The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Japan and South Korea Agree China Will Rule SE Asia

Well, the headline says “South Korea needles Tokyo with military drills around Japanese-claimed islets,” but when one reads the story one sees:

Days after Seoul scrapped intelligence-sharing with Japan, all branches of its military descended on a handful of disputed islets for two-day drills, raising ire in Tokyo and fueling a brewing trade conflict between the neighbors.

The basic truth is that the days of the Pacific being an American lake are coming to a close. China is the 800 pound gorilla. As Yang Jiechi said, “China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that’s just a fact.”

So if the small countries don’t want to be ruled by China the way that Canada, Mexico, and most South and Central American countries are, they need to work out their differences and band together.

That is especially true for the two most powerful countries after China: Japan and South Korea.

If they can’t, well, welcome to vassalage as the Middle Kingdom rises.

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Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – August 25, 2019


Boris Johnson Prorogues Parliament


  1. nihil obstet

    So if the small countries don’t want to be ruled by China the way that Canada, Mexico and most South and Central American countries are, they need to work out their differences and band together.

    Should this read “. . . the way that Canada, Mexico, and most South and Central American countries are ruled by the U.S. . . .” or am I missing something?

  2. NR

    The United States has done plenty of bad things, no doubt about that, but once China is a superpower, people are going to look back fondly on the days when America was the only superpower.

  3. DMC

    Japan and South Korea would be well advised to look to their common interests and start making nice with the other nations most effected, like the Philippines and Viet Nam. There’s currently considerable tension around the Spratleys and various atolls and sea mounds that have potential for gas and oil development, with multiple claimants. China clearly holds the whip hand but if confronted with a united opposition, they would be much more likely to strike a bargain than otherwise.

  4. KT Chong


    China had been the world\’s only superpower, and for a very long time.

    Anyway, Southeast Asian nations – \”ASEAN\” – should form a military alliance like the NATO, or just transform ASEAN into a more towards military-oriented cooperation.

    Also, here is a reason why China is being so aggressive in the South China Seas: China\’s greatest fear is that, in an event of an escalated and open confrontation with the US, the US will use to its superior navy fleets to blockade and lock down the South China Sea, and cut off energy and food supply to China.

    Koreans will never trust and work together with Japanese. There is too much bad blood between Japanese and Koreans.

  5. ven

    “people are going to look back fondly on the days when America was the only superpower.”

    Seriously? No sense of the last 500 years through to the present. No sense of the constant wars and killing perpetuated by the US through to today by administrations of every colour. No sense of which set of countries that have actually and consistently plundered and killed, year in and year our.

    Actually just no sense.

  6. Hugh

    I view China has an imperial power on the rise rather than a hegemon in the making. As the US post-WWII experience has shown being a hegemon is enormously expensive and draining. Important to remember too, that the planet’s sell-by date is 2030. So China’s rise is going to be remarkably short lived.

    I don’t keep up with South Korean domestic politics, but I have to wonder if this isn’t some nationalist ploy to shore up support. With North Korea and China breathing down their neck, pissing off Japan seems both stupid and a sign of real weakness.

  7. Hugh

    Oops. “China has” should read “China as”.

  8. NR

    No sense to realize the fact that as bad as the United States is, China runs concentration camps for Muslims and harvests organs from political prisoners.

    People are NOT going to like the world being remade in their authoritarian image.

  9. Herman


    I agree, I don’t think there will be another global hegemon after the United States. My guess is that there will be several major powers as opposed to just one hegemonic power. Environmental limits will probably be a factor as you point out. I also agree with @NR that Chinese hegemony is not good news. Reflexive anti-Americanism and turning a blind eye to authoritarian regimes simply because they are in competition with the USA is a bad habit of the Left going back to the Cold War. It is not about whitewashing American crimes but recognizing that there are other bad actors out there besides the United States.

  10. ven

    “Reflexive anti-Americanism and turning a blind eye to authoritarian regimes simply because they are in competition with the USA is a bad habit of the Left going back to the Cold War”

    There is nothing on the scale of American intervention in the world and the subsequent misery brought about. That is not to absolve others. It is however to take a cold, hard look at yourselves from Vietnam, through the Middle East to South America. There is still a residual belief that is clung on to, that in essence ‘we are trying to do what is right, but sometimes we get it wrong’. American exceptionalism is alive and well.

  11. Joan

    @ven, “There is nothing on the scale of American intervention in the world and the subsequent misery brought about.”

    I concede that American exceptionalism is not acceptable, but the sheer numbers of what Mao Zedong did to his own people makes American imperialism look like childish games in comparison. Again, not absolving anyone, but that’s just the lowest hanging fruit. There was a power vacuum after the Second World War. Assuming there’s no option to opt out of global hegemonic empire, would you really have chosen Stalin to take the place of the US in this case?

    I for one wish my country had remained an isolationist nation state and focused on taking care of its own people instead of becoming a global power after the war. But what you’re claiming simply isn’t true.

  12. Chickens roost. Poor planning on [others’] part does not constitute a crisis on mine.

    Yes, NR, tell us more about concentration camps. And smallpox laced blankets.

  13. Ivory Bill Woodpecker

    Like Joan, I wish the USA could have remained an isolationist nation-state as well. If only the infant Otto von Bismarck had died of one of the childhood diseases which once ravaged our species (and will ravage it again, if the anti-vaxxer morons get their way), and the unification of Germany under Prussia had not happened, disrupting the balance of power by its very existence–then maybe neither World War, no Nazism, no Soviet Union, and the USA could have remained happily isolated behind the continuing hegemony of the British Empire…

    The Vietnam War catastrophe played a major role in enabling the capture by the wingnuts of our domestic politics. If our leaders then had only had enough good sense to try to turn Ho Chi Minh (and Castro) into Titos instead of fighting them and their people…

    And it would be nice if Ven would reveal what country he (or she–or it, if it’s a bot) comes from–except if Ven is a bot (or a human agent of a foreign power), we can’t assume Ven would tell the truth.

  14. Ian makes the case that any European Union is better for Europe than no European Union. :p

  15. Ivory Bill Woodpecker

    Oh, and when chickens have come home to roost, that only makes it easier to wring their necks.

    The continuing existence of my culture, and indeed, of all other cultures with atrocities in their history, strongly suggests that karma is a myth.

    By the way, the list of cultures with evil resumes includes many whose people do not have pale skins; human depravity is an equal opportunity employer.

    The greater feats of depravity by us palefaces are a matter of mightier technology, not greater innate depravity.

    Had the medieval Chinese put their innovations of blast furnaces, gunpowder, the magnetic compasses, and deep-water sailing ships together, they could have occupied the place in infamy that we palefaces currently occupy, but their emperors were more concerned about the security of their thrones than the power of their nation, and so stifled the inventors and merchants, and neglected their military, for fear that strong generals might try to seize the throne. (Ancient Rome had similar problems.) The Chinese people eventually paid for their emperors’ follies with “the century of humiliation”, from which they have only recently recovered.

    Likewise, the Islamic civilization could conceivably have taken our place in the world, if not for those pesky Mongol hordes, and then the rise of fundamentalism, ruining its Golden Age.

  16. Jeff Wegerson

    @Hugh. Nice turn of phrase: “… the planet’s sell-by date is 2030.”

  17. StewartM


    I concede that American exceptionalism is not acceptable, but the sheer numbers of what Mao Zedong did to his own people makes…

    Which is actually perfectly consistent with China’s past. It is certainly true that China has had many evil, horrible autocrats, but it is the Chinese people themselves who generally had borne the brunt of their atrocities. Similarly, while China has desired to be a regional power, it has eschewed trying to be a world power, even when it might have become a world power.

    Why is this? Maybe not being under the sway of a jealous Abrahamic diety that seeks to go forth and aggressively convert the world and to stamp out all competing faiths is a reason. It’s a historical puzzle.

    I admit that the past does not always predict the future, and if I were China’s neighbors (particularly Taiwan) I’d be very worried, but based on past conduct the Chinese aren’t a particular threat to the US or Europe.

  18. ven


    The history of the Chinese revolution is pretty complex. Worth reading Edgar Snow’s (an American journalist at the time) Red Star over China. During WW2 and after the revolution, the Chinese communists made many overtures to the US, and were rebuffed (similar case to Vietnam). The West preferred to back a gangster called Chaing Kai Shek. The US then also imposed sanctions on China which led to mass starvation. Irrespective, at the turn of the century China was a peasant nation, arguably poorer than India was. Following the Chinese revolution, literacy and life expectancy shot up; and this educational system sowed the seeds for China’s resurgence today; far ahead of India.

    The US intervention is from a common playbook: every time a nationalist / communist government has come to power (Russia, China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Congo, Cuba, Chile, Nicaragua, Venezuela . . .) the US and West generally have sought to undermine them through both military and economic means. The threat of military intervention pushes these young revolutions into militaristic governing structures; and economic sanctions encourage people to turn against their governments.

    This was part of the so-called domino theory – essentially the threat of a good example of a socialist government benefiting its people. And clearly the history that is taught in the west, is one of repressive regimes and famines. Venezuela today is a case of such history in the making.

    Wars are fought not for the people, but for elites. And Western elites have wanted unfettered access to resources and markets around the world; and foreign elites have been happy to comply. As soon as an independent government comes to power, the propaganda machine goes into overdrive. The elites really don’t want an example of a nation developing in its own fashion, independent of the West economic system.

    Again, I’m not saying that Russian / Chinese elites are any better. But I am saying that we are led by our media to believe in the ‘great game’ of superpower rivalry, and we tend to identify with one side or another. The reality is more like elite rivalry, with the rest of us as cannon fodder. Until we refuse to be cannon fodder, until we refuse to be drawn into this nationalistic rivalry, then there is no hope for changing the system that we all see has failed.

  19. ven

    Joan and others

    You might want to scan this article which sheds some alternative perspectives on Mao’s Great Leap Forward.

    Whether it is a fair assessment or not, who knows. But I think we are all aware of the extent to which our governments and media have lied to us.

  20. StewartM


    You’re right about our debacle in Vietnam; it only takes like five minutes conversation with most Vietnamese to discern that they didn’t want to be in bed with China, nor particularly Soviet Russia, and that they’d sooner be friends with us. That war was due to a colossal failure of our leadership to see what the best outcome to be had actually was, and that was something like the Vietnam of today.

    However, the Chinese *did* invent practically everything, and in some cases, put it to use. C. 1500 AD as Paul Kennedy (The Rise and Fall of Great Powers) has noted any observer at the time would seriously consider China as the future ruler of the world. The reason this didn’t happen, I think, is cultural–China and its rulers, as awful as they could be to their subjects, were not consistently interested in an overseas empire. The reasons of possibly why include religion, culture, the fact that China (unlike Europe) had a greater political and cultural unity (the cacophony of European nation-states led to competition between them) and more. The fact that labor was always cheap in Rome and China and became expensive in Europe after the Black Death also played a role in the willingness to substitute machines for labor.

  21. Joan


    Thank you for linking that article. I look forward to reading it.

    I am curious why the Chinese government does not simply count the bodies. They would not only be able to settle the controversy of how many Chinese died under Mao, but also how many were killed by Imperial Japan.

    I ask this because I witnessed an argument between a Chinese student and Japanese student in a history class in college. The professor mentioned the discrepancy of the death toll reported by the two countries. A Chinese student jumped in: the number is double what Japan says. The one Japanese student in the class said: Fine, go count them, invite Japanese archeologists and journalists to verify and publicize it.

    The professor ended the discussion, but as a clueless American I went up to him after class and asked him to explain. The professor said that China would never have those numbers, because the same mass graves were used afterward in the Great Leap, and China would never admit to that tally.

    A gruesome undertaking, to be sure. Of course, China could also just pick a number that suits their purpose and repeat ad nauseam. That would accomplish the same thing and be cheaper.

  22. Joan


    Good points. I seem to remember a famous scene wherein a European ambassador trying to strike a trade deal gets turned down by the emperor with words like “China creates everything that China needs.” Or something of the sort.

    I would argue in the case of Taiwan that China considers it part of historical China, and therefore they are not becoming a global power, but just retaking China, per se. Not that I agree, of course.

    I can’t help but notice how seemingly American China is right now, though: the huge traffic jams, massive malls and highways…it’s almost like they’re trying to do it bigger and better. Therefore I cannot help but wonder whether their imperial ambitions are also along the same vein. Though that would not be very Chinese, in terms of their history.

  23. Hugh

    The Great Leap Forward killed maybe 30 million, the Cultural Revolution about a million. Both created untold suffering. But as the dead can not speak and the powerless do not write the histories, it is easy to erase them and treat them as if they never existed.

    The concept of empire in China has always been fundamentally different than in the West. As I said in a previous thread, Chinese national identity has revolved around being Han rather than any particular allegiance to a state or government. So states had to enforce their power over the people and they did this with highly structured and repressive bureaucracies. That is most of the effort of Chinese empires went into controlling their own core. Beyond this core, the prime objectives were two-fold to prevent invasion and raids and to dominate neighbors. So along their borders, especially in the North, they established strong military directorates. Beyond these borders they established the an system of protectorates. During strong periods in dynasties, they would extend into Central Asia along the Silk Road and south into Vietnam. Even in these strong times, the raiding seldom stopped, and as the An-Shi Rebellion during the Tang dynasty showed, the military directorates could themselves pose an existential threat to a dynasty’s survival.

  24. ven


    I think the article explains the issues with a body count – essentially what constitutes natural death vs ‘normal’ famine vs abnormal famine. Amartya Sen, an economist, wrote somewhere that even if you take for granted the death toll attributed to the great leap forward, the subsequent improvement in mortality rates etc, when compared to India, has meant a significant aggregate reduction in famine-related deaths.

    The article also discusses some of the revisionism that occurred under Deng Xiaoping, who wanted to discredit Mao. So even Chinese history of this period is suspect; let alone western versions.

    I commented on another article of Ian’s on the systemic issue of how we have drilled into us through the education system and media the ideas of neoliberal economics, the failure of communism, the nature of their totalitarian regimes, the tortures the nasty Vietnamese inflicted on captured US service men, the darkness of Mao’s China, etc. We take this for granted – because we can’t believe that we live in quite such a big web of deceit (refer to Noam Chomsky’s Necessary Illusions), and because it takes hard effort to go against the received wisdom (e.g. of how bad Mao was), requiring a lot of research and digging.

    And so the system continues.


    Surging beef demand in developed and developing Asia is fueling the clear-cutting and burning of the Amazon rainforest. How will the Green New Deal address this? China will just tell Bernie, if he was miraculously elected POTUS, to screw off and mind his own business and that will be that.

    How Beef Demand Is Accelerating The Amazon’s Deforestation And Climate Peril


    To understand China and the Chinese, at least contemporarily, you must alter your conventional orthodox perception and view it and them as a super organism. China can spread itself far & wide precisely because it acts as a super organism. It creeps through the cracks like water and air do no matter how well sealed you believe your paradigm is. Once in, it transforms the target from the inside out. Super organisms don’t need bloated military budgets to spread far & wide. They work their way in, and out, by unconventional yet highly effective means that don’t require direct coercion and conflict.

    If you’re wondering what’s in store for all us in a world where China is the top dog and that world is upon us as we type, think Reddit. We think things are bad now, and they are, think how nightmarish it will be when Reddit moves from the virtual to our entire reality. I’ll take Euthanasia (versus THAT) for $1,000 Alex, thank you very much.

  27. StewartM

    How with the Green New Deal address this? As Ian says, you have to pay the Brazilians more to save their rainforests more than to chop them down. Burning down the Amazonian rainforest is oh-so-typically-capitalist, even in just economic terms, as it’s all short-term profit and long-term loss (again, even just considering economic loss).

    On DKos there are those who are pointing the finger at Trump’s tariffs and how the Brazilians are burning down the rainforests to raise soy and beef for Asian (mostly Chinese) consumption instead of buying American. I’m not sure how much a net environmental that is, though, given that environmentally US agribusiness practices are also a huge problem and similarly unsustainable (massive uses of oil, draining of the aquifers, overuse of antibiotics, and water pollution due to runoff). Simply put, reducing meat consumption is one of the better ways to cut CO2 emissions (up to 50 %!), and maybe that should be a goal.

  28. StewartM

    Oops..’net enviromental hit’ I meant.

  29. Tom

    The Queen has agreed to Boris’s request to suspend parliament.

    This is it.

  30. different clue


    The petrochemical agribusiness syndrome in the US has exterminated some species, but not that many yet. The Bonfire of the Amazon could well exterminate tens to hundreds of thousands of species if it is pursued as far as its authors hope.

    And I believe that the Bolsonarians are motivated by Hate as much as by Greed, maybe more so. Offering them money to stop burning the Amazon will insult their pride and make them burn it down twice as fast. Offering them more money to save it than burning it would force them to reveal their biophobia and ecophobia in open view when they reject the money in order to keep burning it down. They will have to be somehow tortured, weakened and defeated into stopping the burning. I am not sure how to do that.

    Perhaps some way to lend strength to the anti-Bolsonarians so they can overwhelm the Bolsonarians and put them down within Brazil in a Brazilian way.

    And some way to lend strength to the people making money from a viable Amazonian ecosystem as it is in a viable state. Eco-politically motivated shoptivists all over the world buying acai, brazil nuts, and other things I have never heard of that require a functioning Amazonia to produce. Eco-tourism by paying tourists helps the parts of the Rain Forest which they pay to visit to earn their keep. And in a world which will stay NeoLiberal until NeoLiberalism is exterminated one way or another, a forest which can not earn its keep in money-terms has zero hope of survival.

    But what about the carbon emissions of air travel? Well . . . the question arises . . . how many tourists emit how much carbon from every aspect of visiting Explorama Lodge for a year?
    Now . . . how much carbon did NOT burning the Explorama Lodge forest keep OUT of the atmosphere for that same year? Less? More? If less, stop the airplanes to Explorama and let the forest burn . . . from a carbon emissions viewpoint. But if MORE . . . then admit that flying to and from Explorama preVENTS net-net carbon emissions for every year that such flying keeps the Explorama forest from burning. And the carbon-concerned airplane tourists can find somewhere else to cut carbon emissions out of their lives if they still feel ashamed of flying even though flying saves more carbon through Explorama NON-burning than not-flying combined with Explorama burning would save.

    ( And yes, technically Explorama Napo is in Ecuador. But it is a basic example of the concept. And if the Bolsonarians are able to destroy the Amazon to rolling dieback, Bolsonarian die-back will reach upriver into Ecuador. So the people benefiting from Explorama’s revenue streams might be a counter-Bolsonaro lobbying force.)


    Simply put, reducing meat consumption is one of the better ways to cut CO2 emissions (up to 50 %!), and maybe that should be a goal.

    Tell that to the Chinese. They’re going in the opposite direction and they’re over a billion strong. Throw in all of Asia and its economic development and you’re looking at easily a third of the world’s population if not more — increasingly hungry and clamoring for a Western lifestyle replete with meat and golden retrievers.

    The answer is to render sterile 80% of the Asian population before it develops a penchant for American human meat once the bovine population peaks and can’t meet demand. Trump & Co. would be only too happy to hand them over for processing and export.

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