The road to a new cold war with China

Pence’s speech came on the heels of a series of intensifying conflicts between the U.S. and China. Trump has launched a trade war with Beijing, imposing tariffs of between 10 and 25 percent on over $200 billion in Chinese products, and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping has reciprocated with duties of between 5 and 25 percent on $60 billion worth of American commodities.

While he had promised a confrontational approach during the 2016 election, Trump had, up until recently, pursued what can only be called a bromance with Xi Jinping, inviting him for a sleepover at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida in April 2017. Xi happily returned the favor, hosting Trump to a chummy dinner in the Forbidden Palace a few months later in November 2017.

To overcome this weakness, the Pentagon study advocates that the U.S.

initiate a state-led industrial policy that includes: increased defense spending; redevelopment of its manufacturing base; training a high-tech manufacturing workforce; reorienting the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines in U.S. education systems; and redirecting any offshore production to allied countries away from China.

Second, the U.S. attempt to expand and enforce the neoliberal order through its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq ended in failure. The Bush Jr. administration had hoped the “war on terror” would allow the U.S. to assert control over Middle East strategic oil reserves, and thereby gain leverage over all the states, like China, that rely on them.

To back all this up with a credible threat of force, China under Xi has increased defense spending and modernized its military forces — in particular, the Navy, so that it can project its power into the East and South China Seas. China seized several islands and constructed military bases there to enforce its control of fisheries, shipping lanes, and undersea oil and gas reserves.

For example, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer declared: “President Trump’s pattern continues: Tough talk on China, but weaker action than anyone could ever imagine. To make an announcement that they’re going to decide whether to have an investigation on China’s well-documented theft of our intellectual property is another signal to China that it is okay to keep stealing.”

Even the standard bearer of American liberalism, Elizabeth Warren, has staked out a hawkish position on China, judging that whole idea that the U.S. could integrate Beijing into the neoliberal order without coercion “was misdirected. We told ourselves a happy-face story that never fit with the facts. Now U.S. policymakers are starting to look more aggressively at pushing China to open up the markets without demanding a hostage price of access to U.S. technology.”

He did not mention the intensifying inter-imperial rivalry between the U.S. and China — a shocking omission in and of itself — but if the gist of Sanders’ program is to use the American empire as a vehicle against authoritarian states, this attitude could give a left cover to the same aggressive anti-China stance of moderate Democrats and right-wing Republicans alike.

THE TRUTH is that the American state is not a pacifist, progressive or even neutral institution that can be taken over to advance an internationalist progressive movement. It is a ruling class institution that oversees exploitation at home and imperial rule abroad. That’s why Martin Luther King Jr. rightly concluded that it is “the greatest purveyor of violence in our world today.”