We need to take a fresh look at the escalating U.S. cold war against China.
President Biden and most of the U.S. Congress say China has become a serious threat that must be countered in every way, and in every corner of the globe. The U.S.-led cold war against China has escalated quickly and dramatically. President Biden is trying to harness the G7 and NATO to isolate China, and Congress is fast-tracking bills to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative and punish China for alleged human rights violations.
This escalation is not new. Barack Obama launched the U.S. “pivot to Asia.” Now the seas around China bristle with U.S. aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines; missiles and super-bombers are aimed at China from Japan, Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Australia, with tens of thousands of troops.
The U.S. recently forged the “”Quad Alliance” with Japan, India and Australia, to further challenge China. But it’s not enough. Biden wants all U.S. allies to join sides against China.
There’s a problem with this strategy. A NY Times report of June 16 said “Not all countries in NATO or the Group of 7 share Mr. Biden’s zeal to isolate China.” Germany, France, Italy, Greece, and several other European countries have major economic ties with China. French President Emmanuel Macron told Politico “NATO is an organization that concerns the North Atlantic. China has little to do with the North Atlantic.”
The people of Europe don’t want war. A survey by the European Council on Foreign Affairs in January found that most Europeans want to remain neutral. Only 22% would want to take the U.S. side in a war on China, and just 23% in a war on Russia. The Alliance of Democracies Foundation (ADF), in Europe, conducted a poll of 50,000 people in 53 countries between February and April 2021, and found that more people around the world (44%) see the United States as a threat to democracy in their countries than China (38%) or Russia (28%). That makes it hard for the U.S. to justify war in the name of democracy. In alarger poll of 124,000 people ADF conducted in 2020, countries where large majorities saw the United States as a danger to democracy included China, but also Germany, Austria, Denmark, Ireland, France, Greece, Belgium, Sweden and Canada.
ADF also studied the disparity between those who believe in democracy and those who think they live in one. This chart shows 73% of Chinese think their country is democratic, while just 49% in the U.S. believe their country is democratic.
Another report – from Harvard University’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation – finds over 90% of the Chinese people like their government, and “rate it as more capable and effective than ever before. Interestingly, more marginalized groups in poorer, inland regions are actually comparatively more likely to report increases in satisfaction.” It says Chinese people’s attitudes “appear to respond to real changes in their material well-being.” Elevating 800 million people out of extreme poverty probably helped.
This contrasts with people’s attitudes in the United States, which are polarized politically, racially, and economically. Public trust in government is in crisis. This could be a reason for politicians to whip up a cold war fever – and an urgent reason to take the danger seriously. There are very real human rights concerns at home, where police killings, homelessness and mass incarceration are at pandemic proportions.
In the U.S. Congress, there has been bi-partisan support for the Innovation and Competition Act, which demonizes China’s economic successes across the globe. Charges fly that China favors its companies, both private and state-owned, in China and elsewhere, through subsidies and special financing, while subjecting western trade partners to forced technology transfer, theft of intellectual property, and more. The proposed response is for the U.S. government to do much the same. In Europe Biden announced a “build back better” western version of global infrastructure development, but when and whether it will happen is unclear.
Bernie Sanders wrote in Foreign Affairs in June that “a fast-growing consensus is emerging in Washington that views the U.S.-Chinese relationship as a zero-sum economic and military struggle…” Bernie said “the rush to confront China has a very recent precedent: the global ‘war on terror.’ In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the [U.S.] political establishment quickly concluded that antiterrorism had to become the overriding focus of U.S. foreign policy. Almost two decades and $6 trillion later, it’s become clear that national unity was exploited to launch a series of endless wars that proved enormously costly in human, economic, and strategic terms and that gave rise to xenophobia and bigotry in U.S. politics ‒ the brunt of it borne by American Muslim and Arab communities. It is no surprise that today, in a climate of relentless fearmongering about China, the country is experiencing an increase in anti-Asian hate crimes.”
Accusations on Human Rights
Frequent accusations of Chinese government abuse of human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang have recently been the subject of critical examination. CodePink reports that “since 2014 the U.S. government has pumped a staggering $30 million into opposition movements within China through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Much of that funding went to groups which organized the recent Hong Kong protests, as well as to the East Turkestan separatist movement in Xinjiang. (Source: the NED’s online grants database.) Allen Weinstein, a NED founder, told the Washington Post “A lot of what we do… was done covertly… by the CIA.”
Hong Kong native Julie Tang, now a retired judge of the San Francisco Superior Court, said recently the 2019 Hong Kong riots began as a political protest against the extradition of a confessed murderer, but were supported by “a shadow power” – the NED – in an attempt to destabilize China through destruction and violence. Rioters killed a 70-year-old man by hitting him with a brick, and doused another with gasoline and burned him. They broke into the parliament building – much like the January 6, 2021 fascist riot in DC.
Tang observes that Hong Kong ranks in the top three on the Fraser Human Freedoms Index, while the USA is in 17th place. She quotes Hong Kong journalist Nury Vittachi that “Hong Kong’s civil unrest was the most reported news story of 2019 – yet every salient detail presented was incorrect… The city’s freedoms had not been removed… Police killed no one… Agents from a global superpower were intimately involved, but it wasn’t China.” (The Other Side of the Story: A Secret War in Hong Kong, 2020, ASIN) Rioters branded the Hong Kong police as “public enemy #1,” despite remarkable police restraint – in contrast to police behavior across the USA in 2020.
The 2019 riots in Hong Kong failed, Judge Tang says. “Now there is peace in Hong Kong, but there is a proposed U.S. law to devote $300 million to anti-China propaganda.”
Independent Canadian reporter Daniel Dumbrill reports that the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which has claimed responsibility for attacks in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China, has been identified as a terrorist organization by the governments of China, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Turkey and the United States. The U.S. government removed ETIM from its list of terrorist organizations in October 2020, and has since provided funds to it through NED. Following explosive incidents of terrorist violence by ETIM, the Chinese government responded with repression. How much repression, and for how long, are matters of controversy.
Noam Chomsky, in an April 2021 NY Times podcast interview, said “there’s enough evidence to show that there’s very severe repression going on.” Chomsky asked, “is the situation of the Uyghurs, a million people who’ve been through education camps… worse than the situation of, say, two million and twice that many people in Gaza? Are the Uyghur having their power plants destroyed, their sewage plants destroyed, subjected to regular bombing?... Not to my knowledge.”
The exact number of Uyghurs placed in education camps is not known in the west. China has called the camps a large-scale job training program, as part of its national anti-poverty crusade. On a personal visit to Xinjiang, Dumbrill found that a very small minority of Uyghurs were repressed, and a large portion benefited from job training.
Responding to official U.S. charges of forced labor and genocide, Zhun Xu, an associate professor of economics at John Jay College in New York, says “if [China] has engaged in forced assimilation and eventual erasure of a vulnerable ethnic and religious minority group,” there should be a decrease in the Uyghur population and increase in the Han. But Xinjiang’s Uyghur population increased by 24.9 percent from 2010 to 2018, while the Han population in Xinjiang grew by only 2.2 percent. (Cited by Reese Ehrlich, from Zhun Xu’s upcoming book, Sanctions as War.)
Right-wing religious extremist Adrian Zenz, who states he is “led by God” on a “mission against China,” is the main source for U.S. government and media criticism of Xinjiang conditions. He is also funded by The Jamestown Foundation, an arch-conservative defense policy think tank in Washington, DC, which was co-founded by William Casey, Reagan’s CIA director. Other important sources are the World Uyghur Congress, the International Uyghur Human Rights and Democracy Foundation, and the Uyghur American Association – all of which receive substantial NED funding.
Other sources include the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) and the DC-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) – both militaristic think tanks funded by U.S. and western governments and weapons manufacturers. ASPI and CSIS successfully spearheaded a campaign against “forced labor” in Xinjiang, stimulating moves in Congress to ban U.S. imports from Xinjiang.
Professor Kenneth Hammond of New Mexico State University recently explained the two main aspects of Chinese government policy towards ethnic and religious minorities: first, to preserve and respect their language and culture, and second, inclusion and opportunity through education, health care and job training. Improved health care programs in Xinjiang have contributed to life expectancy increasing there from 31 years in 1949 to 72 currently. In 1949 there were 54 medical centers in Xinjiang; now there are more than 7,300 health care facilities and more than 1,600 hospitals. Literacy has increased from 10% to over 90% in the same period. Average income in Xinjiang has increased more than 10% since 2017.
Tens of millions of Chinese people practice the Islamic faith. Of China’s 55 officially recognized minority peoples, ten are Sunni Muslim. There are more Islamic mosques in China than the United States. Uyghurs are the second-largest group, after the Hui. Most Uyghurs practice a moderate form of Islam called Sufism, which promotes an ascetic lifestyle and shuns material wants. Sufism is incompatible with radical Islamic fundamentalism and Wahhabism, extremist beliefs which have been associated with terrorism in recent decades. The overwhelming majority of Uyghurs are not militant or extremist in outlook.
Over the past generation Washington and the CIA have provided ongoing support to Uyghur separatist organizations, and terrorist groups such as the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), led by Abdul Haq al-Turkistani. The TIP, originally calling itself East Turkestan Islamic Movement, received direct CIA funding and sponsorship. Abdul Haq has served on Al Qaeda’s executive leadership council. He calls for jihad (holy war) against China to attain the TIP’s separatist goals. Prior to the summer 2008 Olympic Games in China, Abdul Haq ordered the TIP to unleash terrorist attacks against a number of cities in mainland China. Almost all of them were foiled. Following China’s clampdown in Xinjiang starting in 2017, no terrorist acts have since taken place in the province.
Reports from first-hand delegations to Xinjiang from countries and organizations including Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Indonesia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Thailand, Malaysia, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and even the World Bank, have testified that neither genocide nor slavery accurately describe the realities of Xinjiang. At two separate convenings of the UN Human Rights Council in 2019 and 2020, letters condemning Chinese conduct in Xinjiang were outvoted, 22-50 and 27-46 – essentially the U.S. and its allies vs non-aligned countries.
Why would the United States back separatism and terror in Xinjiang? CodePink points to “a concerted attempt by the U.S. in recent decades to balkanize China by delegitimizing, or creating disruption, in Hong Kong, Taiwan, the South China Sea, Tibet and Xinjiang. Dismembering China has been a long-term goal of the U.S. government since 1949. Now Xinjiang is the linchpin of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and a rich resource, producing 85% of China’s cotton and 25% of its oil.
Xingjiang’s largest cities, Urumqi and Kashgar, are main hubs on the BRI’s “Silk Road economic belt,” with rail links from Kashgar through Pakistan to the Indian Ocean, and from Urumqi through Central Asia to Teheran, Istanbul, Moscow, and western Europe.
It’s the biggest infrastructure project in human history, linking China across Eurasia and parts of Africa – 65 countries and more than 4 billion people. This may be why the U.S. considers the BRI a threat. If it could cut Xinjiang away from China, it might stop Belt and Road.
Meanwhile in the Taiwan Straits, there’s a buildup of war danger. During the Trump years the U.S. broke from recognizing the “one China policy” agreed to by Nixon in 1972, sending cabinet level officials to meet with Taiwanese leaders, and openly engaging in military cooperation. This continues under Biden, backed up with U.S. nuclear-armed war ships, just like 1958, when a crisis threatened to escalate into nuclear holocaust. We need to stop this war before it starts.
“What would happen to the world,” Judge Julie Tang asks, “if the United States and China were to go to war? The price of war would be calamitous. We need to aim for peace, not war. China is not our enemy.”