Home > Uncategorized > Biden, China, and the New Cold War

Biden, China, and the New Cold War

from Dean Baker

After Donald Trump’s clown shows, it was nice to have a U.S. president who at least takes world issues seriously while representing the country at the various summits over the last week. But that is a low bar. While we want adults in positions of responsibility, we have to ask where those adults want to take us. It is not clear that we should all eagerly follow the path that President Biden seems to be outlining with regard to China.

Unfortunately, people in the United States (including reporter-type people) tend to have little knowledge of history. Many have no first-hand knowledge of the Cold War with the Soviet Union and have not done much reading to make up for this deficiency. In fact, they also don’t seem to have much knowledge of the Iraq War, which is probably the better place to start here.

Target Iraq: Bad Guy Saddam Hussein

When President George W. Bush fixed his eyes on overthrowing Saddam Hussein in the summer of 2002, he decided the rationale was going to be that Hussein possessed or was developing nuclear weapons. This complaint came in spite of the fact that UN weapons inspectors had been in place in the country ever since its defeat in the first Iraq war in 1991.   

The weapons inspectors insisted that they saw no evidence that Iraq was developing nuclear weapons. The inspectors’ assessment was dismissed by the Bush administration and to a large extent by major news outlets. They claimed that the restrictions that Iraq imposed on inspections, usually ones of timing, made it impossible for the inspectors to get an accurate assessment of the country’s nuclear capabilities.

The Bush administration then went about whipping up its own “intelligence,” supporting the administration’s claim that Iraq was far along in developing a nuclear bomb. Much of its case was complete fabrication, while other parts were very selective presentations of evidence. But they did manage to sell most of the media and the public on the threat of Iraq’s nuclear weapons.

However, the Bush administration also had a fallback to assuage many liberal types who had qualms about overthrowing a foreign government. The fallback was that Saddam Hussein was a really bad guy.

They had a very good case on this one. Hussein routinely imprisoned or executed political opponents or critics. He had invaded two of his neighbors (Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990) and he persecuted domestic minorities within Iraq, most notably the Kurds and Shite population.

No one could seriously want to defend Hussein’s practices as the ruler of Iraq, but that didn’t mean that overthrowing him was a good policy. It may still be too early to pass a final judgement, and we can never know a counterfactual. At this point, it would be difficult to claim that things have changed for the better for the people of Iraq and the region as a result of the U.S. invasion.

Anyhow, the Hussein as bad guy story is important for our current policy toward China. We can point to the country’s repressive measures against internal dissidents. We can also point to the repression directed towards its Uighur population in Western China, as well as, its belligerence towards its neighbors in making claims on territorial waters. These and other actions can be used to show that China is far from a model democracy that respects the rights of its own citizens, as well as, international law.

But this issue is really beside the point. The question from the standpoint of U.S. policy is how any of our actions can be expected to improve the situation. Specifically, if we adopt a confrontational stance towards China, involving economic measures and a beefed-up military presence in the region, is there reason to believe that the country will improve its behavior in the areas that we care about?

My guess is that the answer is no. Perhaps those with more expertise on China can make a strong case that China’s government would change its behavior in response to a more confrontational approach by the United States, but that really shouldn’t be the issue. It doesn’t make sense to have confrontation as a feel-good approach.     

Unfortunately, that seems to be the current path. It is also worth noting in this respect that China was hardly a model of human rights and democracy when the Clinton administration pushed to have it admitted to the WTO at the end of the 1990s. At the time, anyone who raised human rights and labor issues as a reason not to further open trade with China was denounced as a Neanderthal protectionist. We were told that somehow, by buying clothes shoes and other items produced with low cost Chinese labor, we would turn the country into a liberal democracy. Guess that claim is no longer operative.[1]

Using the Cold War to Justify Otherwise Unjustifiable Policies

In the days of the first Cold War the U.S.  government pursued many policies, both foreign and domestic, that would be hard to justify without the threat of the Soviet Union. On the domestic side, we had a range of policies by both the government and private companies, to crack down on alleged communists and Soviet sympathizers.

These included loyalty oaths where people had to swear that they were not members of the Communist Party to get government jobs. This often kept not only people who were actual party members from getting jobs, but also people who sympathized with many of the party’s stated goals, like promoting civil rights and avoiding nuclear war.

The 1947 Taft-Hartley Act required unions to force all officers to sign affidavits saying that they were not communists in order to be eligible for recognition through a National Labor Relations Board certified election. Many of the most committed labor organizers were in fact members of the Communist Party, so they were thrown out of labor movement if they refused to sign this pledge. In other cases, committed organizers refused to go along with this demand even if they were not themselves actually party members. On the private side, we had the Hollywood blacklist, where a large number of screenwriters and actors were prevented from working for much of their career.

Internationally, the United States had numerous interventions around the world that had little or nothing to do with combatting the Soviet Union. Just to take two prominent ones: we overthrew the democratically elected government in Iran in 1953 and installed a brutal dictatorship. The issue was not communism or the Soviet Union. The issue was that our oil companies wanted access to Iranian oil.

In another case, the U.S. overthrew an elected government in Guatemala in 1954. Again, this had nothing really to do with the Soviet Union, the United Fruit Company was unhappy about its banana plantations being taken in a land reform program.

The list of interventions could be extended at great length, but the point is that the U.S. government used the Soviet threat to justify policies designed to serve powerful corporate interests that would be very difficult to rationalize without this threat. In addition, we spent enormous sums on the military, which meant large profits for military contractors.

A New Cold War against China could be used in the same way. Needless to say, we can justify pretty much endless military spending based on the need to meet the China threat. Many people don’t seem to realize the absurdity of trying to spend China into the ground, as some would claim we did with the Soviet Union. While the Soviet Union’s economy peaked at around half of the size of the U.S. economy, China’s economy is already almost 20 percent larger than the U.S. economy, and will be around 80 percent larger by the end of the decade.     

If the goal of arms race is to spend China into the ground, it is more likely we would spend ourselves into the ground. The burden of a major arms buildup would be much greater on the U.S. than China, although just like in the first Cold War, it would make lots of military contractors rich.

The Implications of the New Cold War for Domestic Policies

There are other aspects to the prospect of Cold War-type competition that are equally pernicious. Last week the Senate passed a bill that would provide $250 billion over the next decade in research spending, ostensibly to help us compete with China. (The $25 billion in annual spending comes to 0.4 percent of the total budget, which you can find out quickly with CEPR’s “It’s the Budget, Stupid” budget calculator.)

The idea of boosting public spending on R&D is a good one, but we need to ask some serious questions about who gets the benefits. Operation Warp Speed gave us a great model for the benefits of public spending, while at the same time showing us the potential for skewing of the gains.

Moderna probably shows the issue most clearly. The federal government fully funded the development and testing of its vaccine. Yet, it gave the company a patent monopoly, which allows it to restrict the distribution of the vaccine and charge prices far above the free market price. As result, Moderna’s stockholders and its top executives have made billions of dollars, effectively profiting off of the government’s investment.

We could structure public contracts differently. For example, we could require that all innovations derived from government research be placed in the public domain so that anyone could manufacture them who possessed the necessary expertise. In some cases, this could involve going deeper downstream in the development process than is intended in the bill approved by the Senate, but there is no reason that the funding could not be used to cover the full costs of developing a product, as was the case with Moderna.[2]

Unfortunately, this bill looks like the funding will follow the model of Moderna. The government puts up the money and takes the risk, while private corporations will be able to gain patent and copyright monopolies, which will allow them to garner a disproportionate share of the gains. In a context where we are supposed to be concerned about the distribution of income, this looks like a huge step in the wrong direction.

Some people have supported this sort of investment with the idea that it will bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States and therefore reduce inequality. Unfortunately, this is a view that has not kept pace with the data. Historically, manufacturing has been a source of good paying jobs for workers without college degrees. However, the wage premium in manufacturing has largely disappeared over the last three decades.

To take a very simple measure, the average hourly wage for production non-supervisory workers in manufacturing was 5.7 percent above the average for the private sector as a whole in 1990. In the most recent data (May, 2021), the wage for production workers in manufacturing was 8.1 percent lower than in the private sector as a whole. This comparison is incomplete, since it doesn’t capture the value of benefits, which tend to be higher in manufacturing, nor does it control for education, experience, and other factors, but it is clear that the premium is substantially smaller than it had been in prior decades.[3]

The reason for the deterioration in the quality of manufacturing jobs is not a secret. The unionization rate in manufacturing has plummeted, largely due to trade, as well as aggressive anti-union measures by employers. In 1990, more than 20 percent of workers in manufacturing were unionized. In 2020, just 8.5 percent of workers in manufacturing were unionized. That is only slightly higher than the 6.3 percent average for the private sector as a whole.

Furthermore, more manufacturing jobs has not meant more union jobs. Until the pandemic hit in March, we had added back more than 1.6 million manufacturing jobs from the Great Recession trough in 2010. Nonetheless, the number of union members in manufacturing had fallen by almost 900,000. As we added back jobs in the sector, they were overwhelmingly lower paying non-union jobs.

The Biden administration hopes to change this story by pressing government contractors to be neutral on workers’ decision to unionize. Hopefully this effort will prove successful, but it would have the same benefit for workers if employers in other areas, like health care, transportation, and warehousing could be pressured to be neutral in organizing drives.

The historic link between manufacturing jobs and unions has largely disappeared, and there is not an obvious reason to put any special effort into bringing it back. We want jobs to be union jobs, in every sector of the economy. When manufacturing disproportionately had union jobs, increasing manufacturing jobs might have meant increasing union jobs. This is no longer true.

In this respect it is also worth noting that manufacturing jobs continue to be overwhelmingly male. There is no obvious reason that we should focus on improving the quality of the jobs held by men, while neglecting jobs held disproportionately by women. The idea that a Cold War stance to China will be a big positive for the working class as a whole is simply wrong.

The Cooperative Alternative

As I have argued in the past, we should look to cooperate with China in the areas where it will provide both countries with clear benefits. The most obvious areas for such cooperation are health care and climate change. Both countries, and in fact the whole world, would benefit from the sharing of technology in these areas. We would all benefit from having new technology in health care and clean energy distributed as quickly and widely as possible.

This cooperation should mean open-source research where all findings are fully open. This would both allow for the most rapid possible progress and also have an equalizing effect on income distribution. Top researchers should be well-paid, but there is no reason to believe that they need to be motivated by payoffs in the tens or hundreds of millions, or even billions, of dollars.

Instead of furthering the upward redistribution of the last four decades, open-source research in major areas of the economy would likely redistribute downward. If the price of patent-copyright protected items fell to the free market price, it would effectively raise the real wages of workers.

To take the most important example, we are currently spending over $500 billion a year on prescription drugs. If these drugs sold in a free market without patents or related protections, they would likely cost us less than $100 billion. The savings of $400 billion comes to roughly $3,000 a year for every household in the country. (The actual savings would be somewhat less since we would likely have to increase public funding of research by $50 to $100 billion a year.) There would also be huge savings on medical equipment and a wide variety of other areas where public funding was substituted for patent monopoly funding.  

A policy that focuses on cooperating with China, where we can, is likely to produce the best results from both a foreign policy and domestic economic perspective. Our resources will be far better used on fighting climate change and disease than on trying to intimidate China militarily. And, if we adopt policies that almost seemed as though they are designed to redistribute income upwards, we should not be surprised that we end up with more inequality.

Unlike Trump, President Biden is a serious person, but he also can be seriously wrong. Putting us on a path towards a new Cold War with China would be a disastrous mistake. We should do everything possible to keep Biden from going this route.  

[1] For the young ones out there, “no longer operative,” was the line that Richard Nixon’s press secretary, Ronald Zeigler, used to refer to all the claims he had made proclaiming Nixon’s innocence in the Watergate coverup after the release of White House tape recordings showing that Nixon was in the middle of the coverup from the beginning.

[2] I outline a mechanism for doing this in chapter 5 of Rigged [it’s free].

[3] Larry Mishel found a 7.8 percent wage premium for non-college educated workers for the years 2010-2016 in an analysis that controlled for age, gender, education and other factors. This compares to a premium of 16.7 percent for college-educated workers. The premium would be somewhat higher if non-wage compensation was included. However, since the average hourly wage for production non-supervisory workers in manufacturing has been falling relative to the average hourly wage in the private sector as a whole, the premium would almost certainly have to be considerably smaller in 2021 than the average for 2010-2016. It is also likely that the gap in benefits has fallen, as non-unionized workers in manufacturing are less likely to have health care insurance and pensions than unionized workers.

  1. John Jensen
    June 18, 2021 at 3:29 am

    “we should look to cooperate with China in the areas where it will provide both countries with clear benefits. The most obvious areas for such cooperation are health care and climate change.”

    As Biden seems fairly bright I’m surprised he would choose a Cold War – I’m guessing he just needs a “war cry” that Republicans can agree with – a cold war means big-time military expenditures and we know the Rich are also our most Nationalist profiteers, so Perhaps Biden is just working on raising funds for Democratic PACs and gaining votes from the Rebublican side while he decides what to do. China can raise an Army 30,000,000 well equipped lowly paid invaders so I’m guessing it’s a bluff to bide his time and introducing a cooperation program later on. BTW, I heard that an aircraft carrier is currently Patrolling the China Sea off the Phillippines. So, some sort of military policy is being implemented.

  2. Ikonoclast
    June 18, 2021 at 5:40 am

    I will take a view here, not contrarian exactly. but one which will quite possibly unite everyone on this forum against me, in one manner or another. Let me start this way. I am a democratic socialist ideologically speaking. This means, obviously enough, that I believe in and advocate full proportional representative democracy and also grass-roots, community-distributed democracy at the same time. I will leave the full details out for brevity. This also means I am a socialist. That in turn means I advocate big government, statism. dirgisme, call it what you will BUT in a context of the best realistically achievable democracy centralized at nation-state level but also de-centralized in the style of a strong Federation of states and with genuine grass-roots and community democracy.

    This means I reject the current-version models of nations which are far too capitalist (like the USA and even Australia ) and I also reject the current-version models of nations which are quite blatantly totalitarian and/or authoritarian like China and Russia. This means, to be frank, at the national and national-interest level, you all look like bad guys to me. Even my own nation, Australia, looks mostly like a bad guy to me in foreign policy stance. Clearly, I don’t buy the model that there are good guys and bad guys at the national/international level. I advance the model that “there are only bad guys”. I would embellish this to say, “True, there are bad guys and there are even badder guys”. Often the badder guys are just those who are bigger and thus have more instrumental power to act out and inflict their badness.

    At the same time, I advance the position that most humans can be good or at least good enough for most, if not all, the time. How can we reconcile these two theses? It’s very easy to do so and in fact logically and empirically valid to do so. We are dealing with the issues of the fallacy of composition and also of in-group and out-group values. One, adding a lot of basically good people together does not necessarily make a good conglomeration. This is a complex topic so I will leave that assertion sitting there at this stage. Two, people are capable, eminently capable, of being in-group good and out-group bad. Democratic or reasonably democratic nations are a clear example, where they can be relatively enlightened to their own citizens (except often in relation to really discriminated-against and spurned internal minorities. At the same time, they can be the worst kind of selfish bullies, criminal human rights violators and moral, if not legal, war criminals to other peoples and nations. The very imperfect democracy-come-oligarchic-plutocracy of the USA is a case in point. View John Pilger’s works and Noam Chomsky’s opinions for the strongest and very largely valid cases against the USA historically and today.

    At the same time, Pilger for example seems to be entirely naive and sectarian when it comes to China. China are “put upon” (my words); and this for sure is true to the utmost for the Century of Humiliation period, except that the West (for selfish reasons of its own) did assist China against the Japanese during WW2. China is also threatened by encirclement to this day by the US, NATO and now also the “QUAD” at least. All this is true. But it does not mean that China or rather CCP ruled China are good guys. There was and is no threat which justifies the conquest and occupation of Tibet. There was and is no specific, real, proximal, adjoining threat which justifies China’s very severe oppression of the Uighur in Xinjiang (so-called) Autonomous Region. China is simply being highly aggressive and highly expansionist; acting like a typical, aggressive, viciously nasty, entitled superpower in this regard just like the USA and Russia when they can.

    This is where I will no doubt annoy many if not all commentators on this thread and perhaps put noses heavily out of joint. From my perspective down-under in Australia (and I am no doubt idiosyncratic in this regard even for an Australian) most people in the more populated regions of the world look (sometimes) a bit crazy to me. What has sent them this little bit crazy? I would argue that over-population, capitalism, religion and other ideologies plus excessive competition which is living-space based, economic, political-economic and geo-strategic in nature have sent quite large numbers and populations a little bit collectively crazier than might otherwise be the case. But this craziness is seen fro within through a self-righteous perspective as religiously, ideologically or patriotically justified. I’m now awaiting flaming I guess.

    Are Australians better than other humans? No. Do we have more space, less proximal threats and more socialist-like aspects to our society and mixed economy political economy? Yes, compared to many others. Does this make us a little less crazy and little more socially amenable internally in some respects? Maybe. But at the same time do we get drawn into allies’ wars? Yes. So, are we in practical terms of national / nationalist acting-out behavior are any better than anyone else? Probably not.

    What does all this say? One, the world is far too overpopulated, inter-connected and inter-competitive; hyper-competitive in many ways. Two, Offensive Realism applies as per John Mearsheimer’s theories. Thucydides’ Trap applies as per Graham T. Allison’s theories. We are in the most serious, near-catastrophic trouble for both climate crisis and geostrategic crisis reasons and there appears to be no way out. This global system almost inevitably develops via industrialism, technologism, capitalism and human drives into endless growth madness and via over-crowding, compositional effects and offensive realism effects into a negative sum competition which threatens to overbalance and even destroy positive-sum cooperation.

    I call myself a “Left Realist” as well as a Democratic Socialist. From this stance I advocate certain policies which might appear to make a strange amalgam of left and right prescriptions in geo-strategic terms and will possibly leave me at odds (again) with everyone. But that’s another post. If I have entirely alienated everyone who lives in the northern hemisphere and also probably in South America and South Africa, let me know in no uncertain terms, for sure, But also give cogent reasons for disagreement.

    • Ikonoclast
      June 18, 2021 at 8:04 am

      Footnote: I left out inequality. Internally in a nation and externally / internationally. Inequality is a big, big factor. However, and I won’t flesh it out here, the inhabitants of a tiny country population-wise can have the same per capita GDP (for want of a better measure) as the inhabitants of a large country population-wise. This then generates great economic, military and geo-strategic inequality at the macro level. Long story short, the big nation can bash up the little nation and take whatever it wants, assuming no effective intervention(s) from third parties. This gets into issues of alliances and balances of power.

  3. pfeffertag
    June 18, 2021 at 2:10 pm

    “Long story short, the big nation can bash up the little nation and take whatever it wants, assuming no effective intervention(s) from third parties.”

    So why did the US relinquish the Philippines? Why hasn’t the US bashed up Canada and Australia, and taken whatever it wants? For that matter, why didn’t it take China during the period from 1945 to the end of the 20th century?

    China has done it to Tibet, Xinjiang, and Hong Kong and is about to do it to Taiwan. The evidence seems to be that China is a bad guy and the US is a good guy.

    As I read Dean Baker’s post I kept thinking the word “appeasement.” Maybe we should wake up. Maybe we should talk less about “China” and more about “Xi Jinping.” He is ruthless.

    Present indications are that China will take Taiwan and the US will do nothing, its Pacific and Indian ocean bases impotent. China will replace the US as Asia-Pacific hegemon and dictate terms of trade from Africa to South America. It is already doing this to some extent.

    In Australia, Prime MInister Kevin Rudd prevented Chinese ownership of iron ore mines. That’s going to change. How long before China dictates Australian immigration policy?

  4. Ikonoclast
    June 18, 2021 at 10:39 pm


    I will attempt to answer your questions.

    Q1. – Why did the US relinquish the Philippines?

    A1. – Let us first ask why did the US possess the Philippines? Your question omits the first part of the history. The Philippines had a long history of colonial rule from 1565–1946 involving the Spanish, English, Americans and Japanese. The Philippines were ceded by Spain to the United States alongside Puerto Rico and Guam as a result of the US victory in the Spanish–American War, 1898. The Philippines were a US colonial possession from 1898. The US exercised formal colonial rule over the Philippines, its largest overseas colony, between 1899 and 1946. In practice, effective US Colonial rule ended with the Japanese conquest in WW2. You can read the bloody and ambivalent history of US colonialism in the Philippines here:


    Why do nations relinquish conquered or colonial possessions? It’s complicated but it is rarely if ever because they are simply “good guys”. It is usually because of a calculus that the costs of rule or possession are greater than the benefits and that another path is more suited to the possessor’s interests. These motives are then cloaked in face-saving claims of altruism.

    Q2. – Why hasn’t the US bashed up Canada and Australia, and taken whatever it wants?

    A2. – War is costly. It is not the only way to get what you want. Trade works too. Also, some countries are more valuable as allies than as possessions. Australia is a good example. Any and all resources and goods the US wants from Australia it can obtain by trade. The terms of trade have historically favored the US. Australians have long been friendly and cooperative with the US for historical and cultural reasons. Australia has also seriously needed US help, especially in WW2. In the city where I live, Brisbane, there is a monument commemorating the naval Battle of the Coral Sea. The US is praised for this battle with a few ships from the small Australian navy assisting.

    The battle was in a narrow technical sense, a tactical Pyrrhic victory for Japan, but in full actuality in strategic context it was a strategic victory for the Allied US and Australia. See:


    And especially the section “Significance”

    Why would the US want to turn Australia’s cooperation and (somewhat naive) friendship in hatred and enmity by attacking Australia, when the US can get everything it wants economically, politically and geo-strategically by (manipulative and coercive) friendship? Australia is a very useful, and dare I say it, a very servile and sycophantic ally except for more critical Australians like myself. Australia, as a continent almost as large as the Lower 48 of the US in area, strategically anchors the south-west corner the Pacific Ocean, so it plays a key role in making the Pacific Ocean a US pond strategically and for the time being. We are a big island-continent. We restrict sea navigation by our land mass size. We are the end-blocker of the three island chains of the Pacific (or New Zealand might be seen as the end blocker ofthe third chain with Australia “stapling” the second and third chain. And by island standards our land area is massive. If Great Britain was the “unsinkable aircraft carrier” of the West European threat of WW2, continental Australia may seen as the unsinkable aircraft carrier and impassable marine picket of the south-west Pacific.



    Q3. – Why didn’t it (the US) take China during the period from 1945 to the end of the 20th century?

    The short answer is that that would have been first inconceivable, then lunatic and always impossible. Remember the strategic shape and dynamics of WW2. It took the whole rest of the world allied together five years to defeat two puffed up but extremely militarized and effective middle powers, namely Germany and Japan. Italy and Finland as Axis allies were relatively inconsequential. Let us remember the essential list of the main allies. These allies were in order of total casualties suffered, civilian and military, (indicating the total demographic cost of their efforts):

    1. Soviet Union – 23.5 million
    2. China – 19.5 million
    3. Poland – 5 million (mostly civilian)
    4. Indonesia – 4 million (almost all civilian)
    5. India – 1.5 million (mostly civilian)
    6. Yugoslavia – 1 million (60% civilian about)
    7. Indochina – 1 million (almost all civilian)
    8. France – 600,000 (military and resistance)
    9. UK – 450,900 (military and some civilians in the Blitz)
    10. US – 419,400 (military and possibly some few civilians.

    I hope we are all suitably shocked by these figures. Demographically speaking, the Soviet Union and China did by far the most heavy lifting to defeat the Axis. Even in military deaths they far outstripped the Western Allies with Russia suffering about 9 to 11 million military deaths and China about 3 to 4 million deaths. Demographically and militarily the Soviet Union took the brunt of Nazi Germany and China took the brunt of the Japan. The West. particularly the US did the bulk of the economic and war production heavy lifting while supplying very sizeable, very well equipped armies with high morale and excellent operational effectiveness. It was a team effort.

    The point here is that this absolutely massive Allied effort was required to defeat and bring to unconditional surrender just two heavily militarized middle powers. Total victory on the totality of enemy soil is extraordinarily difficult in conventional terms. The only other option is to have nukes when nobody else has (US in 1945). This is why I say that the US taking China at any time after 1945 was first inconceivable, then lunatic and always impossible.

    At the end of WW2 all nations were war-exhausted and their citizens highly desirous of peace. The idea of driving to Moscow after taking Germany (the Russians actually took Berlin) was heavily pressed by General Patton who hated Soviet Russia and Communism. Saner heads prevailed. The Western Allies could not have driven to Moscow even if their citizens and soldiery had wished it and they most certainly did not. Everyone wanted the very real peace dividends.

    The idea of taking China conventionally and keeping it, given its stature as a demographic giant with a huge land area and very difficult interior terrain always was and remains lunatic. The lunatically militaristic Imperial Japanese certainly tried it in WW2, aided by a massive developmental and technological lead, especially in military capability. But the West and allies came to the aid of the Chinese especially through the Burma Road and other routes.

    The last lunatic who seriously proposed attacking China (Chinese territory that is) was General Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War. He wanted to attack the Chinese Communists beyond the confines of the Korean War and start a general war against China. Some later claimed he wanted to nuke China. The US President sacked him. There is also evidence of US plans to hit China with nukes if MacArthur’s forces were attacked by air elements from China. But MacArthur was not trusted with command of the nuke force envisaged for the theatre which command went to Strategic Air Command. Russia had exploded its first nuclear test in 1949 so Russia was probably nuclear armed by 1951, the time of these events, and a Chinese Communist ally.

    The US never attacked China to conquer it is because it always was and still remains strategically impossible in conventional terms, for anyone. It is now impossible as well because of China’s (and Russia’s) nuclear weapons.

    Big nations hold off from war (against other big, medium and small nations) for reasons of calculated self-interest, usually termed national interest, and not in the main through any moral judgements or moral considerations.

    • Ikonoclast
      June 18, 2021 at 10:57 pm


      The latter part of your post also requires a long reply. And there I agree with you quite a bit more (with some caveats). I do so from a “Left Realist” perspective and also from a personal self-interest and Australian national interest perspective. Let none of us disingenuously pretend that self-interest is not in the mix. But that’s a long reply (again) and I will post it in the main thread.

  5. Ikonoclast
    June 19, 2021 at 12:22 am

    To continue this discussion, I will note that pfeffertag raised a number of important and valid realpolitik, machtpolitik and realism points after his first, in my opinion, mistakenly-based questions. The important and valid points were;

    (a) “China (or at least Xi Jinping are upper-echelon CCP) are a bunch of bad guys.” – Agreed.
    (b) “Present indications are that China will take Taiwan and the US will do nothing.” – Probably.
    (c) “China will replace the US as Asia-Pacific hegemon and dictate terms of trade from Africa to South America.” – Well just maybe, but it will face a lot of opposition and strategic problems. That sort of dominance is no cake-walk and tends to raise alliances against the would-be hegemon.
    (d) “How long before China dictates Australian immigration policy?” – That depends on a lot of things but it is not impossible that things could change rapidly.
    (e) “Appeasement” – Yes, that is a clear and present danger as also are hyper-nationalism and hyper-militarism.

    From a Left Realism point of view (mine), the Western right tends to be hyper-nationalistic and hyper-militaristic. The liberal left in the West, on the other hand, tend to be somewhat naively globalist and also dismissive that China (for example) is a bad guy nation or rogue state now, under the CCP).

    There’s an old joke about a tourist in Ireland who asked directions to a village. The local replied, “Well laddie, I wouldn’t start from here.” That applies to China and the West, together and separately. If we want continued peace, we wouldn’t want to be starting from here. If China wants world domination it wouldn’t want to be starting from where it currently is strategically but it would indeed want to be starting from where it is demographically and economically. If the West (and allies) want the current world order to continue, they would want to be starting from our strategic position but not from our demographic and economic position.

    Dean Baker is quite right that the US can’t out-spend China. Soon we won’t be able to out-fight them conventionally or out-technologize them either UNLESS there is a rock-solid world alliance of everyone outside the core SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) against China and Russia which would also include India against China. Basically all the serious allied ducks in the world would have to line up against China including USA, EU & UK, India, Japan, Canada and Australia. China is behaving in such a flagrant way, it is pretty well doing the potential “World Alliance’s” diplomatic and persuasive work for it.

    At the same time, the Western Alliance’s (US, EU & UK and QUAD’s) current straegic stance is also both flagrant and a legacy stance. It is a flagrant China-containment policy. Like a sumo wrestling bout, the first to back down or make a slip, tactical or strategic, gets pushed out of the ring. Or alternatively it just starts WW3 which would likely rapidly go nuclear. How to de-escalate?

    My advocacy would be to attempt to maintain (and pretend to be committed to maintaining) first island chain containment of China. However this line WILL fail. The line will fail when China takes, as it almost inevitably will, Taiwan by force or by capitulation. The goal must be for the line to fail in the way that least damages the “World Alliance” militarily and reputationally and most damages China militarily and reputationally. Sure, it will be terrible reputationally for the US to attempt (to a calculated limited degree) to help Taiwan and fail, But worse would be to lose the whole US Pacific surface fleet including its air arm, half of the Marine Corp and still lose Taiwan or else to simply touch off nuclear war. Strategic withdrawal inflicting a heavy cost on the enemy, China, would be the best result in pure miliatry terms thought still a terrible thing. Much will be determined by how hard Taiwan fights or will they fold?

    When Taiwan falls, the first island chain falls, sort of. South Korea and Japan still survive as very tough end-blockers especially Japan. South-East Asia survives as an end-blocker, plus the Philippines as center blocker but just as likely as weak underbelly. But would China really try to take whole nations, as opposed to bases, especially naval bases, by agreement? One suspects China would want a compliant Phillipines, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam. One could not see Vietnam ever becoming compliant to China (they are strong andarch-enemies of a millenium’s standing. Japan is impossible for China. It would mean nuclear war even if Japan had to crash-build its own nukes. China could take S.E. Asian bases but would have doubtful flanks and even a rear problem with Vietnam. But China may well be willing to take a generation or two to push to the second island chain and wage grey war, cyber war and proxy war in the interim. That would be their best military strategy which is not to say it’s the best strategy overall.

    China could strategically “center run”, not end run, south-east through the Philippines area and then south via a full alliance with Indonesia. That I would fear most as an Australia. Indonesia could keep West Papue province and China acquire Papua new Guinea. The goal would be Australia cut down the middle with the west acquired by Indonesia and east acquired by China. Would the US let Australia fall? Maybe, one day if things get bad enough. But just as the USA can never take China, China can never take the USA. Even if the USA started falling conventionally, which I greatly doubt, the USA would follow the Samson option. “If you are about take continental USA then we nuke China into oblivion.” There is no percentage in China directly attacking the USA in the next 100 years.

  6. Ken Zimmerman
    June 19, 2021 at 8:52 am

    Confrontation as a foreign policy approach is always circumstantial. For example, on 7 March 1936 German troops marched into the Rhineland. This action was directly against the Treaty of Versailles which had laid out the terms which the defeated Germany had accepted. This move, in terms of foreign relations, threw the European allies, especially France and Britain, into confusion. Consequently, they chose not to confront the German troops. Who had orders to withdraw immediately if they encountered any resistance. Like any human to human relationship, relations between countries is figuring out the intentions and weaknesses of the other while presenting parts of yourself to the other. The issue is always which parts and how much. Hitler’s boldness stunned Britain and France. Will China’s boldness stun the USA, Britain, France, etc., and maybe even Russia.

    “The list of interventions could be extended at great length, but the point is that the U.S. government used the Soviet threat to justify policies designed to serve powerful corporate interests that would be very difficult to rationalize without this threat. In addition, we spent enormous sums on the military, which meant large profits for military contractors.”

    This is not new in American history. Many Northern fortunes owe their beginnings to the Civil War. And it extends to domestic threats. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus for most the Civil War. The important question is which of these was legitimate; which benefitted more than harmed the nation (the community). This is the question we should be asking ourselves today.

    A bigger problem is the scenario you describe as follows: “The government puts up the money and takes the risk, while private corporations will be able to gain patent and copyright monopolies, which will allow them to garner a disproportionate share of the gains. In a context where we are supposed to be concerned about the distribution of income, this looks like a huge step in the wrong direction.” This is a clear expression of the psychopathic corruption that menaces America today. As many opinion writers have pointed out we live in a period of not just stupid people but stupid/psychopathic people attempting to control America. And the results are nothing short of catastrophic.

  7. pfeffertag
    June 19, 2021 at 11:38 pm

    Thank you, Ikonoclast, for the five minute guide to history and international relations.

    ‘ “China will replace the US as Asia-Pacific hegemon and dictate terms of trade from Africa to South America.” – Well just maybe, but it will face a lot of opposition and strategic problems.’

    Not at all. As I said, it is doing it already. Opposition is negligible.

    Australian politicians and leading businesspersons are already careful about what they say and in view of China’s arbitrary stopping of imports of Australian barley, wine, lobsters and coal, many complain they aren’t careful enough. Australians trading with China must be currently shaking in their boots—though not iron ore merchants (for the moment).

    China isn’t about to attack anyone militarily (except maybe Taiwan). Vietnam and everyone else will mind their Ps and Qs or they will get the Australia treatment. This applies right now. The world is delivered up to the whims of one man: Xi Jinping. Japan too—imagine the pressure car exporters and other businesses put on Japanese politicians to make nice.

    But Taiwan? It’s special. Xi will have Taiwan and will attack it if necessary. This is his legacy. It will be the greatest political move since the declaration of the republic in 1949. Xi’s position is presently solid but his state interferences in the economy are disruptive. Foreign firms are nervous (Apple must be wondering if it has made a big mistake) and if the economy wobbles so will Xi.

    If Xi can take Taiwan it will complete Mao’s revolution and he will be politically unassailable. China’s ancient status surrounded by tribute countries will be restored and expanded to Africa, Australasia and South America. China’s “humiliation” will be reversed. The importance of Taiwan can hardly be exaggerated—it’s greater than the Sudetenland.

    China will dictate everything from fishing rights to iron ore prices. All shipping will be under Chinese surveillance. Right now, China controls neiboring waters. The coast now bristles with missiles and the US has not ventured into the Taiwan Strait since 2008.

    At the 2049 centenary Xi will be recognised as the man who completed the revolution and made China the world’s most powerful country.

    He wants no war. War with the US would not be popular with the people and if it comes to it, or looks like it, Xi would probably be purged. Commerce is the battleground making the US’s “power projection” in the Indian and Pacific oceans useless.

    The stakes are clear. Either Xi gets Taiwan and the US is seen to be ineffectual, or the opposite: Taiwan’s separate status is confirmed and China suffers a colossal humiliation.

    Which way will it go? Xi can afford to wait a little while so that by the time it comes to a head the Taliban will be firmly in control in Afghanistan and it will be clear that America’s twenty-year war was futile. In the light of that, and of Vietnam and Somalia, and of the twin towers, what chance a US president can talk the people into embarking any foreign adventure, let alone face up to China?

    It seems to me the US has, as of now, no significant influence. Its weapons are of no consequence and its universities and think tanks full of international relations experts pontificate in vain. Asia-Pacific peoples are headed for a dark age.

    Ken asks, “Will China’s boldness stun the USA, Britain, France, etc.?” When the moment comes Xi will notify Taiwan that it is to be reintegrated. Military defiance would only lead to grief, impoverishment and unconditional surrender. The world’s democracies will regard the takeover with distaste but business is business. It looks like it is all over bar the righteous indignation.

    So Taiwan will be lost, many millions will suffer and democracy, the recent political invention which is the only stable and decent system, will once again be sent reeling because too much power is held by a single man.

  8. Ikonoclast
    June 20, 2021 at 1:32 am


    I don’t dispute your case that China is becoming more and more aggressive and more and more expansionist. I don’t dispute your case that China are becoming dangerous to the existing world order and world peace. I agree with you. At the moral and practical level, the West bears some responsibility for this. When we inflicted of Century of Humiliation on a large nation and now keep them encircled, there is bound to be some push-back. This is what is happening now.

    The first point is the question, “Where does relaxing the rules of our self-interested world order and where does relaxing encirclement become appeasement?” We should relax to a just and practical degree but not to an appeasing degree. It is practical and pragmatic to give a huge entity some freedoms of action. Would this extend to throwing Taiwan to China without a fight, except the fight of the natives of Taiwan? This is a difficult question, morally and strategically. Should we risk conventional defeat or even nuclear war in an effort to stop CCP China conquering Taiwan? Making an absolute red-line of Taiwan amounts to putting all our strategic eggs in one basket. Losing that battle conventionally would be devastating to NATO and the QUAD. Starting a nuclear WW3 would destroy humanity.

    You complain about what China is doing. I agree with you to a very considerable extent. The question is how do we stop or limit China’s expansion to complete Central and South-East Asian hegemon? You complain but offer no strategy but to halt them before Taiwan no matter the cost. The cost may well be too high as outlined above.

    I offered a strategy. Defend Taiwan initially with NATO and QUAD conventional assets but do so in stand-off fashion which would preserve most such assets if Taiwan falls. At the same time, and in to the future, attempt to inflict costs on CCP China which would make the taking of Taiwan a Pyrrhic victory; a victory which costs CCP China more than it is worth. A Pyrrhic victory is essentially a tactical victory but a strategic loss.

    It should be made clear to CCP China that if they take Taiwan by military force then encirclement will perforce retreat but strategic interdiction of all trade to and from China will likely occur. This would starve China of all resources and all global trade outside of the Asian continent heartland, called Mackinder’s heartland of the “World Island”. This is the most that NATO and the QUAD could threaten and probably enforce. The combined navies and airforces of NATOQ (let us call them that) could still do that. This strategic interdiction should done without any bombing on Chinese soil and actions in range of China’s A2AD weapons, which would be too dangerous. However, even interdiction at this level could lead to WW3 which would almost inevitably go nuclear, so a great quandary remains.

    Here is a published strategic interdiction plan but as I say all NATOQ forces would have to stand off and interdict beyond A2AD missile range.


    It is now understood as follows:

    “On March 7, 2019 defense analysts from the Rand Corporation told a panel, “In our [war] games, when we fight Russia and China, blue [the U.S. and its allies] gets its ass handed to it.” The scenarios were defenses of the Baltics and Taiwan from invasions by Russia and China, respectively.” – The National Interest, A2/AD: The Phrase That Terrifies the U.S. Military (And China and Russia Love It).

    NATOQ cannot conventionally defend Taiwan and the Baltics. China and Russia win.

    However, any large conventional war between NATOQ and the SHCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) or between any major elements thereof would likely rapidly escalate to global nuclear war and human extinction. Both sides are acutely aware of this, we can assume. Let us assume such escalation can and will be avoided. What general shape do events then take?

    The amount of pressure and proportionate respones each side engages in must be calcualted to keep conflict below the nuclear trigger point. This will include lower grade compettion such as;

    (a) Proxy (conventional) wars, terrorism and insurrections;
    (b) Cyber war;
    (c) Grey war;
    (d) Drone war;
    (e) Biological war (which has de facto commenced with COVID-19);
    (d) Trade war;
    (e) Currency war; and
    (f) Finance war.

    The future looks terribly grim in fact, even if outright conventional or nuclear war is avoided. The best chance might to agree to zones of influence and restrict trade and interaction between the Blocs (NATOQ and SCHO) to ann agreed minimum. I don’t expect that to happen so I see (a) to (f) happening above leading eventually to nuclear war or the complete degrading and defeat of one of the blocs over decades. And the defeated bloc is most likely to be NATOQ.

    Hate to be grim but those look to be the facts. From the day it started, I also felt most favoured trading nation status for China to be a long-range strategic mistake. So it has proved to be. But it may have been impossible to stop China’s rise in any case. And would it have been morally justified to do so? I don’t know the answers to those questions. But that is hyopthetical now, The current situation confronts us.

  9. pfeffertag
    June 20, 2021 at 12:43 pm

    “inflict costs on CCP China which would make the taking of Taiwan a Pyrrhic victory”

    I don’t think that can ever be, whatever the cost. Taiwan is seen as part of China; from China’s nationalist perspective its reintegration is mandatory. It just has to happen. That said, for Xi war with the US is a nightmare. Xi’s only potential military target is Taiwan and he can get Taiwan without war. Once he has Taiwan he is done with military conquest. He can rule the Pacific without it—and be the greatest emperor the world has ever seen.

    The Baltic states are not relevant. They are not that important to Russia and unlike Taiwan, there is no way they would surrender without a fight.

    “It is practical and pragmatic to give a huge entity some freedoms of action.” That’s dreaming. The West is in no position to “give” China anything. Xi will take what he chooses, if not this decade then next decade. Still, overall, I think the war scenario with China is boys’ fantasy. It ain’t going to happen.

    I have indeed no strategy. Strategy shmategy. Maybe if it moved now, the US could station a fleet in the Taiwan Strait. Xi wouldn’t attack them—at least not before his missiles have the US Pacific bases within range which they don’t at present. But the move would incite Chinese nationalism (which would suit Xi) and there would seem to be no “exit strategy” except withdrawal when forced in ten years’ time. It ain’t going to happen. In ten years Xi will have the whole world within range.

    Trade interdiction? After Xi takes Taiwan, the US, with the help of allied navies, could blockade China and if the blockade held, there would probably be a regime change, i.e., Xi ousted. But this would be to blockade the whole world and many other countries would suffer as much as China. Probably ain’t going to happen. More likely, the US, once again shown to be ineffectual, will continue its decline to a normal, Latin America-style, presidential republic.

    Well we could hope Xi dies, of lead poisoning maybe. Short of that there is no escape. We’re doomed to a dark age which will lighten when China becomes democratic. And for a long time that, too, ain’t going to happen.

  10. Ikonoclast
    June 21, 2021 at 3:09 am


    “Taiwan is seen as part of China; from China’s nationalist perspective its reintegration is mandatory.”

    Correct, so China is and will be highly motivated to retake Taiwan at almost any cost. Indeed, if Long Island had successfully seceded from the USA, who externally would have opposed its reintegration with the USA even if against the wish of Long Islanders?

    In practical terms, what do the USA and allies do?

    (a) Abandon Taiwan completely to its fate?
    (b) Assist its defence to a point and then back off?
    (c) Defend to the end and necessarily start WW3?

    Option (c) is out. The inhabitants of the rest of the world die along with all the Taiwanese. The choice is between (a) and (b). Option (a) may well be the safest for the rest of the world in the short term but disastrous for many Taiwanese. However, it is appeasement in a form and the long term global danger from China may well increase. It seems implausible that China will cease being expansionist given its pushing and salami slicing on all its borders and boundaries.

    That leaves option (b). Options (a) and (b) lead respectively to a loss of face for the USA and a defeat and loss of face for the USA. However, victories can cost, not only militarily but also diplomatically and in terms of realignments of alliances re the issue of balance of power. China could be made to pay a military cost first up. Worse for China could be the economic and diplomatic / alliances long term costs.

    China would reveal itself completely. It already has to a considerable extent with its wolf warrior diplomacy and trade bullying. The democratic world is already aligning heavily and uniting heavily against China. China is greatly powerful but not omnipotent. A full alliance of democratic nations could very likely contain it at the second island chain. Russia will never fully trust China and has enormous stocks of nuclear weapons. Russia is untouchable by China. India can in all likelihood also hold its border against China. I would back India in mountain warfare waged much closer to its logistic and demographic centers than China’s. India has nuclear weapons as well. Vietnam is a quagmire nobody has conquered, not even the Chinese, in a thousand years. Japan is untouchable. Touching Japan equals WW3 even if the Japanese have to build their own nuclear weapons which would take them mere months.

    To break out of encirclement, China must go through Afghanistan and Pakistan or even make allies of them if possible. But Muslims only have to look at the Uyghurs to see how CCP China treats Muslims. Or else China must go through or around the Philippines.

    A trade war with strategic interdiction is possible and it would likely strangle China in the long run. Of course China could threaten full spectrum retaliation for this. Hopefully, everyone backs off at that point and a compromise of sorts is reached.

    This is the final challenge of authoritarianism to democracy. Authoritarianism may win. However, I think something else will win. Climate change with global warming will win and humans will be reduced to very little again in the biosphere scheme of things. All forms of human hubris will suffer a huger setback as will our global population. It will be a case of “welcome to the Post-Anthropocene” for the few remaining humans.

    • Ikonoclast
      June 21, 2021 at 3:12 am

      Footnote: I forgot that China can go through Myanmar too.

  11. Ken Zimmerman
    June 21, 2021 at 8:39 am

    pfeffertag and Ikonoclast, one more scenario to consider. Xi dies of a heart attack. Created either by his many enemies inside the Politburo, by the CIA, FSB, etc. Or some combination of above. And CIA, etc. exploit existing tensions inside the Politburo. But only the ones they can safely control.

    Also, all this ‘Realpolitik’ talk is underwhelming. Look how well it worked for Kissinger, Nixon, Cheney, etc. Relations among people and nations are too complex for Realpolitik.

    • pfeffertag
      June 21, 2021 at 3:29 pm

      Well I did suggest he dies. I agree the Realpolitik is mostly crap. Long ago I detected three streams to academic political science: institutions; theory; international relations.

      The study of institutions such as parties and parliaments, electoral systems and constitutions, might be dignified with the term “science” if you are feeling generous.

      Political theory is political philosophy – Plato et al.

      International relations is cloud cuckoo land.

      After decades, I have not seen anything to change my mind.

      The present instance is simple. There is no war beyond Taiwan. None – for there is no need. There is probably no war with Taiwan for it will agree to join China peacefully. There will be no direct US aid to defend Taiwan militarily.

      That’s it. That is what is going to happen (barring the aforementioned early expiration of the main protagonist). All the expert IR war gaming is hot air.

      Better get used to it. To save face, better start saying now that Taiwan is China’s internal business. Australian politicians, at least, will have no difficulty adopting this stance.

  12. Gerald Holtham
    June 21, 2021 at 12:25 pm

    This discussion ignores the technology of warfare. The rifle and machine gun gave defence a massive advantage over attack in the US civil war and in WW1. Petrol-driven armoured vehicles restored the possibility of successful attack in WW2 but only with air superiority. Guided missiles and drones mean you can destroy an enemy at a distance but you cannot move large bodies of troops for occupation. Defence is again dominant in conventional warfare. Crossing the Taiwan strait China would suffer unsustainable losses if the US is serious in its defence. The Chinese know this.. It’s a high stake poker game and they are bluffing. They will maintain the bluff while using all the other sources of economic pressure at their disposal, expecting the US to fold. I have no idea whether it would do so.

  13. Ken Zimmerman
    June 22, 2021 at 6:47 am

    The discussion also ignores the importance of combat experience to the success of any organized armed force. Exercises and war games are useful but there is no substitute for actual combat. Both for the technicalities of combat and the strains and moral questioning involved with combat, and for the mine numbing fear and anguish of combat. There is agreement among combat veterans that performing as trained in actual combat is the most difficult thing they’ve ever done. The Chinese armed forces have zero combat experience. The Russians only a little more. The Americans have more than 20 years as of 2021. Could Chinese soldiers, sailors, etc. actually cope with combat, particularly in cases where hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of their comrades were killed remains an open question.

  14. Ken Zimmerman
    June 22, 2021 at 7:33 am

    pfeffertag. First, Xi isn’t allowed to die. He’s murdered by the best killers out there.

    Historians study parties and parliaments, electoral systems and constitutions, and history is a humanistic science. Same as Anthropology. By humanistic science, I mean the approach is ecological rather than reductionist as with the social sciences, including economics.

    As to no need beyond Taiwan, we see in history the appetite of authoritarians can change with each new conquest. And Xi is certainly an authoritarian.

    While I don’t believe Biden would order (initially) using nukes on the Chinese mainland, I do believe he would order nuclear strikes on the Chinese navy if it attacked Taiwan, with or without the Chinese army. Only if the Chinese sought a negotiated settlement with Taiwan would the US back off.

  15. pfeffertag
    June 22, 2021 at 9:12 am

    “As to no need beyond Taiwan, we see in history the appetite of authoritarians can change with each new conquest. And Xi is certainly an authoritarian.”

    Superficial. Xi is 68. He needs Taiwan to shore up his presidency. It is not a “conquest” just a reintegration. There is not some sequence of conquests. What for? He has enough problems with Tibet and Xinjiang.

    With Taiwan done – say in 5 years’ time – it will take years for the dust to settle and Xi will use China’s economic strength and the world’s most powerful navy to control Pacific trade. Asia-Pacific will pay tribute to China.

    Even if there were an appetite in the US for another foreign adventure (which there isn’t) there is no winning scenario to defend Taiwan because even if a battle were won the next battle (or the next, or the next) wouldn’t be. Sooner or later China gets Taiwan. The US is not going to attempt it and all the boys-own talk of battle experience, weaponry and so on is piffle. (And Xi is not bluffing.)

    I see the US gradually withdrawing from the Pacific as the Chinese navy matches it – then matches it two to one, then three to one. Perhaps the US will sell or rent its bases to China – like the Port of Darwin in northern Australia.

    A way to combat China’s economic strength would be through alliances whereby countries bargain as a group. What are the chances? For South America it is impossible because the leadership everywhere can simply be bought one by one. So much for the Monroe doctrine. Ditto Africa. Their raw materials will be controlled by China.

    Could Japan, Canada, Australasia and Europe form some sort of economic coalition and present a united bargaining front? Maybe.

  16. Ken Zimmerman
    June 22, 2021 at 11:23 am

    Interesting story. But it won’t fly.

    China can’t win a war with the US. Why would it even try. So far neoliberal politicians in the US have given away the farm to China so US corporations can get richer. Xi will risk returning to poverty and famine. Even he couldn’t stand that fall out. So if you know the other side can’t fight back, the war is over before it starts. It’s just a question of how much shaming China is willing to accept to maintain prosperity and stability. Those are empirical, experiential questions.

    As to China’s economic strength, that’s mostly smoke and mirrors. China is beginning to explore ways to ‘be its own boss’ but it’s not there yet and if it eventually achieves it that won’t be for at least 50 years. But no guarantees. Feelings are such in Congress that companies may be penalized for working with China in any way that benefits China financially or strategically. China’s reactions would certainly not be cordial. But it would also hamstring China militarily and diplomatically. Not Realpolitik. Just old fashioned ‘chicken.’

    Matching forces is a foolish game. After Pearl Harbor the Japanese had a 5 to 1 naval advatage over the US. Japan still lost the war rather decidedly. And in less that 3 years.

    On one item we seem to agree. Many in the US and elsewhere in the world are open bribes from China. But not the US military with the exception of Gen Flynn.

  17. Gerald Holtham
    June 22, 2021 at 4:18 pm

    I’m no longer sure what the proposition is. Will China attempt a military occupation of Taiwan or not? I say not so long as it thinks the US will come to its defence. Will it maintain all sorts of pressures to bring the island under its control? Certainly. Will it succeed? I don’t know. It might but I don’t share pfeffertag’s faith in the predictability of history. I don’t share Ken’s faith in US military staunchness either.

  18. Ken Zimmerman
    June 23, 2021 at 7:26 am

    As they say in the work I did for 40 years, we’re just running scenarios. No one can know how events will actually work out. Considering how the agencies could respond allows us to more quickly recognize actions and consider their potential consequences.

  19. pfeffertag
    June 24, 2021 at 2:39 am

    Yes, we dream up scenarios but Xi is going to integrate Taiwan. By force if necessary. If ever anything was predictable, this is it.

    Deng said China could wait a hundred years to reintegrate Taiwan. Xi won’t wait. It is to be his legacy and he is on track to pull it off. Domestic pressures mean he can’t delay too long.

    If it happens by force, thousands may die and millions will be impoverished but China will be whole again and Xi will be a hero.

    Almost as predictable: the US will not intervene militarily because the US public won’t wear it.

  20. Ken Zimmerman
    June 24, 2021 at 10:33 am

    You mean like Russia ‘re-integrated’ Ukraine and Georgia into the new Russian empire. That fell on its face. And Russia has a more brutal if wildly ineffective armed forces than China.

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