Tag: China

North Korea is *not* the provocateur

By Daniel Margrain

Now is the Time for Talks with North Korea

As each day passes, a major conflict between the United States and North Korea looks increasingly likely. The ratcheting-up of tensions between Washington and Pyongyang is being perpetuated by a corporate media that is reinforcing the myth that North Korea is provoking the conflict and is a barrier to peace. The solution is one that is deemed to require a military response from the Trump administration. The Council on Foreign Relations, appear to reaffirm this is the consensus position in Washington.

According to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, we’re moving toward a collision on the Korean Peninsula, that’s like two trains rushing toward each other. Furthermore, William Perry, the former defense secretary and Bill Clinton’s ambassador for North Korea in the late 1990s, also said that he thought a train wreck was coming.

The backdrop to these shenanigans was the test last month by North Korea of a intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The country is being characterized as an existential threat to the US – a characterization that has been massively exaggerated for propaganda purposes.

Tim Beal adds some flesh to the bones:

“The balance of military power between the US and its ‘allies’ (the imperial alliance structure is a major part of American power) scarcely needs elaboration or documentation. South Korea on its own has a military budget perhaps 30 times that of the North, has, generally speaking, much more advanced and modern equipment (it buys more weapons from the US than even Saudi Arabia) and, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), can field two and a half times more troops (standing army plus reservists) than the North. Bring in the US and its allies, including especially Japan, and the imbalance is astounding: a combined military budget of roughly $1 trillion against North Korea’s $1.2 to $10 billion.  The portrayal of North Korea as a threat to the US is not merely wrong, it is preposterously and diametrically at variance with reality.”

That the government in Pyongyang undertook the ICBM test against a situation in which China and North Korea offered a plan to de-escalate tensions, subsequently rejected by the US, was a scenario that had been quietly overlooked by the media. North Korean foreign minister, Bang Kwang Hyok said that unless the US fundamentally abandons its hostile policy towards his country, its weapons programme “will never be up for negotiation.”

The war of words continued a month later (August 8, 2017), after Trump promised North Korea “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen” in response to reports that the country had developed the ability to miniaturize a nuclear warhead so that it can be placed on a missile.

Tensions were further escalated two days later when Trump said that his ‘fire and fury’ comments were perhaps not “tough enough” and refused to rule out what he called a “preventive” strike against the country.

Historical context

The context underlying the continuing US hostility towards North Korea, stems from June, 1950 when the US imposed sanctions on the country and engaged in military exercises that involved the flying of nuclear warheads over Korean air space after the American administration had actually dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

These ‘war games’ are also the context in which the US dropped napalm and white phosphorus on North Korea completely destroying it from 1950-53. Up to 4 million Koreans would have lived had not the US instigated their war of aggression.

US General Douglas MacArthur testified to Congress in 1951 that:

‘The war in Korea has already destroyed that nation of 20,000,000 people. I have never seen such devastation. I have seen, I guess, as much blood and disaster as any living man, and it just curdled my stomach, the last time I was there. After I looked at that wreckage and those thousands of women and children and everything, I vomited.”(‘Napalm – An American Biography’ by Robert Neer, Belknap Press, 2013, p. 100, quoted by Media Lens).

US Air Force General Curtis LeMay wrote:

“We burned down just about every city in North Korea and South Korea both…we killed off over a million civilians and drove several million more from their homes, with the inevitable additional tragedies bound to ensue.” (Ibid., p. 100, quoted by Media Lens).

This, and the imposition by the US of a military dictatorship on South Korea that imprisoned, tortured and killed political opponents, is also the reason why many people in Korea view Pyongyang’s relationship with the Americans from a position of defense rather than offense.

The ‘war games’ continue to be played decades later as a result of the expansion by the US of its military bases throughout the pacific region. From North Korea’s perspective, Washington’s provocation is akin to Russia or China deploying strategic nuclear weapons and thousands of their troops on the US-Mexico border and rehearsing military exercises that simulate the potential collapse of Washington.

Numerous other countries test their nuclear weapons – the United States included – but none elicit the kind of punishment that’s being meted out to North Korea. Pyongyang has done nothing to threaten Washington, rather the threats are the other way around. The aggressive US stance is, of course, in no way related to the probability, as Business Insider pointed out, that North Korea’s “mountainous regions are thought to sit on around 200 different minerals, including, crucially, a large number of rare earth metals… thought to be worth more than $6 trillion.

China

Trump has attempted to divert US culpability by insisting that China has not played a sufficient enough role in trying to de-escalate the situation. But China does not have the leverage to prevent North Korea from developing its nuclear weapons programme.

Writer Hyun Lee raised the legitimate point that China does not want a pro-US Korea led by the south because that would result in US troops “pushing up to the Chinese border.” North Korea has always acted as a convenient buffer state for China in much the same way that the former Soviet Union provided a counter-balance to US imperial ambitions. In other words, it makes no sense to expect China to resolve the impasse because both the US and China have very different strategic interests in the region.

From China’s perspective, a nuclear weapons-free Korea clearly presents a potential threat to its interests. It is worth reminding readers that twenty years ago North Korea didn’t possess any ICBM weapons. It was only from the Bush administration onward that tensions were once again ratcheted up between the two nations as part of Washington’s geopolitical agenda of full-spectrum dominance.and the “war on terrorism” narrative that accompanied it.

Bush Doctrine

Critical in widening the focus of this narrative has, of course, been the policy of associating terrorism with states that are then presented as legitimate targets of military action. In his State of the Union address on January 29, 2002, G W Bush reaffirmed that “our war on terror is just the beginning.” In addition to attacking terrorist networks, he said, “our second goal is to prevent regimes that sponsor terror from threatening America or our friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction”, and named Iran, Iraq and North Korea as “an axis of evil”.

John Bolton subsequently extended the net, identifying Libya, Syria and Cuba as “state sponsors of terrorism that are pursuing or have the potential to pursue weapons of mass destruction.” The full scale of Bush’s “axis of evil” speech was revealed four months later in an address he made at West Point in what the Financial Times announced as “an entirely fresh doctrine of pre-emptive action.” This Bush Doctrine of (as one administration official put it) “pre-emptive retaliation” is enshrined in the National Security Strategy:

“While the United States will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international community, we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting pre-emptively.”

Central to the strategy of the US throughout the Cold War was a policy of containment – that is, the resistance by America of any attempts to extend the bloc carved out by the Soviets in Central and Eastern Europe during the latter phases of the Second World War. Containment survived the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The same logic applies to Trumps strategy in relation to North Korea. Any future Pre-emptive “retaliatory” strike by the US against the country is premised on the notion that any state foolish enough to mount a nuclear, chemical or biological strike against America would be committing national suicide. Assuming that Kim Jong Un is not insane (there is no evidence to suggest he is), therefore, makes the argument that a pre-emptive strike against Korea is imperative, somewhat redundant.

Might is right

The country learned from the experiences of Iraq and Libya and from its negotiations with Washington, that the only thing the US appears to respond to is military might and so logically determined that only the threat of nuclear weapons would deter the world’s biggest nuclear superpower from a hostile attack.

There was some hope for a lasting peaceful resolution to the conflict between the two countries following a deal brokered by former president Jimmy Carter in 1994 under the Clinton administration only for this to subsequently be scuppered by G W Bush.

Noam Chomsky provides some detail:

“George W. Bush came in and immediately launched an assault on North Korea—you know, “axis of evil,” sanctions and so on. North Korea turned to producing nuclear weapons. In 2005, there was an agreement between North Korea and the United States, a pretty sensible agreement. North Korea agreed to terminate its development of nuclear weapons. In return, it called for a nonaggression pact. So, stop making hostile threats, relief from harsh sanctions, and provision of a system to provide North Korea with low-enriched uranium for medical and other purposes—that was the proposal. George Bush instantly tore it to shreds. Within days, the U.S. was imposing—trying to disrupt North Korean financial transactions with other countries through Macau and elsewhere. North Korea backed off, started building nuclear weapons again. I mean, maybe you can say it’s the worst regime in history, whatever you like, but they have been following a pretty rational tit-for-tat policy.”

Against a situation in which North Korea continues to adopt a rational policy to defend its sovereignty from the hostile acts and sanctions of an overarching aggressor, and with a US president remaining bellicose by refusing to engage in diplomacy, it’s clear that the world is currently at the edge of a precipice.

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Is the U.S heading towards military conflict in the South China Sea?

Famously, Albert Einstein defined common sense  as  “the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.” When viewed from the prism of the perspective of the apologists for capitalism, Einstein’s condescending approach to conventional wisdom belied much of the Western prevailing orthodoxy up to the events in New York on September 11, 2001.

The prevailing view, particularly among a large swath of intellectuals, was one in which capitalism was seen as the bedrock of society underpinned by an economic booster model of globalization that supposedly limited the scope for war and conflict. Intellectual proponents of this worldview understanding of capitalism included Third Way ideologues such as Anthony Giddens and Ulrich Beck. For them, globalization was reshaping liberal democracies into states that transcended the need for “enemies”.

The limitations of this thinking was brought sharply into focus following George W Bush’s proclamation of a global state of war on September 20, 2001: “Americans should not expect one battle”, he said , “but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen.” To accept the notion that the capitalist system is shaped purely by economics that under the guise of globalization ameliorates the pressures among states to go to war with one another, is to grossly misunderstand the nature of the beast and what the main catalyst is that drives the war machine forward.

In truth, the system is underpinned by “competitive processes that involve not merely the economic struggle for markets, but military and diplomatic rivalries among states.” In other words, capitalism embraces geopolitics as well as economics. This was first understood during the early 20th century when the expansion and intensification of capitalism began to make its mark. It was during this period that economic rivalries among firms began to take the form of conflicts which spilled over national borders.

Consequently, combatants called upon the military support of their respective states to protect them. Thus, the close and complex interweaving of economic and security competition became geopolitical in nature which was to develop into the tragic era of inter-imperialist war between 1914 and 1945.

The notion that diplomatic and military conflicts among states reflect the more general process of competition that drives capitalism on, is the basis of the classic theory of imperialism formulated by Nikolai Bukharin during the First World War. It’s a theory that provides the best framework for understanding the contemporary American war drive and, pertinent to this article, its ongoing South China Sea dispute with China which the staging of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in the U.S a few days ago is implicit.

The main purpose of the summit, from a U.S perspective, is to advance what the Obama administration calls its Rebalance to Asia and the Pacific, popularly known as the Asia Pivot which reflects a shift in U.S policy towards China which intimates more of a belligerent approach as opposed to one based on constructive rationality. This is highlighted by the projected deployment of 60 percent of U.S submarines to the region, the purpose of which is to undermine Chinese economic development by limiting its maritime access to markets.

Much has been made about how the U.S wants to “cooperate” with China and to maintain friendly relations. But at the same time, President Obama proposes to undermine bi-lateral relations in the region while China wants to enhance them on an individual basis in much the same way that it would with any other country outside the region.

Another indication that the U.S is not prepared to cooperate, was the summit agenda’s domination by the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This was in addition to the dispute regarding contested maritime territorial claims and so called “freedom of movement” issues. What the U.S has sought to do is to stifle the development of the South East Asia region in relation to China and therefore seek to undermine the trade agreements China already has in place with various other S.E Asian countries in the bloc – agreements that were formulated at an international level through the auspices of forums like ASEAN.

The crux of the conflict between the U.S and China essentially revolves around the contenting claims and the influence each player is able to exercise in relation to ASEAN. The U.S is attempting to use economic and political leverage to isolate or economically encircle China as a way of counteracting what they perceive to be the expansion of China’s political influence.

The false impression given in much of the Western corporate media is that sovereign nations in the region are under threat from an expansionist and belligerent China and that these nations are necessarily looking to the United States for assistance. How the U.S would likely respond if China were to build military bases throughout the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean or the Pacific coast off California is not a question the Western media seem to want to ask.

By reversing the roles, we can begin to understand the situation from the Chinese perspective, particularly given the painful and tragic history it has had over the last two centuries in relation to Western colonial domination of its territory. The contextual reality that underlies the Chinese position is that having emerged from a very dark period in their history, they are looking to assert their sovereignty by creating a regional sphere of influence.

Contrary to Western media propaganda, this doesn’t necessarily involve the domination of their neighbours. The perspective coming from Beijing is an insistence that the U.S respect China’s growing influence as a major political and economic power. This call, however, appears to be largely falling on deaf ears, particularly among the decision makers in Washington that really matter. What  A. J. P Taylor  called “the struggle for mastery” among the Great Powers is understood by Realists within the sphere of international relations in America. However, their views don’t hold significant enough sway within the corridors of power to influence policy.

The signing of the TPP to the exclusion of China, as well as the arm twisting by the U.S administration, appears to be intended to prohibit its European partners from joining the Asian Investment Infrastructure Bank (AIIB) which arguably has the potential to rival the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The dominant force in Washington is one which remains orientated towards greater competition which entails the possibility of greater conflict, not because the U.S wants war with with China, but because they are pushing the envelope which potentially can lead to unintended consequences.

While on the one hand, America pushes for its control of the regional trade and commerce framework through ASEAN, on the other, China is pushing to expand it’s so-called One Belt, One Road policy. This is predicated on growing Chinese economic penetration throughout the entire Eurasian land mass stretching from the Chinese coast on the South China Sea all the way to the Atlantic coast of Europe.

China is increasingly moving towards land-based commerce through Russia and central Asia and into the European space. This must be alarming to many of the strategic planners and paid-for corporate politicians in Washington. Underpinning the conflicts in the China Sea regarding disputed territory and the fomenting of others by the U.S involving China and its neighbours, is the larger geopolitical chess match, what Zbigniew Brzezinski famously referred to as The Grand Chessboard.

In exposing the real motives behind the Clinton administrations stated multilateralist strategy, Brzezinski who was one of the main architects of Nato expansion, presented The Grand Chessboard as one facet of a much broader approach to maintain American dominance over Eurasia through a continent wide policy of divide and rule. Brzezinski openly used the language of imperial power:

“America’s global supremacy is reminiscent in some ways to earlier empires, notwithstanding their confined regional scope. These empires based their power on a hierarchy of vassals, tributaries, protectorates, and colonies, with those on the outside generally viewed as barbarians. To some degree, this anachronistic terminology is not inappropriate for some of the states currently within the American orbit.”

The hosting by the U.S of the latest ASEAN summit, their TPP agenda and their attempts to contain China through the Asian Pivot, represents a worrying trend akin to the clash of imperial interests which led to the conditions from which the carnage of the First and Second World Wars emerged.

 

The Economic Crisis: How Did We Get Here?

An investor watches an electronic board showing stock information at a brokerage office in Beijing, China

The roots of the current crisis go some way back. After the 9/11 attack in New York, instability and fear pervaded financial markets. In order to steer the US and world economy out of a tight corner there was a reduction in interest rates and loosening of credit, encouraging people to borrow to sustain demand.

Banks took advantage of this and started to push mortgages. Initially the banks were lending on fairly good terms but then competition set in and those with money found they could expand their wealth by borrowing at low interest rates in order to lend to those prepared to pay higher interest rates. One of the main groups prepared to pay these higher rates were poorer sections of the population desperate to get somewhere to live. As long as house prices continued rising, they seemed a safe group to lend to, since there was always a profit to be made by repossessing their homes if they failed to pay up on time. This lending became known as the “subprime mortgage market”.

Although on the surface this appeared to be a form of secure lending, in reality it was risky. Why? Because by 2006 the US economy began slowing down and profits in the US started to fall. As profits declined, firms got rid of workers and poor American’s could no longer keep up with their rising mortgage payments. Borrowing at one end of the chain could not be repaid. Repossessions led to falling house prices, and the “collateral” that supposedly guaranteed (provided security) against the loans, fell in value as well. An enormous 400 billion US dollars in lending was suddenly not repayable.

A whole host of new institutions emerged that began specializing in the same manner as the banks. They would obtain cheap credit in the environment of low interest rates after 2001, use it to make loans, and then ‘securitize’ them. Other financial institutions would also use cheap credit to buy the new securities. Other financial institutions would combine several of these securities to create even more complex forms of debt obligations.

In this baroque and opaque world, fueled by cheap credit, it did not take long before just about all the major financial institutions across the world found themselves holding securities that contained bits of subprime mortgages. What was originally a small sickness within the US economy grew enormously because of the way capitalist credit works. In the end, governments’ were forced to intervene by bailing out vast swathes of the capitalist system as a precursor to saving it:

In spring 2008, Bear Sterns became an early high profile casualty of the crisis on Wall Street. Lehman Brothers followed shortly afterwards and the meltdown in Greece shortly after that. These problems emerged on the back of three decades of sustained low profitability.After World War two profit rates held up at about 15 per cent in the US. By the 1980s it was 10 per cent, and today it is just 5 per cent:

This would appear to indicate that the underlying problems of the global economy are systemic.

What is Marx’s explanation?

Marx’s basic line of argument was simple. Individual capitalists can increase their own competitiveness by increasing the productivity of their workforce. The way to do this is by using a greater quantity of the “means of production”—tools, machinery and so on—for each worker. There is a growth in the ratio of the physical extent of the means of production to the amount of labour power employed, a ratio that Marx called the “technical composition of capital”.

But a growth in the physical extent of the means of production will also be a growth in the investment needed to buy them. So this too will grow faster than the investment in the workforce. To use Marx’s terminology, “constant capital” grows faster than “variable capital”. The growth of this ratio, which he calls the “organic composition of capital”, is a logical corollary of capital accumulation.

Yet the only source of value for the system as a whole is labour. If investment grows more rapidly than the labour force, it must also grow more rapidly than the value created by the workers, which is where profit comes from. In short, capital investment grows more rapidly than the source of profit. As a consequence, there will be a downward pressure on the ratio of profit to investment—the rate of profit.

Each capitalist has to push for greater productivity in order to stay ahead of competitors. But what seems beneficial to the individual capitalist is disastrous for the capitalist class as a whole. Each time productivity rises there is a fall in the average amount of labour in the economy as a whole needed to produce a commodity (what Marx called “socially necessary labour”), and it is this which determines what other people will eventually be prepared to pay for that commodity. So today we can see a continual fall in the price of goods such as computers or DVD players produced in industries where new technologies are causing productivity to rise fastest:

As the rate of return on investment declines in its totality, so it is the weakest companies financially – but not necessarily technologically – that go out of business. In turn, this results in an increase in unemployment. Thus workers are able to purchase fewer goods and services. This inevitably leads to a downward spiral of economic slump and crisis within the system as a whole.

But Marx argued that there were counterveiling factors which mitigated against a total collapse of the system. For example, the diversion of investment from the production of goods and services to the production of arms – a process that is governed by states that are in constant competition with one another – provided a very important role in producing the long boom after the Second World War.

Also, Marx argued that profitability could be restored by crisis itself, through what he called “the annihilation of a great part of the capital”. During a recession some companies fail and are bought up by rivals, and others have to sell off parts of their business or dump their stock on the market to meet their obligations. Those companies that survive can take advantage of this, grabbing assets at a fraction of their real value and putting them to highly profitable use in the recovery that follows. Depressed wages and high unemployment also allow capitalists to squeeze more out of workers. A process of “creative destruction” may lead to a boom following a slump.

But this is not some automatic process that pushes the economy back towards some natural equilibrium. The post-war boom followed only after the prolonged horror of the 1930s slump and the destruction of the Second World War, which also forced states to intervene to reorganise whole national economies.

Could we be heading to a repeat of the Great Depression?

This is a difficult question to answer. There are significant differences between the situation that led to the current crisis and the one in 1929. First, state expenditure has for nearly 70 years been central to the system in a way in which it was not in 1929. In that year federal government expenditures represented only 2.5 per cent of GNP but they currently stand at around 20 per cent. And unlike in 1929, the government in 2008 moved quickly to intervene in the economy. The Hoover administration (March 1929-February 1933) did make a few moves aimed at bolstering the economy, so that state spending rose slightly in 1930, and federal money was used to bail out some banks and rail companies through the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in 1932. But the moves were very limited in scope—and the state could still act in ways that could only have exacerbated the crisis in 1931 and 1932.

The Fed increased interest rates to banks and the government raised taxes. It was not until after the inauguration of the Roosevelt administration in March 1933 that there was a decisive increase in government expenditure. But even then the high point for total federal government spending in 1936 was only just over 9 percent of national output—and in 1937 began to decline. There is a base level of demand in the economy of the today that provides a floor below which the economy will not sink that didn’t exist in the early 1930s.

In this way, the growth in military expenditure since the Great Depression, clearly plays a particularly important role guaranteeing markets to giant corporations thereby mitigating the impact of the crisis. But there is an important second difference that operates in the opposite direction. The major financial and industrial corporations operate on a much greater scale than in the inter-war years and therefore the strain on governments of bailing them out is disproportionately larger. The banking crises of the early 1930s in the US was a crisis of a mass of small and medium banks.Very big banks did not often become insolvent and fail, even in periods of widespread bank failures:

This time we have seen a crisis of many of the biggest banks in most major economies. Within a day of Lehman Brothers going bust, banks such as HBOS in Britain, Fortis in the Benelux countries, Hypo Real Estate in Germany and the Icelandic banks were all in trouble. From there the crisis spread to affect other major banks and the “shadow banking system” of hedge funds, derivatives and so on. In October 2008, The Guardian reported the losses to be a staggering $2.8 trillion.

Despite this, global industrial production now shows clear signs of recovering. This is a sharp divergence from experience in the Great Depression, when the decline in industrial production continued fully for three years. Paradoxically, staving off a catastrophic slump has meant that problems have lingered on.

The recovery is also uneven. British growth remains sluggish at just 0.3 percent, the lowest growth rate since the last quarter of 2013. The US is growing faster, and is also faring better than Germany and Japan, which are more export-oriented and have suffered more from the decline in world trade than from the initial financial meltdown. China was also hit by falling demand for its exports but despite its long boom due to a massive state-sponsored domestic investment programme, the crisis has impacted their too.

The weakness of the global recovery means that people will continue to suffer. In some countries this takes the form of high unemployment and attacks on wages, as in the US, Spain and Ireland. In others, such as Germany and Japan, where unemployment has not risen as fast, companies have sought to hold on to workers but have cut pay rates, reduced hours or shifted workers onto part-time contracts. Britain lies somewhere between the two extremes.

Unemployment and underemployment is likely to persist well into any recovery. An IMF report argues that employment falls further and takes longer to recover during recessions that have a significant financial component. The report indicates that it could take a year and a half from the end of the recession for any substantial improvement, assuming that the recession ends.

Finally, any recovery is and will remain uncertain. State interventions replaced private borrowing and investment with mountains of public debt, and falling tax revenues made it difficult to recover the money spent. Now governments everywhere face a dilemma. Do they cut back to pay off their debts, risking a deeper recession or do they continue spending and risk a run on their currencies?

United States: The Unmentionable Dictatorship

“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist” (1).

As US president Barack Obama became the latest in a long line of former US president’s in denial, by blaming China for the Copenhagen climate change talks fiasco (2) (3), many in the informed world looked on incredulously at the audicity of the man (4).

It was clear that no government in the world would have ceded to the unreasonable demands the US put on the table, particularly as they was offering nothing tangible in return (5).

But one would have had difficulty in arriving at this conclusion from reading the the vast majority of a compliant corporate media’s parroting of Obama who was clearly trying to convince the rest of the world of his innocence whilst deflecting blame on to China. 

Obama’s attempt at shifting the blame was therefore a conjuring trick – a deception.

The historical reality is the US’s role post WW2 has been one of imperialist overseer that characterizes and demonises all of its potential competitors and “enemies” as “dictatorships” (or derivations thereof) as the basis for its propaganda of control (6).

This has, for example, involved the US characterizing the Vietnamese nationalist struggle for self-determination and independence as “communist” (7).

Similarly, more recently, the US has characterized the resistance in Afghanistan under the umbrella term “Taliban”, and routinely attempts to undermine the legitimate results of democratic elections throughout the world if they happen not to coincide with global US geopolitical and economic strategic interests (8).

The Western media was up to its usual tricks in reproducing US government propaganda in their attempts to undermine China during the 2008 Olympic Games. During this time, the Western media sensationalized stories about pollution and the murder of a US citizen in Beijing (9), and then accused the Chinese of attempting to censor them (10). 

The media also focused a disproportionate amount of attention on Obama’s predecessors’ comments emphasizing China’s alleged human rights record whilst ignoring the US’s. Bush was widely reported as saying the following shortly before he arrived in Beijing for the Games:

“America stands in firm opposition to China’s detention of political dissidents, human rights advocates and religious activists. We speak out for a free press, freedom of assembly, and labour rights not to antagonise China’s leaders, but because trusting its people with greater freedom is the only way for China to develop its full potential” (11).

But what the media rarely highlights is the US’s close ties to the regime in Egypt, whose respect for “freedom of assembly and labour rights” is shown by its internal repression, and to the Saudi royal family, who ruthlessly crush the slightest flickering of democratic sentiment (12).

They also ignore, with the odd exception, the continuing scandal of the US gulag at Guatanamo Bay which remains intact under Obama with at least 17,000 prisoners beyond the reach of justice (13). President Barack Obama speaks at the U.S. Marine Corps base in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, on Tuesday.President Barack Obama speaks at the U.S. Marine Corps base in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

Also unmentionable in the media is the fact that since coming to power, Obama has opposed habeas corpus, demanded more secret government and excused torture. One of his senior US intelligence officials in Latin America is accused of covering up the torture of an American nun in Guatemala in 1989; another is a Pinochet apologist (14). ibid.

In Pakistan, the number of civilians killed by US missiles called drones has more than doubled since Obama took office, and all over the world America’s violent assault on innocent people, directly or by agents, has been stepped up. (15).

In Afghanistan, the US “strategy” of killing Pashtun tribespeople (the “Taliban”) has been extended by Obama to give the Pentagon time to build a series of permanent bases right across the devastated country where, says Secretary Gates, the US military will remain indefinitely (16). ibid.

In Iraq, the country that has been reduced to a river of blood, as many as 70,000 troops will remain “for the next 15 to 20 years” (17).

US criticisms of China are therefore hypocritical.

What the media hides from the public, is the fact that the world’s imperial power, albeit a rapidly declining one, is representative of brutal form of dictatorship that US author Naomi Wolf argues is characteristic of fascism (18).

Some dictatorships are overt and others less so. Some, like the ex-Stalinist USSR, was totalitarian in nature, whilst others rely on a compliant media as a way to convince the populace that they are free and therefore not living in a dictatorship (19).

In this way, the idea is that the powerful within society who control what Karl Marx termed the “means of production”, convince  people within “democracies” that they are free, worthy and deserving, by virtue of the fact that they have the right to vote for either Tweedledee or Tweedledum once every five years, whilst simultaneously reinforcing the idea that other people who live in what the democratic world deem as “dictatorships” are not free, not worthy and are thus undeserving (20).

This illustrates that populations can be, and indeed are, controlled and manipulated to act on behalf of the rulers whose interests they ultimately serve.

Within the unspoken US dictatorship, vast armies of wage slaves toil for giant Western corporations who profit from the cheap labour that the other major dictatorship, China, delivers.

In this way, the US benefits from its relationship with China.

So why all the fuss?

The answer is that China isn’t just any old dictatorship, it is now an imperial rival to the US (21).

China’s rapid economic growth is destabilising the existing global balance of power. Measured by market exchange rates, China’s share of global national income has risen from 2.6 percent in 1980 to around 6 percent today (22).

On another measure that is better at capturing the absolute size of national economies, China’s share is more like 11 percent (23). ibid.

This is still way below that of the US which, on the same two measures, accounts for 25 and 21 percent of global economic output. Nevertheless, China’s economic rise is reshuffling the relations between states. For example, Third World states producing raw materials needed by China no longer need to go cap-in-hand to the US-dominated World Bank for loans and accept intrusive “conditionalities” that require them to reshape their economy and policies along neoliberal lines (24).

This doesn’t mean that Chinese investment in Africa or Latin America is benevolent or disinterested. It is a highly state-controlled capitalist country securing its supplies of natural resources (25). ibid.

But the fact remains that a lot of the hullaballoo about China is motivated less by concern for human rights, or Tibet or the environment for example, but by fear of Chinese power (26). ibid.

Obama’s stance in relation to China, as evidenced by his attitude at Copenhagen, appears to be one of engagement, but the real hidden message seems to be also – remember who’s boss and don’t throw your weight around (27).

In all this, it seems to be that Western powers are in denial. They behave as if things are still as they were immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union, when the US and its allies could do what they liked.

But things have changed. US power is now in decline. The West faces challengers increasingly confident of their own strength. If they’re pushed too hard, then, as the fighting in the Caucasus showed, they’ll bite back (28). ibid.

Vast swathes of central and South America are doing just that.

The days when the US could dismissively refer to central America as their back-yard to be exploited, are over.

A few years ago Donald Rumsfeld when describing Venezuela with all of the self-appointed arrogance of an imperial overseer, said: ” Why did God put our oil in other people’s countries?” No US politician will dare repeat such words.

Venezuela’s crime in the eyes of the US was that the people of that country democratically elected somebody who was prepared to stand up to US power and the economic imperatives and ideology that underpin it. The fact that the president of the country, Hugo Chavez, has been recalled for election on numerous separate ocassions and won every one of them, is largely unmentionable in the western corporate media.

Chavez, perceived by the US as a dictator, achieved his successive election victories despite a campaign of vilification within a privatized media largely controlled by oligarch’s sympathetic to US imperialism who openly backed a coup attempt against him in 2002 (29).

At the recent Summit of the America’s, Chavez, briefly came face-to-face with the devil who attempted to pursuade the rest of the world of his non-existence. During his brief meeting with Obama, Chavez proposed that the two men “work for peace” suggesting that they “get a team together to analyze the problem of the planned construction of US military bases in Colombia” (30).

The result of the meeting?

Obama plans to install seven military bases in that country (31). ibid.

In Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Pakistan, Obama continues Bush’s policies of war, domination and subjugation. Meanwhile, poverty, unemployment and inequality that grow daily in the land of the free, are unmentionables. But despite this, a compliant media continue to feed the myth that it is only the official enemies of the US which are the dictatorships.

Hugo Chavez’s respone to the US accusation that he is a dictator?

“I laugh. I laugh. It is the empire calling me a dictator. I’m happy. And I remember Don Quixote, Quixote who was with Sancho, you know, and the dogs start to bark, and Sancho says, “They are going to bite us.” And Quixote wisely answers, “Take it easy, Sancho, because if the dogs are barking, it is because we are galloping.” I will be very sad and worried if the imperialist government was calling me a great democratic man. No, it is them, the empire, who attack those who are truly contributing to the real democracy (32). ibid.

References

1. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0114814/quotes 

2. http://earthblips.dailyradar.com/story/dismal-outcome-at-copenhagen-fiasco/

3. http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/obama-accord-a-good-thing-amid-copenhagen-fiasco-20091221-l9yj.html

4. http://newsrealblog.com/2009/12/20/germans-blame-obama-for-copenhagen-failure/.

5. http://www.democracynow.org/2009/12/21/us_led_copenhagen_accord_decried_as

6. http://www.cdi.org/adm/Transcripts/923/

7. http://www.globalissues.org/article/402/media-propaganda-and-vietnam

8. http://www.johnpilger.com/page.asp?partid=6.

9. http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2008/aug/09/olympics2008.china3

10. http://sports.espn.go.com/oly/summer08/columns/story?id=3535638 

11. http://www.socialistworker.org.uk/art.php?id=15754

12. ibid.

13. http://www.johnpilger.com/page.asp?partid=530.

14. ibid.

15. http://www.johnpilger.com/page.asp?partid=530

16. ibid.

17. http://www.johnpilger.com/page.asp?partid=530

18. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/apr/24/usa.comment

19. http://www.wayneandtamara.com/manufacturingconsent.htm

20. http://www.medialens.org/alerts/07/071120_invasion_a_comparison.php

21. http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p_mla_apa_research_citation/0/7/0/9/5/p70953_index.html.

22. http://www.socialistworker.org.uk/art.php?id=15754

23. ibid.

24. http://www.socialistworker.org.uk/art.php?id=15754

25. ibid.

26. ibid.

27. http://www.socialistworker.org.uk/art.php?id=15754

28. ibid.

29. http://english.aljazeera.net/programmes/listeningpost/2009/08/2009814105043427586.html

30. http://www.democracynow.org/2009/12/21/venezuelan_president_hugo_chavez_on_how

31. ibid.

32. ibid.