- Date published:
10:27 am, August 25th, 2020 - 23 comments
Categories: australian politics, China, colonialism, Donald Trump, Free Trade, International, Joe Biden, us politics, war - Tags:
The Trump administration has declared war on China, and there is much speculation in the punditry as to whether or not this is a new Cold War similar to that waged post World War 2 against Russia. In my opinion, the 19th century Opium Wars may offer a more appropriate analogy, albeit with a likely different outcome.
Google “cold war China” and you will get close to 300,000,000 results. Their top article a couple of days ago today featured an interview in Asahi Shimbun with John Mearsheimer, Chicago University professor and political scientist. He is described as a “theorist of offensive realism,” and argues thus:
Asked about whether since the Covid-19 outbreak, the countries had begun a ‘real cold war’, Mearsheimer says that the ‘real cold war’ had begun before the coronavirus, and that the pandemic did not “matter much”.
He says that even ideology does not play a big role in the nations’ conflict. The real deal, Mearsheimer says, is the balance of power. “China has become so powerful over the past 20 years. There is a serious chance that (China) could become a regional hegemon in Asia,” he says in the interview, adding that the US does not tolerate peer competitors and the idea that China is going to become a regional hegemon is unacceptable to the nation.
The 20th century Cold War with Russia was framed as an ideological conflict, of capitalism versus communism, and fought on the basis of military competition and spending which the Soviet Union could not ultimately compete. Its collapse saw the looting of the State under President Yeltsin.
Mearsheimer does not believe that the US-China rivalry is principally ideological.
He explains how it was this “clash of interests” generated by the fundamental change taking place in the balance of power, which was driving the competition. “And I would note that you’ll hear a lot of talk about the fact that the United States is a liberal democracy, and that China is a communist state. And, therefore, this is an ideological clash,” he said.
As to where this might lead, Mearsheimer draws parallels with the start of World War 1
According to him, the experts at the time had said that there was a tremendous amount of economic interdependence in Europe, which is why no one would dare start a war. “But nevertheless, we had World War I,” he says, explaining that while nations can have economic cooperation, there was also “security competition.”
He says that the economic cooperation between US and China is slowly beginning to disappear, and there was now economic competition as well as security competition.
He told Asahi Shimbun that US has its “gun sights on Huawei”, and would like to destroy it, as they want to remain on the cutting edge of modern sophisticated technologies.
In my opinion, this is the heart of the matter. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s main crime has been to declare the “Made-in China 2025” strategy. A briefing paper for the US congress offers an. analysis and specifically in relation to Huawei says:
Since May 2019, the Administration has tightened control over dual-use exports to China’s telecom firm Huawei, restricted the use of universal funds to purchase Huawei equipment, and sought to dissuade foreign governments from using Huawei products in their 5G networks.
An article last weekend in the Economist is headlined “America closes the last loophole in its hounding of Huawei.” Trump’s edict in the forced sale of TikTok to an American company, most likely Microsoft, in my opinion is nothing more or less than an act of state piracy.
And this is where the similarity to the Opium Wars comes in. In the early 19th century, Britain’s return on tea sales from India was declining and opium was a more profitable crop. Chinese silks and porcelains were highly desired, but the Chinese wish to be paid for these luxury goods in silver was not. Britain wanted to pay with opium, and when the Imperial legate ordered their stocks in Canton destroyed, superior British gunnery forced the 1842 Treaty of Nanjing which allowed payment in opium, ceded Hong Kong to Britain, and brought misery to millions of Chinese.
The Treaty of Nanjing came two years after the Treaty of Waitangi. Every Chinese knows about the Treaty of Nanjing, just as nearly every Maori and many pakeha now know about the Treaty of Waitangi. They live in current consciousness. But the lesson China learned from the Opium wars is not to be caught again with inferior military technology, and in their region they won’t be.
This creates a very dangerous situation for us as well. Every US wargame with China leads either to defeat or nuclear war. And the traditional US response to challenge is to double down, so the risks of accidental conflict are very high. The US has pulled out of the Intermediate Forces nuclear agreement, and wishes China to join its renegotiation. China is willing to consider doing this, if the US reduces its nuclear warheads to the same number as the 300 or so the Chinese possess. What US withdrawal does mean however that China may be ringed with short-range nuclear missiles as is Russia. The US Marines have changed their Pacific strategy from seaborne invasion to missile placement.
Back to John Mearsheimer. He does not believe things will change under a Biden administration, and he does not think the Chinese do either.
He says while he was in China for 17 days in October 2019, he talked to many Chinese foreign policy leaders. He points out that almost everyone he talked to believed that it didn’t matter whether Trump won or lost the presidential elections, in terms of US-China relations “The Chinese believe that the Americans have their gun sight on China, and nothing is going to change that. I think they are correct,” he told Asahi Shimbun.
What is likely to change if Biden becomes President is a much greater emphasis on alliance building, as his administration attempts to contrast themselves with Trump’s bullying. That means immense pressure will come on New Zealand from the US and from Australia to join the new Opium wars.
For a small nation like ours dependent on trade and committed to peace, that would be a real disaster.