Our media is full of reports on Chinese aggression in the South China Sea, seizing control of disputed islands and converting them into military bases. It seems unnecessarily expansionist and ridiculously provocative, so in the absence of any further information (which you rarely get) you chalk it up to China just being China, you know crazy as usual.
But what if it’s not? What if it’s a rational response to US expansionism? What if the US for example had 400 military bases spread throughout the Asia pacific region in South Korea, Japan, Australia, the island of Okinawa, the Philippines etc with their missiles pointed directly at China, creating “perfect noose” around China? Now imagine China was California and the roles were reversed?
This is what Australian journalist and filmmaker John Pilger (The War on Democracy) posits in his latest documentary. Early on he puts up a map of all the US bases in the region, and it’s shocking. Guess how many military bases China has outside China? Well they’re building one right now on the horn of Africa and of course there’s those disputed islands.
The Coming war with China is purposely provocative and purposely non linear. Pilger doesn’t have one point, he has many. And initially it can be confusing.
He approaches the story tangentially, focussing on military bases in places like the Japanese island of Okinawa (home to 32 US bases), and the effects on the local population and the resistance within them. He uses the Marshall Islands as a warning, where some islands were resettled after the atom bomb tests by the local population allowing the US to study the effects of radiation on humans. These now lie dormant unfit for humans, who now live on nearby islands in disease and squalor. It’s not subtle, the message is when you let the US military move onto your sovereign land you’re lucky if you escape with your life.
He focuses on the resistance, local populations who want the US bases out of their country, and initially its not clear why he’s derailed his arguments to do so. Yet when he returns to China it all becomes clearer. He’s arming the viewer.
There’s no doubt that China is the US’ new bogeyman. He goes to pains to work out why, detailing the rapid economic change and growth that has occurred there. He interviews members of the growing political class, though also the Pentagon war planners who are now viewing war in china as a contingency. And whilst the sabre rattling by Trump et al is concerning, and the direction we seem to be heading in appears bleak, two things provide hope, the financial co dependence of the US and China, and you.
This is a dark view on the world and the machinations of the US war machine, yet it’s probably accurate. Whilst Pilger has a tendency to shrilly detail atrocity after atrocity to the point of overwhelming helplessness – and he does so here, often using quite inflammatory language, and ominous sound design, it’s hard to not wonder, ‘how come I don’t know this?’ Why don’t the media talk about these issues in this kind of depth? The distance between Pilger’s form of journalism and what we consume on a daily basis has never been starker, and with Pilger now utilising crowd funding and not beholden to anyone, this gulf will only continue to increase.
It’s funny, when I first heard about this film, I thought the title was an over exaggeration. Now I’m not so sure.
The Coming War on China – a film by John Pilger – Official trailer from Dartmouth Films on Vimeo.