Benjamin Wallace-Wells profiles Elbridge Colby and discusses his hawkishness on China in a recent New Yorker article. This section was probably the most telling part of the entire piece:
Colby’s response is to try to sever the transformational vision of the forever wars from his own hawkishness – to argue that those were neoconservative adventures, intent on democratizing foreign countries, and that his own realist camp does not envision regime change and does not aspire to remake China. “What really makes me angry, frankly, is the aggressive kind of neoconservatives and liberal hawks. They are the ones that used up that gas tank of will [bold mine-DL],” Colby told me.
It is remarkable that Colby identifies using up the “gas tank of will” in the United States as his chief objection to neoconservatives and liberal hawks. He is not put off by their militarism or the destruction they have wrought, but he is angry at them for making it harder to sell his kind of militarism to the public. Indeed, “he is troubled by whether most Americans will see Taiwan as of sufficient interest to them.”
In fact, most Americans have consistently said for years that they do not support going to war to defend Taiwan. This is one of the more noticeable gaps between foreign policy elites and the public. As the Chicago Council of Global Affairs noted earlier this year in its survey report, “Majorities of opinion leaders across partisan lines support using US troops to defend Taiwan from Chinese invasion, while a majority of the American public opposes doing so, regardless of partisan affiliation.” Public support for going to war for Taiwan has increased since 2014, but it is still only at 41%.
Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.
U.S. provocations in the East are likely to continue and only Beijing knows how much more it will take before there is an explosion.
In July there were senior representatives of the Washington Administration bouncing about the globe like a bunch of ping-pong balls, lecturing in one place, suborning in another and announcing everywhere that the U.S. wants a “Rules-Based International Order”, as Secretary of State Blinken told China last March.
Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin was one of the bouncing balls, and before arriving in Vietnam stopped off in Singapore where on July 27 he declared “We will not flinch when our interests are threatened. Yet we do not seek confrontation.” On the same day, the British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (18 U.S.-supplied problem-ridden F-35 strike aircraft, 8 of them British, 10 U.S. Marine Corps), arrived at Singapore en route for the South China Sea to confront any Chinese forces it might meet. (Certainly, the UK carrier group is a joke that could not fight its way out of a paper bag, but it’s the presence that is intended to send the message.) Next day, when Austin arrived in Vietnam, the guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold trailed its coat in the Taiwan Strait in what the U.S. Navy called a “routine” transit that “demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
As can be seen on the site Marine Traffic, the Taiwan Strait is packed all day and night with transiting commercial ships from countless countries, and the right of passage is guaranteed. There is no need whatever for any U.S. guided missile destroyer to “demonstrate freedom and openness.” It was obvious that the Benfold — the seventh U.S. warship to transit the Strait so far this year — had been sent to attempt to provoke China to take action.
Washington has been open about its aggressive China policy, and the State Department’s official notification is that “Strategic competition is the frame through which the United States views its relationship with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The United States will address its relationship with the PRC from a position of strength in which we work closely with our allies and partners to defend our interests and values.” The embrace of challenge could not be clearer, and the Defence Department fully agrees, declaring that U.S. National Defence Strategy is “To restore America’s competitive edge by blocking global rivals Russia and China from challenging the U.S. and our allies” and “To keep those rivals from throwing the current international order out of balance.” In other words, so far as Washington is concerned, U.S. global hegemony is here to stay because it is regarded as beneficial for the world — and above all for America.
But there are some countries that would disagree, including, quite understandably, the People’s Republic of China which objects to such condescending policy statements as “When it is in our interest, the United States will conduct results-oriented diplomacy with China on shared challenges such as climate change and global public health crises.” The world needs diplomacy, not tub-thumping policies that confine international negotiations to national interests, and it was regrettable that one of the bouncing balls visited China to deliver yet another lecture on how that country’s government should behave.
It had been hoped that the visit to China by Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman might open some doors to constructive dialogue, but such was not to be. On July 25-26, as the State Department later announced, “the Deputy Secretary and State Councillor Wang had a frank and open discussion about a range of issues, demonstrating the importance of maintaining open lines of communication between our two countries.” Ms Sherman, according to the State Department, “underscored that the United States welcomes the stiff competition between our countries . . .” but this sort of platitude is entirely at variance with the overall tenor of her presentation to State Councillor Wang and Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng.
As reported by the New York Times, she was mega-critical of China on counts of alleged human rights abuses and “also raised China’s demands over Taiwan, its military operations in the South China Sea, and the accusations last week by the United States and other nations that China’s Ministry of State Security was behind the hacking of Microsoft email systems and possibly other cyberattacks.” She declared that “This is very serious — that the Ministry of State Security would assist criminals to hack Microsoft and potentially others,” adding that “many” countries had joined the United States in saying that “such behaviour is absolutely irresponsible, reckless and has no place in our world.”
Ms Sherman had of course been told what to say at the meeting, presumably approved at the highest level, and it is apparent that Washington had no intention whatever of engaging in meaningful dialogue but was intent on showering China with insults.
It is yet to be understood in Washington that insults, sanctions and aggressive military manoeuvres do not have positive effects on the nations against whom they are directed. They invariably result in anger, resentment and retaliation of some sort. It is as yet unknown for retaliation to take the form of direct military action, because Washington’s targets are generally so weak as to be incapable of such riposte, but in the case of modern China, U.S. pressure and Chinese strength are rising to the extent that this is now a distinct possibility.
On July 28 the newly-appointed Chinese ambassador to the U.S., Qin Gang, said he believes “the door of China-U.S. relations, which is already open, cannot be closed” but no matter Beijing’s good intentions there are many in Washington who want to slam that door because they are confident that the national policy of “blocking global rivals Russia and China from challenging the U.S. and our allies” will succeed.
But it won’t.
During the disastrous visit by Deputy Secretary Sherman to China, Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng said bluntly that the Biden administration’s policies are nothing but a “thinly veiled attempt to contain and suppress China,” which was an extension of Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s cautionary statement that “The United States always wants to exert pressure on other countries by virtue of its own strength, thinking that it is superior to others. However, I would like to tell the U.S. side clearly that there has never been a country in this world that is superior to others, nor should there be, and China will not accept any country claiming to be superior to others. If the United States has not learned how to get along with other countries on an equal footing by now, then it is our responsibility, together with the international community, to give the U.S. a good tutorial in this regard.”
And if the U.S. does not moderate its policy of outright and usually arrogant confrontation in every sphere it is likely that the tutorial will begin very soon. Washington forgets that no matter how much some segments of the Chinese population may disagree with aspects of their government’s policies and performance, they are a proud people who strongly object to their country being insulted and treated as a maverick obstacle to world development. It seems that U.S. provocations in the East will continue and only Beijing knows how much more it will take before there is an explosion.