Reminder: ‘The US Is Surrounding China With Military Bases, Not Conversely’


The geopolitical tensions arising between China and its smaller neighbors are complex. There are ways to mitigate them and ways to exacerbate them. For the U.S., however, it’s a much simpler question. Considering the maritime and territorial disputes are none of our business, and we have no right to meddle in regional disputes half a world away, Washington simply has to renounce its claimed prerogative to dominate the Asia-Pacific and – voila! – we no longer have to concern our Air Force, Navy, Army, Special Operations forces, diplomats, and politicians with such parochial issues.

In anticipation of a number of talks he is scheduled to give in Tokyo next week, Noam Chomsky was interviewed on the regional tensions in the Asia-Pacific by the Japan Times. Here are some excerpts.

You arrive in Japan at a possibly defining moment: the government is preparing to launch a major challenge to the nation’s six-decade pacifist stance, arguing that it must be “more flexible” in responding to external threats; relations with China and Korea have turned toxic; and there is even talk of war. Should we be concerned?

We should most definitely be concerned. Instead of abandoning its pacifist stance, Japan should take pride in it as an inspiring model for the world, and should take the lead in upholding the goals of the United Nations “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” The challenges in the region are real, but what is needed is steps toward political accommodation and establishing peaceful relations, not a return to policies that proved disastrous not so long ago.

How in concrete terms, though, can political accommodation be achieved? The historical precedents for the kind of situation we face in Asia — competing nationalisms; a rising undemocratic power with opaque military spending and something to prove in tandem with a declining power, increasingly fearful about what this means — are not good.

There is a real issue, but I think the question should be formulated a bit differently. Chinese military spending is carefully monitored by the United States. It is indeed growing, but it is a small fraction of U.S. expenditures, which are amplified by U.S. allies (China has none). China is indeed seeking to break out of the arc of containment in the Pacific that limits its control over the waters essential to its commerce and open access to the Pacific. That does set up possible conflicts, partly with regional powers that have their own interests, but mainly with the U.S., which of course would never even consider anything remotely comparable for itself and, furthermore, insists upon global control.

Although the U.S. is a “declining power,” and has been since the late 1940s, it still has no remote competitor as a hegemonic power. Its military spending virtually matches the rest of the world combined, and it is far more technologically advanced. No other country could dream of having a network of hundreds of military bases all over the world, nor of carrying out the world’s most expansive campaign of terror — and that is exactly what (President Barack) Obama’s drone assassination campaign is. And the U.S., of course, has a brutal record of aggression and subversion.

These are the essential conditions within which political accommodation should be sought. In concrete terms, China’s interests should be recognized along with those of others in the region. But there is no justification for accepting the domination of a global hegemon.

And, as Chomsky always shows, the reality of the tiff between the U.S. and China is crystalized by the simple thought experiment of reversing the roles:

What’s the U.S. role in all this? It seems clear that Washington does not want to be pulled into a conflict with Beijing. We also understand that the Obama administration is upset at Abe’s views on history, and his visits to Yasukuni Shrine, the linchpin of historical revisionism in Japan. However we can hardly call the U.S. an honest broker…

Hardly. The U.S. is surrounding China with military bases, not conversely. U.S. strategic analysts describe a “classic security dilemma” in the region, as the U.S. and China each perceive the other’s stance as a threat to their basic interests. The issue is control of the seas off China’s coasts, not the Caribbean or the waters off California. For the U.S., global control is a “vital interest.”

We might also recall the fate of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama when he followed the will of the large majority of Okinawans, defying Washington. As The New York Times reported, “Apologizing for failing to fulfill a prominent campaign promise, Hatoyama told outraged residents of Okinawa on Sunday that he has decided to relocate an American air base to the north side of the island as originally agreed upon with the United States.” His “capitulation,” as it was correctly described, resulted from strong U.S. pressure.

It goes without saying that Washington wouldn’t accept for even one moment a China with tens of thousands of troops and security guarantees with, say, Cuba, Honduras, and Venezuela. If China routinely patrolled fleets of navy warships along U.S. coasts and had a policy explicitly aimed at containing U.S. power in its own backyard, it is dubious that the U.S. would respond peacefully. The U.S. wouldn’t accept it. Why should we expect China to?

Update: For a helpful in-depth look at the U.S.’s containment policy towards China, see the Cato Institute’s Justin Logan here. He writes that the U.S. has “developed a posture in Asia that is designed with the obvious purpose of putting China’s seaborne commerce at risk.” Again, that is something Washington would never let China do without bombing in retaliation. Logan also argues that China’s rise does not threaten the U.S.: “no one has specified precisely how even a very militarily powerful China would directly threaten US national security.”

12 thoughts on “Reminder: ‘The US Is Surrounding China With Military Bases, Not Conversely’”

  1. If China was "all by itself" in its own hemisphere, like America, then I can guarantee that China wouldn't be surrounded by American military assets. Isolationism is selfish, it's dangerous, and it's foolish.

    1. What're you talking about? There 20 something countries in the Western hemisphere. The article even mentions some – Cuba, Honduras and Venezuela.

    2. "Isolationism is selfish, it's dangerous, and it's foolish."

      You must be really upset by the USA then. It's a completely isolationist country. Almost everything it does is in total isolation, especially the major things.


      1) Iraq invasion. Had support from exactly zero countries, and was totally illegal.
      2) Afghanistan invasion. Had support from exactly two countries on Earth, and was totally illegal.
      3) Illegal US sanctions against Cuba. Every year, the entire world – literally every country (aside from Israel) – tells the USA, in the General Assembly, to end these sanctions. The USA continues them.
      4) Israel. Since the early 1970s, the USA has been blocking, alone, the international legal and opinion consensus that Israel must stop ethnically cleansing and stealing Palestine. Every year, almost the entire world (usually about 165 countries) supports the solution, and the US and Israel oppose it.
      5) UN Rights of the Child convention. The USA is the only country on earth that will not ratify the convention.
      6) The USA was the only country on the planet that did not recognize Chavez's election, and the only country on Earth to support the coup against him.
      7) The USA was the only country on the planet to support the coup d'etat in Honduras in 2009.
      8) The USA was the only country on the planet to not recognize the election of Nicholas Maduro.
      9) Iran. 80% of the world supports Iran's rights guaranteed under the NPT. The US is systematically taking them away through terrorism, killing tens of thousands of Iranian civilians to force the country to give up its legal rights.
      10) The USA vetoes more UN resolutions, by far, than any other country.
      11) The USA is, by an enormous margin, currently considered the greatest threat to world peace.

      Books are filled with the isolationism of the USA. Other examples include the USA's lone support for South African apartheid.

      The USA spits on the international community and democracy, and operates in isolation, with brutality.

      Here are a couple of books that might help you extricate yourself from US propaganda, which has you believing the exact opposite of the reality: "Rogue State", by William Blum, and "Crimes of Empire", by Carl Boggs.

      1. You should have left out some of those.

        Recognizing tyrants is not necessarily a good thing. The fact that a couple hundred governments "recognize" a tyrant is utterly meaningless to someone who doesn't recognize The State as a legitimate authority on much of anything.

        The situation in Honduras was driven by a power-tripping socialist president who wanted to stay in power for life and illegally tried to change the constitution. The Honduran Supreme Court removed him from office. Frankly I wish more heads of state were impeached in a similar manner.

        Maduro is a socialist tyrant. Chavez was a socialist tyrant. Who cares if other socialist tyrants endorse them?

        South Africa: The maximum number of political prisoners in SA during apartheid was a little over 500. At no time during apartheid were even half as many citizens in SA jails as there are now (156000), yet crime is at epidemic proportions — especially racist crime — and an entire minority is staring at the beginning stages of genocide. When the economic collapse comes, 5 million whites and a million Asians will be massacred. Meanwhile, the same SA that was a large exporter of food and many manufactured goods has begun destroying its agricultural base in the manner of Zimbabwe, and is now looking forward to ANC-created food shortages and eventual resource riots.

        The UN stuff: Yawn. Not only should the US veto UN resolutions, but the UN should be disbanded and de-funded as the waste of money and socialism-promoting front organization that it is.

        Your points about US interventionism I agree with. Every base should be closed, every bit of man and material should be withdrawn from the rest of the world, and the US military should be demobilized and sent home — and the money we now spend on it should be refunded to the taxpayers.

        1. "Who cares if other socialist tyrants endorse them?"

          Haha yep, every country on earth is headed by socialist tyrants. They should all learn from the USA and cancel their ratification of the Rights of Children convention. That would at least be a start.

          1. Btw:

            I said: "Almost everything it [the US] does is in total isolation, especially the major things. Examples:"

            You said: "You should have left out some of those."

            False. They are all examples of what I said I was giving examples of: US isolationism. Because you personally agree with some of the policies does not make them non-isolationist. Rather, it simply makes you an isolationist on those policies. That is, unless you believe you somehow represent a majority of the world, in which case yes, I "should have left out some of those", namely the policies listed that you personally agree with :)

  2. If you also consider what's currently going on in Eastern Europe, you might conclude that the world's governments are attempting to make the 21st Century a repeat ot the 20th.

  3. Isn't that the US is used to "promote peace and democracy" in others countries, but those countries ended up otherwise?

  4. I don't think we are objecting to China floating around on international waters anyplace . Trouble is most countries are stretching the distances from shore they want to control and this fact is shrinking international waters we have all agreed to share .

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