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Date Posted: 23:00 21/02/2005

China-US: It's War!

Deliberate misunderstandings and mutual distrust become the norm.

WHAT CAN you do when the world's two most powerful countries square up to one another and start baring their teeth? Deliberate misunderstandings and mutual distrust have become the norm between China and the United States, and some escalated form of conflict could well be inevitable. Among the issues that have caused distress in the US in recent weeks is the development of Chinese military capacity and a prediction by Porter Goss, the new head of the CIA, that China's naval fleet will be bigger than the US within a decade. Both sides seem to be gearing themselves up for a symbolic battle over the future of Taiwan, the fate of which has massive implications for the prestige and reputation of each country, but the growing conflict is much wider than Taiwan.

The diplomatic dynamics of the US-China relationship are now very predictable. Some US government agency or representative makes a statement about the future of Taiwan and US obligations towards its defence, and China responds by stressing the territorial integrity of China and castigating the US for giving out the 'wrong signals'. Some US government agency or representative makes a number of alarmed noises about the size of China's army and its pursuit of more sophisticated military technology, and China responds by accusing the US of reverting to 'cold war mentality' and saying that China is committed to a 'peaceful rise'.

Last week, Porter Goss said that China's military build-up was altering the balance of power on the Taiwan Strait. Then, on Sunday, a joint statement by the US and Japan put Taiwan on the 'common strategic objectives' of both countries. Both these statements were met with a salvo of invective from China's Foreign Affairs spokesman, Kong Quan.

But this has been going on for some time. The US China Economic and Security Review Commission put the fear of God into every American by claiming, in a report submitted to Congress and published last year, that China is now the biggest threat to peace and democracy, or, putting it in sober diplomatic-speak, that 'a number of the current trends in U.S.-China relations have negative implications for our longterm economic and national security interests'.

They also brought more attention to the sensational rumours that China has developed a sophisticated laser cannon ready to be deployed against Taiwan from the Fujian coast. The authors suggested that military conflict between China and the United States was inevitable.

Their concerns weren't solely military. The report repeated the usual gripes about China's exchange rate practices, and its patchy record of compliance with the WTO. It also mentioned a number of public offerings by Chinese enterprises on overseas stock markets, despite the country's substandard system of corporate governance.

This all followed on from a US Defense Department report about China's alarming rise in military spending. At that point, the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry again criticized the US for 'trying to interfere in the internal affairs' of the People's Republic, and engaging in 'Cold War thinking'. Cold Wars are better than hot wars, in Running Dog's humble surrender-monkey opinion. But quite unlike the forty-year US-Soviet stalemate, thousands of US enterprises - including one involving George W. Bush's less-talented younger brother, Neil - actually have a stake in the 'stable development' of China.

China, of course, has a notoriously sensitive national psyche, and even the mildest and most trivial of solecisms or diplomatic faux pas is tantamount to occupying Hainan Island in the glorious name of Emperor Hirohito, and will be subject to angry denunciations from the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the nation's bustling online message boards. Still, the reports emerging from the United States in recent months have been disturbing. The Pentagon report noted that China's military spending had reached somewhere between 50 and 70 billion US dollars, making China's army the third most expensive in the world. It said that Beijing was rigorously expanding its offensive military capability, and could be a world class military force in ten to fifteen years.

The official rebuttal of that report by Xinhua said that China's military capabilities were being 'painstakingly exaggerated', and that spending would actually reach a little more more than 20 billion dollars in 2004. It pointed out, quite reasonably, that in any case, the figure was a mere fraction of the US defence budget, which was expected to reach over 400 billion dollars last year, almost half of the world's total military spending.

But lost in all this was the latest China Development Report released by the China Academy of Sciences last Friday, which states that China will become a developed country by 2080, when income levels will be similar to other industrialized nations. Such targets present profound social, economic and logistical problems. China, already the second largest crude oil importer and the second biggest producer of carbon dioxide emissions, needs more and more resources. To guarantee supply lines, it also needs to boost its military capability, and develop military and economic partnerships with neighbouring countries like Kazakhstan, Russia and Burma. It is already vying with Japan for Siberian oil and gas resources, and also for control over disputed oil-rich areas in the East China Sea. Furthermore, its efforts to boost exports from Venezuela put it in direct conflict with the United States. With recent reports suggesting that Venezuela might have to reduce exports to the US in order to meet its supply commitments to China, it becomes very clear why the US is so anxious to undermine the left-wing presidency of Hugo Chavez.

And so, the problems are not in any way ideological. 'The planned economy is not the ideal way of development,' admits the China Development Report, which does not even pay lip service to the idea – formulated in the early years of reform - that China is now in 'the primary stage of socialism', thus justifying the introduction of capitalism. Both countries are of course pursuing similar global strategies, establishing close political relationships with dubious governments in order to protect their interests, and doing their utmost to bend international diplomatic and trading rules to maximize their own benefits. China and the US have more in common than they often care to realize.

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