A new imperial cycle

For some reason, a passage that turns out to be from a Washington Post story from last July passed under my eyeballs. It was in reference to China seemingly having incorporated the entire South China Sea in its “core interests.” China’s “core interests” also include Taiwan and Tibet.[1]

Understandably, China’s neighbors are a little perturbed by this. One of the disputed territories subsequently made international news “when Japanese patrol officers arrested the captain and crew of a Chinese fishing boat earlier this month near the disputed islands — known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan.”[2] At the ASEAN meeting that was the topic of the Washington Post story,

Calling freedom of navigation on the sea a U.S. “national interest,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton offered to facilitate moves to create a code of conduct in the region. And then she said: “Legitimate claims to maritime space in the South China Sea should be derived solely from legitimate claims to land features.”

Translated, it meant that China’s claims to the whole sea were “invalid,” said a senior administration official, because it doesn’t have any people living on the scores of rocks and atolls that it says belong to China.[3]

Apparently, the Chinese foreign minister stormed off in a huff. Returning an hour later,

he gave a rambling 30-minute response in which he accused the United States of plotting against China on this issue, seemed to poke fun at Vietnam’s socialist credentials and apparently threatened Singapore, according to U.S. and Asian officials in the room.

“China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that’s just a fact,” he said, staring directly at Singapore’s foreign minister, George Yeo, according to several participants at the meeting.[4]

I suppose a more imperial response would have been to actually invade. But another factor creeps into mind: according to the U.S. Treasury, as of November 2010, the most recent month for which figures are available, China holds $895.6 billion out of over $4.3 trillion in U.S. Treasury securities.[5] Notwithstanding Obama’s claim that the U.S. “can drive quality, cost, speed that is second to none,”[6] it is hard to see how jobs are coming back to a country whose “free trade” policies are determined to export them.[7] Which makes it hard to see how people can pay the taxes that can pay down this debt.

About the only substantial asset the U.S. has going for it is its military. And we owe China a lot of money that we have no realistic hope of being able to pay back. Which means that China has leverage over us. Which suggests that our military may soon be serving Chinese imperial interests. After all, debts must be paid.

  1. [1]John Pomfret, “U.S. takes a tougher tone with China,” Washington Post, July 30, 2010. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/29/AR2010072906416.html http://www.parts-unknown.org/drupal6/?q=node/4359
  2. [2]Kevin Voigt, “China-Japan fight goes deeper than islands,” CNN, September 22, 2010. http://edition.cnn.com/2010/BUSINESS/09/22/china.japan.island.dispute/index.html
  3. [3]Pomfret
  4. [4]Pomfret
  5. [5]Treasury Department, “Major Foreign Holders of Treasury Securities,” January 18, 2011. http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/data-chart-center/tic/Documents/mfh.txt
  6. [6]Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President at a Meeting of the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board,” White House, October 4, 2010. http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2010/10/04/remarks-president-a-meeting-presidents-economic-recovery-advisory-board
  7. [7]Public Citizen, “On Eve of President’s Export Council Meeting, Report Shows U.S. Export Growth Lags With Free Trade Agreement Partners,” Press Release, September 15, 2010. http://www.citizen.org/pressroom/pressroomredirect.cfm?ID=3185 http://www.parts-unknown.org/drupal6/?q=node/3982

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