The Reconquest of the Pacific
A project of the USA for the economic use and military containment of its new rival, China
In an article in Foreign Policy, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sees the dawn of “America's Pacific Century.” The title says it all. The APEC summit in the fall of 2011, hosted by the Obama administration, manifest America's will to make the Pacific the main theater of its global policy. It is obvious and immediately clear to everyone – unlike, say, if Spain or Portugal had proclaimed their “Latin American century” – that this is not an announcement by just any “player” with this or that interest, but the world power USA. If it announces its “return” to the Asia-Pacific region as if it had just discovered a new territory for a future sphere of action, then it presents a declaration of jurisdiction to the states in this part of the world that can't be ignored.
It seems like a paradox when President Obama's speech following last year's APEC summit in Hawaii is summed up as “we're back!” as if the USA had withdrawn from the region long ago. What this means is: We're going to deploy ourselves in a different way than during the era of Bush's wars. Obama is taking the “war on terror” initiated by his predecessor off the top of the world's political agenda. The President of foreign-policy “change” considers the militant demand for a pro-American ordering of the world, which America aimed to lead with the “fight against evil,” not only to be a counterproductive way of dealing with all the problems America sees the world providing it; by superimposing on all state relations a confrontation that sorts the world of states into friends or foes, supporters or objectors, it is accused of having damaged the USA's leadership ability and its goals. With his critical turn away from Bush's “antiterror” war, Obama continues a “responsibility” which should be the USA's imperialistic foundation: America leads the world of states, nobody other than the richest and strongest nation in the world is capable of it, so it is indisputably justified. Obama's new foreign policy is also based on this unchanged premise: America's leadership is challenged and required by the case to case special “problems” which it tackles with the use of coordinated resources and plans of action.
The Obama administration takes the decision to end the military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan as liberating it from a “wrong track,” which allows America to take a fresh look at the world of states and reorganize America's global interests and priorities. In this regard, the Obama administration discovers a highly crucial need for action in the Pacific: the People's Republic of China. The economic and financial power of this upstart has been growing without break, enabling it to succeed at what America has been incapable of for years. America's hitherto undisputed economic power is now mired in crisis, and indeed quite thoroughly. On the one hand, despite abundant credit injections by the state, no significant economic growth is accounted for that would signal an overcoming of its precarious situation of lagging competitive success on the world market and thus that America is back on track as the all around supreme economic power. On the other hand, the dollar is no longer what it once was. It is indeed still the case that the credit money of the US is still used all over the world, and used for all types of capitalist business and governmental needs – ranging from commodity trading up to the highest levels of financial capitalist enrichment, from the debts of nations up to the financial basis of the IMF – so the dollar still represents world money which can be accessed everywhere and immediately for the source of capitalistic wealth. But the world's money is no longer quite so singular and unassailable as has been the norm for decades, since the government began lavishly mobilizing its monetary sovereignty with masses of government credit to brake the financial crisis and stop the ongoing general devaluation of enormous asset values. This hasn't solved the financial crisis, but hoisted it to a second level as America's national debt crisis. The state credit of the world power is in doubt, its until now absolute reliability as a secure and suitable capital investment no longer applies sight unseen, so the government no longer procures its constantly increasing need for credit in significant amounts on the private capital market, but finances itself through the Federal Reserve.
America's towering position as an economic and financial power is under attack, and thus the economic basis of its leadership role. Obama fights against its declining strength by “rediscovering” the Pacific region as a huge potential for growth. China ranks as the embodiment of America's distress: It successfully makes use of the world market and earns massive amounts of dollars. It invests its foreign exchange on the order of billions in American state securities and undergirds the dollar as a material credibility of its own currency, which step by step should become recognized and versatilely used as world money. On the one hand, Obama posts China's success, which it makes in large part on the US domestic market, as a home-grown “problem”: He charges American-based multinationals with the task of winning back the global export strength it has lost to the Asian competition by retrofitting and upgrading. On the other hand, he does not at all want to count on homegrown capital's success in making a respectable u-turn on the world market. First and foremost, he sees a challenge to America's political power, which must engineer a successful use of the enormous growth potential in the Pacific region so that American capital can tap into significantly more of the purchasing power generated there than it has in the past. And making the Pacific region – in a reversal of the previous balance – a profitable and secure source for American capital growth is task for America's leadership power: it acts not merely as a political spearhead for one or another business, but to fundamentally re-arrange the region.
The challenge of China
In the eyes of the leading power, China holds a prominent position. Its success in winning the world's monetary wealth doesn't lead the American President to congratulate its rival for its efficiency and hard work – virtues America to which has long attributed its own success as a global economic leader. It translates China's successful position in global competition into a challenge by its rival that threatens America's special economic position because it has achieved a potential economic power that can be dangerous to the US. Indeed, with its foreign exchange reserves, China has been performing a service that is so far very welcome by America, that of a reliable bulk buyer of its debt and thereby an important prop of American financial power. Obama considers this only fair when China is successfully making use of the U.S. domestic market; and by all means, it should remain this way. But exactly this is where he spots the threat: with the wrong use of its trillions of dollars, China could initiate the irreversible decline of America's financial power; namely, when it it no longer focuses on the “treasuries” of the Fed because they slowly lose their reliability as a capital investment in an absolutely secure world money, passing it up instead for alternatives that seem more secure and politically advisable – from Euro arrangements to the worldwide acquisition of capitalist industrial plants, China is indeed taking steps to secure and increase the financial strength it has won.
The Pacific century
At the center of the “offensive” against the challenges to America's leadership power stands the “Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership” (TTP). This is a previously unnoticed economic alliance that is now being shaped by Obama into a lever for setting up the Pacific as a bubbling source of growth for American business. From a mere customs agreement, it should under U.S. guidance become a wide-ranging competition policy, in which the current participants – Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Singapore, Australia, Vietnam, Peru and the USA – are to be joined by the economic heavyweights Canada and Japan this year, then finally the rest of the APEC countries. According to the agenda Obama provides for the “partnership,” the Asia-Pacific market will be expanded into a field of activity for all spheres of capitalist business – in particular for the banking system, with the full range of “financial products” launched into the world by American banks.
Obama's project of a prosperous economic union goes beyond removing national barriers on foreign trade. He means all-out business with the free market dogma as the principle of competition when the TTP makes everything that the Pacific nation states do to organize their domestic economic policies – starting from state-owned enterprises up to social and labor market policy rights – the stuff of a unified regulatory regime. America seeks in a comprehensive way the formation of a Pacific union in which both internal and external economic sovereignty are aligned to a uniform code of broadly unrestricted competition. True to the basic dogma that America's failures on the world market can only be the result of unfair restrictions of market competition, eliminating them serves to develop and accelerate a market growth from which American capital will quite automatically reap the harvest.
China's anti-market economy
Obama interprets America's growth claims on the Pacific region into a binding system of rules for competition among the TTP states, in which freedom of capital is raised to the uppermost premise of the involved states. With this so-defined “partnership,” he challenges the involved states more or less fundamentally: depending on how extensively they have organized their capital locations with national regulations from which they expect a successful assertion in the competition. America reaches the decision: China is not invited to the Pacific economic union! In any case, for now and as long as it doesn't show that it is making improvements by invalidating the accusation with practical measures, it acts completely and utterly as an exception to free enterprise.
Obama uses it to summarize his complaints – from the exchange rate policy to the handling of “intellectual property” to the state-owned enterprises – about China's “unfair” competitive practices in the basic allegation that it is countering the free-market, and announces a confrontation along the organizing principles of the world market. Obama carries his conflict of principles with China over its anti-free market constitution into the TTP, in which he does not admit China: to this end, the participants in the economic union must take a position, either way – but always at the risk of damage to the business interests they have fostered with the major parties to the conflict. It's not just so that China is faced with the prospect of incalculable damage to its growth if it is deprived of the use of the planned Pacific Economic Area because of future business rules. With its “inexhaustible” purchasing power, it forms the growth center in the Pacific region and now for many adjacent states a solid post of their national growth, which is more or less at stake if China takes countermeasures that complicate access to its sphere of growth.
Containing the Middle Kingdom
Obama does not want to close China's expansive growth market, but to open it much more extensively than before now. With a risky strategy, he relies on China's interest in not being left out of a market that represents the concentrated economic potential of the most powerful capitalist states and several of the so-called “emerging markets.” Its transformation into a “player” that clears away everything that the U.S. identifies as a barrier contrary to the world market and its free market principles is a matter of thoroughly rearranging the whole system by which China has developed into an economic power. Obama pays formal tribute to its successful rise when he emphasizes that China has become an economic major power that could end its status as a developing country – and now must also take up its “responsibility.” The American government promises itself that a China fully integrated into the system of rules that governs the world market as providing it with the extensive and secure access to growth potential which could suceed in being the breakthrough that enables it to recapture its indisputed global economic power.
America's leadership in the Pacific does not limit itself to establishing a Pacific economic union in accord with America's designs. For a power such as America practices, it is self-evident that the “free competition” of states for capitalist enrichment is not a violence-free zone. Securing trade routes is just one element in the supervision and control that America long ago established with its worldwide military presence – also and especially in the Pacific region, where the U.S. has firmly anchored its monopoly control over this part of the world with its bases, military alliances and arms supplies to allies.
Obama sees this threatened. Again by China, which with its growing economic power is also asserting that its security requires increasing claims over the region: for example, with a claim to its own guarantee of free trade routes in potential political conflict zones, but also with territorial claims to islands which have come to the attention of nearby states as rich sources of raw materials. So that its need for security is also respected and effectively asserted in cases of emergency, China uses its enormous purchasing power to acquire the arms it needs and tries to upgrade itself into a modern military power. The USA, on the one hand, keeps fastidious account of this; on the other, it ostentatiously indicates that it doesn't classify China's strategic ambitions as a serious challenge. If America's new security doctrine classifies the military clout of China as a possibly “asymmetric threat” with the potential to “interfere” in the unrestricted “access” of American military power, then this shows the extent to which US policy apprehends the military ambitions of China: the deterrence power of the U.S. should be held so superior and absolute that America can't even begin to be hindered from doing what it wants – wherever its use of military power falls due. Obama knows this is what it takes for America's free status as final arbitrator over inter- and intra-state conflicts with its power-based authority: the Pacific does not lack material for conflicts which the US refers to itself as the controlling and decision-making power – from the Taiwan issue to the Spratly Islands.
Obama makes the military containment of the Middle Kingdom the second front in the “Pacific Century” of the US by initiating a military buildup in the Pacific. The USA, on the one hand, with its new strategy to maintain its “global leadership,” develops weapons material and concentrates on the spot with which to paralyze China's “interference potential.” On the other, it builds up its presence with arms supplies and the expansion of its bases. By constructing a large military base in Australia – where it plans to station 2,500 men as well as to extend the operational possibilities of its warships and bombers – the US gets, alongside Japan and South Korea, a third solid pillar of its military power. Here, as in the case of the Philippines, which is also equipped with arms as a counterweight to China, the US ties in the interest of Pacific states which, because of their own conflicts with China, are located on its military perimeter: The Philippines raises territorial claims, like the PRC, to the Spratly Islands, and the great raw material power Australia on its part is active as a supervisor in its own extensive Pacific area. So for its confrontation with China the USA integrates useful Pacific states as building blocks of its power of control and thereby ensures shifts in the military competition of strength in the Pacific world of states. Among other countries, Indonesia warns of the opening of a new arms race and confrontation of blocs – and registers with it that America involves all other states in its need for military containment of China and carries a lot of new and explosive material for conflict in the Pacific. This also is part of the American rediscovery of this part of the world: America overcomes the challenge to its leadership power by driving up and strengthening the concentrated might which stands behind its leadership. These are the beautiful vistas in the “Pacific century of the USA.”
Translation of a Febuary 3, 2012 article by Roger Büdeler in Junge Welt (Germany)