The Anti-War Movement Needs to Be Alert to Growing Western Belligerence Towards China
Our task is to roll back western belligerence to China in order to avert growing military competition says Chris Nineham
Not a week goes by without a new attack by Donald Trump on the Chinese and their government. Last week, as well as confirming that the US will pull out of the World Health Organisation because it is apparently too close to China, the US stepped up its efforts to extradite senior Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou who was arrested in Canada in 2018. This is part of a campaign which appears to be aiming to bring down the company, the world's largest telecom equipment maker, which is absolutely central to the Chinese economy.
These are more than insults and provocations. They are measures that are likely to materially affect China’s economy and its standing in the world and are therefore bound to deepen the growing rift between the two countries.
The seriousness of the crisis can be seen in the US’s military preparations. The ‘pivot to the East’ initiated by President Obama has recently been accelerated in what the Wall Street Journal calls in a headline, a ‘plan to retool to meet China threat’. In all, approximately $1.5billion dollars looks like being assigned to develop and produce new military technology and to refocus the Marines from combatting insurgents in the Middle East to developing the ability to hop from island to island in the western Pacific to bottle up the Chinese fleet.
A recent report outlining some of these measures by the US Indo-Pacific Command explains that they are designed to persuade potential adversaries that ‘any pre-emptive military action will be extremely costly and likely fail by projecting credible combat power’.
China too has increased its military activity. At the end of April this year, Beijing announced that it had officially established two new districts in the South China Sea that covered dozens of contested islets and reefs. Chinese vessels and forces have been involved in new exercises in the South China Sea, including making a number of incursions into waters claimed by Indonesia and near the Natuna Islands.
A sharp turn is taking place in the British government on the question of its relations with China. For most of the last decade the Conservatives have fallen over themselves to build close ties with the country and they have regularly tapped up Beijing for inward investment.
Former Prime Minister David Cameron and his Chancellor George Osborne celebrated their period in office as a “golden era” in relations with the country. Until recently Boris Johnson has also taken a pro-China approach. Now Foreign Minister Dominic Raab insists “we can’t have business as usual” with China, British intelligence agencies are arguing that “strategic industries” open to Chinese infiltration must be blocked from take-overs. There is even a new “China Research Group” within the Conservative Party headed up by Beijing critic Tom Tugendhat.
As well as leading to potential confrontations in the South China Sea, these multi-level escalations will create increased tensions in many parts of the world. Existing local or regional wars can be exacerbated, and new flare-ups are likely as all sorts of relations become more and more inflected by this great power rivalry. Trump’s February trip to see Prime Minister Modi in India for example was widely seen as an attempt to tighten relations between the US and China’s biggest rival in Asia. It involved sealing a $3.5 billion arms deal with India which included the sale of helicopters designed to be able to attack and destroy Chinese submarines.
The US led campaign against Iran can only be intensified as US-China relations deteriorate and US opposition to the Maduro regime in Venezuela has hardened as China has become Venezuela’s biggest trading partner.
The anti-war movement needs to be alert to these dangers. We also have to directly challenge the arguments used to justify hostility to China. If it is not challenged anti-Chinese propaganda will also lead to the further spreading of racism against Chinese people around the world.
Our opposition to our own government’s warmongering does not imply support for the Chinese regime, any more than our opposition to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq implied support for the Taliban or Saddam Hussein. Our task is to roll back western belligerence to China in order to avert growing military competition, further wars and xenophobia.
Most of all we have to show that the dangers in the situation flow mainly from the fact that the US, supported loyally by the British government, is responding to growing competition with China with a series of dangerous provocations.
The anti-war movement has had a significant impact since the Iraq War, helping to generate widespread opposition to foreign wars particularly in the Middle East. Now we are entering a new phase in which China has become the western powers’ main enemy and the Asia Pacific the main theatre for the US military. The movement needs to take this threat seriously and build the broadest possible campaign against it.