THE WOLF WARRIOR AND THE BIG BAD WOLF
At the conclusion of the Group of Seven (G7) meeting only days ago, its Leaders agreed to launch an initiative to counter China’s “economic coercion” and vowed to challenge China’s “malign” practices. British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak talked of the “growing and pernicious use of coercive economic measures to interfere in the sovereign affairs of other states”. China was quick to react describing the US as “The Inventor and Master of coercive diplomacy”.
China’s Sanctions – the “Wolf Warrior”
China has engaged in sanctions. In 2010 China introduced a ban on Norwegian salmon when the Norwegian Nobel committee granted the Peace Prize to the Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, but four years later Norway was back in China’s good books when its Premier refused to meet with the Dalai Lama who had won the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize. In 2019, when Lithuania agreed to open a Taiwanese representative office, China responded with an almost total economic shutdown.
Australia enjoys a long and rewarding trade relationship with China which is the major buyer of its iron ore, coal, and other goods. However, Australia’s anti-China drive was led by Malcolm Turnbull in 2018 banning China’s tech giant, Huawei from operating in Australia. Then Australia banned Chinese foreign investments including a purchase by a Chinese dairy company of Lion Dairy & Drinks (even though the Foreign Investment Review Board approved the deal). Later Australia introduced foreign influence laws directed at China and in April 2020, Foreign Minister Marise Payne, seeking to ingratiate the Morrison Government with President Donald Trump, called for an investigation into the origins in China of Covid-19. Australia’s Labor Opposition supported her. For China that was the final straw and in 2020 it imposed quotas and other restrictions on various Australian exports (coal, beef, barley, timber, wine, and lobsters). The US and Australia complained bitterly about Chinese “coercion” (although the US took as much of Australia’s lost sales in China as it could). It was then that the US, Australia and their Western allies began revelling in the “Wolf Warrior” label to describe China’s “assertive, confrontational and combative” diplomacy.
Only days ago, Beijing announced a partial ban on US chipmaker Micron, because Beijing considers it a cyber security risk. Although the US prevents South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, the Netherlands, and others from selling their best chips to China, the US immediately reacted referring to China’s action as a “troubling use of economic coercion against the US”. Talk about “The pot calling the kettle black!”
Between 1946 and 1990, the US initiated 191 sanctions against 74 states and between 1991 and 2018, it imposed 252 sanctions against 101 states. The essence of US coercive diplomacy lies in the idea that “You are either with us or against us” and countries which oppose US supremacy will suffer. In 1962, the US imposed an economic embargo against Cuba which continues to this day. The US has imposed sanctions on Venezuela, North Korea, Iran and Belarus. Since 2014 and ongoing, the US and its allies have imposed ever more sanctions on Russia and in 2008, the US launched a trade war against China.
The US and its G7 allies make indiscriminate use of sanctions - a major concern for countries of the Global South. Sanctions seldom serve their intended purpose and they hurt the poor more than the targeted countries. Sanctions imposed on the BRICS countries of China, Russia, India, Brazil, and South Africa as well as emerging markets such as Argentina, Mexico, and Turkey have severely harmed their economic interests. US economic coercion has reduced entire populations to dire poverty and has caused many deaths.
Even US allies are at risk. Way back in 1985 the US forced Japan to sign the “Plaza Accord”, forcing the yen to appreciate and leading to the collapse of Japan’s economic and real estate bubbles and the long-term stagnation of the Japanese economy. It brought about Japan’s “lost decade”. In 2021 the US announced tariffs of up to 15% on imports, including aircraft parts from France and Germany to improve Boeing’s competitive advantage, and in October 2022, the US imposed sanctions on an Indian petrochemical trading company for engaging in oil trade with Iran.
US Military Interventions
The US has sought to change governments in Chile, Venezuela and Haiti. It used military coercion against Iraq, killing nearly one million Iraqis but failed to achieve its desired outcome. Afghanistan ended in failure. Undeterred, America now seeks to contain China arguing that China constitutes a military threat, while the US has 400 bases ranged around China.
Between 1776 and 2019, the US conducted nearly 400 military interventions worldwide. Major wars initiated or launched by the US since World War II include the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and the Kosovo War. Since 2000, the US Military-Industrial Complex (MIC) has led the US into disastrous wars of choice in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Ukraine, and now the MIC is talking up the prospect of war with China over Taiwan. The US engages or has engaged in proxy wars with countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Pakistan, Yemen and Ukraine.
The US current annual military budget is about $900 billion, more than the next ten countries combined and it has more than 800 military bases around the world, deployed in 159 countries.
A new study by the Costs of War Project at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs of Brown University reports that wars and conflicts unleashed by the United States in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks (in which 3,000 people died) have led to the deaths of more than 4.5 million. A 2021 study by the same organisation records that at least 37 million people in and from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, Libya, and Syria were displaced from their homes as a consequence of the US post-9/11 wars[i].
China’s Last War
China may well be a “Wolf Warrior” but it does not compare with the United States of America, the “Big Bad Wolf”, aided and abetted by its Military-Industrial Complex. However, America may be well advised to recognise that just like the Great Wall of China, as in the story of the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf, China’s house is made of bricks.
Since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, China has engaged in few combat operations beyond its immediate borders. It fought the US forces in the Korean war (1950-53) and was engaged in a brief war against India in 1962. It went to war in 1979 in a three week encounter against Vietnam. In the 44 years since then, China has not been at war apart from a brief clash between China and India in 2020, on the disputed Himalayan border which was the first deadly clash in the disputed border area in 45 years.
Even The Editorial Board of The New York Times wrote in March 2023: By superpower standards China remains a homebody. It’s foreign engagements outside its immediate surroundings remain primarily economic and China shows strikingly little interest in persuading other nations to adopt either its social or political values.
The “China threat” is based on the false premise promoted by Western propaganda, that China presents a “military threat”, but there is simply no evidence that China proposes to use force against any other country, including Australia. It is true that China has increased its defence capability in response to the US naval presence just off China’s coastline. However, the bases which China has constructed in the South China Sea pale when compared to the 400 bases the US has ranged all around China.
As Henry Kissinger observed in a discussion with The Economist in April 2023, “I think Trump and now Biden have driven animosity over the top” adding that America lacks leadership and “I don’t think Biden can supply the [necessary] inspiration” (to avoid World War III).
_________________ [i] US War of Terror’ leads bloody way in Recent Deadliest Conflicts, by Alex Lo in South China Morning Post, May 2023