As always, when you watch a Documentary you must be able to separate facts and opinions that are presented by the documentary compiler. This is essential, for facts are true things or events which cannot be disregarded or changed otherwise, while opinions are subjective conclusions of researchers from those found facts which not necessarily correct . You, yourselves as citizens are required to disregard whoseever opinions maybe and to form your owns base on those facts. PQC
Watch The Coming War on China
When I first went to Hiroshima in 1967, the shadow on the steps was still there. It was an almost perfect impression of a human being at ease: legs splayed, back bent, one hand by her side as she sat waiting for a bank to open. At a quarter past eight on the morning of 6 August, 1945, she and her silhouette were burned into the granite. I stared at the shadow for an hour or more, unforgettably. When I returned many years later, it was gone: taken away, “disappeared”, a political embarrassment.
I have spent two years making a documentary film, The Coming War on China, in which the evidence and witnesses warn that nuclear war is no longer a shadow, but a contingency. The greatest build-up of American-led military forces since the Second World War is well under way. They are in the northern hemisphere, on the western borders of Russia, and in Asia and the Pacific, confronting China.
The great danger this beckons is not news, or it is buried and distorted: a drumbeat of mainstream fake news that echoes the psychopathic fear embedded in public consciousness during much of the 20th century.
Like the renewal of post-Soviet Russia, the rise of China as an economic power is declared an “existential threat” to the divine right of the United States to rule and dominate human affairs.
To counter this, in 2011 President Obama announced a “pivot to Asia”, which meant that almost two-thirds of US naval forces would be transferred to Asia and the Pacific by 2020. Today, more than 400 American military bases encircle China with missiles, bombers, warships and, above all, nuclear weapons. From Australia north through the Pacific to Japan, Korea and across Eurasia to Afghanistan and India, the bases form, says one US strategist, “the perfect noose”.
A study by the RAND Corporation – which, since Vietnam, has planned America’s wars – is entitled, War with China: Thinking Through the Unthinkable. Commissioned by the US Army, the authors evoke the cold war when RAND made notorious the catch cry of its chief strategist, Herman Kahn — “thinking the unthinkable”. Kahn’s book, On Thermonuclear War, elaborated a plan for a “winnable” nuclear war against the Soviet Union.
Today, his apocalyptic view is shared by those holding real power in the United States: the militarists and neo-conservatives in the executive, the Pentagon, the intelligence and “national security” establishment and Congress.
The current Secretary of Defense, Ashley Carter, a verbose provocateur, says US policy is to confront those “who see America’s dominance and want to take that away from us”.
For all the attempts to detect a departure in foreign policy, this is almost certainly the view of Donald Trump, whose abuse of China during the election campaign included that of “rapist” of the American economy. On 2 December, in a direct provocation of China, President-elect Trump spoke to the President of Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province of the mainland. Armed with American missiles, Taiwan is an enduring flashpoint between Washington and Beijing.
“The United States,” wrote Amitai Etzioni, professor of international Affairs at George Washington University, “is preparing for a war with China, a momentous decision that so far has failed to receive a thorough review from elected officials, namely the White House and Congress.” This war would begin with a “blinding attack against Chinese anti-access facilities, including land and sea-based missile launchers … satellite and anti-satellite weapons”.
The incalculable risk is that “deep inland strikes could be mistakenly perceived by the Chinese as pre-emptive attempts to take out its nuclear weapons, thus cornering them into ‘a terrible use-it-or-lose-it dilemma’ [that would] lead to nuclear war.”
In 2015, the Pentagon released its Law of War Manual. “The United States,” it says, “has not accepted a treaty rule that prohibits the use of nuclear weapons per se, and thus nuclear weapons are lawful weapons for the United States.”
In China, a strategist told me, “We are not your enemy, but if you [in the West] decide we are, we must prepare without delay.” China’s military and arsenal are small compared to America’s. However, “for the first time,” wrote Gregory Kulacki of the Union of Concerned Scientists, “China is discussing putting its nuclear missiles on high alert so that they can be launched quickly on warning of an attack … This would be a significant and dangerous change in Chinese policy … Indeed, the nuclear weapon policies of the United States are the most prominent external factor influencing Chinese advocates for raising the alert level of China’s nuclear forces.”
Professor Ted Postol was scientific adviser to the head of US naval operations. An authority on nuclear weapons, he told me, “Everybody here wants to look like they’re tough. See I got to be tough … I’m not afraid of doing anything military, I’m not afraid of threatening; I’m a hairy-chested gorilla. And we have gotten into a state, the United States has gotten into a situation where there’s a lot of sabre-rattling, and it’s really being orchestrated from the top.”
I said, “This seems incredibly dangerous.”
“That’s an understatement.”
In 2015, in considerable secrecy, the US staged its biggest single military exercise since the Cold War. This was Talisman Sabre; an armada of ships and long-range bombers rehearsed an “Air-Sea Battle Concept for China” – ASB — blocking sea lanes in the Straits of Malacca and cutting off China’s access to oil, gas and other raw materials from the Middle East and Africa.
It is such a provocation, and the fear of a US Navy blockade, that has seen China feverishly building strategic airstrips on disputed reefs and islets in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Last July, the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled against China’s claim of sovereignty over these islands. Although the action was brought by the Philippines, it was presented by leading American and British lawyers and could be traced to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In 2010, Clinton flew to Manila. She demanded that America’s former colony reopen the US military bases closed down in the 1990s following a popular campaign against the violence they generated, especially against Filipino women. She declared China’s claim on the Spratly Islands – which lie more than 7,500 miles from the United States – a threat to US “national security” and to “freedom of navigation”.
Handed millions of dollars in arms and military equipment, the then government of President Benigno Aquino broke off bilateral talks with China and signed a secretive Enhanced Defense Co-operation Agreement with the US. This established five rotating US bases and restored a hated colonial provision that American forces and contractors were immune from Philippine law.
The election of Rodrigo Duterte in April has unnerved Washington. Calling himself a socialist, he declared, “In our relations with the world, the Philippines will pursue an independent foreign policy” and noted that the United States had not apologized for its colonial atrocities. “I will break up with America,” he said, and promised to expel US troops. But the US remains in the Philippines; and joint military exercises continue.
In 2014, under the rubric of “information dominance” – the jargon for media manipulation, or fake news, on which the Pentagon spends more than $4 billion – the Obama administration launched a propaganda campaign that cast China, the world’s greatest trading nation, as a threat to “freedom of navigation”.
CNN led the way, its “national security reporter” reporting excitedly from on board a US Navy surveillance flight over the Spratlys. The BBC persuaded frightened Filipino pilots to fly a single-engine Cessna over the disputed islands “to see how the Chinese would react”. None of these reporters questioned why the Chinese were building airstrips off their own coastline, or why American military forces were massing on China’s doorstep.
The designated chief propagandist is Admiral Harry Harris, the US military commander in Asia and the Pacific. “My responsibilities,” he told the New York Times, “cover Bollywood to Hollywood, from polar bears to penguins.” Never was imperial domination described as pithily.
Harris is one of a brace of Pentagon admirals and generals briefing selected, malleable journalists and broadcasters, with the aim of justifying a threat as specious as that with which George W Bush and Tony Blair justified the destruction of Iraq and much of the Middle East.
In Los Angeles in September, Harris declared he was “ready to confront a revanchist Russia and an assertive China …If we have to fight tonight, I don’t want it to be a fair fight. If it’s a knife fight, I want to bring a gun. If it’s a gun fight, I want to bring in the artillery … and all our partners with their artillery.”
These “partners” include South Korea, the launch pad for the Pentagon’s Terminal High Altitude Air Defense system, known as THAAD, ostensibly aimed at North Korea. As Professor Postol points out, it targets China.
In Sydney, Australia, Harris called on China to “tear down its Great Wall in the South China Sea”. The imagery was front page news. Australia is America’s most obsequious “partner”; its political elite, military, intelligence agencies and the media are integrated into what is known as the “alliance”. Closing the Sydney Harbour Bridge for the motorcade of a visiting American government “dignitary” is not uncommon. The war criminal Dick Cheney was afforded this honour.
Although China is Australia’s biggest trader, on which much of the national economy relies, “confronting China” is the diktat from Washington. The few political dissenters in Canberra risk McCarthyite smears in the Murdoch press. “You in Australia are with us come what may,” said one of the architects of the Vietnam war, McGeorge Bundy. One of the most important US bases is Pine Gap near Alice Springs. Founded by the CIA, it spies on China and all of Asia, and is a vital contributor to Washington’s murderous war by drone in the Middle East.
In October, Richard Marles, the defence spokesman of the main Australian opposition party, the Labor Party, demanded that “operational decisions” in provocative acts against China be left to military commanders in the South China Sea. In other words, a decision that could mean war with a nuclear power should not be taken by an elected leader or a parliament but by an admiral or a general.
This is the Pentagon line, a historic departure for any state calling itself a democracy. The ascendancy of the Pentagon in Washington – which Daniel Ellsberg has called a silent coup — is reflected in the record $5 trillion America has spent on aggressive wars since 9/11, according to a study by Brown University. The million dead in Iraq and the flight of 12 million refugees from at least four countries are the consequence.
The Japanese island of Okinawa has 32 military installations, from which Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan and Iraq have been attacked by the United States. Today, the principal target is China, with whom Okinawans have close cultural and trade ties.
There are military aircraft constantly in the sky over Okinawa; they sometimes crash into homes and schools. People cannot sleep, teachers cannot teach. Wherever they go in their own country, they are fenced in and told to keep out.
A popular Okinawan anti-base movement has been growing since a 12-year-old girl was gang-raped by US troops in 1995. It was one of hundreds of such crimes, many of them never prosecuted. Barely acknowledged in the wider world, the resistance has seen the election of Japan’s first anti-base governor, Takeshi Onaga, and presented an unfamiliar hurdle to the Tokyo government and the ultra-nationalist prime minister Shinzo Abe’s plans to repeal Japan’s “peace constitution”.
The resistance includes Fumiko Shimabukuro, aged 87, a survivor of the Second World War when a quarter of Okinawans died in the American invasion. Fumiko and hundreds of others took refuge in beautiful Henoko Bay, which she is now fighting to save. The US wants to destroy the bay in order to extend runways for its bombers. “We have a choice,” she said, “silence or life.” As we gathered peacefully outside the US base, Camp Schwab, giant Sea Stallion helicopters hovered over us for no reason other than to intimidate.
Across the East China Sea lies the Korean island of Jeju, a semi- tropical sanctuary and World Heritage Site declared “an island of world peace”. On this island of world peace has been built one of the most provocative military bases in the world, less than 400 miles from Shanghai. The fishing village of Gangjeong is dominated by a South Korean naval base purpose-built for US aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and destroyers equipped with the Aegis missile system, aimed at China.
A people’s resistance to these war preparations has been a presence on Jeju for almost a decade. Every day, often twice a day, villagers, Catholic priests and supporters from all over the world stage a religious mass that blocks the gates of the base. In a country where political demonstrations are often banned, unlike powerful religions, the tactic has produced an inspiring spectacle.
One of the leaders, Father Mun Jeong-hyeon, told me, “I sing four songs every day at the base, regardless of the weather. I sing in typhoons — no exception. To build this base, they destroyed the environment, and the life of the villagers, and we should be a witness to that. They want to rule the Pacific. They want to make China isolated in the world. They want to be emperor of the world.”
I flew from Jeju to Shanghai for the first time in more than a generation. When I was last in China, the loudest noise I remember was the tinkling of bicycle bells; Mao Zedong had recently died, and the cities seemed dark places, in which foreboding and expectation competed. Within a few years, Deng Xiopeng, the “man who changed China”, was the “paramount leader”. Nothing prepared me for the astonishing changes today.
China presents exquisite ironies, not least the house in Shanghai where Mao and his comrades secretly founded the Communist Party of China in 1921. Today, it stands in the heart of a very capitalist shipping district; you walk out of this communist shrine with your Little Red Book and your plastic bust of Mao into the embrace of Starbucks, Apple, Cartier, Prada.
Would Mao be shocked? I doubt it. Five years before his great revolution in 1949, he sent this secret message to Washington. “China must industrialise.” he wrote, “This can only be done by free enterprise. Chinese and American interests fit together, economically and politically. America need not fear that we will not be co-operative. We cannot risk any conflict.”
Mao offered to meet Franklin Roosevelt in the White House, and his successor Harry Truman, and his successor Dwight Eisenhower. He was rebuffed, or willfully ignored. The opportunity that might have changed contemporary history, prevented wars in Asia and saved countless lives was lost because the truth of these overtures was denied in 1950s Washington “when the catatonic Cold War trance,” wrote the critic James Naremore, “held our country in its rigid grip”.
The fake mainstream news that once again presents China as a threat is of the same mentality.
The world is inexorably shifting east; but the astonishing vision of Eurasia from China is barely understood in the West. The “New Silk Road” is a ribbon of trade, ports, pipelines and high-speed trains all the way to Europe. The world’s leader in rail technology, China is negotiating with 28 countries for routes on which trains will reach up to 400 kms an hour. This opening to the world has the approval of much of humanity and, along the way, is uniting China and Russia.
“I believe in American exceptionalism with every fibre of my being,” said Barack Obama, evoking the fetishism of the 1930s. This modern cult of superiority is Americanism, the world’s dominant predator. Under the liberal Obama, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, nuclear warhead spending has risen higher than under any president since the end of the Cold War. A mini nuclear weapon is planned. Known as the B61 Model 12, it will mean, says General James Cartwright, former vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that “going smaller [makes its use] more thinkable”.
In September, the Atlantic Council, a mainstream US geopolitical thinktank, published a report that predicted a Hobbesian world “marked by the breakdown of order, violent extremism [and] an era of perpetual war”. The new enemies were a “resurgent” Russia and an “increasingly aggressive” China. Only heroic America can save us.
There is a demented quality about this war mongering. It is as if the “American Century” — proclaimed in 1941 by the American imperialist Henry Luce, owner of Time magazine — has ended without notice and no one has had the courage to tell the emperor to take his guns and go home.
Despite the journalist’s long career of opposing tyranny, oppression, and dictatorship wherever he may find it, Pilger’s loathing of the United States has led him to produce a film that acts as an apology for Chinese totalitarianism, distorts the truth about Asian politics, and presents China as a passive victim in a potential new superpower war. Actually, my sympathy for his intellectual descent is less sincere than my anger; what I watched was an incendiary spectacle that manages to circle the triumvirate of narcissism, ignorance, and propaganda.
I must admit a few things first. Among others it was Pilger who first sparked my interest in journalism. He gave me a short interview I published in December 2014. Later, I interviewed him again for an article I wrote on the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. Afterwards, however, we stopped conversing by email for a number of reasons.
Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.Now, with personal reasons in light and with personal reasons aside, let me come to The Coming War on China, which was released at selected cinemas in Britain this month. First, the title had me concerned. “With” might have given the sense of shared responsibility for the possible war, but only an aggressor commits a war “on” another country. Pilger’s intellect cannot be doubted, so his semantic choice must have been intentional.
Much of the first 40 minutes of the 122 minute long documentary explores the United States’ destruction of Marshall Islands, used in the 1940s as a site for nuclear testing. It is upsetting and disturbing viewing, complete with the racist language of the 1940s and 1950s and the ease in which the people of the islands were exploited by the American government. It compares in effect to Pilger’s documentary on the destruction of the Chagos Islands, Stealing a Nation. A short part compares how the wealthy American expats live on the islands compared to the destitute locals, which is termed by Pilger as “apartheid in the Pacific.” Again, this is heartbreaking.
But, I found myself asking as the sequence ended, what does this have to do with the topic of the documentary: escalating tensions between the United States and China in the 21st century? Certainly what the United States did was a crime, but it was a crime committed decades ago. And except that the Marshall Islands are home to U.S. missile bases, there appears to be no other connection to the rest of the documentary.
The Coming War on China does not engage in lies but it evades the truth so much that it is rendered invisible. (One doesn’t know whether Pilger appreciates his thoughts are often verbatim to what regularly appears in Chinese state television, though he fails to include one single clip from this media instead relying on a montage of American news shows to indicate a warmongering United States.) If, according to Joseph Goebbels, by telling a lie enough times it becomes the truth, then the reverse is also true: by evading the truth enough times it becomes a lie.
This is what Pilger does throughout. For example, at the same time as the United States was tricking the people of the Marshall Islands back onto into highly contaminated and radiated homes, leaving many to die, the Communist Party of China was launching a nationwide campaign to suppress counter-revolutionaries. The official number of deaths when it came to an end was as high as 700,000, though some historians put it around the two million mark.
The latter is not mentioned by Pilger. In fact, even the casual viewer would probably notice that he fails to mention any of the crimes committed by the CPC – even a visit to the party’s museum warrants no reference to these. For example, he mentions the Cultural Revolution in passing but doesn’t provide the unwitting viewer with the fact that as many as 30 million people died during these eleven years. He only says it gave way to “silence,” a most cruel euphemism. Indeed, Pilger is at his worst when he speaks with euphemisms, with the figurative raising of the eyebrow.
Aside from the euphemism is the outright contradiction. For example, in direct contrast to the wealth of the Americans being critiqued in the Marshall Islands – and paired with America’s predatory capitalism of his earlier documentaries – the wealth of the Chinese is something Pilger doesn’t challenge. He listens without comment as he is told that China now has more billionaires than the United States. Upon making a return to China for the first time in decades (perhaps that’s the reason why he hardly mentions the country and never leaves the city to explore the countryside) he says that “coming back the change is barely comprehensible. Here in Shanghai the freedom bears no comparison.” He goes on: “Yes, there are issues with human rights, especially the right to speak against the state and challenge its power. Since I was last here, millions of people have been lifted out of poverty, many into a new middle class.”
He suggests that this growth of the middle class has been overlooked in the West or, perhaps, “willfully misunderstood” (This is not the first time Pilger has talked down to other journalists for not noting what he has seen). And then he suggests that since China has matched the United States at its own game of capitalism, it is “unforgivable,” supposedly, to the United States.
In a long article for the New Internationalist, published this month, Pilger does at least mention that inequality is rising and protests are taking place but goes on to say that “for all the difficulties of those left behind by China’s rapid growth… what is striking is the widespread sense of optimism that buttresses the epic of change.” Where is the interest in the millions of Chinese suffering in the ilk of his 2001 documentary The New Rulers Of The World, which deplored Asia becoming the workhouse of the world and its cheap laborers the greatest export?
Perhaps the most illustrative part of this documentary is the relatively short time he spends in China. There, he interviews Zhang Weiwei, the former advisor to Deng Xiaoping, who describes the former premier as a “visionary” and goes on criticize the BBC and other Western media for mentioning in their news reports that China has a communist party and is an autocracy, and dismisses these as just labels, which Pilger doesn’t respond to. “If you watch BBC or CNN or read the Economist,” Zhang says, “and try to understand China, it will be a failure.” Again, no rebuttal from Pilger.
Then to Eric Li, a man Pilger describes as an entrepreneur and one of the confident political class. “In China there are a lot of problems,” Li says. “But at the moment, the Party state has proven an extraordinary ability to change.” He goes on to say that the reforms of the last 60 years are broader and greater than any other country in modern history. Pilger doesn’t ask whether these reforms were wanted by the people.
He then talks to Lijia Zhang, a Beijing-based journalist who published the best-selling book, ironically titled Socialism Is Great! “Many Americans imagine,” she says, “that Chinese people live a miserable, repressed life with no freedom whatsoever. That’s not true.” She says that if you talk to Chinese people (queue videos of smiling people) they will tell you that they are happy.
Amid all of this, Pilger does at least ask the question of exploitation of poor people as the principle creator of wealth. Zhang palms him off, saying that if you go and talk to the poor, the internal migrant workers, “you will be surprised that they have experienced greater increase in income than any other social groups.” Pilger does go to the poor but for less than a few minutes, simply showing their impoverished homes.
He asks Zhang about Tiananmen Square, saying the demonstrators fought for democratic change in China. “It was more than a tragedy, it was a massacre,” Pilger states, “of which the memory remains a raw presence in China.” He then asks Zhang: why does the Chinese state still fear “the few that speak out? He then informs the viewer about Liu Xiaobo, and listens as Zhang accuses the Nobel Peace Prize committee of making a “mistake” in naming Liu as a winner. “And yet in China today the spirit of protest lives on in different forms,” Pilger finishes.
All in all, Pilger’s exploration of the modern-day problems of China lasts from the 55th minute until 66th, much of which is given over to optimistic interviews with Chinese commentators and former government officials, who downplay the crimes of the government. One might say, well, at least Pilger does at least consider the democratic and human rights of more than one billion people.
But wait. The next section, called “Resistance,” which spans from the 66th minute until the 92nd, is dedicated to the actions of islanders in Japan and South Korea fighting against U.S. military bases – in South Korea, this takes the form of a dozen Catholics and two Quakers. Of course, the islanders’ fight is a noble one and they deserve attention. However, what is one to read from Pilger dedicating just 11 minutes to the fight of a billion people for democracy, human rights, and some autonomy from a country that happens to be the focus of the documentary, and 26 minutes to a small number of people in Japan and South Korea fighting against military bases?
Pilger begins the documentary by saying it is “a film about the human spirit, and about the rise of an extraordinary resistance.” But where is the extraordinary resistance mounted against China’s foreign endeavors? Why does he not mention the resistance of the Burmese against the Myitsone Dam? Or the Lao people to stop much of the country’s north being sold for cheap to Chinese businessmen? Or, for that matter, the Lao who demonstrated against their government after China decided to build dozens of dams in the country that will destroy most of the Mekong River? Or, even give one sentence over to the anti-Chinese protests in Vietnam? It is a shame Pilger does not even mention these, or that Myanmar is now a democratic country while China was happy to allow its murderous military junta to try to create a nation of slaves.
Pilger consistently glosses over China’s past crimes while dwelling on America’s. He doesn’t mention that it was China that kept the Khmer Rouge in AK-47s, preventing Cambodia for returning to peace until almost two decades after the genocidal regime was overthrown in 1979. Neither does he ever mention Tibet or the Chinese role in the Vietnam War, and its continuing propping up of North Korea. Neither does he consider China’s actions in the South China Sea in more than a passing reference. Neither, for one moment, does he consider China’s economic actions abroad in the negative. Quite the opposite, in fact. In his New Internationalist article, he lauds China’s “New Silk Road,” saying that it “has the approval of much of humanity,” adding, with a sense of anti-West triumphalism, that “along the way, [it] is uniting China and Russia; and they are doing it entirely without ‘us’ in the West.” (This goes against the noble forms of resistance against Chinese capital abroad I mentioned above).
Indeed, he never considers this to be a Chinese form of globalization and, dare I say, economic imperialism – one of the world’s last Marxist-Leninist countries must have purged Lenin’s Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism from its reading list. “The initiative is a timely reminder that China under the Communist Party is building a new empire,” Friedrich Wu, a professor at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, told the Financial Times last year. How can Pilger sit back and applaud the so-called “Beijing Consensus,” which exports the worse of globalization to the world – the rise of predatory capitalism without the expectation for countries to develop democratically?
Pilger’s scattershots do not cohere to a conclusion; they only seek to confirm to his narrative. His anti-Americanism blurs all. In journalism circles, one could say he is not being objective. This is not necessarily a bad thing: one enjoys a good deal of subjectivity in reporting. But Pilger takes this to the extreme.
It is only in the last 30 minutes that the viewer actually gets to hear anything about the coming war. Though, 30 minutes is far too long. Indeed, this 122 minute documentary only makes a few boilerplate points: U.S. military bases “encircle” China, Obama has spent more on nuclear weapons than any other president, and U.S. military officials tend to speak in a gung-ho fashion about war. Here, I agree with Pilger. The United States has built bases that surround China, the outgoing administration is spending more on nuclear weapons than predecessors, and military officials aren’t the most softly-spoken people in front of cameras. But that doesn’t mean the United States is containing China or encircling it or, worse, threatening it.
Pilger tends to see coincidence as correlation. Since China is building its army at the same time as the United States tries to reassert authority in Asia, the former must be a result of the latter. That the United States has bases in much of the Pacific must mean it is on the war path. Yet, he never mentions the rise of Chinese nationalism under President Xi Jinping. As other leaders before Xi have learned, nationalism can be relied upon when other forms of legitimacy disappear. (In a speech in November 2013, Xi reiterated his goals of “the great revival of the Chinese nation.”)
Neither does Pilger look into military spending by China, which has been constant since 1994, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. In 1994, military expenditure was 1.7 percent of GDP, rising to 2.2 percent in 2001, and falling to 1.9 percent in 2015. In fact, as a percentage of government spending, military expenditure was more than double its 2015 value in 1994 (6.3 percent in 2015, compared to 14.4 percent in 1994). This precedes the United States’ “pivot to Asia” by more than a decade. Lastly, Pilger never inquires into whether other countries in the region might actually take the United States’ side on the issue, or, for that matter, why the countries now lining up behind China – Cambodia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Russia, and so on – tend to be either autocratic, partly democratic, or under the guardianship of populists with dictatorial-leanings. Without reference to these, his narrative tumbles into a dangerous excuse, or propaganda, for the Chinese state.
Worse, he sees any country allied with the United States as a warmonger. While exploring opposition to U.S. bases in Japan, he criticizes the country’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose American “patron” has helped stoke Japanese nationalism and to reassert Japanese power. He does the same for South Korea. Just perhaps, however, the Japanese and South Korean governments are reacting to Chinese assertive actions rather than being belligerent on their own accord. As I was told last year by the journalist Bill Hayton, author of The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia, “the U.S. hasn’t been forcing these countries to ask it to send military equipment and ships. These countries are nervous and are asking the U.S. for reassurance because they perceive a threat from China.”
A fallacy arises here. Pilger descends into the myth that the United States is all powerful – the repeated use of an image of military bases around the world seeks to convey this. Yet, if its power and warmongering attitude were true, then why, one can ask, hasn’t the United States gone to war with China already? Presumably, a conflict-craving nation wouldn’t allow China to build up its nuclear and military capabilities before attacking. The fact that China now has the world’s second largest expenditure on its military, after the United States, would actually deter the latter from attacking, one might assume.
A more nuanced understanding of the situation would be to admit that both the United States and China are engaging in actions that could run the risk of sparking a new superpower war. More serious articles and books have explored the duality of the situation, treating both the United States and China as equal players, and I would recommend any of the following before watching one minute of The Coming War on China: Bill Hayton’s The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia; Lyle Goldstein’s Meeting China Halfway: How to Defuse the Emerging U.S.-China Rivalry; or Edward N. Luttwak’s The Rise of China vs The Logic of Strategy.
As a closing remark, timing most likely meant Pilger had to force into his documentary a brief comment about Donald Trump. He says, “the new president Donald Trump has a problem with China. And the question is whether Trump will continue with the provocations included in this film and take us to war.” Well, this is quite a departure from Pilger’s earlier comments about the president-elect, most of which were evident at a speech he gave in March at the University of Sydney (an edited transcript can be found here).
All too happy to leap head-first down the rabbit hole of ‘the enemy of my enemy is a friend,’ he said that “[Trump] is certainly odious; but he is also a media hate figure. That alone should arouse our skepticism.” Next he tried comparing Trump to the former British Prime Minister David Cameron, without explaining how Cameron was as extreme on immigration as Trump, before calling Obama the “Great Deporter.” He then added that Trump is “a maverick. He says the invasion of Iraq was a crime; he doesn’t want to go to war with Russia and China. The danger to the rest of us is not Trump, but Hillary Clinton. She is no maverick. She embodies the resilience and violence of a system whose vaunted ‘exceptionalism’ is totalitarian with an occasional liberal face.”
Well, Pilger has now got his wish. His maverick is set to take charge. If the “totalitarian with an occasional liberal face” of Hilary Clinton is gone, then one can only suppose that Pilger is ecstatic that the ‘totalitarian with a permanent totalitarian face’ of China and Russia will now not be troubled by an isolationist president-elect.