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An Anti-Interventionist Looks at China

Once in a while, I run across an article that resonates deep with me. 

Most discussion of China in the mainstream press, especially the left-liberal press, focuses on China’s “human rights” record, or freedom of press and speech, or labor issues, or family planning policies. One may argue endlessly about those matters. But they are China’s internal affairs, and for a genuine anti-interventionist, they are none of our government’s business and have no place in setting foreign policy. There is a world of difference between an anti-interventionist and an advocate for “humanitarian” imperialism, witting or not. How does an anti-interventionist look at China?

Let us begin with some stubborn, cold, hard facts about the U.S. and China. In very round numbers, the world’s annual GDP is about $60 trillion. The U.S. accounts for $15 trillion, the EU for $15 trillion, and China and Japan for about $5 trillion each, with China about to pull a bit ahead of Japan this year. The per capita GDP of the U.S. is about $46,000 and that of China is about $4,000. In sum, China is still a developing country, though one with a very large aggregate GDP. It is number two to the U.S. but not a close number two, and it trails the developed world considerably in its standard of living.

What about trade? Is China not the world’s largest exporter? Yes, it is, but until last year, it was number two; Germany was number one – and Germany has slipped now to number two. So Germany with its high wages and generous social benefits was able to outdo both the U.S. and China in exports until recently. How did Germany do this? By exporting high quality, high tech, well-branded goods. (Germany has not outsourced production to other countries as has the U.S.) In fact, as China came into the number one exporter spot, its leaders proclaimed that they were not really number one but number one only in quantity. They said China’s goal was to follow in Germany’s path to become an exporter of “high tech, high quality, well-branded goods.” Why can’t the U.S. do this instead of blaming China for its unemployment?

What about China as a military “threat” to the U.S.? The U.S. now spends about $1 trillion a year on “national security,” a staggering 1 dollar in 15 of our total GDP and 1 dollar in 60 of the world’s GDP, a colossal waste. And that does not include the military spending forced upon our “allies,” the NATO countries, South Korea, Japan, and now India. Simply to equal U.S. military spending alone China would have to spend 20 percent of its GDP on the military, an impossibility unless development is forsaken. Its navy is not powerful, but soon it will at least be able to patrol and defend the nearby seas. Most assuredly the U.S. will not for long be able to sail aircraft carriers within sight of China’s shores – and that is to the good. It will make for less tension. Consider how the U.S. would react if a Chinese fleet were conducting maneuvers within sight of Los Angeles or Seattle.

Next, let us consider U.S. military doctrine in the ways it might affect relations with China. U.S. doctrine is clear and unchanging from one administration to the next since the end of the Cold War. No country is to be allowed to come close to the U.S. in military might. The most explicit statement of this came in the Defense Planning Guide for 1994-1999, a secret document prepared in 1992 and leaked to the New York Times and Washington Post. “Our first objective,” the highly classified document stated, “is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union.” From the outset Obama has left no doubt that the policy of permanent military superiority continues under him, proclaiming just after his election, on the occasion of appointing his “foreign policy team” of Clinton, Gates, and others that “we all share the belief we have to maintain the strongest military on the planet.” Just last week Pentagon chief Robert Gates declared in a speech in Tokyo that the 47,000 troops in Japan were there to “keep China’s rising power in check” and so will remain for the indefinite future. One must also conclude that the wars in Central Asia, the implantation of U.S. bases right on China’s back doorstep, and the courting of India over the past 10 years are also part of the “containment” policy, whatever other purposes those wars and bases may have. This dimension of the U.S. wars is rarely discussed in the mainstream or liberal press.

The implications of this doctrine are pernicious in the extreme. First, the very threat encourages those who might want to be friends to arm themselves to preserve their independence and sovereignty. Second, and much more important, military might grows out of economic power, as we have known at least since Thucydides. Thus the U.S. is declaring that China cannot have a total GDP that comes close to that of the U.S. Let us consider the consequences of that. What would it mean for China if it achieved an aggregate GDP not larger that of the U.S. but simply the same size? Quite simply, since China has four or five times our population, it would mean that China would have a per capita GDP one fourth of ours – or about $10,000 a year. That means unending poverty for the Chinese people. Thus China is forced to choose between poverty or provoking the ire of the U.S. Such is the iron logic of U.S. military policy.

The U.S. must either content itself to be eclipsed by China in the economic and therefore military sphere if indeed China continues to be successful in developing – or prevent China from rising to the standard of living in Europe and the U.S. That is the meaning of the policy of “containing China.” Sadly, this policy also forecloses a win-win outcome whereby China, the U.S., and the entire globe prosper. U.S. policy dictates a win-lose outcome. Such is the bellicose strategy and dismal future dictated by U.S. military policy. And in the sweet talk from Obama and Clinton leading up to the visit of President Hu Jintao of China, there has been no suggestion of a change in U.S. military policy, not even a hint of such a change. It is long overdue.

Now I do not think the U.S. is pursuing a targeted containment policy on China per se, but I do know that the U.S. (and the West in general under the shadow of the U.S.) is pursuing an aggressive military policy around the world  – a policy that is sustained and consistent across American administrations. 
The facts of U.S. military spending, posture, and acts speak volumes for themselves.

The article is focused on U.S. – China relations. But for the good of the U.S. and the rest of the world, U.S. militarism has to end … and soon ….

  1. Charles Liu
    January 20th, 2011 at 11:46 | #1

    Agree, American Exceptionalism has always dominated our foreign policy post WWII, not just towards China but all over the world.

  2. colin
    January 20th, 2011 at 14:06 | #2

    The US doctrine is very rational. I doubt another nation in the same situation would do something drastically different. The question is, can it continue to uphold this doctrine. The massive spending on military is money the US can otherwise put to other uses. Eventually, this and other bills come due. What does the US do then?

  3. colin
    January 20th, 2011 at 14:59 | #3

    And I wouldn’t be surprised if China is egging on the US to spend more on it’s military to speed up America’s bankruptcy. The J20 incident might be just towards that end.

  4. January 20th, 2011 at 15:07 | #4

    This was a long time ago, but one of the foreign policy classes I took, the professor’s position with respect to Reagan’s Start Wars program was to quicken the bankruptcy of the Soviet Union.

    In that last link Allen provided to, I argued the U.S. will be forcing South Korea and Japan to pay even more in U.S. occupation expenses. We will see that happening with all host/occupied countries as America tries to reign in military budget in the coming decades.

    Another clue – forcing Japan to buy a fleet of J35 is the same as forcing Japan to invest in that fighter program. All under the control of the U.S..

  5. r v
    January 21st, 2011 at 05:56 | #5

    It might not be a US policy per se to contain any country, but it’s per se US mentality to constantly running a list of “biggest threats”, and hyping dangers.

    That simply sets out a mentality of the zero-sum game.

    Of course, as China grows, it will compete, and Chinese competitions will be fierce. (I mean, just look at how Chinese kids take Middle School, high school, university entrance exams, and you can get an idea of the fierce competitiveness that the Chinese kids are brought up to face.)

    The problem is, US’s definition of “cooperation” sounds more like “force others to capitulate”.

    But news/fact flash, “cooperation” is a 2 way street, you have to GIVE, then you might get to take. And rich countries should not be expecting EQUAL returns from poor countries, that’s just unrealistic.

  6. tc
    January 21st, 2011 at 06:26 | #6

    ‘… US’s definition of “cooperation” sounds more like “force others to capitulate”.’ — You bet.

  7. January 21st, 2011 at 09:27 | #7

    On the “give and take”, things are indeed normative between the rich and the poor. For example, China’s WTO entry were based on developing country status. In that, the U.S. officially recognized and China negotiated for a time-table to only fully open certain other industries later.

    Note though, many English ‘China’ blogs in the West stubbornly say China is protectionist. These people and the Western media are willfully ignoring this normative concept which their governments have accepted. And their governments ‘discriminate’ and don’t recognize China a market economy thus allowing them a lot of excuses to put tariff’s on Chinese imports.

    ALL that said, at the end it is still indeed give and take. China’s position in the world is a lot about what she can ‘give.’ Right now, she ‘gives’ a lot, because she’s help fueling many economies. The U.S. can make Asians insecure about China, but a lot has to do with the fact nobody wants to publicly upset the big hegemon.

    Trade with China to escape the global financial crisis? Of course!

  8. r v
    January 21st, 2011 at 10:03 | #8

    Asian countries rightfully should be a little nervous about a rising China. It’s part of adjustment, because no one knows for certain what China will do with all of its economic and military influences.

    Yes, China will use its influences to compete in variety of issues, such as resources, trade, border disputes. That’s expected. Bigger powerful nations naturally have greater leverage in most negotiations. Just look at US’s still unsettled dispute with small nations like Antigua over online gambling in WTO. (That case has been going on for nearly 1 decade, filed in 2003). US just ignores the WTO rulings over and over again. Why? Because it can, and Antigua has no influences to force a big trade war with US.

    But that only shows the true lessons of geopolitics: Small nations can fight against large nations like US or China, but that’s unlikely to influence the large nations. Frankly, US will “go it along” when it pleases (and it would withdraw from WTO, if it suits its purposes).

    I frankly don’t understand why some Americans expect China to be more concerned about Chinese global image, when most Americans themselves don’t give a damn about how the world sees Americans.

    Responsible global leader?! Give me a break! Europeans and other Westerners may feel more sympathetic to Americans, but that’s purely due to cultural similarities, and frankly borderline racism based on stereotypes.

    But let’s get real, most Americans themselves don’t give a damn about being “responsible global leader”. The real equation for most Americans is simply based on Nationalism, i.e. the feeling of economic, military, technological, cultural, and moral superiority for all things American.

  9. r v
    January 21st, 2011 at 10:22 | #9

    My disclaimer:

    I don’t think China should imitate US’s Nationalism.

    US’s much hyped “responsible global leadership” is nothing more than a media campaign to try to smear and taunt China.

    Boiled down, it sounds like a childish “Oh yeah, well, you will never be one of us” type argument.

    True global leadership is about PR image of influence, and there are different ways of showing that.

    A good study recently showed that most in the world still see US has the “land of opportunity”, where one can get rich. People want to train and learn to be like US business people. But that’s to project success. Many want to come to US to become rich, the American dream.

    Undoubtedly, China does not have that image, yet. (Nor do I believe it’s necessary to project that image).

    Sure, everyone dream of becoming filthy rich, but you are not going to likely become filthy rich outside of US playing by US’s rules.

    And if you are already filthy rich, you want to live like a filthy rich American, but you can do that anywhere, even outside of US.

    And when US’s economic bubbles burst, many are not coming to US to pursue the dream any more. they stay at home, and play their own HOME rules. (Consider the Mexicans and their rising drug businesses).

    *China’s influence may be more subtle and long term.

    Yes, some Chinese tourists and businessmen in foreign countries are earning bad reputations for themselves.

    But undeniably, good or bad, ethical or not, Chinese abroad have long earned the reputation of being hard working, hard learning, shakers and movers, no matter where they go or what they do.

    *The world is a competitive place. Day dreaming about the American dream won’t get anyone anything.

    At the end of the day, if one is serious about moving up, bettering oneself, one only occasionally day dream about being a filthy rich American, but one wakes up from that day dream to work and study hard like a Chinese.

    (Yes, even Chinese day dream about being a filthy rich American, but every Chinese still work hard like a Chinese. I speak from personal experience.)

  10. r v
    January 21st, 2011 at 19:42 | #10

    The American dream is like the dream of winning the lottery. Everyone has it, few ever achieve it. Less and less people, even in US, now see it as possible or realistic.

    And like the lottery, it is a bit of a scam, a tax on the stupid, as many Americans now call it.

    But it is a dream that is often sold and over sold to the naive, the poor, and the desperate.

    Other included dreams like this, freedom without responsibility, efficient government with no tax increases, property values that never comes down, Wall Street/banks/corporations that are responsible.

    What other fantasies are being sold in the West today?

    *An American friend actually told me that “sooner or later, Americans will wake up to what’s going on, and unite.”

    I wish that is true. I guess some wish that Americans are still like their “Greatest Generation” of WWII era, when they still had so many of the dreams, which are all now proven to be less than sold.

  11. wwww1234
    January 22nd, 2011 at 00:02 | #11

    @r v

    “A good study recently showed that most in the world still see US has the “land of opportunity”, where one can get rich.”

    On land of opportunities:
    america has the lowest social/economic mobility among all developed nations.

    On land of the free:
    America has the highest incarceration rate among all nations, 1% of imprisonable adults(ie excluding underage and senile) are in prison at any given time.

    the above are well studies and reported.

  12. wwww1234
    January 22nd, 2011 at 00:04 | #12

    @r v

    “A good study recently showed that most in the world still see US has the “land of opportunity”, where one can get rich.”

    On being the land of opportunities:
    america has the lowest social/economic mobility among all developed nations.

    On being land of the free:
    America has the highest incarceration rate among all nations, 1% of imprisonable adults(ie excluding underage and senile) is in prison at any given time.

    the above have been well studied and reported.

  13. January 22nd, 2011 at 14:28 | #13


    Public perception of the American dream rarely has anything to do with actual facts.

  14. January 24th, 2011 at 18:03 | #14

    1 last thought that came to me today regarding anti-interventionism. That perhaps some intervention is inevitable, and even necessary.

    Obviously, one needs self-defense. But where to draw the line?

    Something about US foreign policies that appear too “interventionist”?

    Yes, and Chinese call it “not minding one’s own business”.

    I put it more accurately as the “pretending to care, when one doesn’t” foreign policy.

    I mean the following:

    US created and oversold its own “responsible world leader” image. It pretended to care too much, by getting involved in virtually all corners of the world.

    And when you pretend to care, but deep down, you really don’t give a damn, (as in case for many Americans who question why they are in foreign countries in Iraq and Afghanistan), that’s when everyone come to the conclusion that you really don’t care about anyone but yourself. And worst of all, you are a fake and a liar.

    Geopolitical selfishness, is realistic, and everyone understand it.

    The problem with US foreign policies, is that US doesn’t even believe in its own “responsibility” message. Peace and wars are carried out half-assed, with no realistic expectations, only the noble empty goal of “responsibility”.

    What are the US responsibilities to Iraq, Yugoslavia, Iran, and Afghanistan? Who knows in US? When will it end?

    That’s why it’s too much interventionism. It’s interventionism that have no real purpose, other than to satisfy some nationalistic PR ego.

    *That should be a long term lesson for China. It’s not that all interventionism are bad, rather ONLY the interventionism that one really CARE about are the good interventionism. And there are limited national resources and energy to do only a few good intervention at a time.

    Let’s not promise the world too much Chinese “responsibility” like the Americans, because it’s not working well for them.

  15. Koreansentry
    January 31st, 2011 at 06:22 | #15

    China is not aggressive towards Western world but very aggressive towards it’s East Asian neighbors like Taiwan, S.Korea, Japan, Vietnam etc.. Countries like Mongolia, Vietnam was already have been attacked by China and Tibetans and Uighurs lost their homelands to China. In other word, Chinese are cowards against to Westerners while acting like thug at her neighboring people.

  16. fancia
    January 31st, 2011 at 07:50 | #16

    Koreansentry :China is not aggressive towards Western world but very aggressive towards it’s East Asian neighbors like Taiwan, S.Korea, Japan, Vietnam etc.. Countries like Mongolia, Vietnam was already have been attacked by China and Tibetans and Uighurs lost their homelands to China. In other word, Chinese are cowards against to Westerners while acting like thug at her neighboring people.

    From what I understand, Mongolia and Tibet had their share in invading China before. Korea also had the plan to invade Ming but Qing conquered Ming first and then expanded it; after that, Korea abandoned the plan since they didn’t have enough power to defeat the much powerful Qing at that time.

  17. fancia
    January 31st, 2011 at 08:15 | #17

    sorry, I got it wrong, Korea had the plan for expedition to Manchu Qing dynasty not Ming dynasty. But Qing defeated Joseon and King Injo of Joseon pledged his loyalty to the Qing emperor, Hong Taiji. The northern conquest was stopped in King Hyeonjong era since Qing had become to powerful.

  18. January 31st, 2011 at 11:34 | #18


    And I feel bad for the Koreans. I have many Korean friends and we some time discuss history and the current mess on the peninsula.

    One thing for sure, Koreans have been victims of foreign aggression in the last few centuries. First, the Japanese invasion and the comfort women.

    Then the Cold War splitting the people into two with the U.S. on one side and the USSR and China on the other.

    And, here we are, in 2011, a Korean that was once family now are sworn enemies. It is very sad and unfortunate.

    Despite the sentiments in South Korea today towards China, I think everyone in the region should try to look very long term. The sentiments of today are programmed by the Cold War which many people wants to preserve. The region needs to get beyond that.

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