Subject: Guardian: Challenge in the east


Challenge in the east
The US is using the war against terror to establish new bases around China,
its emerging rival in Asia

Andrew Murray
Wednesday January 30, 2002
The Guardian 

Ancient Chinese maps invariably placed the celestial kingdom at the centre
of the known world. Viewed from Beijing today, the horizon of the map is
studded with stars and stripes, fluttering over newly acquired US military
bases. Every twist in the war on terrorism seems to leave a new Pentagon
outpost in the Asia-Pacific region, from the former USSR to the Philippines.
One of the lasting consequences of the war could be what amounts to a
military encirclement of China.

First there are the new bases being set up in haste by the US military in
Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzystan and elsewhere in once-Soviet central Asia. It is
curious that, while the Bush administration has repeatedly made it clear
that it has little interest in establishing an enduring presence in
Afghanistan, and derides any notion of investment in nation-building there,
it is at the same time talking of these new bases in the central Asian
"Stans" as being semi-permanent.

The US interest in the oil and gas reserves of that part of the world has
been well-canvassed, and let no one accuse this Enron administration in
Washington of neglecting the interests of Big Oil for a second. But the
significance of the new US presence goes well beyond even the signal
importance of Exxon Mobil's share price.

Who, for example, would have anticipated that the second military front in
the war would be opened in the jungles of the Philippines, to which 600 US
troops - with promised British support to come - were dispatched yesterday?
The Abu Sayyaf Muslim guerrilla movement there numbers only about 500
fighters. It has no prospect of overthrowing the government of the
Philippines, a former US colony which has twice required Washington's arms
to defeat radical domestic insurgencies since the second world war. Nor is
there any suggestion that it has the capacity to organise terrorist attacks
on the US mainland (or, indeed, the slightest intention of even trying).

What is certain, however, is that the eviction of the US military from the
Philippines after the end of the cold war still rankles. A diplomat was
quoted in Washington as observing that "the Americans have been desperate to
get back into the Philippines since their armed forces were kicked out of
the Clark and Subic Bay bases in 1992".

Why, one might ask? It is not as if the Pacific lacks a powerful Pentagon
presence. The US already maintains just short of 40,000 troops in South
Korea, a similar number in Japan and additional forces in the US's western
outpost in Hawaii - not to mention formidable military guarantees, backed
with hardware, for Taiwan, which is regarded by China as a rebel province.

But long before September 11, Asia was already seen as the centre of
post-cold-war competition - and China as the main potential rival for
commercial and strategic influence over the continent and its emerging
markets. Not for nothing has Fortune magazine published for the first time a
ranking of China's 100 biggest corporations - nor presumably that the
Pentagon has itself recently highlighted the risks and rewards of Asia as
requiring a bigger US military presence.

The Pentagon's Quadrennial Defence Review attracted little attention when it
was published shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Centre. However,
this official policy document, the first such of the second Bush presidency,
identified north-east Asia, and the East Asian littoral as "critical areas"
for US interests which must not be allowed to fall under "hostile

The review characterised Asia as "emerging as a region susceptible to
large-scale military competition" with a "volatile mix of rising and
declining regional powers". China is clearly one of the former. Coyly
avoiding naming the obvious challenger, the Pentagon warned of the
possibility that "a military competitor with a formidable resource base will
emerge in the region", adding that the lower "density of US basing" in this
"critical region" "places a premium on securing additional access and
infrastructure agreements."

There is a growing vacuum for the US to fill - the Russians have just agreed
to vacate their naval base at Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam. More importantly,
there is a real clash of interests developing. Most of the biggest Chinese
companies on the Fortune list are in the same energy and petrochemical
sectors that appear to drive the Bush administration's international agenda,
from Kyoto to Kazakhstan. Money and power are at stake.

It would be absurd to suggest that the main purpose of the rolling,
open-ended Bush-Blair "war on terrorism" is to box in China, the one country
in the world with the most demonstrable capacity to act independently of the
US. But there is little doubt that the fog of war is being used as cover to
give the balance of power in Asia a hefty shove towards Washington - and
little doubt either that in our new world order, each conflict simply
prepares the ground for the next.

 Andrew Murray is author of Flashpoint: World War III (Pluto), a study of
post-cold war international conflict.


Guardian Unlimited  Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002

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