China-US Cold War and what we can do about it

Can it be denied that the US is actively engaging China’s border nations in an attempt to contain and control China? It seems pretty clear to most observers that such was the case years ago – Kissinger commented on the idea of containment back in 2005 – but with the recent moves in Myanmar and Darwin, it seems quite clear that the US has no intention of “sitting back” while China slowly takes control of the Pacific.

Is that even the case, that China was “taking control of the Pacific”? Now we can never really now because containment implies, and in a very clear way demands, a reciprocating outward pressure from China itself to puncture the box. A city won’t start digging trenches and tunnels and seeking ways out of a siege until it finds itself besieged.

The map below shows “reliable” and “affiliated” countries in the US containment effort:

The noose around the dragon's neck

So the picture shows pink countries as reliable: Afghanistan, Vietnam, Australia, Japan, S. Korea, Taiwan and to a lesser extent Georgia and Turkey. Countries “to be affiliated” are in red: India, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Kyrgyz-, Uzebek- and Kazakhstan. Little American flags denote military bases/presence. The map comes via Heartland, a geopolitical review that also has this article on the situation: Obama and China, 21st Century Containment in Three Moves.

Michael Klare goes in depth into the issues of energy and international waters and a possible Cold War in Asia on TomDispatch.com, concluding that Obama’s moves in Asia (Marines in Darwin, Clinton in Myanmar etc) are “playing with fire”:

“As the underlying nature of the new Obama strategic blueprint becomes clearer, there can be no question that the Chinese leadership will, in response,take steps to ensure the safety of China’s energy lifelines.  Some of these moves will undoubtedly be economic and diplomatic, including, for example, efforts to court regional players like Vietnam and Indonesia as well as major oil suppliers like Angola, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia.  Make no mistake, however: others will be of a military nature.  A significant buildup of the Chinese navy — still small and backward when compared to the fleets of the United States and its principal allies — would seem all but inevitable.  Likewise, closer military ties between China and Russia, as well as with the Central Asian member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan), are assured.”

Indeed China has already signed an agreement with the tiny Seychelles Islands that provides the Chinese navy with a base in the Indian ocean to “seek supplies and recuperate,” which no doubt might include policing of the Somali coast, quick access to the Persian Gulf and a base of operations that, although far away from the hectic waters of the South Pacific, is no less vital to China’s strategic interests. Below a Google map of the islands:

View Larger Map

A Game of Go

An example of "mutual life" in the game of Go

The game of Go (围棋) is truly a perfect simulation of a Cold War. The philosophy of the game is to encircle the opponent and cut off all means of escape, thereby swallowing up space and creating “eyes,” or safe spaces, that are too solid to be swallowed. The key to the game is the fact that you can place a piece anywhere, anytime. And someone once told me that no two Go games are the same because there are an infinite number of options to be played.

Whenever I hear or read something about modern Chinese leaders making decisions based on ancient texts or philosophies (Sun Tzu, the Tao, Go) I have to suppress a snicker. I find it hard to believe that today’s politicians could be so astute and wise. This isn’t a Kung Fu movie after all.

But then again, we in the West take for granted decisions and thinking that are informed and reinforced by culture and education. How can we not assume that the Chinese, accustomed to the big picture style of Cold War conflict that is the basis of Go as they are, will not find a way to slip through the net, create eyes and perhaps eventually snatch “victory from defeat.”

I put “victory from defeat” in quotations because Go has another deep and profound philosophy at its heart: there is no winner. At least not in the winer-take-all system that we might assume is the basis for all games. In fact, a victor in the game of Go will undoubtedly sacrifice large portions of the board in return for a slight, but distinct advantage. Or even a slight and not so distinct advantage. Go is an elegant game and rarely will you see tempers flare over a match, because the game reflects the idea of “mutual benefit and peaceful rise.”

They must be lying …

I admit that I too find it hard to believe in China’s “harmonious society” or the ideas of “mutual benefit and peaceful rise.” But why is that? Why do I find it so easy to believe that the US is engaging in a containment strategy, regardless of what the talking-heads in Washington say, but cannot even consider that China’s politicians are sincere in their hope for a harmonious, peaceful society in which all benefit?

Doesn’t that seem ass-backward, in terms of what I should believe? Isn’t everything I have ever written, said or practiced in my personal life a testament to my true hope for the society China purports to be building and not the reality the US is preparing for? I think we need to re-consider our outlooks and remember that our perception of reality is often just a precursor for that reality coming to be. We call it a self-fulfilling prophecy or, for the more hippy-minded, manifestation, but basically it means that what I want to have happen will happen because consciously and sub-consciously, I make decisions that help that reality come to be.

So back to the real:

China and the US see each other as threats and are gearing up for a Cold War. Both nations are using the tools at their disposal to convince other nations that there is indeed a threat on the other side of the Pacific and it is in their best interests to align with one side in order to avoid being swallowed up by the other.

But this interaction is at one level of society, when the true reality is a much less tense interaction on countless other levels. Once again the agenda is being hijacked by a minority of interests who claim to speak for all of us: politicians looking to stay in power, energy conglomerates looking to cash in, militaries looking for reasons to exist and extremists on both sides projecting their own deep, personal issues onto a national and international forum.

What we as “China Bloggers” and expats can do to influence the discussion is to continue writing, first and foremost, but also seek to translate our stories into Chinese and vice versa. We need to talk to each other a lot more. Yeeyan.org translated two of my stories recently and they have translated others as well, including an essay on hukou reform in Chengdu. Maybe some of you have also had your stories translated, you have to search to find out because Yeeyan unfortunately does not contact any of the authors …

I am personally not interested in this type of shit anymore. ChinaBuzz, ChinaSmack and ChinaHush have some great stuff, but more often then not they have smut and filth. There is no reason why this should be the centerpiece of Sino-US blogger interaction.

Perhaps the founders of HaoHaoReport or other similar blogs should consider a translation service for Weibo and also perhaps reaching out to Yeeyan. We may be powerless in the face of massive, billion-dollar geopolitical moves across a vast chess board, but we are not voiceless. Perhaps all of this will devolve into a struggle for power and even hot war as some analysts predict. So be it. But while we are here writing and living, we should must take responsibility for our own reality.

We can start by sharing our perceptions and seeing where it goes from there.

Feel free to comment or email me.

5 thoughts on “China-US Cold War and what we can do about it

  1. Pingback: Hao Hao Report
  2. Timely piece Sascha, this is certainly where my mind is going these days. There is going to be nothing more important, in my opinion, than trying to bring these various voices to the table – and not to some high-tech battle-suite in some military headquarters on some side of the Pacific somewhere.

    I believe that before we have “real” localized democracy within any of our countries, we are going to have to have some kind of greater global management structures between our countries. We have to work on that and the edges of nationalism, manage the resources of our planet, and then work out how best for people to fully participate in the management of their own lives.

  3. It should come as no surprise that the US is following a two-pronged approach to China; 1) trying to cooperate with China and bring it further into the international system (ie, military-to-military talks) while 2) simultaneously preparing for conflict if it comes. It should come as no surprise because the US has clearly stated this is what it is doing. Seems very reasonable to me.

  4. @Richard that’s an interesting point about needing supra-govt before we can have micro-govt. It makes sense in a way – if the resource wars and international posturing was reduced to a very low hum, easily managed, then there would be less need for heavy handed techniques at home to quell the malcontents that arise from pursuing national interests over citizens interests

    @Jay You are absolutely right – the US has been quite forthcoming about transparency between militaries, in decision making and in terms of what they would like to have China do economically – usually reasonable stuff, but often clear selfish interests and political posturing.

    China is bellicose and clumsy when there is an actual disagreement over something internationally and domestically they are much cruder with their control methods than the US, so I suppose you could say that the US is reasonable and China is not.

    But I find that a bit simple. I think both have their wise sides and stupid sides, in this essay I am calling for action amongst my peers to help counteract the stupid side.

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