Michael Pascoe: Why the fearmongering about a China-US war is over the top

10 News First – Disclaimer

One of the People Liberation Army’s top generals declares war is likely with the US – and therefore Australia – the year after next.

“My gut tells me we will fight in 2025,” quotes the Global Times.

Not only does his statement go unrebuked by Beijing, a day later it is publicly endorsed by a senior Politburo member.

“I think he is right,” he tells state television.

Unsurprisingly, given the way the Australian mainstream commentariat collectively wet itself over a mere list of Chinese diplomatic grievances,  the local Sinophobe industry goes ballistic.

Standby for Peter Hartcher wearing fatigues and flak jacket on Insiders, Greg Sheridan appearing via candlelight from his basement bomb shelter, and editorials in The Australian demanding conscription be reinstated along with compulsory high school army cadets and bandage-rolling classes in primary schools.

And that’s before the Murdoch tabloids get to work assisting Peter Dutton with headlines and cartoons not out of place back when the White Australia policy was bipartisan and the Communist Menace loomed large.

In short, such statements by senior military and government officials cause considerable fear and loathing and grant weapons salespeople season passes to ministers’ offices.

China says it has a right to build on islands in the South China Sea. Photo: AP

I confess the above scenario for war in 2025 did not quite happen.

A Chinese general and senior official did not thus rattle the sabres – it was a top American general and the chairman of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.

Diplomatic failure

A prerequisite for diplomacy, for being civilised, is the ability to consider a situation from the other party’s point of view, “to walk a mile in the other’s shoes,” as they say.

It is what Australian governments have failed to do for a dozen years when dealing with China, ever since Julia Gillard joyfully embraced President Obama’s “pivot to Asia”.

That failure, whether fuelled by American client state cringe or boof-heads seeking perceived domestic political points, on one hand delivered diplomatic failure we’re only beginning to partially recover from.

On the other, it has helped lock us into a military escalation that is not in our best interests, blowing the budget on intrinsically offensive rather than defensive weaponry – nuclear-powered submarines specifically tasked with operating as part of the US Navy in the South China Sea as a threat to China.

The hypocrisy and group-think of our commentariat was on display in its silence this week as the aggressive hairy-chestedness of American wolf warriors was on display.

It is one thing for military types to consider war scenarios. It is another for top brass to run off at the mouth talking up the prospects of war.

That is what General Mike Minihan, head of US Air Mobility Command, did by putting in writing to his commanders the US and China would likely be at war in 2025 – a memo “leaked” to American media.

Then-US President Barack Obama walks across the tarmac with then-Col. Mike Minihan. Photo: Getty

Interesting timing

It might be coincidental the general’s views were dropped a week before the first visit by the Biden administration’s Secretary of State to China.

Given the political games and positioning of the US military, it also might not be.

Great talking point to start discussions with, when the world needs its two biggest powers to work together instead of heating up the cold war the US has already started and is continuing to ramp up.

And a day after the general’s story, Michael McCaul, chairman of the House foreign affairs committee, is on Republican state television (alias Fox News) endorsing the warmongering.

The Minihan memo is only the latest example of American brass talking up imminent war.

If everything is a nail to a hammer, every international tension is a military empire building opportunity for a general.

The worry for Australia is that we have locked ourselves into being part of it, heedless of the self-fulfilling nature of such posturing, blind to the escalation it causes.

The most obvious lesson is to consider which came first: (a) Obama’s declared pivot from blowing up much of the Middle East to concentrating its military might on Asia with one obvious target; or (b) China’s move to build islands in the South China Sea and install defence posts on them.

Hint: It’s not (b) by a long shot.

biden xi g20

US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping held “‘blunt talks” in Indonesia last year. Photo: Getty

Consider how the world started looking from China’s point of view in 2011 and more so every year since.

The biggest military power the world has ever imagined, a force that is a multiple of any other country’s, one that is already sailing nuclear battle groups with more firepower than you possess up to your doorstep, suddenly declares it is going to concentrate its sights on you.

Given China’s preyed-upon history over most of the past century or two, it is entirely reasonable for it to start investing more in defence.

Media’s response

The main response by Australian media and the spook and security outfits that feed them has been alarm that China is starting to increase its military budget from a small fraction of the United States to a less-small fraction.

Along the way, various degrees of Sinophobic bias have become standard in Australian commentary.

Never mind the usual Chinese-under-the-bed suspects, a Four Corners program on America enlarging its bases here will threateningly intone a figure on increased Chinese defence spending, but neglect to put that in perspective with the much bigger American effort.

Even Thursday’s fine story in the Nine Entertainment papers about the AFP cracking an alleged multi-billion dollar, money laundering operation somehow includes the idea that it is Beijing’s fault:

“The ability of the syndicates to operate under the noses of the Chinese government has also raised questions about Beijing’s desire to deal with the problem.

“Officials in the United States have directly called out Beijing’s failure to combat money laundering trails that flow through Western countries.

“Australian authorities, including the AFP, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, AUSTRAC and the ATO, have recently ramped up efforts to target money laundering, but more than half a dozen sources say they are being hampered by the sheer scale of the problem, inadequate resources and the failure of Beijing to act.”

Apparently it is the Chinese Communist Party’s fault Australia has dragged the chain on tackling money-laundering, thus attracting dirty money from around the world.

Take that up with the lobbyists calling the tune for Australian politicians on that score – and what the Australian government does not want to know about corruptly-acquired money being housed (literally) here.

(And if you’re interested in the local authorities’ sudden sophistication in cracking such a case, yes, key banks are holding Plod’s hand and guiding it through the Fintel Alliance.)

Self-fulfilling prophecy

The more we take for granted the line that China is our enemy intent on war, the further we progress along the path towards a self-fulfilling prophesy – the Thucydides Trap so often warned against.

Former Australian ambassador to China, Geoff Raby, has written of how it is not inevitable a rising power will have military conflict with the dominant power. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.

“It also can be seen that at times the ascendant power does not want to replace the dominant power,” he wrote. “It does not want, for example, to shoulder the responsibility for providing global public goods, such as security.”

Unlike the long history of American military adventures around the globe and that country’s militaristic culture, China’s stance has been overwhelmingly defensive.

Yes, a little bullying on its borders on occasion and in its back and front yards, but by the usual standards of great powers, almost nothing.

But don’t expect to read or hear much in Australia with that sort of perspective – the only shoes we’re standing in are American.

And the rest of the old line: Don’t criticise someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes – because then you’re a mile away and you have their shoes.

Topics: Australia, China, United States
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