By Bruce Fein, constitutional lawyer, former associate deputy attorney general and former general counsel to the Federal Communications Commission. Originally published by the Washington Times. Republished with permission of the author.
A disastrous, purposeless war with China to defend the global credibility of the United States is imminent. Only vocal citizen opposition to the war communicated to the Congress and the White House can prevent our self-ruination. It happened in 2013 to prevent President Obama from another trillion-dollar fool’s errand against Syria. The system still works, if citizens will use it.
Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson testified on Jan. 11, 2017, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the United States would deny China access to islands in the South China Sea over which China claims sovereignty. (The artificial islands are thousands of miles from the continental United States and irrelevant to invincible self-defense). Mr. Tillerson declared that China’s building and militarization of the islands was “akin to Russia’s taking Crimea” from Ukraine.
He bugled: “We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.” (How do you think the United States would respond if China denied us access to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base?)
The White House reiterated on Jan. 24, 2017, that the United States would prevent China from accessing the South China Sea islands China claims, and hinted at an American blockade. A blockade would mean war, according to a nationalist Chinese newspaper. (A blockade assumes a state of war.) Australia, a longstanding United States ally in the Asia Pacific region, balked at participation.
The White House-Tillerson bellicosity aligns with everything the United States has done since Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2011 announced a “pivot” to Asia to encircle China. We have sought to deny China a regional sphere of influence that we have exerted for almost two centuries beginning with the Monroe Doctrine. We have established a Marine training base in Darwin, Australia. We are building a THADD missile defense system in South Korea. We have negotiated the use of five military training bases in the Philippines. We have supported Vietnam in its South China Sea maritime dispute with China. We have sent aircraft carriers there. We have declared an obligation to defend Japan’s claim to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands disputed by China.
The United States has accused China of currency manipulation and threatened to impose prohibitive tariffs on Chinese imports.
These unfriendly acts are the very definition of encirclement.
Chinese resentment against the west and the United States has been building for centuries. The First Opium War (1839-42), fought by Britain, was precipitated by China’s refusal to legalize opium. It ended with the Treaty of Nanking, which indemnified merchants for confiscated opium, granted the British extraterritoriality, opened five treaty ports, and ceded Hong Kong.
The Second Opium War (1856-60) was fought by the British to compel China to open up its ports and interior to Western trade. Other Western powers piggybacked on Chinese concessions to Britain through most-favored-nation clauses in a series of “unequal treaties.”
The 1894-95 Sino-Japanese War concluded in the Treaty of Shimonoseki by which China was obliged to recognize the independence of Korea; to cede Taiwan, the Pescadores Islands, and the Liaodong (south Manchurian) Peninsula to Japan ; to pay an indemnity of 200,000,000 taels to Japan; and to open the ports of Shashi, Chongqing, Suzhou, and Hangzhou to Japanese trade.
These Western and Japanese humiliations sparked the 1900 Boxer Rebellion to expel western spheres of influence. An international force featuring British, Russian, American, Japanese, French and German troops relieved Beijing after fighting their way through much of northern China. The victors agreed that China would not be partitioned further. In September 1901, the Beijing Protocol was signed. Foreign nations received extremely favorable commercial treaties, foreign troops were permanently stationed in Beijing, and China was forced to pay $333 million dollars as penalty for its rebellion.
The United States intervened in the Chinese Civil War (1946-49) in favor of Gen. Chiang Kai-shek against Mao Zedong. After Chiang was driven off the mainland to Taiwan in 1949, the United States launched covert actions against the People’s Republic of China seeking the overthrow of Mao.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s adventurism during the Korean War provoked China to intervene with more than 1 million troops.
Depend upon it. What will provoke war against China will be a professed need to defend our credibility everywhere on the planet. It will be said that if we do not fight China over the South and East China Sea islands as we have threatened, Russia will be emboldened to attack the Baltic States or Eastern Europe, Iran will be emboldened to attack Israel and destabilize its Sunni rivals, and North Korea will be emboldened to attack South Korea and Japan.
The Han Chinese is a proud people, and China is a proud nation. China invented gunpowder and paper. It gave the world Confucius and Sun Tzu. It possesses hundreds of nuclear weapons. After suffering humiliation and subjugation by Western imperial powers for centuries, China will fight the United States for its own sphere of influence in the South China and East China Seas.
China will never bow to the double standards of the United States. We have intervened in Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Chile and Grenada to maintain our sphere of influence in Central and South America and the Caribbean. Our schoolmarm-like rebuke of China over its assertion of regional hegemony takes audacity to a new level.
The Han Chinese is every bit or more nationalist than were the Vietnamese who bested the United States in the Vietnam War. The morale of United States troops in Vietnam suffered terribly because the war was about an abstraction — global American credibility — not about defending the United States from aggression.
The same will be true in our war with China, and the morale of our troops will suffer accordingly. We will be defeated for the same reasons we were defeated in the Vietnam War.
This looming calamity can be forestalled if American citizens immediately flood the White House and Congress with phone calls and emails voicing vehement opposing war with China absent actual unprovoked Chinese aggression against the United States or a Chinese declaration of war. That would represent the high water mark of self-government celebrated in the Declaration of Independence.