An Anti-Interventionist Looks at China

Most discussion of China in the mainstream press, especially the left-liberal press, focuses on China’s “human rights” record, or freedom of press and speech, or labor issues, or family planning policies. One may argue endlessly about those matters. But they are China’s internal affairs, and for a genuine anti-interventionist, they are none of our government’s business and have no place in setting foreign policy. There is a world of difference between an anti-interventionist and an advocate for “humanitarian” imperialism, witting or not. How does an anti-interventionist look at China?

Let us begin with some stubborn, cold, hard facts about the U.S. and China. In very round numbers, the world’s annual GDP is about $60 trillion. The U.S. accounts for $15 trillion, the EU for $15 trillion, and China and Japan for about $5 trillion each, with China about to pull a bit ahead of Japan this year. The per capita GDP of the U.S. is about $46,000 and that of China is about $4,000. In sum, China is still a developing country, though one with a very large aggregate GDP. It is number two to the U.S. but not a close number two, and it trails the developed world considerably in its standard of living.

What about trade? Is China not the world’s largest exporter? Yes, it is, but until last year, it was number two; Germany was number one – and Germany has slipped now to number two. So Germany with its high wages and generous social benefits was able to outdo both the U.S. and China in exports until recently. How did Germany do this? By exporting high quality, high tech, well-branded goods. (Germany has not outsourced production to other countries as has the U.S.) In fact, as China came into the number one exporter spot, its leaders proclaimed that they were not really number one but number one only in quantity. They said China’s goal was to follow in Germany’s path to become an exporter of “high tech, high quality, well-branded goods.” Why can’t the U.S. do this instead of blaming China for its unemployment?

What about China as a military “threat” to the U.S.? The U.S. now spends about $1 trillion a year on “national security,” a staggering 1 dollar in 15 of our total GDP and 1 dollar in 60 of the world’s GDP, a colossal waste. And that does not include the military spending forced upon our “allies,” the NATO countries, South Korea, Japan, and now India. Simply to equal U.S. military spending alone China would have to spend 20 percent of its GDP on the military, an impossibility unless development is forsaken. Its navy is not powerful, but soon it will at least be able to patrol and defend the nearby seas. Most assuredly the U.S. will not for long be able to sail aircraft carriers within sight of China’s shores – and that is to the good. It will make for less tension. Consider how the U.S. would react if a Chinese fleet were conducting maneuvers within sight of Los Angeles or Seattle.

Next, let us consider U.S. military doctrine in the ways it might affect relations with China. U.S. doctrine is clear and unchanging from one administration to the next since the end of the Cold War. No country is to be allowed to come close to the U.S. in military might. The most explicit statement of this came in the Defense Planning Guide for 1994-1999, a secret document prepared in 1992 and leaked to the New York Times and Washington Post. “Our first objective,” the highly classified document stated, “is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union.” From the outset Obama has left no doubt that the policy of permanent military superiority continues under him, proclaiming just after his election, on the occasion of appointing his “foreign policy team” of Clinton, Gates, and others that “we all share the belief we have to maintain the strongest military on the planet.” Just last week Pentagon chief Robert Gates declared in a speech in Tokyo that the 47,000 troops in Japan were there to “keep China’s rising power in check” and so will remain for the indefinite future. One must also conclude that the wars in Central Asia, the implantation of U.S. bases right on China’s back doorstep, and the courting of India over the past 10 years are also part of the “containment” policy, whatever other purposes those wars and bases may have. This dimension of the U.S. wars is rarely discussed in the mainstream or liberal press.

The implications of this doctrine are pernicious in the extreme. First, the very threat encourages those who might want to be friends to arm themselves to preserve their independence and sovereignty. Second, and much more important, military might grows out of economic power, as we have known at least since Thucydides. Thus the U.S. is declaring that China cannot have a total GDP that comes close to that of the U.S. Let us consider the consequences of that. What would it mean for China if it achieved an aggregate GDP not larger that of the U.S. but simply the same size? Quite simply, since China has four or five times our population, it would mean that China would have a per capita GDP one fourth of ours – or about $10,000 a year. That means unending poverty for the Chinese people. Thus China is forced to choose between poverty or provoking the ire of the U.S. Such is the iron logic of U.S. military policy.

The U.S. must either content itself to be eclipsed by China in the economic and therefore military sphere if indeed China continues to be successful in developing – or prevent China from rising to the standard of living in Europe and the U.S. That is the meaning of the policy of “containing China.” Sadly, this policy also forecloses a win-win outcome whereby China, the U.S., and the entire globe prosper. U.S. policy dictates a win-lose outcome. Such is the bellicose strategy and dismal future dictated by U.S. military policy. And in the sweet talk from Obama and Clinton leading up to the visit of President Hu Jintao of China, there has been no suggestion of a change in U.S. military policy, not even a hint of such a change. It is long overdue.

Author: John V. Walsh

John V. Walsh writes about issues of war, peace, empire, and health care for, Consortium News,, The Unz Review, and other outlets. Now living in the East Bay, he was until recently Professor of Physiology and Cellular Neuroscience at a Massachusetts Medical School. John V. Walsh can be reached at