NANJING — This ancient Chinese imperial capital, former headquarters of Generalissimo Chiang-kai shek, and site of the infamous 1930’s massacre of 300,000 Chinese by Japanese troops, is haunted by its magnificent but often sinister history.
History has also been on US Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld’s mind. Last June, Rummy warned China’s military buildup was threatening Asia (read: US interests). Shades of the Cold War. It seemed Rumsfeld had found America a new primary enemy to replace the former best of enemies, the old USSR.
Glory in war, Japanese samurai used to say, is a function of your enemy’s courage and strength.
Arabs make miserable, fifth-rate foes. You can’t justify building new $20 billion carrier battle groups or supersubs because of a bunch of car bombers. The military-industrial complex against which General Eisenhower warned, is not going to keep its business humming by making body armor or Humvees.
Like Rummy, I also miss the Cold War. A Pentagon commendation hangs above my desk proclaiming my service to the USA as a genuine "Cold Warrior" in the anti-Soviet struggle, signed by Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense. Details will be revealed in my posthumous memoirs.
But China is not a new Soviet Union and Cold War days are gone. Still, the Pentagon and US neoconservatives make no secret they see China emerging as a grave threat — meaning to US hegemony over the greater Pacific region and Central Asia.
During his visit to China this week, Rummy diplomatically downplayed his earlier warnings, sounding even amiable. But he and a procession of visiting senior US officials have openly hectored China to stop saving, spend more, raise its exchange rate, play by international trade rules, and freeze military spending.
The US claims China’s defense budget is understated — this from a nation that spends as much on intelligence as China does, at least officially, on defense, and which has all sorts of "black" defense programs hidden in various parts of the federal budget.
Such sermonizing is pretty rich coming from Washington, which is running mammoth deficits that have ignited worldwide inflation, living on money borrowed from Japan and China, waging two foreign wars and threatening to invade Syria and Iran. Rummy’s Pentagon spends as much on defense as the world’s next ten powers combined.
China was until recent centuries the world’s richest nation. The proud, prickly Chinese do not enjoy being lectured like schoolboys by a nation living in a huge glass house that offers a pretty poor example of fiscal rectitude or peaceful behavior.
As to China’s alleged militarism, Rummy’s hosts were too polite to lecture him about the fool’s war in Iraq that has raised global oil prices and fueled terrorism.
But Rummy is right when he says China’s current military buildup threatens Taiwan. China’s behavior towards Taiwan is often brazenly aggressive.
China now can wreck Taiwan’s economy by bombarding its ports with over 800 missiles and throwing a submarine blockade around the island. China’s new, long-ranged strike aircraft and more modern naval units may even be able to keep US carriers far from Taiwan. The Pentagon has real concerns about defending Taiwan and is upgrading Guam as a new forward Pacific base.
Still, while US warships patrol the Taiwan Strait, no Chinese warships cruise between Cuba and Miami. Apropos, the UN just reaffirmed the five-decade-old US blockade of Cuban violates its resolutions.
Besides Taiwan, China poses no current military threat to any other Asian nation — except regional superpower India, which can well look after itself. China has generally preferred to use its power and prestige to intimidate and overawe neighbors rather than invading them — with some notable exceptions. Or hurl invective against nations that displease it, notably Japan.
The Bush Administration and know-nothing Bible Belt Republicans are most unwise to seek a new Soviet-style enemy in China by whipping up false fears about Chinese expansionism. The real threat we face is how to divide up dwindling world energy supplies. Besides, the over-stretched US military is in no shape to fight China.
China and the US already face growing competition for natural resources. Today, Americans, only 4% of world population, consume 25% of world oil. China, India and the EU want their share. Managing this demand and China’s rapid emergence as a Pacific and world power will be America’s most important strategic problem in the next 30 years. This is a task for diplomats, not the Pentagon. America will have to learn to share energy and accept China as a co-equal in the Pacific.