Monday, August 29, 2005

Commentary: Could China become target for American WMDs?

By Franz Schurmann

SAN FRANCISCO -- Chinese leader Hu Jintao might visit President Bush at Crawford Ranch this fall but it's not inconceivable that, in coming years, America could consider using "Weapons of Mass Destruction"(WMD) against China. WMD include nuclear weapons.

China has made great strides in power and wealth both internally and, recently, externally. Since dual victories in Europe and East Asia in 1945, America has considered itself in part the successor to the British Empire. And, like the latter, it fears any rival. China has become such a rival.

During the Cold War (1948-1991), the Soviet Union (now Russia) and China had comparable power.

But though Russia has wealth, especially fossil fuels, it's now trivial compared to China's wealth. However, China and Russia recently launched their most ambitious joint military exercises ever to show their deepening cooperation.

In 1958, during the Quemoy Crisis, when China shelled the small islands held by Taiwan, America seriously considered using a WMD option on Chinese targets, military and civilian. If used, America would have pushed the world to the brink of nuclear war.

Six years later in the American election year of 1964, the Republican candidate for vice president, General Curtis LeMay, kept saying in his campaign speeches that "nuclear weapons are just another weapon." In World War II, he was known for his "frying the cities," which killed thousands of civilians.

In October 1964, the United States came close to bombing the Chinese experimental atomic device at the nuclear Lop-Nor facility in Guangsu Province.

While the Pentagon accepted cooperation with the Soviet military to reduce the chances of nuclear war between the two superpowers, it had only perfunctory contacts with its Chinese counterparts.

Rather, a Pentagon report to Congress this year on Chinese military power claimed that China was now engaged in a "truly alarming" military modernization.

Even before World War I, Kaiser Wilhelm II coined the term "Yellow peril" and many Europeans and Americans agreed. So, it seems, does the Pentagon.

The Western image of China was captured by Suzanne Labin when in 1960 she published "The Ant Hill: The Human Condition in Communist China."

The photographs of hordes of people building big dams with their own hands, coupled with the "ant hill" in the title made it clear Labin saw the Chinese more as human robots than heroes.

Why would America want to nuke China? Twenty years from now, America could be in serious economic decline and feel threatened by China's rise. Or, the growth of unchecked power in the Pentagon could make that body a kind of "state within a state."

However, China will likely survive even if America decides to nuke it.

Over the centuries China has been the one of the few countries in history that has survived huge death tolls to become even stronger than before. In the case of contemporary China, the recovery time is getting shorter and shorter.

In 1960, this Sinologist was in Moscow along with fellow American and European Sinologists. At a time when travel between China and America was forbidden, that conference was to be a rare opportunity for American, Soviet and Chinese scholars to get together.

But the Chinese scholars did not come. Instead, the world media ran headlines like "Chinese and Soviet Communist parties break relations." Some years hence it became clear what made Nikita Khrushchev and Mao Zedong turn away from comradeship into fierce enmity. In 1957, Khrushchev had agreed to help the Chinese physicists and engineers build a nuclear bomb. But in 1959, when Khrushchev visited America, President Eisenhower persuaded the Soviet leader to cancel the 1957 agreement. As a result the two Communist leaders exchanged vilifications that morphed into a mini war in 1969.

Mao Zedong, who had the highest admiration for Joseph Stalin, despised Khrushchev as a liar. When Mao went to Moscow in 1957 (his second trip to Moscow, otherwise he never went abroad), he had grand visions of China's, the Soviet Union's and Marxism's glorious futures all over the world. Mao thought he was an avatar of an emperor going back to the legendary Xia dynasty 2,500 B.C.

In 1958, Mao's visions blossomed. He called his grand vision for China the "Great Leap Forward." But then in 1959, there were signs that the great leap was showing slowdowns. In September 1959, Khrushchev went to the USA and betrayed Mao Zedong. In 1960, famine ravaged rural China. Corpses from China kept washing up in the Portugese colony of Macao, near Hong Kong, during 1959 and 1960. Various sources estimate 50 million died.

In 1961, Mao knew that the only way to abate the famine was to reinstate the traditional rural markets with renewed and credible money instead of the useless paper the Chinese farmers got from the Great Leap Forward. The Chinese farmer had been used to credible currencies from 4,000 years past, when their currency was cowrie shells.

Since 1961, China's potato harvest area increased from 1.3 million hectares in 1961 to 2.4 million hectares in 1981. In 1972, Mao Zedong recalled Deng Xiaoping, who had been in rural exile as a bad guy in Mao's "cultural revolution." Deng cleaned farmers' latrines for six years. Following Mao's death in 1976, he took Mao's position in 1978. And he based his rural successes on Mao's quick turnabout when he realized his visions were nothing more than dreams.

That kind of resilience and leadership should give the Pentagon think-tanks some pause before launching Coalition and American forces into nuclear action. Copyright PNS

Editor's note: Franz Schurmann is emeritus professor of history and sociology at U.C. Berkeley and author of numerous books.  


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