During his US presidential election campaign, Donald Trump threatened China.
He accused the world’s second biggest economic power of “raping” the American economy and “stealing” American jobs.
He said: “It’s time America had a victory again.”
What kind of “victory”? Trump did not say. And China is armed with nuclear weapons.
In the past week, the President-elect has gone further.
He has accused Beijing of devaluing its currency to gain an unfair advantage in trade with the US and “building a massive military complex in the South China Sea”.
More seriously, he has spoken directly with the President of Taiwan, which China regards as a renegade province of the Chinese mainland.
Since the Cold War, Taiwan has been a flashpoint of war between Beijing and Washington.
Trump’s rhetoric accelerates a propaganda campaign by the Obama administration to cast China as a threat to “freedom of navigation” in the South China Sea. But who is really the threat?
In 2011, President Obama announced that almost two-thirds of US naval forces would be transferred to Asia and the Pacific.
This represented the greatest build-up of American military forces since the Second World War . The target was China.
In the meantime, the US has encircled China with 400 military bases armed with bombers, warships and missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
These bases extend all the way from Australia to the Pacific islands, through Asia to Korea and Japan and across Eurasia to Afghanistan.
The island of Okinawa is an “aircraft carrier” of US military bases, their bombers aimed at China less than 500 miles away.
Last year, in high secrecy, the US staged its biggest single military exercise since the Cold War.
This was Talisman Sabre; an armada of ships and long-range bombers rehearsed an “Air-Sea Battle Concept for China” – ASB – blocking sea lanes in the Straits of Malacca and cutting off China’s access to oil, gas and other raw materials from the Middle East and Africa.
It is such a provocation, and the fear of a massive US Navy blockade, that has seen China feverishly building strategic airstrips on disputed reefs and islets in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea – the chokepoint through which its lifelines run.
The current Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, says US policy is to confront those “who see America’s dominance and want to take that away from us”.
Like the renewal of post-Soviet Russia, the rise of China as an economic power has been declared an “existential threat” to the divine right of the United States to rule and dominate human affairs.
The top dog is feeling insecure and reaching, as it often does, for its missiles to rattle.
In matters of war, Trump is not a phenomenon. Under Obama, nuclear warhead spending rose higher than under any US president since the end of the Cold War.
A mini nuclear weapon is planned. Known as the B61 Model 12, going smaller will mean, says General James Cartwright, former vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that its use is “more thinkable”.
A study by think tank the RAND Corporation – which, since Vietnam, has planned America’s wars – is entitled, War with China: Thinking Through the Unthinkable.
Commissioned by the US Army, the authors evoke the Cold War when RAND made notorious the catch cry of its chief strategist, Herman Kahn – “thinking the unthinkable”. Kahn’s book, On Thermonuclear War, elaborated a plan for a “winnable” nuclear war.
According to Amitai Etzioni, professor of international Affairs at George Washington University, “the United States is preparing for a war with China, a momentous decision that so far has failed to receive a thorough review from elected officials, namely the White House and Congress.”
This war would begin with a “blinding attack against Chinese anti-access facilities, including land and sea-based missile launchers … satellite and anti-satellite weapons”.
The incalculable risk is that “deep inland strikes could be mistakenly perceived by the Chinese as pre-emptive attempts to take out its nuclear weapons, thus cornering them into ‘a terrible use-it-or-lose-it dilemma’ [that would] lead to nuclear war.”
In China, a strategist told me, “We are not your enemy, but if you decide we are, we must prepare without delay.”
China’s military spending has recently risen to £120 billion – small compared with America’s £500billion.
However, “for the first time,” wrote Gregory Kulacki of non-profit organisation the Union of Concerned Scientists, “China is discussing putting its nuclear missiles on high alert so that they can be launched quickly on warning of an attack …
“Indeed, the nuclear weapon policies of the United States are the most prominent external factor influencing Chinese advocates for raising the alert level of China’s nuclear forces.”
Professor Ted Postol was scientific adviser to the head of US naval operations.
An authority on nuclear weapons, he told me, “Everybody here wants to look like they’re tough. See I got to be tough … I’m not afraid of doing anything military, I’m not afraid of threatening; I’m a hairy-chested gorilla.
“And we have gotten into a state, the United States has gotten into a situation where there’s a lot of sabre-rattling.”
I said, “This seems incredibly dangerous.”
“That is an understatement” he replied.
I interviewed Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, one of the front-runners to be Trump’s secretary of state.
He is a contradictory figure, who wants to make peace with Russia, yet describes the Chinese as “gangsters” and says they should be brought to heel “like any gang”.
What about the risk of nuclear war? I asked, at which he continued with his “gangsters” speech.
He concluded the interview by reaching for his guitar and singing “God Bless America”.
- John Pilger documentary, The Coming War on China, is on ITV tomorrow at 10.40pm.