What The U.S. Wants From China

by Manuel García, Jr.

October 6, 2003


What is it the United States government, and elite policy makers, really want from China?

They want China to fit within a global economic system controlled by the U.S., and most convenient to its trade and power interests. They want China to play a role similar to Japan, of being the center of gravity in an Asian economic zone, which makes natural resources and its domestic markets available to multi-national corporations -- most US-based -- in a manner most conducive to the maintenance of the power and prosperity of the U.S.

"Communism" versus "The Free Market"

This means that the U.S. does not want China to embark on a course of economic development in which its natural resources and vast markets are used exclusively for the internal development of the Chinese nation. The raising of social conditions costs money and effort, and to raise an entire agrarian Asian society to the standards of the West costs a great deal, and for a vast society like China the cost would be phenomenal indeed. If the cost of such a transformation were taken entirely from the economic development of China's natural, human and market-potential resources, then there would simply be no wealth left "for export," or perhaps more aptly "for extraction."

Countries that try to funnel their economic potential entirely back into domestic social development are "Communist." This is what "communism" means to US planners -- its de-facto definition. The U.S. wants China to be a "free market," so it can in effect replay in 21st century ways the same thing that China experienced in the 19th century -- a fleecing. The model desired is that of Indonesia, which the U.S. was delirious with joy over after its genocidal repression of "communists" in 1965-66, and which Western free market experts were able to bankrupt by 1995. It took 30 years to do the full economic Dracula on them. See John Pilger's essay, "The Model Pupil." (1)

It isn't that the U.S. necessarily wants China, or even Indonesia, to be bankrupt, it is just that they want to be absolutely certain that the economic development that takes place is done to their (that is to say "our") best advantage (thinking in purely corporate, quarterly-profits, monetary gain terms).

Vietnam -- a Prism of Insight

I think that the clearest exposition of this analysis is to be found in Noam Chomsky's writings, during the late '60s and early '70s, on Vietnam. Why Vietnam? Because the entire American effort there was predicated on ensuring the outcome that I just described. In terms of understanding the Washington D.C. mindset, as regards what it wants from China, it is best to see how it viewed its actions in Vietnam, because "Vietnam" was simply a marker in this Washington D.C. mind for all of Asia, and "Asia" from this perspective is overwhelmingly "China."

Another way of saying this is that reading all the various and voluminous strains of "China relations" literature is largely irrelevant in getting at basic, core motivations of Washington planners, as regards China. I'm talking about the motivations that have remained fixed since the days of Truman, and probably since the days of McKinley.

Besides the Pilger essay on Indonesia I already cited, I would focus your attention to three books by Chomsky (two now being reprinted by the New Press):

American Power and the New Mandarins, At War With Asia, and For Reasons of State. My suggestion is that you read all three (four with Pilger) cover-to-cover.

Chomsky on US Power in Asia

Since I doubt many of you will do this, let me suggest some few essays from these books, which may give great insight on the basic question.

American Power and the New Mandarins (2) appeared after the Tet Offensive of 1968, and is a book totally infused with the issue of the Vietnam War. This book (actually all three by Chomsky), may live on in world literature as a definite "history" of our times, in the way Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War defined the age of Pericles to future generations. Every essay in this book discusses Vietnam, and all are relevant to our basic question, however, three that are notable are: "Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship," (about the Spanish Civil War!), "The Logic of Withdrawal" (from Vietnam), and a work that will live a long time (centuries, I believe) "On the Responsibility of Intellectuals."

At War With Asia (3) is the most focused book, of our Chomsky threesome, on US actions and intentions in Asia (sadly, only to be found as a used book -- look for it!). This book appeared after the My Lai massacre story broke and the invasion of Cambodia. For those of you seeking nuggets about US-China intentions, you might at first think this book to be skimpy to your quest because you will be wading through many pages of Vietnam War details piled up by Chomsky in an attempt to move public sentiment to act to end the horror of that war. However, a perceptive reader will see that the first essay, "Indochina and the American Crisis" gives a clear exposition of the rationale behind our military-industrial complex, and this purpose is to consolidate economic power domestically into the hands of an elite class, and to intimidate foreigners so as to achieve the economic hegemony already described. The essays on "Laos," "Cambodia" and "North Vietnam" also contain many interesting comments on Japanese occupation policies of the 1940s, and how later US efforts continued many of these, with the same people (the Thai coup of 1948 was the first post WWII rise-to-power of an Axis collaborator, the former Japanese-appointed Thai ruler, this coup had US backing). At War With Asia is essential reading, especially for any politically interested Asian-American. Absolutely essential. This book made a very powerful and lasting impression on me.

For Reasons of State (4) appeared in 1972, after the sensational release of the Pentagon Papers. Again, the entire book is excellent but if you must focus on one essay then you have to read the long, detailed examination of the Pentagon Papers, the secret history of the US involvement in Vietnam from the very beginning (the U.S. paid for 80% of the French expenses in their Indochina War of 1945-1954) -- this essay is called "The Backroom Boys." Those interested in US intentions for China will find it all here -- for the Pentagon Papers was written by CIA analysts as a Top Secret history of US intentions in Asia with Vietnam as the "test case" -- full and complete statements of this US motivation are given. What you will read about is "the domino theory." The essence of the domino theory was that if any country (e.g., Vietnam) could hold itself aloof from Western economic systems (not subservient to them) and develop prosperity for its people without ties to (control by) US and Western economic systems, then it would be a "bad apple," which might by example "spread the rot," encouraging other neighboring countries to follow suit, and in time whole sections of the world economy would become unavailable to US corporate interests for trade (exploitation) in the "free market" way. Unlike Indonesia, the "model pupil." For this reason, the U.S. "had" to ensure that any subsequent development in Vietnam would not be envied by anyone else. This meant co-opting them into a Western model (e.g., create a "South Vietnam" that would drag as much of the country as possible into the US sphere), or destroying any potential for future development that anyone would care to emulate. The second alternative was accomplished -- no one will ever want to pay what Vietnam has paid for its independence, nor will anyone ever want to be reduced to what Vietnam has been reduce to, to be an independent nation.

China's Futures

China is much bigger than Vietnam (or Cuba, a Latin American "test case"), and so is not so easily pushed around, but the intention is the same. This is the key point. In reading this "Vietnam" literature you will be gaining a key and enduring insight into US intentions for China, as for all of Asia.

If China were to become some amalgam of Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea, even without significant democratic inclusion into policymaking for the population (say parliamentary forms without any actual parliamentary effect), it would be warmly received by the U.S., even if such a China felt it necessary to be regionally expansionist, putting pressure on its neighbors (e.g., Vietnam, North Korea, India) and satellites (Mongolia, Tibet). The U.S. has other local bullies in its camp. The key is to fit in economically, and thus in a power hierarchy.

If China were to pursue democratic socialism, seeking national healthcare, education, and occupational security for all its people, significant uplift of social conditions, sustainable agriculture and eco-friendly development, absence of aggressiveness in regional relations, a purely defensive military structure (no long-range offensive capability, signing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Pact) and independent development based on social investment of national resources, then it would find itself at war with the United States - economic, covert, and even hot overt war, as "needed" to reverse this course. This type of China would not provide a satisfactory answer to the question here of "what's in it for me?" Spiritual values and world peace don't count.

The Colonies

The advantage of reading these books in their entirety is that instead of just seeking some specific "China answer" to an artificially isolated "China question," by sifting through a bunch of "unrelated" details, you would instead absorb as by osmosis a general understanding of US-"colonial" relations, and then you would see how the specific application of this relational template would unfold in the case of China, and how it would compare to previous history and future possibilities elsewhere. I believe that astute nationalists in other parts of the Third World have embarked on such explorations with great diligence. After all, if you are an intellectual in India, or Iraq, or Cuba, or Palestine, and you wish to further the nationalist goals of your country, and must also face the awesome power of US opposition to those goals, then the type of insight that Chomsky's analysis of US power in Asia provides would be very useful indeed.

The Challenge for China

What about the other side of the coin? What does China want from the U.S.?

Here I have little to say beyond this, the degree to which China allows its internal divisions to give access to manipulation by outside pressure may well determine China's fate. If internal divisions (based on class and wealth, aspiration, corruption) are repressed by force, then the state is not sustainable, and US wolves will eventually bring down the lame behemoth. To the extent internal divisions are sealed by social accommodations that have popular support, the Chinese state will remain largely free of damage from external pressure. A Chinese state based on the domination of the country by a small elite is not likely to permanently withstand US (and US-based Western) pressure.

What the Chinese policymakers could intelligently use the U.S. for would be as a challenge and indicator, in that US pressure would always point out the weaknesses in Chinese society, which if the Chinese chose to recognize (they're weak here) and actually rectify in their own democratic and widely acceptable ways (not by imported "solutions," and definitely not with the present resistance to political and social change), they would then transform themselves to their own general benefit (not necessarily to the Party's or to the elite's), and in so doing strengthen a national integrity against physical and cultural "invasion," and economic manipulation.

Thucydides (in 400 BC) wrote about Greek city-states whose elites were unable to make such choices, seeing only their narrow and immediate self-interest, and which as a result were easily taken over and enslaved by determined invaders -- by hook and crook as often as by force. China is too big to be "taken over" but it has every potential of "losing its soul" and after that its guiding will, if it falls for the illusion -- being sold ever so seductively (by us) like 21st century opium (and being so happily inhaled) -- of "what's in it for me." Once this is the norm, China is gone.

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References and Resources

1.  The New Rulers of the World, John Pilger, 2002, Verso, see the chapter "The Model Pupil."  (back)

2.  American Power and the New Mandarins, Noam Chomsky, 1969 Pantheon/Vintage, see New Press reprint.  (back)

3.  At War With Asia, Noam Chomsky, 1970 Pantheon/Vintage, find a used copy.  (back)

4.  For Reasons of State, Noam Chomsky, 1972 Pantheon/Vintage, see New Press reprint.  (back)

America the 'beautiful' on Swans


Manuel García, Jr. is a graduate aerospace engineer, working as a physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He did underground nuclear testing between 1978 and 1992. He is concerned with employee rights and unionization at the nuclear weapons labs, and the larger issue of their social costs. Otherwise, he is an amateur poet who is fascinated by the physics of fluids, zen sensibility, and the impact of truth.

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Published October 6, 2003
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