willingness to reduce tensions in the Taiwan
Strait: so long as the Taiwan authorities accept the one China
principle and stop their separatist activities aimed at
'Taiwan independence,' cross-strait talks can be held at any
time on officially ending the state of hostility between the
two sides."

It appears that this is also the way the Taiwanese read the
message. On February 24, 2005, President Chen Shui-bian met
for the first time since October 2000 with Chairman James
Soong of the People First Party. The two leaders, holding
diametrically opposed views on relations with the mainland,
nonetheless signed a joint statement outlining ten points of
consensus. They pledged to try to open full transport and
commercial links across the Taiwan Strait, increase trade, and
ease the ban on investments in China by many Taiwanese
business sectors. The mainland reacted favorably at once.
Astonishingly, this led Chen Shui-bian to say that he "would
not rule out Taiwan's eventual reunion with China, provided
Taiwan's 23 million people accepted it."

If the United States and Japan left China and Taiwan to their
own devices, it seems possible that they would work out a
modus vivendi . Taiwan has already invested some $150 billion
in the mainland, and the two economies are becoming more
closely integrated every day. There also seems to be a growing
recognition in Taiwan that it would be very difficult to live
as an independent Chinese-speaking nation alongside a country
with 1.3 billion people, 3.7 million square miles of
territory, a rapidly growing $1.4 trillion economy, and
aspirations to regional leadership in East Asia. Rather than
declaring its independence, Taiwan may try to seek a status
somewhat like that of French Canada -- a kind of looser
version of a Chinese Quebec under nominal central government
control but maintaining separate institutions, laws, and

The mainland would be so relieved by this solution it would
probably accept it, particularly if it could be achieved
before the 2008 Beijing Olympics. China fears that Taiwanese
radicals want to declare independence a month or two before
those Olympics, betting that China would not attack then
because of its huge investment in the forthcoming games. Most
observers believe, however, that China would have no choice
but to go to war because failure to do so would invite a
domestic revolution against the Chinese Communist Party for
violating the national integrity of China.

Sino-American and Sino-Japanese Relations Spiral Downward

It has long been an article of neo-con faith that the U.S.
must do everything in its power to prevent the development of
rival power centers, whether friendly or hostile.  After the
collapse of the Soviet Union, this meant they turned their
attention to China as one of our probable next enemies. In
2001, having come to power, the neo-conservatives shifted much
of our nuclear targeting from Russia to China. They also began
regular high-level military talks with Taiwan over defense of
the island, ordered a shift of Army personnel and supplies to
the Asia-Pacific region, and worked strenuously to promote the
remilitarization of Japan.

On April 1, 2001, a U.S. navy EP-3E Aries II electronic spy
plane collided with a Chinese jet fighter off the south China
coast. The American aircraft was on a mission to provoke
Chinese radar defenses and then record the transmissions and
procedures the Chinese used in sending up interceptors. The
Chinese jet went down and the pilot lost his life, while the
American plane landed safely on Hainan Island and its crew of
twenty-four spies was well treated by the Chinese authorities.

It soon became clear that China was not interested in a
confrontation, since many of its most important investors have
their headquarters in the United States. But it could not
instantly return the crew of the spy plane without risking
powerful domestic criticism for obsequiousness in the face of
provocation. It therefore delayed eleven days until it
received a pro forma American apology for causing the death of
a Chinese pilot on the edge of the country's territorial air
space and for making an unauthorized landing at a Chinese
military airfield. Meanwhile, our media had labeled the crew
as "hostages," encouraged their relatives to tie yellow
ribbons around neighborhood trees, hailed the President for
doing "a first-rate job" to free them, and endlessly
criticized China for its "state-controlled media." They
carefully avoided mentioning that the United States enforces
around our country a 200-mile aircraft-intercept zone that
stretches far beyond territorial waters.

On April 25, 2001, during an interview on national television,
President Bush was asked whether he would ever use "the full
force of the American military" against China for the sake of
Taiwan. He responded, "Whatever it takes to help Taiwan defend
herself." This was American policy until 9/11, when China
enthusiastically joined the "war on terrorism" and the
President and his neo-cons became preoccupied with their "axis
of evil" and making war on Iraq. The United States and China
were also enjoying extremely close economic relations, which
the big- business wing of the Republican Party did not want to

The Middle East thus trumped the neo-cons' Asia policy. While
the Americans were distracted, China went about its economic
business for almost four years, emerging as a powerhouse of
Asia and a potential organizing node for Asian economies.
Rapidly industrializing China also developed a voracious
appetite for petroleum and other raw materials, which brought
it into direct competition with the world's largest importers,
the U.S. and Japan.

By the summer of 2004, Bush strategists, distracted as they
were by Iraq, again became alarmed over China's growing power
and its potential to challenge American hegemony in East Asia.
The Republican Party platform unveiled at its convention in
New York in August proclaimed that "America will help Taiwan
defend itself." During that summer, the Navy also carried out
exercises it dubbed "Operation Summer Pulse '04," which
involved the simultaneous deployment at sea of seven of our
twelve carrier strike groups. An American carrier strike group
includes an aircraft carrier (usually with 9 or 10 squadrons
of planes, a total of about 85 aircraft in all), a guided
missile cruiser, two guided missile destroyers, an attack
submarine, and a combination ammunition-oiler-supply ship.
Deploying seven such armadas at the same time was
unprecedented -- and very expensive. Even though only three of
the carrier strike groups were sent to the Pacific and no more
than one was patrolling off Taiwan at a time, the Chinese
became deeply alarmed that this marked the beginning of an
attempted rerun of 19th century gunboat diplomacy aimed at

This American show of force and Chen Shui-bian's polemics
preceding the December elections also seemed to overstimulate
the Taiwanese. On October 26 in Beijing, Secretary of State
Colin Powell tried to calm things down by declaring to the
press, "Taiwan is not independent. It does not enjoy
sovereignty as a nation, and that remains our policy, our firm
policyŠ We want to see both sides not take unilateral action
that would prejudice an eventual outcome, a reunification that
all parties are seeking."

Powell's statement seemed unequivocal enough, but significant
doubts persisted about whether he had much influence within
the Bush administration or whether he could speak for Vice
President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Early in 2005, Porter Goss, the new director of the CIA,
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, and Admiral Lowell Jacoby, head of
the Defense Intelligence Agency, all told Congress that
China's military modernization was going ahead much faster
than previously believed. They warned that the 2005
Quadrennial Defense Review, the every four-year formal
assessment of U.S. military policy, would take a much harsher
view of the threat posed by China than the 2001 overview.

In this context, the Bush administration, perhaps influenced
by the election of November 2 and the transition from Colin
Powell's to Condi Rice's State Department, played its most
dangerous card. On February 19, 2005 in Washington, it signed
a new military agreement with Japan. For the first time, Japan
joined the administration in identifying security in the
Taiwan Strait as a "common strategic objective." Nothing could
have been more alarming to China's leaders than the revelation
that Japan had decisively ended six decades of official
pacifism by claiming a right to intervene in the Taiwan

It is possible that, in the years to come, Taiwan itself may
recede in importance to be replaced by even more direct
Sino-Japanese confrontations. This would be an ominous
development indeed, one that the United States would be
responsible for having abetted but would certainly be unable
to control. The kindling for a Sino-Japanese explosion has
long been in place.  After all, during World War II the
Japanese killed approximately 23 million Chinese throughout
East Asia -- higher casualties than the staggering ones
suffered by Russia at the hands of the Nazis -- and yet Japan
refuses to atone for or even acknowledge its historical war
crimes. Quite the opposite, it continues to rewrite history,
portraying itself as the liberator of Asia and a victim of
European and American imperialism.

In -- for the Chinese -- a painful act of symbolism, after
becoming Japanese prime minister in 2001, Junichiro Koizumi
made his first official visit to Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, a
practice that he has repeated every year since. Koizumi likes
to say to foreigners that he is merely honoring Japan's war
dead. Yasukuni, however, is anything but a military cemetery
or a war memorial. It was established in 1869 by Emperor Meiji
as a Shinto shrine (though with its torii archways made of
steel rather than the traditional red-painted wood) to
commemorate the lives lost in campaigns to return direct
imperial rule to Japan. During World War II, Japanese
militarists took over the shrine and used it to promote
patriotic and nationalistic sentiments. Today, Yasukuni is
said to be dedicated to the spirits of approximately 2.4
million Japanese who have died in the country's wars, both
civil and foreign, since 1853.

In 1978, for reasons that have never been made clear, General
Hideki Tojo and six other wartime leaders who had been hanged
by the Allied Powers as war criminals were collectively
enshrined at Yasukuni. The current chief priest of the shrine
denies that they were war criminals, saying, "The winner
passed judgment on the loser." In a museum on the shrine's
grounds, there is a fully restored Mitsubishi Zero Type 52
fighter aircraft that a placard says made its combat debut in
1940 over Chongqing, then the wartime capital of the Republic
of China. It was undoubtedly not an accident that, in
Chongqing during the 2004 Asian Cup soccer finals, Chinese
spectators booed the playing of the Japanese national anthem.
Yasukuni's leaders have always claimed close ties to the
imperial household, but the late Emperor Hirohito last visited
the shrine in 1975 and Emperor Akihito has never been there.

The Chinese regard Yasukuni visits by the Japanese prime
minister as insulting, somewhat comparable perhaps to
Britain's Prince Harry dressing up as a Nazi for a costume
party. Nonetheless, Beijing has tried in recent years to
appease Tokyo. Chinese President Hu Jintao rolled out the red
carpet for Yohei Kono, speaker of the Japanese Diet's House of
Representatives, when he visited China in September 2004; he
appointed Wang Yi, a senior moderate in the Chinese foreign
service, as ambassador to Japan; and he proposed joint
Sino-Japanese exploration of possible oil resources in the
offshore seas that both sides claim. All such gestures were
ignored by Koizumi who insists that he intends to go on
visiting Yasukuni.

Matters came to a head in November 2004 at two important
summit meetings: an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)
gathering in Santiago, Chile, followed immediately by an
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting with
the leaders of China, Japan, and South Korea that took place
in Vientiane, Laos. In Santiago, Hu Jintao directly asked
Koizumi to cease his Yasukuni visits for the sake of
Sino-Japanese friendship. Seemingly as a reply, Koizumi went
out of his way to insult Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in
Vientiane. He said to Premier Wen, "It's about time for
[China's] graduation [as a recipient of Japanese foreign aid
payments]," implying that Japan intended unilaterally to end
its 25-year-old financial aid program. The word "graduation"
also conveyed the insulting implication that Japan saw itself
as a teacher guiding China, the student.

Koizumi next gave a little speech about the history of
Japanese efforts to normalize relations with China, to which
Premier Wen replied, "Do you know how many Chinese people died
in the Sino-Japanese war?" Wen went on to suggest that China
had always regarded Japan's foreign aid, which he said China
did not need, as payments in lieu of compensation for damage
done by Japan in China during the war. He pointed out that
China had never asked for reparations from Japan and that
Japan's payments amounted to about $30 billion over 25 years,
a fraction of the $80 billion Germany has paid to the victims
of Nazi atrocities even though Japan is the more populous and
richer country.

On November 10, 2004, the Japanese Navy discovered a Chinese
nuclear submarine in Japanese territorial waters near Okinawa.
Although the Chinese apologized and called the sub's intrusion
a "mistake," Defense Agency Director Ono gave it wide
publicity, further inflaming Japanese public opinion against
China. From that point on, relations between Beijing and Tokyo
have gone steadily downhill, culminating in the
Japanese-American announcement that Taiwan was of special
military concern to both of them, which China denounced as an

Over time this downward spiral in relations will probably
prove damaging to the interests of both the United States and
Japan, but particularly to those of Japan. China is unlikely
to retaliate directly but is even less likely to forget what
has happened -- and it has a great deal of leverage over
Japan. After all, Japanese prosperity increasingly depends on
its ties to China. The reverse is not true. Contrary to what
one might expect, Japanese exports to China jumped 70% between
2001 and 2004, providing the main impetus for a sputtering
Japanese economic recovery. Some 18,000 Japanese companies
have operations in China. In 2003, Japan passed the United
States as the top destination for Chinese students going
abroad for a university education.  Nearly 70,000 Chinese
students now study at Japanese universities compared to 65,000
at American academic institutions. These close and lucrative
relations are at risk if the U.S. and Japan pursue their
militarization of the region.

A Multipolar World

Tony Karon of Time magazine has observed, "All over the world,
new bonds of trade and strategic cooperation are being forged
around the U.S. China has not only begun to displace the U.S.
as the dominant player in the Asia Pacific Economic
Cooperation organization (APEC), it is fast emerging as the
major trading partner to some of Latin America's largest
economies. . . . French foreign policy think tanks have long
promoted the goal of 'multipolarity' in a post-Cold War world,
i.e., the preference for many different, competing power
centers rather than the 'unipolarity' of the U.S. as a single
hyper-power. Multipolarity is no longer simply a strategic
goal. It is an emerging reality."

Evidence is easily found of multipolarity and China's
prominent role in promoting it. Just note China's expanding
relations with Iran, the European Union, Latin America, and
the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Iran is the second
largest OPEC oil producer after Saudi Arabia and has long had
friendly relations with Japan, which is its leading trading
partner. (Ninety-eight percent of Japan's imports from Iran
are oil.) On February 18, 2004, a consortium of Japanese
companies and the Iranian government signed a memorandum of
agreement to develop jointly Iran's Azadegan oil field, one of
the world's largest, in a project worth $2.8 billion. The U.S.
has opposed Japan's support for Iran, causing Congressman Brad
Sherman (D-CA) to charge that Bush had been bribed into
accepting the Japanese-Iranian deal by Koizumi's dispatch of
550 Japanese troops to Iraq, adding a veneer of international
support for the American war there.

But the long-standing Iranian-Japanese alignment began to
change in late 2004. On October 28, China's oil major, the
Sinopec Group, signed an agreement with Iran worth between $70
and $100 billion to develop the giant Yadavaran natural gas
field. China agreed to buy 250 million tons of liquefied
natural gas (LNG) from Iran over 25 years. It is the largest
deal Iran has signed with a foreign country since 1996 and
will include several other benefits, including China's
assistance in building numerous ships to deliver the LNG to
Chinese ports. Iran also committed itself to exporting 150,000
barrels of crude oil per day to China for 25 years at market

Iran's oil minister, Bijan Zanganeh, on a visit to Beijing
noted that Iran is China's biggest foreign oil supplier and
said that his country wants to be China's long-term business
partner. He told China Business Weekly that Tehran would like
to replace Japan with China as the biggest customer for its
oil and gas. The reason is obvious: American pressure on Iran
to give up its nuclear power development program and the Bush
administration's declared intention to take Iran to the U.N.
Security Council for the imposition of sanctions (which a
Chinese vote could veto). On November 6, 2004, Chinese Foreign
Minister Li Zhaoxing paid a rare visit to Tehran. In meetings
with Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, Li said that Beijing
would indeed consider vetoing any American effort to sanction
Iran at the Security Council. The U.S. has also charged China
with selling nuclear and missile technology to Iran.

China and Iran already did a record $4 billion worth of
two-way business in 2003. Projects included China's building
of the first stage of Tehran's Metro and a contract to build a
second link worth $836 million. China will be the top
contender to build four other planned lines, including a 19
mile track to the airport. In February 2003, Chery Automobile
Company, the eighth largest automaker in China, opened its
first overseas production plant in Iran. Today, it
manufactures 30,000 Chery cars annually in northeastern Iran.
Beijing is also negotiating to construct a 240 mile pipeline
from Iran to the northern Caspian Sea to connect with the
long-distance Kazakhstan to Xinjiang pipeline that it began
building in October 2004. The Kazakh pipeline has a capacity
to deliver 10 million tons of oil to China per year. Despite
American bluster and belligerence, Iran is anything but
isolated in today's world.

The EU is China's largest trading partner and China is the
EU's second largest trading partner (after the United States).
Back in 1989, to protest the suppression of pro-democracy
demonstrators in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, the EU imposed a
ban on military sales to China. The only other countries so
treated are true international pariahs like Burma, Sudan, and
Zimbabwe. Even North Korea is not subject to a formal European
arms embargo. Given that the Chinese leadership has changed
several times since 1989 and as a gesture of goodwill, the EU
has announced its intention to lift the embargo. Jacques
Chirac, the French president, is one of the strongest
proponents of the idea of replacing American hegemony with a
"multipolar world." On a visit to Beijing in October 2004, he
said that China and France share "a common vision of the
world" and that lifting the embargo will "mark a significant
milestone: a moment when Europe had to make a choice between
the strategic interests of America and China -- and chose

In his trip to Western Europe in February 2005, Bush
repeatedly said, "There is deep concern in our country that a
transfer of weapons would be a transfer of technology to
China, which would change the balance of relations between
China and Taiwan." In early February, the House of
Representatives voted 411 to 3 in favor of a resolution
condemning the potential EU move. The Europeans and Chinese
contend that the Bush administration has vastly overstated its
case, that no weapons capable of changing the balance of power
are involved, and that the EU is not aiming to win massive new
defense contracts from China but to strengthen mutual economic
relations in general. Immediately following Bush's tour of
Europe, the EU Trade Commissioner, Peter Mandelson, arrived in
Beijing for his first official visit. The purpose of his trip,
he said, was to stress the need to create a new strategic
partnership between China and Europe.

Washington has buttressed its hard-line stance with the
release of many new intelligence estimates depicting China as
a formidable military threat. Whether this intelligence is
politicized or not, it argues that China's military
modernization is aimed precisely at countering the Navy's
carrier strike groups, which would assumedly be used in the
Taiwan Strait in case of war. China is certainly building a
large fleet of nuclear submarines and is an active participant
in the EU's Galileo Project to produce a satellite navigation
system not controlled by the American military. The Defense
Department worries that Beijing might adapt the Galileo
technology to anti-satellite purposes. American military
analysts are also impressed by China's launch, on October 15,
2003, of a spacecraft containing a single astronaut who was
successfully returned to Earth the following day. Only the
former USSR and the United States had previously sent humans
into outer space.

China already has 500 to 550 short-range ballistic missiles
deployed opposite Taiwan and has 24 CSS-4 ICBMs with a range
of 13,000 km to deter an American missile attack on the
Chinese mainland. According to Richard Fisher, a researcher at
the U.S.-based Center for Security Policy, "The forces that
China is putting in place right now will probably be more than
sufficient to deal with a single American aircraft carrier
battle group." Arthur Lauder, a professor of international
relations at the University of Pennsylvania, concurs. He says
that the Chinese military "is the only one being developed
anywhere in the world today that is specifically configured to
fight the United States of America."

The U.S. obviously cannot wish away this capability, but it
has no evidence that China is doing anything more than
countering the threats coming from the Bush administration. It
seeks to avoid war with Taiwan and the U.S. by deterring them
from separating Taiwan from China. For this reason, in March
2005, China's pro-forma legislature, the National People's
Congress, passed a law making secession from China illegal and
authorizing the use of force in case a territory tried to
leave the country.

The Japanese government, of course, backs the American
position that China constitutes a military threat to the
entire region. Interestingly enough, however, the Australian
government of John Howard, a loyal American ally when it comes
to Iraq, has decided to defy Bush on the issue of lifting the
European arms embargo. Australia places a high premium on good
relations with China and is hoping to negotiate a free trade
agreement between the two countries.  Canberra has therefore
decided to support the EU in lifting the 15-year-old embargo.
Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder both say, "It
will happen."

The United States has long proclaimed that Latin America is
part of its "sphere of influence," and because of that most
foreign countries have tread carefully in doing business
there. However, in the search for fuel and minerals for its
booming economy, China is openly courting many Latin American
countries regardless of what Washington thinks. On November
15, 2004, President Hu Jintao ended a five day visit to Brazil
during which he signed more than a dozen accords aimed at
expanding Brazil's sales to China and Chinese investment in
Brazil. Under one agreement Brazil will export to China as
much as $800 million annually in beef and poultry. In turn,
China agreed with Brazil's state-controlled oil company to
finance a $1.3 billion gas pipeline between Rio de Janeiro and
Bahia once technical studies are completed. China and Brazil
also entered into a "strategic partnership" with the objective
of raising the value of bilateral trade from $10 billion in
2004 to $20 billion by 2007. President Hu said that this
partnership symbolized "a new international political order
that favored developing countries."

In the weeks that followed, China signed important investment
and trade agreements with Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia,
Chile, and Cuba. Of particular interest, in December 2004,
President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela visited China and agreed to
give it wide-ranging access to his country's oil reserves.
Venezuela is the world's fifth largest oil exporter and
normally sells about 60% of its output to the United States,
but under the new agreements China will be allowed to operate
15 mature oil fields in eastern Venezuela. China will invest
around $350 million to extract oil and another $60 million in
natural gas wells.

China is also working to integrate East Asia's smaller
countries into some form of new economic and political
community. Such an alignment, if it comes into being, will
certainly erode American and Japanese influence in the area.
In November 2004, the ten nations that make up ASEAN or the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Brunei, Burma,
Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines,
Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam), met in the Laotian capital
of Vientiane, joined by the leaders of China, Japan, and South
Korea. The United States was not invited and the Japanese
officials seemed uncomfortable being there. The purpose was to
plan for an East Asian summit meeting to be held in November
2005 to begin creating an "East Asia Community." In December
2004, the ASEAN countries and China also agreed to create a
free-trade zone among themselves by 2010.

According to Edward Cody of the Washington Post , "Trade
between China and the 10 ASEAN countries has increased about
20% a year since 1990, and the pace has picked up in the last
several years." This trade hit $78.2 billion in 2003 and was
reported to be about $100 billion by the end of 2004. As the
senior Japanese political commentator Yoichi Funabashi
observes, "The ratio of intra-regional trade [in East Asia] to
worldwide trade was nearly 52% in 2002. Though this figure is
lower than the 62% in the EU, it tops the 46% of NAFTA [the
North American Free Trade Agreement]. East Asia is thus
becoming less dependent on the U.S. in terms of trade."

China is the primary moving force behind these efforts.
According to Funabashi, China's leadership plans to use the
country's explosive economic growth and its ever more powerful
links to regional trading partners to marginalize the United
States and isolate Japan in East Asia. He argues that the
United States underestimated how deeply distrusted it had
become in the region thanks to its narrow-minded and
ideological response to the East Asian financial crisis of
1997, which it largely caused. On November 30, 2004, Michael
Reiss, the director of policy planning in the State
Department, said in Tokyo, "The U.S., as a power in the
Western Pacific, has an interest in East Asia. We would be
unhappy about any plans to exclude the U.S. from the framework
of dialogue and cooperation in this region." But it is
probably already too late for the Bush administration to do
much more than delay the arrival of a China-dominated East
Asian community, particularly because of declining American
economic and financial strength.

For Japan, the choices are more difficult still. Sino-Japanese
enmity has had a long history in East Asia, always with
disastrous outcomes. Before World War II, one of Japan's most
influential writers on Chinese affairs, Hotsumi Ozaki,
prophetically warned that Japan, by refusing to adjust to the
Chinese revolution and instead making war on it, would only
radicalize the Chinese people and contribute to the coming to
power of the Chinese Communist Party. He spent his life
working on the question "Why should the success of the Chinese
revolution be to Japan's disadvantage?" In 1944, the Japanese
government hanged Ozaki as a traitor, but his question remains
as relevant today as it was in the late 1930s.

Why should China's emergence as a rich, successful country be
to the disadvantage of either Japan or the United States?
History teaches us that the least intelligent response to this
development would be to try to stop it through military force.
As a Hong Kong wisecrack has it, China has just had a couple
of bad centuries and now it's back. The world needs to adjust
peacefully to its legitimate claims -- one of which is for
other nations to stop militarizing the Taiwan problem -- while
checking unreasonable Chinese efforts to impose its will on
the region. Unfortunately, the trend of events in East Asia
suggests we may yet see a repetition of the last Sino-Japanese
conflict, only this time the U.S. is unlikely to be on the
winning side.

Source citations and other references for this Tomgram are
available on the web site of the Japan Policy Research
Institute .

Chalmers Johnson is president of the Japan Policy Research
Institute .  The first two books in his Blowback Trilogy --
Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire , and
The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the
Republic -- are now available in paperback. The third volume
is being written.

Copyright 2005 Chalmers Johnson


"Apocalypse Now and the Brave New World"

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