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The Inescapable Antagonism Between A Prosperous China and An Imperial U.S.
Prosperity vs. Hegemony
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China has stated its goals quite unambiguously. “A moderately prosperous society by 2020” is the first goal and “a strong socialist nation by 2049” as the second. But this may be simplified: China’s leadership wants its people to have a standard of living equal to that of the developed nations of the West. And that, along with restoring and preserving sovereignty, has been the main part of the Chinese program since 1949 – at least. China’s great historical achievement is to lift hundreds of millions out of poverty, accounting for most of the eradication of poverty in the recent past. This achievement is rarely mentioned in the West.

Consider the simple consequences of that fact. China has a population of 1.36 billion and the United States has a population of 320 million. So if China is to have a per capita GDP equal to that of the United States, its total GDP must be more than four times the size of the US economy. Four times.

As we have known at least since Thucydides military power flows from economic power. That is also true of “soft” power, scientific discovery and technological achievement and capacity. (Last week USA Today carried a story on the rapid growth of new and original patents in China., alarming the Pentagon.) Growth in China’s economic power therefore closes the door on US global hegemony. The only way for the U.S. to maintain the hope of such hegemony is for China to change course and accept a lesser standard of living. But China will not accept such second class status voluntarily. First such a future is not just, nor will the Chinese perceive or accept it as just. Second such a course demands that an accomplished, talented and determined people with a great culture accept a daily life less prosperous than the developed world enjoys.

Hence if the U.S. Empire to remain the first of global military powers in a way that is beyond challenge, it has no choice but to keep China down. There is an unavoidable contradiction between U.S. military dominance and Chinese economic development. Moreover even China’s economic power by itself is at odds with the hegemonic maneuvers of the U.S. Sanctions on sovereign nations, embargoes and blockades by the US will not work if China is willing to trade with the threatened nations. This forecloses U.S. economic control of other, weaker nations.

However, there is no necessary conflict between the two nations, China and the U.S., or the two peoples. The prosperity of China does not preclude a high level of prosperity in the U.S. Economic development and prosperity is not a zero sum game. As the Chinese repeat at every turn, there can be a win-win situation for all nations of the world with China’s development. That has already proven true in the present Great Recession where the Chinese economy has been the main driver of the global economy, perhaps preventing the Great Recession from tumbling into the Great Depression. That is also true for the development of other nations, India for example.

So the question is whether the United States wishes to remain the dominant military power in the world and to bring China down. Unfortunately, such anti-China strategies have already been put in place by the U.S. and they will be intensified. The “New Silk Road Strategy” in Central Asia has been put forward by Hillary Clinton to “contain” China. Since the first term of George W. Bush, at least, the U.S. has sought to enlist India to “counterbalance” China – with limited success. So far the Indians do not seem to be taking the bait. The “Pivot to Asia” espoused by Clinton, Obama and others in the higher spheres of U.S. foreign policy has attempted to enlist Australia, the Philippines, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam against China.

Some of this follows classic patterns in diplomacy. For example, as John Mearsheimer outlines in his book, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, the goal of a regional hegemon is to prevent the rise of a regional hegemon in other parts of the globe. Mearsheimer points out that right now there is but one regional hegemon in the world, the U.S., which reigns supreme in the Western Hemisphere. The first tactic and the preferred one to accomplish the put down of another emerging hegemon is “buck passing.” In simple terms, that means getting another regional power to do the dirty work, sparing oneself the pain and cost. In that light consider the ravings from Japan’s Prime Minister Abe, backed up and encouraged, even incited by the American “think” tank, CSIS (The Center for Strategic and International Studies). Just recently Abe’s party, the ruling LDP (Liberal Democratic Party), has eliminated from its platform the pledge that Japan “will never wage war again,” a pledge in place since the end of WWII, causing considerable consternation in South Korea, China, Taiwan and elsewhere in the neighborhood!

Furthermore, the United States is in no danger from a powerful China. We are separated by a vast ocean from China, and the power of nuclear weapons makes a challenge to U.S. sovereignty impossible except on a suicidal basis. Additionally, the U.S. remains a largely self sufficient economy with resources aplenty. Only severe paranoia could lead us to fear an economically prosperous China. And more than that, as Henry Kissinger, like many others, points out in his book On China, the Chinese have no history of overseas expansion. That was true even when in the early 15th Century when China was the greatest naval power in the world, sailing giant ships to Africa and elsewhere long before Columbus set foot on a ship. There was trading, but no conquest and no enslavement. Conquest and enslavement turned out to be the work of European civilization. And even now with China the second largest economy in the world it has not a singly overseas military base even though it provides more UN peacekeeper personnel than any other nation. As Kissinger points out, American exceptionalism is missionary; it insists that all the world be like us. One can see one of the most fanatic incarnations of that in Hillary Clinton and other “humanitarian” imperialists, many regarding themselves as “progressives.” China’s exceptionalism, on the other hand, is a high self-regard for its culture but no desire to spread it. If the rest of us do not want to follow the Chinese way, then we have missed out and it is no business of the Chinese to change that in their view.

The bloody history of the U.S. over the last Century is quite a different matter. If the United States insists on its status as the dominant and unchallengeable military power, then we are on the road to conflict, certainly a new Cold War the beginning of which the “pivot” represents, and quite possibly we are on the road to WWIII. We in the United States are the ones who can control this and perhaps save the world from the very worst suffering and deadly conflict. The answer is to abandon Empire, dismantle our overseas bases, end our occupation of foreign nations, including South Korea, Japan and Germany, adopt a defensive strategy to protect our land and come home. Trade and talk, yes. Military intervention, no. We have a potential partner for peace in China. Let us give it a try. Establish trust and verify it. In short, Come Home America. A paradise awaits us here. Let us leave others in peace to construct their own.


John V. Walsh is a Professor of Neuroscience and Physiology in Massachusetts. He is a frequent contributor to, and, and he is a founding member of ComeHomeAmerica (WWW.ComeHomeAmerica.US). He can be reached at [email protected]

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: China, United States 
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  1. Interesting article. Walsh’s thesis of an “inescapable antagonism between a prosperous China and an imperial US” is compelling. And his point that “if the U.S. Empire is to remain the first of global military powers in a way that is beyond challenge, it has no choice but to keep China down,” is also spot on.

    However, his “America, come home” prescription is more debatable. I obviously agree that our insane, strategically incompetent and promiscuous resort to war as a policy tool must stop. But in a competitive and resource-scarce world, we can’t just “come home” and assume everything will work out.

    Some potential measures:

    1. Accept that China will be the dominant power in East Asia and the western Pacific with responsibility for trade flows through the Malacca Strait and explore ways to make the transition as smooth as possible.

    2. Make needed modifications to the UN Security Council membership so that it represents all the major powers and can function more efficiently as a forum for working out global issues.

    3. Abandon our anti-Russia fixation and arrive at a long-term entente with Russia.

    4. Support a renewed push for European unity so Europe can function coherently on a global basis.

    5. Completely revamp policies in the Middle East and pursue four goals:

    a. Normalize relations with Iran
    b. Regional nuclear free zone
    c. Israel-Palestine treaty based on 1967 boundaries, Golan back to Syria with a permanent US-led international force along all Israeli borders—imposed on Israel if necessary
    d. Iran-Saudi treaty (i.e., Sunni-Shia entente) brokered by US

    The US has a potentially huge strategic advantage in the Muslim world because the other major powers—Russia, China, and India—all have significant issues with Muslim minorities. The fact that we have frittered away that advantage is a testament to how deformed our policies in the region have become.

    Unfortunately, the American people are in no mood for the kind of commitment required by c. because of the combination of our disastrous military adventures of the last decade plus and their declining living standards.

    6. Broker India-Pakistan and Japan-Russia agreements to reduce future Chinese leverage and provide Japan with energy from outside the Middle East.

    7. Use Iran as our primary access corridor to Central Asia in an attempt to sustain some level of influence.

    8. Stop the aggressive “Asia pivot” but establish an understanding with Europe, Russia and India as a potential alliance if China does become aggressive at some point in the future.

    9. Come to an understanding about what can and should be done to retool the US economy and put it on a sustainable footing. It certainly is not there now. Our underlying economic weakness is a huge strategic problem.

    Walsh is on the right track with his diagnosis but proffers to simple a solution to our grand strategic dilemmas.

  2. Samson says:

    The last words of Adolph to his generals in the Berlin bunker when they were preparing to attend the Katjusha Concert conducted by maestro Zhukov:
    He said this:

    This is the End. We will all be killed. We must concede defeat. We will not rule the world, and must leave this duty to … (pause of about 10 seconds ) …..

  3. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Oscar’s been doing his homework. His comments are some of the most cogent I’ve had the pleasure to read. If we want America to be the great country it could and should be, we need to forget about empire, and revamp our economy towards helping the 99% and not the 1%. Forget about coercing people with force, but rather set an example for the world by promoting real justice and fairness at home, not just hypocritical lip service. Unfortunately for the national security complex, these ideas are not compatible with the global war on terror scam.

  4. Truthster says:

    Unfortunately both Oscar and Michael above see the US as the “indispensible nation” to the world.
    To them I say, “We have met the enemy – and they are us.”
    The US Empire has not been an agent for good in the world – quite the contrary. Given that, there is no good reason to preserve its influence.

    Of course Oscar and Michael above may simply be disinformation personnel of the Cass Sunstein (Dem) type or their Republican counterparts.

  5. @Truthster

    1. I agree that the “indispensable nation” business is off-putting. But what do you propose as a way forward for the US? The world is still a competitive place, and, indispensable or not, we still need a strategy. Do you have one in mind?

    2. “there is no good reason to preserve [US] influence.”

    So you think influence has no value? Hmmm–do you have much contact with other human beings?

  6. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    @Oscar Peterson:

    A G2 of equals is clearly the most rational way forward. With obligations comes privileges. Start with acknowledging and respecting China’s fundamental national interests and do not cross the red lines.

    There are MANY areas of human endeavor that can benefit from cooperation of America and China, and the human race would be much better for it. On the other hand, WW III may very well mean the end of the world as we know it.

    But no, American empire comes first. Otherwise the raison d’etre no longer exist. Does that make sense to you?

  7. @Zhuubaajie

    Yes, it makes sense, but we can not leave out the other major world players. (Also, the second and third tier countries are useful to cement a global balance of power that mitigates against any of the first tier players–US, China or others–from getting out of hand.

    Who do you think should have seats on the UNSC? Realistically, Europe needs to have one seat and India should be on the council. Do you agree? Would you make any other changes?

  8. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    The two ideas here are not mutually exclusive. The two dominant military powers (the U.S. and Greater Russia, by the way) could both practice some self-interested restraint, keep their hardest power at home (i.e, their nukes in their silos) and dominate the world via soft power. What is sorely lacking is not flawless theories, but rather the competence to govern. How to establish a Pax Romana without any Romans?

    What is lacking is vision. What is lacking is the inspiration of religion. Our elites are senile and only a genuine religious vision (in place of the prevailing modernist fundamentalism) can bring about the required Golden Age of Eternal Youth. No degree of rational intelligence will knock our decrepit species out of its terminal death agony. The necessary ingredient is something very like a miracle, the formation of a new aristocracy to fill the vacuum of our perishing liberal democracy.

    Any takers? That is the question. Those who hesitate are lost, but those who seize the chance have quite literally worlds to conquer. Beyond the too cosy chatter of think tanks there lies a real and hideously interesting world known as planet earth. Do readers imagine themselves far too good for the epic genre? Then too bad: It’s Sarajevo 1914 (oops, Ukraine 2014) and welcome to it…

  9. I think Japan is too eager to enlist in the containment of China. What is it with little arrogant countries with a war guarantee? World war 3 could be started over a dispute over islands. The US shouldn’t threaten China because the last thing the US political class needs is a mirror image of itself bent on its destruction.

    The US already suffers from nepotism and an out of touch political class. Why does it need peerage too?

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