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By Vijay Prashad (People’s Daily Online) 14:45, October 29, 2021
In early October, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States announced that it had created a top-level working group on China. CIA Director William Burns said that the United States is facing its “toughest geopolitical test in a new era of great power rivalry,” and so the CIA stated that it would focus its attention on this test. What is the test? The test is, as US President Joe Biden put it, China’s “aggressiveness.”
What is the evidence of Chinese “aggressiveness”? The last time the armed forces of the United States and China had a serious clash was in 2001, when a US Navy intelligence aircraft, which was conducting a reconnaissance mission extremely close to South China’s Hainan Province, collided with a Chinese fighter jet. Since then, there has been no direct clash between American and Chinese forces. However, the US has continued to build up military capabilities in the Pacific Ocean, strengthening its Indo-Pacific Command, establishing two new military and strategic channels (the QUAD with Australia, India, and Japan, as well as AUKUS with Australia and the United Kingdom), in addition to ratcheting up its rhetoric versus China. China, meanwhile, has built up its defensive capabilities, including military means to defend its territory and its regional interests.
Even the US military has acknowledged in a key report that China does not seek to attack the US nor threaten its interests outside of Asia (Pentagon, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, 2020). This same document from the US military makes it clear that China, unlike the US, has adopted a “no first use” nuclear policy. As the US military document notes, “China will never use nuclear weapons first at any time nor under any circumstances, and China unconditionally undertakes not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against any nonnuclear-weapon state or in nuclear-weapon-free zones.”
If the US military’s own assessment is that China is not a threat, then why does the White House continue to advance the view of a “China threat”? In his first speech to the US Congress as President in April 2021, Joe Biden said that “China and other countries are closing in fast.” Biden was not referring to any specific military developments. Despite all the rhetoric, the US still boasts a vast military, much more powerful than any other military force on the planet.
So, when Biden says that China is “closing in fast,” he is not in fact referring to a military challenge but to an economic challenge. It is now widely recognized that in certain key fields, such as telecommunications, high-speed rail, etc., China’s scientific and technological achievements are already one or two generations ahead of the US. This is a serious challenge to US-based high-tech firms, which have come to believe that they have a divine right to retain their superiority. This challenge from China has been something of a surprise to them, and one that they feel can only be remedied by non-market forces, such as a US-imposed hybrid war. It is this rising economic threat that has provoked the US to adopt its increasingly war-like rhetoric and a military build-up on China’s shores.
Vijay Prashad is an Indian journalist and executive director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.