"I will not flinch from...WAR!"

Our ruling elite just might be stupid and sociopathic enough to go to war with China.

Speaking of America’s bipartisan drive for a War With China, Mark Ames alerted me to a great recent interview. It’s with Chas Freeman, a retired career diplomat who first worked with China back during the Nixon Administration. He talks about the views of America’s political elite and criticizes their inability to think about China outside a narrow, militarized clash-of-civilization frame. He says that when Americans look at China, they don’t see China as it actually exists — what they see is America and America’s own imperial ambitions and history reflected back at them. They’re seeing themselves. It’s the Solaris effect that Adam Curtis talked about in Bitter Lake.

If this interview had run in The Grayzone, it would have immediately have been labeled as tankie propaganda for the evil CCP. And it’s scary because if what he says is true — and it feels true — it signals that we are truly fucked: our ruling elite just might be stupid and sociopathic enough to go to war with China.

Below is an excerpt of the interview, but I recommend reading the whole thing in full. It has probably the best line illustrating the absurd anti-China campaign being whipped up now: “I think what is happening to the Uighurs is awful — no doubt about it. We do not, however, know what’s happening to them,” says Chas Freeman. That sums it up, don’t it? It’s like a bit out of Chris Morris’ The Day Today.

What is the root cause of the United States’ desire to confront China?

I think the rudimentary driver of the United States’ confrontation with China is psychology, not strategy. We became the world’s largest economy sometime in the 1870s. That’s 150 years ago. Now we’ve either already been eclipsed, or we’re about to be eclipsed, by China. So we’re afraid of not being number one and we’ve decided that we will hamstring the rise of China. No one on the American side has described where this confrontation is supposed to take us—it’s just an end in itself. Also, we have exercised military primacy in the Asia-Pacific region since 1945. Now, we confront the return of China to wealth and power in the region. And our position in the Asia-Pacific is precarious. What does that mean? It means that we object to things like China’s anti-access and area denial weapon system (A2/AD), otherwise known as defense. The Chinese now can stop us from running through their defenses. So this is a threat: we’re not all-powerful anymore. We are in danger of losing primacy.

But there’s not much evidence of China wanting to replace us. They are displacing us in some spheres because they’re big and growing and successful. Do they want to take on our global dominion and hegemony role? No, but we assert that they do. We posit that China thinks and behaves like us: “We had Manifest Destiny and it took us across the Pacific to the Philippines. Therefore, China must have a Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny in mind.” This is wrong. Things don’t work like that. So I would argue that we have inhaled our own propaganda, and we are living in the appropriately stoned state that that produces. If we have sound policies, we can out-compete anyone. But we’re not looking at sound policies; we’re looking at pulling down our competitor.

Isn’t the Belt and Road Initiative indicative of China’s desire to expand its influence, if not “replace” our hegemonic role on the global stage?

The initial impulse of the Belt and Road Initiative was that China had a surplus capacity in steel, cement, aluminum, and construction capability—and it extended these resources abroad. Then China looked at what it was doing and said, “Actually, it would be really good if Lisbon was connected to Vladivostok efficiently, and Arkhangelsk was connected to Colombo. Maybe we could throw in Mombasa, too. This would create a huge interconnected area in which trade and investment could flow smoothly.” So, actually, a major part of the BRI is an agreement on tariffs, customs barrier treatment, transit, and bonded storage. It is the construction of roads, railroads, airports, ports, industrial parks, fiber optic cables, et cetera, over this huge area. 

And the Chinese assumption—not aspiration, but assumption—is that as the largest and most dynamic society in that area, they will be the preeminent force in it. But this is an economic strategy, it’s not a military one. So the problem we have conceptually is that the only way we, the United States, know how to think about international affairs is in military terms. Our foreign policy is very militarized and is driven by military considerations. 

China has rejected the U.S. State Department’s characterization of its treatment of Uighurs in the Xinjiang region as “genocide.” Do you agree with this characterization?

I think what is happening to the Uighurs is awful—no doubt about it. We do not, however, know exactly what’s happening to them. There are terms like genocide being thrown around, which may not fit the case. But I think it is entirely appropriate that we express the view that the treatment of the Uighurs is appalling. What are we going to do about it? It is a complicated situation. I hate to keep coming back to American hypocrisy, but why does the Muslim world not line up with us on the Uighur situation? Because when was the last time we said anything about the Palestinians, Kashmiris, or Chechens? There are Muslims being oppressed all over the world, and we don’t say anything. So selective outrage isn’t very effective.

—Yasha Levine

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