Our second guest, James Bradley, author of an important book about American involvement in Asia called the ‘China Mirage’, argues that China’s expansionism is nothing compared to American militarisation and catastrophic past adventures into S.E. Asia, such as the Vietnamese war which killed 3-4 million people.
James Bradley starts the programme with a brief historical sketch. “It is a highly emotional issue between the two countries that share the Pacific sea lanes. China is saying that this is their ‘sovereign’ territory. That’s very emotional for the Chinese after centuries of humiliation by the West which encroached on Chinese territory. For the United States, the highly emotional word is ‘freedom’ in this case freedom of navigation. …Fear of China is a traditional fear going back to George Washington. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump don’t agree about much, but they agree about ‘Big Bad China’. Fear of China was the beginning of McCarthyism. When I was a kid, fear of China was expressed in terms of the domino theory. Vietnam was about China taking Vietnam and then all of Asia.”
Professor Navarro countered James Bradley’s point by asserting that China has actually been ‘Big Bad China’. “After the Korean War, we had tens of thousands of Americans killed there, Then in Vietnam, I think it is important to note that it was the Chinese gunners in Hanoi that shot down over 2000 planes.
… I think it is incorrect to say that there is potential war between the United States and China coming up. Vietnam is afraid of China, and is being bullied by China. China has become very aggressive against the Philippines and Singapore, and has very few allies in the region. …China is seizing islands by force, and building military garrisons on them, which is provocative not only to the United States but to its neighbours. The 1980s Law of the Sea Treaty dictates that even a small rock in the sea can have a 200 miles economic zones around them, which includes all of the oil and fish within those area. What China has been trying to do is take as many of those rocks as possible.”
But China’s trade depends on sea routes which can be easily blocked by Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, so China surely needs to protect its sea lanes? James agreed and commented: “just imagine waking up tomorrow and China is shaking hands with the leaders of Mexico, and said we are just going to construct a billion dollar air base here so we can easily bomb LA and other cities. Next, the Chinese put in a base in Nova Scotia, and we’ve got Chinese ships off the coast of New York and Washington, we would go absolutely ballistic. We almost had a Third World War when the Russians put some assets in Cuba. We’re getting involved in something 6,000 miles away from our shores. Gallup recently did an international poll and asked 64,000 people which country is the greatest threat to world peace. China was at 4%, the United States at 24%.” Professor Navarro replied to this by saying that China “is not just protecting its trade routes, it is using its muscle to expand its territory.”
To the question what will happen next, Navarro said that ASEAN countries want to settle this dispute within a multilateral framework, but China wants to work on a bilateral level. “I hope that China will not react in an aggressive manner to the ruling which will be made on July 12th. For example, if China imposes an air identification zone over the South China Sea, that will inflate the conflict. If it doesn’t, and China accepts the ruling of the International Court, then life is good. If it doesn’t, then the United States might well send warships, and for whatever reason, ships bump in the night, unfortunately this has happened about 5 times since 1991. Shots are fired and then we are in a crisis. Scenario 2 would include a Philippine’ coastal vehicle which is attacked by a flotilla of Chinese vessels, and the US is called in to help out.” Professor Navarro thinks that there will be conflict but is not sure whether it will become a hot war. James Bradley did not predict whether there will be war or not, but hopes that there will not, and restated that it is the American concept of freedom, freedom of navigation, which really resonates strongly in the United States, whereas for China this is about their sovereign territory. James made the point that it is “strange to talk about international law when we are droning people in 8 different countries illegally right now. Was the United States following international law when it invaded Iraq?”