“Did China ask us if it was OK to… build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don’t think so!” tweeted President-Elect Donald Trump after shattering nearly 40 years of U.S.-China diplomatic protocol by having a telephone conversation with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.
The call — the first official contact between a U.S. president or president-elect and Taipei since President Jimmy Carter switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in the late 1970s — was prime Trump. So was the tweet, a no-nonsense response to typical Chinese military provocations.
At least, that’s one way to look at it.
Of course, if China’s president Xi Jinping was a social media blowhard, he could have easily tweeted back: “Did America ask us if it was OK to… maintain a massive military complex of more than 100 bases in nearby Japan? I don’t think so!”
Or the Chinese leader could have tweeted: “Did America ask us if it was OK to… rent space at the massive U-Tapao military complex in nearby Thailand? I don’t think so!”
Or Xi could have tweeted: “Did America ask us if it was OK to… use portions of the military complexes at Antonio Bautista Air Base, Basa Air Base, Fort Magsaysay, Lumbia Air Base, and Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in the nearby Philippines? I don’t think so!”
China’s president might have tweeted: “Did America ask us if it was OK to… deploy troops to a military complex near Darwin, Australia? I don’t think so!”
Xi could have even tweeted “Did America ask us if it was OK to… maintain four major Army facilities in nearby South Korea at Daegu and Yongsan as well as Camps Red Cloud and Humphreys; not to mention air bases at Osan and Kunsan and a naval facility at Chinhae? I don’t think so!”
Had he enough characters to spare, Xi might have mentioned U.S. access to key facilities in Singapore or its other Pacific military strongholds like Hawaii, Guam, and Saipan. He could even have mentioned the “massive” U.S. military presence in Asia — the U.S. Pacific Fleet, U.S. Army Pacific, U.S. Pacific Air Force, U.S. Marine Forces Pacific, U.S. Special Operations Command Pacific, and U.S. Forces Korea as well as the U.S. Eighth Army (also in Korea) — for which there are no Chinese analogs operating in or around the Americas.
Even if Xi Jinping were to counter Trump’s twitter storm with gale-force tweets of his own, it’s fair to assume that the president-elect wouldn’t be swayed. American leaders don’t view U.S. power projection through the lens of those on the receiving end. Meanwhile, the American public remains mostly ignorant of the ways in which the U.S. garrisons the globe and rings its rivals with military bases.
Today, Tim Shorrock, a long-time Asia expert, seeks to do his part in obliterating this obliviousness with his inaugural TomDispatch article. The author of Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing, he delves into how the election of Donald Trump will affect President Obama’s famed “Asian pivot” by teasing apart the tangled history of U.S. foreign policy in that region, and analyzing what it all means for the longstanding U.S. military footprint in Japan and South Korea.