Why does the US government seek a hotter conflict with China?

Summary:   The long-simmering trade conflicts with China have taken a turn for the worse. Romney’s foreign policy team contains some extreme hawks eager for some form of war with China.  DoD, desperate for threats to justify its existence, has fired a propaganda barrage at us about the cyber-threat with China. And some national security agencies, having exhausted the specious domestic threat from jihadists, turn to China as the only game left to justify their jobs.  The US might single-handed insure that peace does not reign in the 21st century.


  1. Cyber-threat inflation
  2. Brewing up a Trade War
  3. Looking ahead to the Romney doctrine
  4. Other articles about inciting conflict with China
  5. Other posts about China

(1)  Cyber-threat inflation

The context to these articles hyping China’s cyber capabilities is quite delusional. The US government draws on the world’s largest and most advanced pool of information technology talent, and has almost certainly far outspent any other nation on cyberwar (with so many agencies seeing this as a source of preeminence in the 21st century).  The US (with Israel) have launched the world’s first cyberwar, against Iran (Stuxnet and follow-up rounds). None of these facts interfere with the carefully constructed narrative of US inferiority and victimhood propagated by the government’s engines of propaganda.

Here are some recent samples.

(a) China’s cyberwar“, editorial in the Washington Post, 15 December 2011

(b)  Occupying the Information High Ground: Chinese Capabilities for Computer Network Operations and Cyber Espionage, Prepared for the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission by Northrop Grumman Corp, 7 March 2012 — Executive Summary:


The PLA’s sustained modernization effort over the past two decades has driven remarkable transformation within the force and put the creation of modern command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) infrastructure at the heart of the PLA’s strategic guidelines for long term development. This priority on C4ISR systems modernization, has in turn been a catalyst for the development of an integrated information warfare (IW) capability capable of defending military and civilian networks while seizing control of an adversary’s information systems during a conflict.

Translation: like every great power, China intends to have a 21st century military force capable of defending itself. That includes cyberwarfare.

(c)  Right-wing propaganda shops hype the threat:

From Facing China, 15 May 2012

(2)  Brewing up a Trade War

There are many grounds for trade conflicts between a hegemon and a rapidly rising rival. Certainly China, like America in its early years, plays the trade game to win — ignoring the rules where possible.  But now the national security people have dealt themselves into the game. This might lead to significant escalation, as China’s national security people might rise to the challenge.  That transforms the game from one about money — where compromise tends to rule so that business gets done — to one mixing pride and fear.  Neither allowing easy compromise, both fueling hostility that feeds the military establishments of both sides.

(a)  Long-standing history of concerns about security of Huawei equipment: see Wikipedia for the history, with links for more information.

(b)  Investigative Report on the U.S. National Security Issues Posed by Chinese Telecommunications Companies Huawei and ZTE, House Intelligence Committee, 8 October 2012 — Conclusion of the Executive Summary:

In sum, the Committee finds that the companies failed to provide evidence that would satisfy any fair and full investigation. Although this alone does not prove wrongdoing, it factors into the Committee’s conclusions below. Further, this report contains a classified annex, which also adds to the Committee’s concerns about the risk to the United States. The investigation concludes that the risks associated with Huawei’s and ZTE’s provision of equipment to U.S. critical infrastructure could undermine core US national-security interests.

(c)  As Saddam discovered, only God can provide the level of information the US government requires to prove innocence of a potential rival.  See these two sensible rebuttals:

  • The Manchurian Network“, Farhad Manjoo, Slate, 11 October 2012 — “Don’t believe the U.S. government’s alarming claims that Chinese telecom firm Huawei is a danger to national security”
  • My Way Or the Huawei“, Trevor Timm, Foreign Policy, 12 October 2012 — “The U.S. government’s recent accusations against two Chinese companies are seriously overblown.”
  • US politicians’ hypocrisy“, Qi Li, op-ed in China Daily, 15 October 2012

(d)  The US leans on its allies to work against our rivals

(3)  Looking ahead to the Romney doctrine

The Romney doctrine appears to consist mostly of picking fights with as many nations as possible.  It’s a commonplace strategy in history, although seldom successful.  From the free e-book Believe In America: Mitt Romney’s Plan for Jobs and Economic Growth:

China presents a broad set of problems that cry out urgently for solutions. It is time to end the Obama administration’s acquiescence to the one-way arrangements the Chinese have come to enjoy. We need a fresh and fearless approach to that trade relationship. Our first priority must be to put on the table all unilateral actions within our power to ensure that the Chinese adhere to existing agreements. Anyone with business experience knows that you can succeed in a negotiation only if you are willing to walk away. If we want the Chinese to play by the rules, we must be willing to say “no more” to a relationship that too often benefits them and harms us.

(4)  Other articles about inciting conflict with China

(5)  Other posts about China

  1. Power shifts from West to East: the end of the post-WWII regime in the news, 20 December 2007
  2. China becomes a super-power (geopolitical analysis need not be war-mongering), 9 July 2008
  3. Words to fear in the 21st century: Lǎo hǔ, lǎo hǔ, Lǎo hǔ, 14 July 2008
  4. A different perspective on the US and China, seen by an American living in Russia, 23 March 2009
  5. China – the mysterious other pole of the world economy, 22 July 2009
  6. Will China collapse?, 5 August 2009
  7. A revolution is not a dinner party. Thoughts about the future of China, 19 August 2009
  8. Update about China: a new center of the world, 13 December 2009
  9. China moves to the center of the world. America moves to the edge, 6 January 2010
  10. Fertilizer overuse destroying Chinese soil, 18 February 2010
  11. Rare earths – a hidden but strategic battleground between the US and China, 5 May 2010
  12. Today’s example of the inscrutable mystery of China’s economic statistics, 13 May 2010
  13. How China builds its commercial empire, 12 July 2010
  14. A look at the future (it’s already here, but it’s not in the USA), 29 September 2010
  15. Why China will again rise to the top, and their most important advantage over America, 11 November 2010
  16. Will China become a superpower?, 9 September 2011
  17. What China Wants Us to Understand about China’s Rise, 12 March 2012
  18. Are America and China secret twins? The similarities are striking, but we don’t see them., 17 May 2012


9 thoughts on “Why does the US government seek a hotter conflict with China?”

  1. Today’s Bloomberg Businessweek features a section that divines world opinions about the United States through the testimony of cab drivers around the world.

    Xu Fu Ling from Shanghai:
    “The Chinese people have always respected America. America helped China during the Second World War. But now, because America is getting involved in Chinese affairs such as territorial disputes, there are some problems.”

    To the extent that cab drivers offer a representative opinion, this shows a somewhat different China from the one we often hear about in the American news, and hardly one that is interested in starting World War 3.

  2. Sounds like a bunch of campaign rhetoric to me. Our relationship to China has been good for american business. Cheap labor = more profits. Zero chance that Romney’s sponsors want this to end.

    If I had to guess, Romney’s mission will be to negotiate a way for american business to get some meaningful ownership in some chinese businesses in exchange for something. Maybe threaten to start building Iphone’s in Guatemala, or finally let them have a Taiwan or a piece of Khazakstan or Turkmenistan or something.

  3. Meanwhile, the US has been declaring that Iran is behind recent cyberattacks. Apparently “they are just sure, and that’s enough.” No doubt if Iran had accused the US of responsiblity for Stuxnet (until we admitted it, that is) the accusations would have been baseless and irresponsible.

    1. According to more recent reports the attackers took over part of the network at a Michigan university and used it to perform a lacklustre DoS attack against several banks’ online banking infrastructure. Not exactly the cyber Pearl Harbour that’s typically touted.

      In other overblown “Iran is an existential threat to everyone important” news, Iran is going to dump a bunch of oil into the straits of Hormuz because severely polluting a major waterway that they rely upon for food and transport will somehow hurt the US and Israel. It’s almost like our national fear-mongers aren’t even trying anymore….

  4. The essence of capitalism is competition. It looks that China Inc. is winning that competition in regards to developing advanced productive capacities in the globalised economy. The fact that profits are made in America cannot obscure the fact that manufacturing of almost everything has moved away to China. The exorbitant profits of American corporations such as Apple are opium given to the American people to make them numb and do not feel the pain of losing the real competition in terms of skills and technological supremacy. America is de-industrialising fast.

    At the same time aggregate demand is stimulated in China by export – a typically mercantilist strategy (see my earlier post about Kaleckian economics). It is counter-intuitive to keep removing products from the domestic markets in order to make everyone richer but if the goal of the Chinese leadership is to rapidly industralise the country and keep investing about 40% of the GDP, this is the way to go. They have tamed or rather hacked capitalism so that it serves the interests of the CCP. They don’t want to increase consumption (yet). They actually don’t care that much about the profits (yet). They want to be global number one as a producer like in the 18th century. Then they will be truly wealthy. The destruction of manufacturing in America is just a side-effect, not a goal on its own.

    The American politician system gives a very prominent role to lobbying by the corporations so the opium of profits dependant on China Inc. works its way to the very centre of the nervous system of the state.

    The only way to smash this cosy symbiosis between American corporations seeking very short-term profits and China Inc. seeking global economic dominance is to create a deep political rift. A trade war and increased spending on defence will pull the American economy out of the stupor of recession – it will be again business as usual.

    Nobody will talk about (non-existing) fiscal cliffs any more when an imaginary enemy will play a cyber game in a virtual world.

    It is probably too late to try anything else…

  5. Regarding Marcus Ranum’s comment: I too have noticed the absurd recent claims that Iran is behind alleged cyberattacks, along with Leon Panetta’s preposterous assertions that America faces a so-called “cyber Pearl Harbor.”

    As an expert, I wonder if Marcus could give us his opinion — to what degree does he think the cyber-hysteria is based specifically on making Iran a paraiah and justifying yet another baseless war of aggression? Or is the cyber-threat hysteria merely part of a much larger effort to justify a massive government clampdown on the internet so as to shut off dissent at the source and crack down on bittorrent and darknet activity?

  6. The neo-cons won. The US’s ‘default’ grand strategy is theirs. Though that strategy was always ‘in the wings’ in many quarters post WW2 (in very many ways pre WW2). Now it is dogma. The US will allow no competitor, or near competitor, to arise, in the military, economic or financial spheres. That’s it. So they have to go for China. And Russia and …

    Though they have been lucky. If you want to look at it ‘big picture’:

    • British: self destructed (though having a Prime Minister in WW2 that was half American did help quite a lot).
    • Germany #1 and #2: smashed.
    • Japanese mark 1: smashed.
    • Japanese mark 2: self destructed.
    • Soviet : self destructed.
    • EU: self destructed
    • Chines empire: ideally to self destruct otherwise to be smashed.
    • Russian: nearly succeeded at self destruction, now to be smashed (Romney is just stating the obvious US elite position).

    The strategy is always the same. pick around the edges, corrupt the elites*, get them to do your dirty work. The US financial elites are your ‘shock troops’, every financial elite in the World wants to be like and/or obeys the US ones. Why else spend so many trillions to bail them out?

    The ‘collateral damage’ is meaningless.The destruction to economies (especially the US’s), environments, lives .. the ‘Great Game’ goes on. To the very bitter (and it will be very, very bitter) end.

    As I said, right from the start of this blog when it was created, the US elites will not go down like the British, Soviet (etc) ones, they will take everything with it if they can. And they will sacrifice every single one of us (even FM or worse me) to achieve that.

    * Like Iraq #2, the reason they won so easily was, because even a moderately competent Iraqi leader could have cost the US’s forces so much blood (might even have won), was because they paid them off. The US may be rubbish at warfare but it is AAA class at corruption (been surprisingly effective in China to date).

    1. I don’t believe that’s an accurate version of the past century’s history. Not even remotely so. But Old Skeptic makes two powerful points.

      (1) “The strategy is always the same”

      • NONE of those large nation crashes resulted from “the strategy” of US interference that Oldskeptic describes.
      • The EU has not “self-destructed”. Even more back a step wouldn’t necessarily mean the end of the unification project.
      • What Chinese “empire”? What “self-destruction”? And who would “smash” them?

      (2) “Though they have been lucky. If you want to look at it ‘big picture’”

      Such things are, of course, difficult to determine and impossible to prove. IMO we were not lucky, but benefited from an effective grand strategy during the 20th century. No attempts at conquest, which hasn’t worked in Europe since 1648 (except on a small scale). Reliance on toleration and free markets (relatively more so than the States listed).

      (3) “Like Iraq #2, the reason they won so easily was, because even a moderately competent Iraqi leader could have cost the US’s forces so much blood (might even have won), was because they paid them off.”

      (a) I too suspect that we bought some of Iraq’s generals, accounting for our easy conquest. BUT — can anyone point to evidence of this? Perhaps a book or article marshalling the evidence?

      (b) I suspect this was also true of our conquest, with the Northern Alliance, of Afghanistan. There are fragments of evidence that CIA bagmen were as important as the spec ops “horse soldiers”.

      (c) This shows the importance of our hidden history. We find it difficult to act because we cannot see what’s happening, in part because we’re so effectively deceived. It’s part of 1984 that’s happened, to some degree, without us knowing it. Meanwhile we exult in the easy access to chat, trivia and porn via the internet. While the government conceals so much from us.

  7. Pingback: Why does the US government seek a hotter conflict with the People’s Republic of China? | Red-DragonRising

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