07.12.2023 Author: Brian Berletic

Washington’s Obsession with Containing China Continues

Washington’s Obsession with Containing China Continues

While a mid-November meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden in San Francisco was interpreted by some as a thawing in relations between China and the US, Washington continues onward, expanding its policy of encircling and containing the rise of China through economic, diplomatic, and military means.

The most likely explanation for US overtures toward China, precipitating the recent meeting, is Washington’s familiar game of seeking to appear to be pursuing diplomacy all while actually undermining it.

Containing China: A Decades-Long US Policy 

While the Western media depicts US policy toward China as varying from administration to administration, in reality there has been a singular obsession with encircling and containing China stretching back to the end of World War 2.

The US State Department’s official website via its Office of the Historian publishes a multitude of cables, memorandums, and other documents articulating US foreign policy over the decades.

One memo published in 1965 written by then US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to then US President Lyndon Johnson was titled, “Course of Action in Vietnam,” and emphasized how US military operations in Vietnam were directly related to a “long-run United States policy to contain Communist China.”

The same memo admits that the US pursues this containment policy along three fronts, “(a) the Japan-Korea front; (b) the India-Pakistan front; and (c) the Southeast Asia front.” 

China then, just as it is now, was seen as an obstruction to Washington’s ultimate goal of moving the world “in the direction we prefer.”

Washington, both past and present, had and still has a clear desire to dictate to the world how affairs are managed within and across borders. A nation (or nations under a multipolar world order) with sufficient economic, political, diplomatic, and military power would prove an obstruction to Washington’s otherwise uncontested primacy around the globe and its ability to act with impunity anywhere, anytime.

The 1965 memo complained:

China—like Germany in 1917, like Germany in the West and Japan in the East in the late 30’s, and like the USSR in 1947—looms as a major power threatening to undercut our importance and effectiveness in the world and, more remotely but more menacingly, to organize all of Asia against us.

The fear wasn’t that China would rally Asia against the US within American borders, but against the US presence in Asia-Pacific thousands of miles from its own shores. The Soviet Union then, and the Russian Federation now, likewise posed and now poses a threat not to the US within its borders, but its ability to dictate affairs in Europe, an ocean away from America’s eastern coastline.

Russia’s growing cooperation with Europe in the lead up to the 2022 Special Military Operation represented a similar threat – not to America’s homeland – but to its unwarranted influence over the European continent.

China then and now represents the same sort of “threat.” Its rise is empowering nations along its periphery, offering alternatives to the exploitative practices of Wall Street and Washington, including the development of infrastructure and trade rather than the building of sweatshops and military bases. Both China and a growing list of nations in the Indo-Pacific region are no longer beholden to US demands and are increasingly assertive regarding their domestic and foreign policies.

The US has spent decades attempting to prevent such developments from unfolding, including through fighting a destructive war spanning Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia and involving Thailand, the Philippines, and even Japan and Australia. Since the end of the Vietnam War, the US has relied on covert actions and political interference through the CIA and later the National Endowment for Democracy and adjacent organizations.

Considering the destructive and destabilizing lengths the US went through more recently to reassert control over Europe, fears of the US doing likewise across the Indo-Pacific region seem justified.

Moving Back Toward Regional Conflict 

To reassert US primacy over the Indo-Pacific region, the US is continuing its policy of covert actions and political interference, but is also increasing its military footprint in the region ahead of a potential conflict with China itself.

Myanmar, which borders China’s Yunnan province, has been targeted for violent destabilization. Following a 2021 military coup ousting a US-installed client regime headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, US-backed armed militants have plunged the country into internal war.

US-backed militants are not only fighting against the central government in Myanmar, close allies to both Moscow and Beijing, but also specifically attacking joint infrastructure projects built with Chinese assistance.  This includes a Chinese-built pipeline attacked early last year, according to US government-funded Irrawaddy in its article, “China-Backed Pipeline Facility Damaged in Myanmar Resistance Attack.”

The pipeline is part of China’s efforts to circumvent shipping routes increasingly threatened by the US’ growing military presence in and around the South China Sea. Pipelines through Myanmar allow Chinese ships to unload at ports in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, saving significant time and effort that is normally needed to continue through the Malacca Strait, across the South China Sea, and onward to ports along China’s south and southeastern coast.

Despite claims that the US military presence in and around the South China Sea is to protect “freedom of navigation,” US government and arms industry-funded think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in a presentation titled, “How Much Trade Transits the South China Sea?,” admits that the vast majority of shipping through the South China Sea is actually between China and its trade partners in the region. Thus, the US isn’t there to protect this shipping, but to menace and potentially cut it off entirely.

More recently, US-backed militants in Myanmar have begun destabilizing Myanmar-Chinese border areas, making trade and travel more difficult, prompting Chinese military forces to begin preparing for possible cross-border violence, according to the Global Times.

This is just one example of the ongoing hostility-by-proxy the US is conducting against China even as it poses as pursuing diplomacy with Beijing.

The US Staging for War 

Beyond proxy-war targeting Chinese infrastructure and trade along its periphery, the US continues increasing its military presence in the Asia-Pacific, primarily to threaten Chinese maritime trade and position its military ahead of provocations involving the Chinese island province of Taiwan.

A recent Reuters article titled, “How the U.S. courted the Philippines to thwart China,” all but admits the US is using the Philippines to contain the rise of China.

The article admits:

The Philippines, Taiwan’s neighbor to the south, would be an indispensable staging point for the U.S. military to aid Taipei in the event of a Chinese attack, military analysts say. China’s ruling Communist Party views democratically governed Taiwan as an inalienable part of China and refuses to rule out force to bring the island under its control.

Reuters omits to mention that China is actually the Philippines’ largest trading partner by far and the only partner capable of building the modern infrastructure the Philippines desperately needs to catch up with the rest of a rising Southeast Asia already taking full advantage of growing Chinese relations.

Instead of railways, ports, and powerplants built in cooperation with China, the Philippines is allowing the US to expand its military presence in and around the archipelago nation, pushing Manila itself into an escalating confrontation with Beijing. Just like Ukraine following its political capture by the US from 2014, cutting its economic ties with Russia and sending its economy into free-fall, the Philippines is placing itself on a path toward self-destruction in its role as an eager US proxy.

The US is using the Philippines not only to continue tensions in the South China Sea, but also to stretch its military footprint closer to Taiwan. Taiwan itself continues to serve as a major point of contention between Beijing and Washington.

This is because while Washington officially recognizes Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan under its “One China” policy, it unofficially undermines this policy along with international law at every available juncture. The US has placed a growing number of US troops on Taiwan, continues arms sales to the administration in Taipei, and invests in long-running political interference within Taiwan’s local political system.

For years, the US helped move Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) into power, investing in political movements to roll back growing cooperation between Taiwan and the rest of China, and more recently, has backed growing separatist elements in Taipei. It was announced ahead of January 13, 2024 elections that DPP William Lai’s running mate will be half-American Hsiao Bi-khin who had at one point held US citizenship before giving it up to enter politics in Taiwan and has been actively working alongside US Congress in Washington against China for years, the New York Times reported.

The US continues its decades-spanning policy of containment toward China through military, political, and economic provocations against China and its people that, should China do likewise toward the US, would be perceived as acts of war. Rather than rush to war, Beijing has maintained a persistent patience, confident that time is on its side and fully aware that the US seeks conflict with China sooner rather than later.

Beijing believes that as each year passes, US influence and power wanes as Chinese economic and military strength grows. There will come an inflection point at which China will irreversibly surpass the US. At that time, China will be able to resolve the many issues that the US has created along and within its borders in a rational and constructive manner. The goal of Beijing is to avoid provocations that seek to entangle it in conflict in places like Myanamr or burn its own territory to the ground like in Taiwan before this inflection point is reached.

Only time will tell if China’s patience and capacity to build itself and the region up can outlast and outmatch Washington’s ability to undermine and burn it all down. For the time being, it is clear that despite superficial diplomatic overtures by Washington toward Beijing, its decades-spanning policy of containment at all costs remains intact and as urgent as ever.


Brian Berletic is a Bangkok-based geopolitical researcher and writer, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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