Having previously announced a strategic “pivot to Asia”, US imperialism has, over recent months, been engaged in a whole series of military and diplomatic activities, whose common aim is to threaten, encircle and weaken the People’s Republic of China, ultimately preparing for a devastating war against the world’s most populous nation and second largest economy, a course that US imperialism sees as its only way out from its inexorable and deepening crisis.
New missile defence plans
On 23 August, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that the US was planning a major escalation of its “missile defence” programme, ostensibly targeted at the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), but in reality leaving China more vulnerable to US nuclear threats.
Adam Entous and Julian E Barnes put matters perfectly succinctly in the opening lines of their article: “The US is planning a major expansion of missile defences in Asia, a move American officials say is designed to contain threats from North Korea, but one that could also be used to counter China’s military.”
Stating that, “the planned build-up is part of a defensive array that could cover large swaths of Asia, with a new radar in southern Japan and possibly another in Southeast Asia tied to missile-defence ships and land-based interceptors”, the WSJ went on to note that:
“It is part of the Obama administration’s new defence strategy to shift resources to an Asian-Pacific region critical to the US economy after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The expansion comes at a time when the US and its allies in the region voice growing alarm about a North Korean missile threat. They are also increasingly worried about China’s aggressive stance in disputed waters such as the South China Sea…
“US defence planners are particularly concerned about China’s development of anti-ship ballistic missiles that could threaten the Navy’s fleet of aircraft carriers, critical to the US projection of power in Asia.
“‘The focus of our rhetoric is North Korea,’ said Steven Hildreth, a missile defence expert with the Congressional Research Service, an advisory arm of Congress. ‘The reality is that we’re also looking longer term at the elephant in the room, which is China’.”
According to the journal, the centrepiece of the new programme would be the deployment of a powerful early-warning radar, known as an X-Band, on a southern Japanese island. The Pentagon is currently discussing that prospect with Japan, one of Washington’s closest allies, which is also embroiled in its own disputes with China over territorial and other issues. According to US officials, the radar could be installed within months of Japan’s agreement and would supplement an X-Band the US placed in Aomori Prefecture in northern Japan in 2006.
Officials with the US military’s Pacific Command and Missile Defence Agency have also been evaluating sites in Southeast Asia for a third X-Band radar. According to the WSJ, “this would create an arc that would allow the US and its regional allies to more accurately track any ballistic missiles launched from North Korea, as well as from parts of China.”
In plain words, it would be a further and major step to a military encirclement of China. So far, the most likely site for any third X-Band is the Philippines, one of the south east Asian countries that has, with US instigation and encouragement, taken an extremely aggressive stance towards China over recent months.
Pentagon press secretary George Little claims that: “North Korea is the immediate threat that is driving our missile defence decision making.” But the WSJ report, clearly based on the intimate ties between this right wing newspaper and the US security and defence establishment, continues:
“The Pentagon is particularly concerned about the growing imbalance of power across the Taiwan Strait. China has been developing advanced ballistic missiles and anti-ship ballistic missiles that could target US naval forces in the region.
“China has between 1,000 and 1,200 short-range ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan, and has been developing longer range cruise and ballistic missiles, including one designed to hit a moving ship more than 930 miles away, says the Pentagon’s latest annual report on China’s military.
“The proposed X-Band arc would allow the US to not only cover all of North Korea, but to peer deeper into China, say current and former U.S. officials.
“‘Physics is physics’, a senior US official said. ‘You’re either blocking North Korea and China or you’re not blocking either of them.’”
The WSJ continued: “US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said during a visit Wednesday to the USS John C. Stennis warship in Washington state that the US would ‘focus and project our force into the Pacific’…
“In addition to the new X-Band site in southern Japan, the US plans to increase the number of marines in Okinawa in the near term before relocating them to Guam. As the marines are pulled out of Afghanistan, going from 21,000 to less than 7,000, the number of forces on Okinawa will rise, from about 15,000 to 19,000, officials said.”
The report makes clear that a major part of the US strategy is to protect the separatist authorities on the Chinese island province of Taiwan, thereby preventing the Chinese people from realising their cause of national reunification and preserving a pro-imperialist base in the region: “Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia non-proliferation programme at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California, said any missile defence deployments in the Asian theatre will alarm the Chinese, particularly if they believe the systems are designed to cover Taiwan. ‘If you’re putting one in southern Japan and one in the Philippines, you’re sort of bracketing Taiwan,’ Mr. Lewis said. ‘So it does look like you’re making sure that you can put a missile defence cap over the Taiwanese.”
“Mr. Hildreth of the Congressional Research Service said the US was ‘laying the foundations’ for a region-wide missile defence system that would combine US ballistic missile defences with those of regional powers, particularly Japan, South Korea and Australia.” (‘US plans new Asia missile defences’, 23 August 2012)
Think tank prepares war blueprint
The news of the enhanced US missile defence programme followed just weeks after a major think tank report outlined US imperialism’s strategic plans for enhanced military confrontation with China.
A paper by the Washington think tank, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), entitled ‘US Force Posture Strategy in the Asia Pacific Region: An Independent Assessment’, effectively amounts to a blueprint for the Obama administration’s military preparations for conflict with China.
Although the CSIS is officially a non-government body, its assessment was commissioned by the US Defence Department, as required by the 2012 National Defence Authorisation Act, giving its findings and proposals at least semi-official status.
The paper is based, inter alia, on extensive discussions with top US military personnel throughout the Pentagon’s Pacific Command. It was delivered to the Pentagon on 27 June, but gained media exposure only after its principal authors – David Berteau and Michael Green – testified before the US House Armed Services Committee on 1 August.
The CSIS asserts that the underlying US geostrategic objective in the Asia-Pacific region has been to prevent “the rise of any hegemonic state from within the region that could threaten US interests by seeking to obstruct American access or dominate the maritime domain. From that perspective, the most significant problem for the United States in Asia today is China’s rising power, influence, and expectations of regional pre-eminence”. What this means in reality is that US imperialist domination must continue and no power must be allowed to challenge it.
The document is clear that military strategy is bound up with economic needs. It identifies “trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the US-[south] Korea Free Trade Agreement” as crucial to “a sustainable trans-Pacific trade architecture that sustains US access and influence in the region”. Whilst claiming that the US “must integrate all of these instruments of national power and not rely excessively on US military capabilities,” the reality is that it is precisely the USA’s stark economic decline, and the rise of China, that is driving the use of brute military power to maintain imperialist dominance in Asia-Pacific, just as in the Middle East.
The report’s authors reject any suggestion of a power-sharing arrangement with China, or, as described to the armed services committee, “a bipolar condominium that acknowledges Beijing’s core interests and implicitly divides the region”, which some US commentators have advanced as the only means of preventing a major war sooner or later. And the report rejects any pull back by the US from Asia.
Having ruled out peaceful alternatives, the CSIS paper sets out a military strategy. The authors are too clever to openly advocate war with China, declaring, with weasel-like caveats, that “the consequences of conflict with that nation are almost unthinkable and should be avoided to the greatest extent possible, consistent with US interests”.
But they specifically do not exclude the possibility of conflict in the event that US interests are at stake, adding that the ability to “maintain a favourable peace” depends on the perception that the US can prevail in the event of conflict.
“US force posture must demonstrate a readiness and capacity to fight and win, even under more challenging circumstances associated with A2AD [anti-access/area denial] and other threats to US military operations in the Western Pacific,” the report states.
Just as Hitler did before them, the US imperialists, whilst mouthing sanctimonious words of peace, are actively preparing for a devastating world war, this time taking China as their main enemy.
The CSIS report approves of the repositioning and strengthening of US military forces in the Western Pacific, a process that has accelerated under the Obama administration’s “rebalance” to Asia. Already this has meant consolidating US bases, troops and military assets in Japan and south Korea; building up US forces on Guam and the Northern Mariana islands, strategically located in the Western Pacific; stationing littoral combat ships in Singapore – relatively small, fast, flexible warships capable of intelligence gathering, special operations and landing troops with armoured vehicles; and making greater use of Australian naval and air bases and stationing 2,500 Marines in the northern city of Darwin. In addition, the paper confirms that the US has held discussions with Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam over possible access to bases and joint training.
The report also reviews US efforts to strengthen military ties throughout Asia-Pacific, from India to New Zealand. Significantly, in ranking military contingencies from low to high intensity, it identifies Australia, Japan and South Korea as critical allies “at the higher spectrum of intensity” – in other words, outright military conflict with China – “with other allies and partners at the lower spectrum of intensity”.
While broadly dealing with all contingencies, the CSIS assessment is mainly focussed on “high intensity”. Its recommendations involve the further development of military agreements with South Korea, Japan and Australia, and also between these allies.
The CSIS document couches its statements as recommendations and it considers all scenarios, including maintaining the status quo and drawing back US forces from the Asia Pacific region. However, it rejects both of these options. Rather, it details a substantial list of steps that could be taken to markedly strengthen the US military throughout the region.
As well as basing a US nuclear aircraft carrier in Western Australia, they include: doubling the number of nuclear attack submarines based at Guam; deploying littoral combat ships to south Korea; doubling the size of amphibious forces in Hawaii; permanently basing a bomber squadron on Guam; boosting manned and unmanned surveillance assets in Australia or Guam; upgrading anti-missile defences in Japan, south Korea and Guam; and strengthening US ground forces. While recommending consideration of all these options, the CSIS specifically calls for more attack submarines to be stationed at Guam, within easy striking distance of vital Chinese shipping routes as well as the country’s key naval bases.
The CSIS assessment points to potential flashpoints, from the Korean peninsula and the Taiwan Straits to the South China Sea and the disputed border between India and China. It clearly represents widespread thinking within the Obama administration, as well as top US military and intelligence circles, which are recklessly preparing and planning for a war against China.
South China Sea – an American lake?
Besides the Korean peninsula and the Taiwan Straits, the South China Sea, where a number of countries have territorial disputes with China, constitutes an increasingly important front in the US war plan against the People’s Republic.
At an ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) summit in 2010, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated for the first time that the US had “a national interest” in ensuring “freedom of navigation” in the South China Sea. She also offered to “mediate” in the territorial disputes, thereby effectively undermining a decade of Chinese diplomacy aimed at resolving the outstanding issues peacefully and bilaterally with its neighbours without outside interference.
Under the spurious signboard of “freedom of navigation” (which nobody except the US is threatening), the US is seeking to reassert its naval dominance over strategic waters close to the Chinese mainland and, in doing so, is encouraging countries like the Philippines and Vietnam to more aggressively press their territorial claims against China.
Clinton has hinted on several occasions that the US would come to the aid of the Philippines under their Mutual Defence Treaty in the event of conflict with China.
And the Obama administration has been actively strengthening the Philippines armed forces. In a recent confrontation with China over the disputed Scarborough Shoal (known in China as Huangyan Island), the vessel first deployed to the area was a former US coastguard cutter that had been supplied to the Philippines last year. Another is due to be provided soon, along with more sophisticated warplanes and other military hardware.
Clinton made clear Washington’s support for the former American colony, and present-day neo-colony, when she visited Manila last November. Amid rising tensions with China, she reaffirmed the 1951 US-Philippines mutual defence treaty, declaring that “the United States will always be in the corner of the Philippines”. Clinton also pointedly referred to the South China Sea as the “the West Philippines Sea”, a new name recently minted by chauvinists in Manila.
Washington is also in discussions with Manila over an agreement to access Philippine military bases. This will be along the lines of the agreement announced last November in Canberra that stations marines in Darwin and expands the US use of Australian naval and air bases. These and other moves are all part of a comprehensive strategy, in keeping with which Defence Secretary Panetta has announced plans to station 60 percent of US naval forces in the Asia-Pacific region.
US naval dominance of the South China Sea, as well as key “choke points” through South East Asia, such as the Malacca Straits, poses a direct threat to China, which relies on these shipping routes to import energy and raw materials from the Middle East and Africa. In the event of a conflict, the US could impose an economic blockade on China.
By such means, the Obama administration has transformed what were previously relatively minor maritime disputes into a major international issue involving the world’s two largest economies.
The divisions this has opened up were evident at July’s ASEAN ministerial summit. On one side, the Philippines and Vietnam, supported by the US, pressed for a discussion on a regional “code of conduct”. The Philippines even insisted that its dispute with China over the Scarborough Shoal be mentioned in the final communiqué. Cambodia opposed these proposals and, for the first time in ASEAN’s 45-year history, no final joint statement was issued.
A speech in Singapore
The announcement that the United States will deploy the majority of its naval forces to the Asia-Pacific region over the next decade was made by Defence Secretary Panetta in a 2 June speech to the annual Shangri-La security conference organised in Singapore by the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS).
The mobilisation of warships will be accompanied by an increase in the number of military exercises conducted by the US in the region, involving air, sea and land forces. Most will be carried out in conjunction with countries that are openly or tacitly allied with the US against China, including Japan, south Korea, Australia and the Philippines.
In his speech, Panetta elaborated on the “pivot to Asia” announced by Obama last year, in which he indicated that the withdrawal of most US forces from Iraq and the beginning of a similar withdrawal from Afghanistan would allow the US military to deploy far greater resources to the Far East.
“All of the US military services are focused on implementing the president’s guidance to make the Asia-Pacific a top priority,” Panetta said, adding: “While the US military will remain a global force for security and stability, we will of necessity rebalance towards the Asia-Pacific region.”
The current deployment of the US Navy is approximately a 50-50 split between the Atlantic and Pacific. This will change by 2020 to a 60-40 split in favour of the Pacific, Panetta said: “That will include six aircraft carriers in this region, a majority of our cruisers, destroyers, littoral combat ships, and submarines.” He called these forces “the core of our commitment to this region”.
Panetta singled out for praise the agreement reached last autumn with the Australian government for the deployment of US Marines in northern Australia, calling it “a critical component” of the US military build-up.
“This Marine Air-Ground Task Force will be capable of rapidly deploying across the Asia-Pacific region,” he said, thereby confirming that it will be able to be deployed in any confrontation with China.
He reconfirmed that the US is negotiating a similar agreement for stationing ground forces on a rotating basis in the Philippines and that it is pursuing such arrangements with other countries in the region, although he did not name them. In 2011, the US military conducted 172 military exercises in the Asia-Pacific region, a number that will be surpassed this year.
And, just in case anyone had any doubts as to the point of all this military build-up, Panetta closed his address with this invocation of the history of US wars in the region:
“Over the course of history, the United States has fought wars, we have spilled blood, we have deployed our forces time and time again to defend our vital interests in the Asia-Pacific region.”
Panetta followed his appearance in Singapore with visits to Vietnam, where he became the highest-ranking US official to visit the strategic port of Cam Ranh Bay since the end of the Vietnam war in 1975, and to India.
Speaking to the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) in New Delhi, Panetta stated:
“In particular, we will expand our partnerships and our presence in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia,” thereby almost perfectly describing an encirclement of China from the east, south and west.
For the last more than two decades, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US has plunged headlong into one war after another, in Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere, in an attempt to preserve its hegemony and reverse its economic decline. However, Obama’s “pivot” to Asia has dramatically raised the stakes, by removing any shadow of doubt that the US’s main target is a nuclear power, the People’s Republic of China.
As in the 1930s, imperialism perceives that its only way out is war. The duty of the entire international working class is to do everything in its power to prevent that war of aggression and to pursue unto victory its own war against imperialist and capitalist barbarism. US imperialism’s selection of China is not by chance – it is the main and most powerful force standing in the way of US domination of the planet.
Notwithstanding the very real issues and concerns regarding many of the internal developments in China’s economy and society, the communist and workers’ parties of all countries should unite in common struggle, demanding:
Hands off China!
Death to US imperialism!