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The China Fetish By: William R. Hawkins
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, June 15, 2006


Daniel Singer, the late European correspondent for The Nation, was among those on the Left who look to foreign powers for help in thwarting policies of their countries of which they disapprove. In the October 14, 1991 issue of The Nation, Singer lamented the fall of the Soviet Union, “The tanks that brought the Stalinist regime up to the Elbe were the same tanks that had liberated that part of Europe from the Nazis. Even more recently, while infecting all countries that entered its orbit with bureaucratic inefficiency, the Soviet Union was also the only potential external obstacle to the expansion of American imperialism.”

Today, the Left is looking for a new champion to “contain” the United States, and, if possible, impose such a major defeat on America that a crisis of legitimacy will pave the way for revolution. It was, after all, Russia’s debacle in World War I that brought down the Romanov dynasty. And aging New Leftists still revel in how much the anti-war movement during Vietnam changed America, even if the desire to “turn the guns around” and “bring the war home” did not pan out. The attempt to recreate the 1970s mood of national decline by reviving a mass post-9/11 anti-war movement has fallen flat because Islamic fanaticism is a tough sell, even when dressed up in the rhetoric about Third World resistance to Western aggression. Islam has some charm, in that it has long been the main enemy of Christendom, but leftists are rooted in the atheistic materialism of Marx which rejects all religions.

 

Terrorism, of course, appeals to the romantic nature of the Left. But even they know that al-Qaeda is far too weak to pose a real global threat to U.S. hegemony. What they want is the rise of a new superpower to replace the USSR, and many seem to have found it in the People’s Republic of China. Beijing may not be as attractive as it was during the reign of Chairman Mao, when his “little red book” was all the rage, but China is still ruled by a Communist dictatorship and its “market socialism” and five year plans can still offer the “alternative model of  development” that Singer called for in 1989 as the Soviet model disappeared in Europe.

 

It should not be surprising then, that some of the harshest critics of the Bush administration’s military campaigns in the Middle East are shifting their focus to bolstering China’s position in Asia. One of the most prominent organizations of this sort is the Japan Policy Research Institute (JPRI).  It was founded in 1994 by Chalmers Johnson and Steve Clemons, who with Johnson’s wife Sheila, are the only officers.

 

Chalmers Johnson served as chairman of the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of California-Berkeley. Since the invasion of Iraq, he has published two books in a proposed trilogy which he calls “the American Empire project.” The second book, The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (2004), argues that since 9/11, the United States has “undergone a transformation from republic to empire that may well prove irreversible.” U.S. policy is based on “the use or threat of force rather than negotiations, commerce, or cultural interaction” and Johnson claims “a revolution would be required to bring the Pentagon back under democratic control.”

 

It is the first book of the set, Blowback : The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (2003), that shows the link between his interests in China and Japan. It is a polemic history of U.S. imperialism in Asia, where Washington’s misguided opposition to communism in China, Korea and Vietnam blends with stories of crimes committed by American Marines against civilians on Okinawa. Indeed, the JPRI trumpets every alleged incident on Okinawa in an attempt to promote ill-will between Japanese and Americans. In exchange for a tax deductible contribution, the JPRI will provide a DVD about Okinawa that “vividly portrays the dangers and miseries of having Fatenma airbase in their midst.”

 

On May 1 of this year, the United States and Japan finalized plans to consolidate the 50,000 American troops in Japan as part of a broader realignment of the U.S. forces in Asia. The plan will transfer 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam by 2014, and relocate helicopters from Futenma to Nago. Japan will pay $6 billion towards relocating the Marines. But this is not the sign of flagging U.S.-Japanese cooperation that critics have wanted. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said the plan will “create a stronger, sustainable alliance that demonstrates our global partnership and that is one that pushed us forward into the 21st century.”

 

Steven Clemons’ blog daily pounds the Bush administration from any angle he can find, but weakening American resolve and engineering an immediate withdrawal from Iraq are his central themes. Clemons is also the director of the American Strategy program at the New America Foundation (NAF), whose goal is to create a “new” America in the image of “old” social democratic Europe. NAF recently gave a forum to Cem Oezdemir, a Green Party member of the European Parliament and Vice President for the Temporary Committee on the Alleged Use of European Countries by the CIA for the Transport and Illegal Detention of Prisoners. His  mission to Washington was to advance the case for more limits on CIA operations, using European and international law to protect the rights of suspected terrorists.

 

Clemons and Oezdemir are old comrades. They co-authored an article published November 13, 2003 in China Economic Times which described the Department of Defense as “clearly the world’s biggest and richest institutional relic.... suffering from the failure to dismantle its empire superstructure after the Soviet empire collapsed.” They argued against missile defense and called for “the realignment and withdrawal from parts of the globe where American presence may actually be a greater source of instability than stability.” Disarmament and global retreat were pitched as the way to better tailor forces to fight terrorism. Yet, now when the CIA conducts operations against terrorists, they also complain. It is clear their focus is not anti-terrorism, but anti-imperialism.

 

It is also clear why China Economic Times, an official publication of the Beijing regime, would want to promote a call by an American and a European for the downsizing of the Pentagon. Halting the U.S. missile defense program is a top Chinese priority, especially as it has the potential for linking the United States, Japan and other Asian states into an integrated, regional network.

 

A major funder of the New America Foundation is Bernard L. Schwartz, Chairman and CEO of Loral Space & Communications Inc. In 2002, Loral finally settled the case brought against it for providing China with technology that increased the reliability of its space-launch boosters, which are identical to the long-range nuclear missiles built by the same state-run firm. Loral agreed to pay $14 million in civil fines, but never admitted wrong doing. Schwartz and other Loran officials are not stupid. They had to know they were helping China’s nuclear weapons program, but they did not care. They wanted to hire China as a cheap, reliable satellite launcher to boost their corporate profits. Schwartz was the largest single contributor to President Bill Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign and has lobbied hard to loosen export controls on technology sales to China.

 

China’s rise has raised alarms in both Washington and Tokyo, drawing the two long-time democratic allies even closer together. And it is this alliance which the Japan Policy Research Institute is trying to undermine. In a March 2005 JPRI Working Paper “No Longer the ‘Lone’ Superpower: Coming to Terms with China” Johnson attacks the Bush administration for “doing everything in its power to encourage and even accelerate Japanese rearmament.” He argued that “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.”

 

Johnson argues for a policy of appeasement towards China, based on the failure of the United States and Great Britain to sufficiently appease the Axis and Communist powers in the 20th century. He revisionist history goes like this, “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 structure of his last sentence seems to imply it was wrong to oppose Japanese “imperialism and colonialism” in the past when Tokyo was a “new center of power” challenging  the West, but that Tokyo is a source of “arrogance and racism” today because it is allied with the United States. He also seems to forget that both world wars and the Cold War were started when the “new centers” tried to expand by armed force.

 

He continues this error when discussing Taiwan. “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.” asserts Johnson, claiming “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 did join the U.S. for the first time last year in declaring that “peace” in and around Taiwan is a “common security goal.” This is based on the assumption that Taiwan can only be united with the PRC against its will by military aggression from the mainland. Peace maintains the status quo of Taiwan as a self-governing democracy. In contrast, Johnson echoes Beijing’s propaganda by arguing that it is the attempt to deter an attack on Taiwan that is the threat to peace. In should be noted that the U.S.-Japan declaration was a reaction to Beijing’s passage of an “Anti-Secession Law” that reiterated its right to attack the island.

 

Nancy Soderberg, a senior National Security Council staffer during the Clinton administration blames the Bush administration not only for provoking China over Taiwan, but for overreacting when Americans are threatened as well. A Chinese fighter rammed a U.S. Navy EP-3 surveillance aircraft on April 1, 2001 and the plane made an emergency landing on Hainan island. In her book The Superpower Myth: The Use and Misuse of American Might, Soderberg claims “the administration immediately escalated the incident to the Oval Office, rather than giving quiet diplomacy a chance.”

 

There was nothing quiet about the violent interception, which Soderberg acknowledges was over international waters. Besides the issue of the American crew being held captive and their high-tech aircraft being stripped of its equipment, there was another overarching issue at stake which Soderberg completely ignored: China’s push to extend its claims to sovereignty over most of the South China Sea in violation of international law. By accepting Beijing’s line that the crisis was the result not of the collision, but of the crippled plane entering Chinese airspace to land, Soderberg shifts the blame to the U.S. while blurring the definition of what constitutes China’s borders in a way that hems in future American action.

 

Soderberg is now vice president of the International Crisis Group headquartered in Brussels. The main theme of her book is American unilateralism, which does not mean acting without allies; but acting boldly in its own interests. Those who do become allies are to be attacked for cooperating with Washington.

 

This is the mission of the JPRI , which wages a smear campaign against Tokyo. A JPRI Critique published in January 2006 sought to explain “Why the Chinese are so Anti-Japanese.” It starts with the claim that “the single most important fact is that WWII is only one of many episodes of Japanese aggression.” It then moves on argue “many Chinese regard Japanese as ingrates. Historically, Japan borrowed much from Chinese civilization, including institutions, its written language, architecture, and even clothing.... Japan, as a student nation, seems never to have missed an opportunity for harassing, bullying, and invading China.” The article was written by Shaohua Hu, a former fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Science now teaching at Wagner College in New York. 

 

Any attempt by Japan to act like a normal country is denounced. For example, JPRI board member Kozy K. Amemiya, writing in the September 1999 JPRI Critique, denounced an overwhelming vote in the Diet legally recognizing the Japanese flag and national anthem as an act of “blind patriotism” that will “turn Japan further to the right.”

 

In “Koizumi’s Coup” Gavan McCormack, a frequent contributor to JPRI publications, attacked Japan’s electoral system in the September-October issue of New Left Review. He argued for reforms that would give not only give the left-leaning Democratic Party of Japan more seats in the Diet, but also the further left Social Democratic and Communist parties. McCormack did not like the fact that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s Liberal Democrats and its coalition partner the Buddhist Komeito (Clean Government) Party, had increased their parliamentary majority in the 2005 election. In an earlier column for Japan Focus, McCormack voiced his dislike for Koizumi’s “deeply embedded convention of simply following the U.S.” and would prefer that the Japanese Prime Minister follow an “autonomous, Asia-oriented foreign policy” that would, among other things, abandon support for the American opposition to North Korea’s nuclear program.

 

McCormack is an Australian academic whose 2004 book Target North Korea: Pushing North Korea to the Brink of Nuclear Catastrophe blames Washington and Tokyo for backing Pyongyang into a corner where deploying nuclear weapons is its only “realist”option. It was the product of The Nation’s publishing house, Nation Books.

 

The road on the Left starts in Iraq and leads to Beijing, but it is a two-way street. Masaru Tamamoto, editor of the Japan Institute of International Affairs journal Commentary, wrote in the April 26, 2006 issue, “the bulk and core of the Japanese foreign policy establishment sees no wisdom in imagining a world without American protection. The current dispatch of Japanese troops to Iraq as part of the American ‘coalition of the willing’-Japan's first military venture abroad since 1945 without United Nations cover-is not unrelated to the Japanese calculation of the rise of China; the American insurance premium has gone up.” He goes on to note that “it is only recently that those [Japanese] trained in strategy, mostly at American and British graduate schools, are beginning to find university and think tank jobs. They are on the whole injecting the realist assumption of conflict into Japanese discourse, introducing notions like balance of power, deterrence, land and sea powers, pre-emptive and preventive wars. They see that China poses the classic security problem of a rising power upsetting the status quo relations among great powers, which historically has tended toward conflict.”

 

Taro Aso, Japan's foreign minister and a likely candidate to succeed Koizumi as prime minister, already sees the danger. Speaking in Washington at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Aso warned “Throughout the history of mankind, sudden rise of a new power has created both promises and tensions. China's recent development, because of its unprecedented speed, seems to have also created both. A shining face of new prosperity and affluence in today's China is not without risks and potential problems.” In March, he drew a protest from Beijing for remarks to a parliamentary committee regarding Taiwan. He said “its democracy is considerably matured and liberal economics is deeply ingrained, so it is a law-abiding country. In various ways it is a country that shares a sense of values with Japan.” These comments were similar to those made by President Bush on his Asian tour in November last year when he put Taiwan in the same camp as Japan and South Korea as successful democracies.

 

The new  “Japan bashers”want to stifle any return to normal defense and foreign policy thinking in Tokyo because they see it as a support for America’s preeminent position in Asia. For this same reason, those who favor continued American leadership in world affairs need to defend a broader, deeper alliance between Washington and Tokyo.

 

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William Hawkins is a consultant on international economics and national security issues.


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