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Is the US ‘encircling’ China?

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: Welcome back to our interview with Aijaz Ahmad, where we ask the question, what would be a rational foreign policy for the United States? Now, one of the people who’s maybe most rational in US foreign policy circles is Democratic Senator Webb. Webb’s an interesting fellow who opposes aggressive talk against Iran, who has opposed the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard terrorist, and in many people’s eyes is a silver voice. But when he gives his argument about Iran, he says the reason not to get involved in a fight with Iran is because our strategic enemy—and I believe those were his words—is China. And the issue of the encirclement of China in the earlier interview you and I did, you made the point that part of the reason for the war in Afghanistan is to have a place for bases which are strategically positioned vis-à-vis China. This idea that there needs to be US military might in relation to China is a core assumption going forward in US foreign policy. What do you make of it?

AIJAZ AHMAD, SENIOR NEWS ANALYST, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: Two or three things, Paul, to start with. One is that this way of thinking itself, this conception, is a hangover from the old days of the Cold War, where there was a Soviet Union, the great strategic competitor. Today the tendency in that kind of argument is to elevate China to that particular position of strategic enemy. That’s one. Secondly, China has no policy of encircling the United States. Why should the United States have such a policy?

JAY: The counter-argument, I think, would be [that] the Chinese economy is going to be within the next 20, 30, 40 years so massively bigger than anyone else’s, including the United States’, that in terms of competing with China either for raw materials or for markets, China’s going to wind up simply having many advantages, including cheaper labor, a bigger market, capital, and so on, and that the only card, perhaps, the US has to play in that competition will be a military card. I would think that would be their counter-argument.

AHMAD: Well, first of all, that’s a very, very irrational argument—if you lose out in peaceful economic competition, you should just go and invade some country. You know, that’s an extremely irrational argument and a frightening one. Whether or not China will get there, we don’t know. Whether or not China will get to a point where it will build that kind of armed forces, we do not know. As of now, Chinese posture is completely defensive. There are three or four points that I’d like to make on this, Paul. First of all, China has not fought a war outside its territory since the Korean War. For the last 60 years, China has had no troops beyond its territory. Its military expenditures, when you look at it, is essentially—even its nuclear program is essentially defensive in character. It is frightened that it will be attacked by the United States. China is seeking economic advantage in terms of resource provision in Asia and Africa. It’s very interesting. They are paying whatever price people ask them to pay, and they offer not only abstract aid in money, but Chinese workers just come and build railways and this, that, and the other, and so on. So they are making a straight economic argument and building up a sort of prestige capital, that here is an economic power that doesn’t coerce us. It does not set out to tell any country what its internal social system should be, because it has not arrogated to itself the power of policing the world either militarily or politically.

JAY: What do you make of the theory that there’s something that even has a name, been coined "the string of pearls"? And this is the idea of China building influence and perhaps some kind of military presence through Southeast Asia, including this new port that’s being built in Pakistan just south of the Iranian border, which apparently gives China naval rights, not just commercial rights—naval military rights. Is there any evidence that China has such capacity or is building that?

AHMAD: Well, first of all, the Gwadar base that you’re talking about in Pakistan has been under construction for the last 40 years. This is nothing new. It’s new in the media. Nothing new. By naval facilities for the Chinese, what they’re calling naval facilities, is the right of the Chinese to use that port as a port of call, as its commercial navy.

JAY: It’s very strategic, in theory overlooks the principal oil routes of most Middle Eastern oil heading out to the marketplace.

AHMAD: Paul, if it was that strategic, the Chinese would have got it built 40 years ago, when they started construction. The idea has been very simple. The Chinese built a very large, very wonderful four-lane road across the high Himalayas that connect China with Pakistan for entry into trade with Pakistan primarily, but also perhaps for some export, which cuts the route for the Chinese a lot. That is how the idea of Gwadar came up, that the Karachi port could not handle all of that. The fact of the matter is that Pakistan, which is itself a growing economy, has only one port, which is Karachi, which is its naval base, which is its commercial port, and so on and so forth. So there has been a great interest in Pakistan itself to build another port.

JAY: So if I understand correctly, what you’re saying is that this assumption in most US foreign policy circles that there’s going to be a contention with China for dominance in the world is a wrong assumption—it presupposes that China’s going to try to achieve this kind of dominance and/or that the US has to maintain its dominance.

AHMAD: I won’t say it is wrong. There is no criterion by which it can be proved that it is right or wrong. It is so hypothetical. There are no facts on the ground that justify it as the reality. So it’s purely hypothetical. United States maintains 1,000 bases around the world, just port-of-call facilities in a country with which China has had 60 years of extremely friendly relations becomes somehow the justification for all of this paraphernalia around the world. It’s completely irrational.

JAY: In the next segment of our discussions, let’s go further into the question of what it would mean for the United States to be an equal country amongst other nations. Please join us for the next segment of our discussions with Aijaz Ahmad.

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Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.