CCCA Commentary

There’s a feeling of déjà vu with the latest attempts at China containment

4 November 2021 | CCCA (Image:Tinki)

The US often suffers from temporary amnesia or selective memory loss when it comes to its previous foreign policy action against China.  For those born after the demise of the USSR and the end of the Cold War, the current China containment policy of the US appears to be a Trump administration initiative and all the reasons seems to have a 21 century beginnings. 

The appearance of a Quora article by Huijian Wu, “If the USA embargoed China just like it did with Cuba, how would the next 20 years play out?” Introduces new twist to the narrative on the American anti-China policy.  With this story, it complements the explanation given by Prof Kishore Mahbubani and Prof Martin Jacques, with their explanation and theory on why the US do these things. 

Most people who lived through the Cold War, would have heard the stories of who the US places economic embargo or sanctions on USSR and including the military and ideological warfare.  At that these US policies did enjoy universal support of the west and US allies.  Most of us did not have any objection or spoke against the US policies as US was recognised as the benevolent leader and policeman of the world. On the other hand, the USSR was very much isolated except for her satellite states in Eastern Europe and its only friend in the Asia is China. 

Much of the sanctions on the USSR were well publicized but those part of those Cold War sanctions that apply to China were not well known.  Hence our comments on this article published in Quora: 

Many thanks for a short and educational history of American containment of China I. I did not realise the extent and determination of the China Containment I (one) until I read your article. The embargo on USSR is main news and the western press did not elaborate on this subject hence my ignorance. Now, having read your article, I would re-orientate my mind in future geopolitical comments referring the current US Embargo as US China Containment 2 which coincide with Cold War 2. 

Briefly those sanctions apply to China can be summarised: 

Immediately after the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, the United States imposed an export licensing system on North Korea, China, and the then-colonial Hong Kong and Macao, and also expanded the embargo list of the Paris Coordinating Committee. including munitions, military supplies, atomic materials, petroleum, transport equipment of strategic value and materials that can be used for the manufacture of ordnance, munitions and military supplies” to the United Nations in 1951, no longer seeking to improve relations with the Chinese Communist Party. The US also declared that “anything available to a soldier” would not be allowed to be shipped to China, in an attempt to block China’s military and trade. 

The Paris Coordinating Committee also established a China Committee in August 1952 with a stricter embargo list than the Soviet camp. For example, member states could export some controlled goods under an “exception procedure” if they had a compelling need for certain goods from the Soviet camp, but China was severely scrutinised, creating a “China Differential”. When in 1954 the Paris Coordinating Committee reduced the total number of controlled lists from 474 to 252, China was the only one that still had 472 .

The crack in the sanctions appeared when the United Kingdom and Japan were the first to call for the abolition of the “China differential” in 1955, as the United Kingdom still had colonies such as Hong Kong and Malaya, and the United States had not taken care of British and French interests during the Suez Canal crisis in 1956; Japan was also eager to resume trade with China. 

The above quotes from Hujian Wu’s article suggests that Trump’s trade war is a second attempt by the US to apply economic sanctions to China.  The rationale these action, started as a trade war now settling down as Cold War 2, has been well explained by two China experts, Mahbubani (Singapore) and Martin (UK) and the common thread by these two professors seems to be (1) the classical Thucydides trap (a challenge to US hegemony by a rising power); (2) the fear of the Yellow Peril and (3) and the disappointment that China did not turn into a democracy like the US after her normalization with the US during Nixon’s administration. 

Circumstances have changed in the last 30 years, with the shifting of the geopolitical plates, that see the rapid rise of China economically and the US desire to keep China from rising.  On this subject, the provocative book by Mahbubani “Has China Won” and many Youtube recorded inverviews with he professional were extremely revealing. 

The AUKUS alliance, is seen by ASEAN countries as an Anglophile Club and they have expressed their concerns.  ASEAN (descending order: Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia) has become China’s biggest trading partner with bilateral trade worth $US685 billion in 2020 .  Today the top traders with China is ASEAN followed by European Union, US, Japan and South Korea.  Australia’s ($152 billion bi-lateral trade with China is less than Japan ($280 billion).  Just on the trade figures, those countries trading with China is unlikely to join in any military alliance to stifle China’s growth as they are trading happily with China and they do not wish to lose that economic advantage. 

Many international pundits would agree that the current Cold War between China and US would be continuing for some decade or two as the urge to maintain a hegemonic position is almost a reflex action for the Americans.  The beneficiary of these prolonged Cold War is the military industrial complex. 

The reality in the Asia world is that they would prefer to join in an economic alliance than any military alliance as the latter does bring fruit on the tables whilst the American military industrial complex would bring huge profits to the US.  

There is no military industrial complex in Asia.  With this economic scenario it is not difficult to envisage that the support for AUKUS in the Asia Pacific will run thin and Australia may be left holding the baby after US and UK switch policies. 

Hence, in the interest of the economic well-being of Australia and peace and prosperity for all in the Asia Pacific, a rethink and review of our foreign policy towards China and Asia in general, with increased diplomatic activity is the best way forward for our nation to progress.

Principal authors, Dr Anthony Pun and Dr Ka Sing Chua. This commentary is supplied by the Chinese Community Council of Australia Incorporated, the views expressed in this article are those of the authors.

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