And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.
The Sino-US relationship today is reminiscent of the US-Japan relationship in the 1930s. Each day, the drumbeats of war are getting louder and louder. Do not be caught by surprise, for the day of war will come sooner than expected.
In a recent article at The Australian, this paragraph caught my attention,
AirPower last week contacted major defence to strategists around the world to undertake a “risk assessment” of military conflict between China and the US. They rate conflict in the next 12 months as “likely”; over the next two years as “highly likely” and over the next three years as “almost certain”.
In other words, war with China is expected to happen within 3 years!
As I look back in history, I can find a disturbing rhyme with the past…
Boycott of Japanese/Chinese goods
Almost 20 years ago, Iris Chang wrote this book:
In this book, she wrote,
… many international businessmen and consumers went out of their way to shun Japanese products in the postwar decade, even though Japan had been on the Allied side in the First World War. Although both the European nations and the Japanese expanded their overseas expires with the spoils of the First World War, Japanese expansion was not looked on in the same way. Repulsed by aggressive Japanese actions toward China through the first decades of the new century, and even more so by Japan’s attempts at Western-style colonialism in the former German colonies it now controlled as a consequences of the war settlements, Western financiers began to invest more heavily in the Chinese. In turn, China, enraged by the Versailles decision to grant Japan the German rights and concessions in the Shantung Peninsula, organised widespread boycotts of Japanese goods. These developments hurt the Japanese economy still further and gave rise to the popular belief that Japan had once again become the victim of an international conspiracy.
Today, we see a similar pattern here.
From the point of view of the average Chinese, the US sanctions on Huawei is no different from a boycott.
Granted, blocking Huawei from building 5G infrastructure on national security grounds may possibly have some merits. So far, no evidence has been shown for Chinese espionage conducted through Huawei’s 5G infrastructure. Without evidence, from the public’s point of view, it is merely a conjecture. However, since it is plausible that Chinese espionage can be conducted through 5G infrastructure, the public can be forgiven for giving the intelligence authorities the benefit of the doubt.
But crippling Huawei’s consumer smartphone business is a step too far from the Chinese public’s point of view. After all, even Apple’s iPhones are made in China too. From a conspiracy point of view, it is plausible that iPhones that are made in China can be subverted by Chinese espionage too. The same goes for computers and every other electronic device that is made in China. So, why is Huawei’s consumer smartphone business targeted? From the Chinese public’s point of view, this has nothing to do with national security and everything to do with crippling the commercial advantage of Huawei, a crown jewel of China.
In contrast, Chinese consumers loves Apple’s iPhones. China, to their credit, does not cripple Apple’s business in China.
The banning and potential banning of TikTok is another example that does not sit well with the Chinese public.
Granted, you can argue that social media apps like TikTok collects information about their users. So is Google, Facebook and Twitter. Even if you go a step further and argue that TikTok makes the user information it collected accessible to Chinese intelligence, it is still far from a national security issue. For starters, the user information collected by Google and Facebook is far greater in scope and detail than TikTok. Secondly, the TikTok app runs under Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS operating systems. Both are American operating systems that have the power to severely curtail the amount of user information the TikTok app can collect. Particularly, Apple has made great efforts in emphasising the privacy protection features of their products.
So, from these two examples, it is very hard to convince the Chinese public that these are not akin to boycotts of Chinese products using national security as an excuse.
Why would America want to boycott Chinese products? Like Japan in the 1930s, the Chinese public sees an American-led conspiracy to contain China’s rise. Whether rightly or wrongly, they perceive that America is jealous of China’s rise and national achievements.
In this political climate, it is very easy to blame CCP propaganda on making the Chinese public believe that. But this view is a very condescending view of the Chinese public because it views the Chinese people as sheep that are too easily manipulated. Today’s China is not the same as totalitarian North Korea or Mao’s China under the Cultural Revolution. Such a condescending view reinforces the Chinese public’s belief that unfair prejudice against China is growing.
Before the 1930s, there was always latent anti-Japanese racism in America. In the 1930s, with the Japanese invasion of China and subsequent reports of Japanese atrocities committed over there, anti-Japan sentiments reached a new high.
Today, anti-China sentiment has reached a new high. As reported in this article,
“Around three-quarters (73 per cent) of Americans have an unfavourable view of China today – the most negative reading in the 15 years that Pew Research Centre has been measuring these views,” wrote the authors of the report, Laura Silver, Kat Devlin and Christine Huang.
“The percentage who say they have a very unfavourable view of China is also at a record high of 42 per cent, having nearly doubled since the spring of 2019, when 23 per cent said the same.”
Just like distrust of Japan in the 1930s, distrust of China is rampant in the United States today.
Whether today’s anti-China sentiments is warranted or not is another matter. But it is creating enmity between the American and Chinese public. Worse still, anti-CCP rhetoric among the political elite at the top can easily degenerate into anti-Chinese racism when it reaches the ground among the general public.
This feeling of enmity is what makes the likelihood of war frighteningly high. When the people of two nations hate one another, it is very easy for governments to justify mobilising their people for war.
Jingoism and nationalism
Prior to the end of Second World War, Japan was gripped by a nationalistic, jingoistic emperor-worshipping cult.
Today, under President Xi, patriotism, nationalism and jingoism are rising in China. China is embracing aggressive ‘wolf-warrior’ diplomacy in its foreign policies as it gets entangled in multiple simultaneous disputes with multiple nations at once.
From Western perspective, China’s behaviour today is reminiscent of Japan’s behaviour 90 years ago.
Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere and Belt and Road
Japan had the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere (GEACPS), which was a grand idealistic concept that ostensibly aimed at kicking out Western colonialism from East Asia to create a new East Asian order led by Japan. Ultimately, the flawed execution of this concept led to a brutal war of conquest and atrocities that made Japan behaved far worse than Western imperialism.
China today has the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative that is akin to a grand Marshall Plan that covers not just East Asia, but also including Africa, Middle-East, Europe, South America and the Pacific. It is far more ambitious in scope than GEACPS. If successful, OBOR will cover more nations than the United Nations itself. It is clear that whatever flaws and hidden motives that OBOR has, it cannot be compared to the naked brutality of Japan’s GEACPS. If China succeeds in its OBOR initiative, it will create a new world order with China at the top.
To appreciate the colossal magnitude of China’s OBOR initiative, you need to read this book:
By taking such colossal financial risks to help build infrastructure in third-world nations, the Chinese public simply cannot see it as an evil conspiracy. They see their own country as a force for good for the rest of the world. From that perspective, any Western objections to OBOR will be seen in a negative light.
Trade, Technology, Economic and Diplomatic War
In the 1930s to 1940s, America engaged in trade war against Japan. As this Wikipedia article wrote,
Beginning in 1938, the U.S. adopted a succession of increasingly restrictive trade restrictions with Japan. This included terminating its 1911 commercial treaty with Japan in 1939, further tightened by the Export Control Act of 1940.
The United States embargoed scrap-metal shipments to Japan and closed the Panama Canal to Japanese shipping. This hit Japan’s economy particularly hard because 74.1% of Japan’s scrap iron came from the United States in 1938. Also, 93% of Japan’s copper in 1939 came from the United States.
Responding to Japanese occupation of key airfields in Indochina (July 24) following an agreement between Japan and Vichy France, the U.S. froze Japanese assets on July 26, 1941, and on August 1 established an embargo on oil and gasoline exports to Japan.
Back then, the US responded to overt Japanese aggression with trade restrictions. Today, you see eerily similar actions by the US against China in response to covert Chinese actions (eg espionage, cyber-attacks), especially in the technology field.
By responding to covert Chinese actions with economically damaging trade, technology, diplomatic and economic restrictions, it makes America look like the bad guys in the eyes of the Chinese public. The problem is, claims and allegations of covert Chinese aggression do not have the same level of legitimacy if they are not accompanied by evidence, at least in the eyes of the Chinese public.
If the Chinese public perceives America to be the aggressor, then they will be more receptive to the idea of taking the military option against perceived American aggression.
Judging from China’s increasingly aggressive stance, we may see China as the aggressor. But could that be a reflection of their perception that they are the ones feeling insecure and being threatened? As regional coalitions are formed against China, they will no doubt perceive themselves as being cornered instead. It does not help that US military bases and US-friendly facilities are ringed around China (e.g. South Korea, Japan, Phillippines, Pacific, Australia, Singapore, Vietnam) while no Chinese military bases are anywhere near the United States.
The more China feels threatened and cornered, regardless of whether that feeling is justified or not, the more likely they will make a pre-emptive strike. Japan did that in 1941. Israel did that in 1967.
Already, this news report just came out:
Authorities in Beijing are taking steps that are setting off alarm bells inside the U.S. military and intelligence communities.
What intelligence agencies call “indications and warnings” — signs of potential hostile military or other actions against the United States — are being detected from inside China. Analysts suggest these movements reveal Beijing may be preparing for some type of military or covert action.
Make no mistake, dark clouds of war are looming nearer and nearer. War may not be imminent, but it can happen sooner than we expect. It can come like a thief in the night.