More than a decade ago (though I didn’t know the half of it then) I was saying that history offers no precedent for a military and economic superpower peacefully submitting to being overtaken in the latter sphere. When that superpower has a highly militarised economy and long record of wars covert and overt, has needlessly used atomic weapons, encircles the globe with over 800 military bases and insists it is “the exceptionalist nation“, well, then we should all worry.
Now more than ever. Two things become clearer by the hour to those whose news intake is not confined to corporate media systemically unable to speak honestly on matters vital to power. One is that a US-led West has miscalculated in its unprecedentedly ferocious economic war on Russia, a war from which that country is emerging stronger than ever.
The other is that a split within the US ruling class going back at least as far as Barack Obama – between the faction which seeks rapprochement with Russia, the better to deal with the more serious economic challenge of China, and the one which sees a Russia still militarily ahead of China as the greater enemy – has lost all relevance. The few remaining Russophiles have been routed, not least because there is now no chance of the US empire sowing discord between the two Eurasian powers, one of which has already overtaken it.
(On any meaningful metric of economic performance, that is – as opposed to measures of GDP warped by the West’s empire-dependent FIRE sectors, and empire-driven export to the global south of its manufacturing base: arms sector excepted.)
Its economic war on a nation which has proved itself far from being, as John (“Maidan Cookie“) McCain once put it, “a gas station with nukes” 1 has served to bring forward the fall of the mighty dollar. Without dollar hegemony, and the tributes it exacted, America can at best aspire to the status of a middling economy in a world increasingly led by the BRIC economies in general, and China in particular.
(That Europe’s fate looks darker still, at least until its craven and venal rulers decide that their – not its – interests are best served by breaking with Washington and looking east, is a related but for now separate subject.)
What will America’s rulers do to delay or even avert such an outcome? Bear that question – and the rap sheet set out in my opening paragraph – in mind as you read this Andre Damon piece, posted today in WSWS …
Chinese officials raise “military” response to planned visit by US House speaker
In yet another move by the United States to end the one-China policy that has governed its relations with China for decades, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will travel to Taiwan next month, the Financial Times reported.
As part of the one-China policy, the US has had no formal diplomatic ties to Taiwan, and high-level US officials have not traveled to the territory. The Trump administration set about systematically dismantling the policy, sending Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to Taiwan in 2020. At the time, Azar was the highest-ranking US official to visit Taiwan in decades.
Pelosi, however, is second in the presidential line of succession, and would be far and away the highest-profile US official to visit Taiwan in over two decades.
China’s foreign ministry pledged to respond to Pelosi’s trip with “resolute and strong measures.”
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said, “If the United States insists on going ahead, China will have to take firm and forceful measures to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
China’s Global Times newspaper, speaking for significant factions within the Chinese state and military, responded to the planned visit by declaring that the response from China would be “military but also strategic.”
The newspaper quoted Hu Xijin, its former editor-in-chief, as proposing that China “should send military aircraft to accompany Pelosi’s plane to enter the island of Taiwan and fly over the airport where Pelosi lands, and fly back to the mainland from the island.”
He added, ‘When sending PLA aircraft to fly across the island, we [China] must be fully prepared for an all-out military confrontation.’
He continued: “If the Taiwan military dares to open fire against PLA aircraft, then Taiwan military aircraft would be shot down and Taiwan military bases will be destroyed. So if the US and Taiwan authorities want all-out war, then the time for Taiwan liberation will come.”
Were such a conflict to erupt, US President Joe Biden has indicated that the United States would go to war with China.
Asked in May whether the United States would use force to defend Taiwan, Biden replied, “Yes… That’s the commitment we made.” Asked the same question last October, Biden replied, “Yes, we have a commitment to do that.”
The Chinese side has likewise expressed willingness to go to war over Taiwan. Last month, Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe told US officials at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, “If anyone dares to secede Taiwan from China, we will not hesitate to fight, and we will fight at all costs.”
But Pelosi’s planned visit is only the most provocative in a series of moves meant to massively escalate the US conflict with China.
On Friday, the Pentagon said the State Department had approved over $100 million in US arms sales to Taiwan, and China has demanded that the US cancel the sale.
On Monday, the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Benfold carried out a freedom of navigation exercise through the Taiwan Strait, triggering condemnation from Beijing.
Major US and global corporations have already begun pricing in the odds of a full-scale war between the two nuclear-armed powers. In an article in the Financial Times headlined, “Corporate jitters over Taiwan and China on the rise,” the newspaper cites corporate risk analysis that put the odds of war in the near term at one in five.
The FT writes, “Consultants and China experts in the US have seen a wave of requests for briefings since the war in Ukraine began, as the Financial Times reported last week. Demand for political risk insurance over potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait is also rising sharply, according to reports.”
The FT quoted an “executive at a western technology company” as saying, “The main lesson from Ukraine is that the west will hit an aggressor with very significant sanctions. Apply what we have seen in Russia to China, and you have Armageddon for the Chinese economy and for the global economy.”
The Biden administration’s reckless effort to stoke the US-China conflict has prompted warnings from former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who told Bloomberg in an interview, “Biden and previous administrations have been too much influenced by the domestic aspects of the view of China,” adding that preventing “Chinese… hegemony” is not “something that can be achieved by endless confrontations.”
Previously, Kissinger warned that the US-China conflict risked triggering a global “catastrophe comparable to World War I.”
The massive escalation of tensions with China comes against the backdrop of the continued escalation of the US proxy war against Russia in Ukraine. 2
During a visit to the UK, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, Vladimir Gavrilov, pledged to use US-supplied heavy weapons to destroy the Russian Black Sea fleet and retake Crimea.
“We are receiving anti-ship capabilities and sooner or later we will target the fleet. It is inevitable because we have to guarantee the security of our people,” he said. “Russia will have to leave Crimea if they wish to exist as a country,” Gavrilov insisted.
Even as the Biden administration is flooding weapons to Ukraine in the US’s proxy war with Russia, it is threatening to open up a new front in what is increasingly a globe-spanning conflict.
- That crass formulation by the late and unlamented McCain only expresses in egregious form a wider misconception. The same skewed metrics which show the USA still the world’s largest economy, albeit by a fast shrinking margin, also posit Russia’s economy as the size of California’s, and half that of Germany. But the West’s high GDPs mask the dangerous precarity arising from its profit-driven outsourcing to the global south of real wealth creation. (A distinction may still be drawn between the rentier economies of the USA and UK, and the more dirigiste economies of France and Germany, but the gap is shrinking, and in any case was never so wide as to alter fundamentally the big picture of Western capital chasing higher returns via the cheap labour pools of the south.) Dazzled by its own voodoo economics, the West’s blindness to true wealth indicators was surely a central factor in our elites’ overestimation of their ability to bring Russia to her knees by sanction, embargo and outright theft. These have not only failed and/or delivered toxic blowback in forms certain to make you and me suffer. They have also, that last especially, put the global south on heightened notice that its dollar and US Treasury bond holdings – or even, pace Venezuela, gold in London vaults – are up for grabs should they incur the wrath of an Uncle Sam increasingly in the grip of irrational currents. In sum, America’s war on the ruble has served only to hasten the collapse of the greenback’s Ponzi scheme. This I read not so much as stupidity on the part of America’s elite; more as revealing how vanishingly few are the options left to Wall Street, Beltway and the Fed.
- In the early weeks after February 24, calling the Ukraine crisis “a proxy war” was strictly off limits; the dog whistling of “Putinbots” and “conspiracy theorists”. That is no longer the case, as the Economist made clear a few days ago: Is America growing weary of the long war in Ukraine? The kicker below that headline informed its readers that “Inflation, wayward allies [ring any bells, that?] and venomous politics at home are eroding support for the proxy conflict against Russia.” This marks two row-backs, not one. First is that it is indeed a proxy war, from which we may conclude that those deluded souls who speak only of its Ukraine-specific aspects (in tones of indignation which betray deep ignorance of how the Ukraine – literally, borderland – came into being, and what happened in the failed ‘orange’ coup of 2005 and during the eight years following the successful one of 2014) are missing the point by a mile. Second is that this proxy war is not going well for its NATO, i.e. Washington, promoters. (In both of these slow and quiet U-turns I discern a corporate media establishment managing expectations – more through a sincere but self servingly deluded journalist caste than outright mendacity – within its objective task of opinion manufacture.) That said, I am sympathetic to the premise, if not to all of the conclusions drawn by this school of thought, that Ukraine’s suffering is not only its very own contribution to a fading superpower’s efforts to contain a Eurasia rising. It is also, perhaps to an even greater extent, the halfways rational response of a system in its death throes to unsustainable levels of debt to which past fixes (like the interest rate hikes in the context of 1980s stagflation) would now only worsen things for our rulers. From this perspective the US war aims are less about weakening Russia, or for that matter further shackling its European satraps; more about the latest excuse (Covid having exhausted its usefulness here) for a system on its last legs to steal yet again from the future and print money more divorced from value than at any time in history – at great cost to the many, while temporarily advantaging the few. I’m still in the process of getting my head around this aspect, but intend to return to it in future posts.