US falsehoods show it can’t escape Thucydides’s Trap

By Song Wei Source:Global Times Published: 2018/5/20 22:28:39

Illustration: Xia Qing/GT


Recently, the US Department of State issued an independent report accusing China of using debtbook diplomacy to serve its strategic aims in the Asia-Pacific. In the report, it mentions that China is providing strategic loans to small countries in the region and seizing the resources it wants when those countries have trouble repaying the debt. The report grabbed worldwide attention.

It was drafted by the distinguished political science researcher Graham Allison, who used the term Thucydides's Trap in his book Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides's Trap?

The US' ally Australia immediately followed, stating that the aid for its smaller regional neighbors would give China leverage to achieve regional military gains.

But the report is not logically sound.

The fact is, eight South Pacific countries that accepted assistance from China are located on the second island chain. Alfred Thayer Mahan developed the seapower theory in the 1890s, before the US even became a hegemon. The theory draws connections between a nation's control of the seas and its prosperity.

The seapower theory still encourages the US to go down the path of building a strong navy, developing its naval force and seeking maritime hegemony.

The US, following this theory, has enforced its control over the South Pacific region through three approaches:

One approach is the establishment of military bases on islands, such as Guam, which is another "Hawaii" under military control.

Another approach is direct control. The Federated States of Micronesia, Belau, Kiribati and Marshall Islands fall into this category. Although they are sovereign states, the US is responsible for their defense, and the US dollar has served as their national currency.

The third approach exerts indirect influence through Australia and New Zealand, into such areas as Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and Vanuatu. Australia and New Zealand possess absolute geopolitical advantages in the region.

One clue is that the two countries have kept a firm hand on the airlines flying to those island countries. To get to these destinations, travelers not only have to obtain transit visas from Australia and New Zealand, they must use airlines from those two countries. While Australia and New Zealand are busy blocking any third party from outside the region, they are reluctant to improve connectivity among the island countries. There are no direct flights among them despite how close they are. High logistics costs have hampered the development of intra-regional trade and created a development predicament.

With constant checks and multiple chains of blocks from the US and its allies, no outsiders can even conceive of a military and strategic plan in the region.

Moreover, the assistance China provided to the eight South Pacific countries is nothing like a strategic loan.

First, the assistance from China is mainly given to those countries for free. On the one hand, countries such as Micronesia and Tonga have grown dependent on cash aid from the US and its allies.

They do not have any incentive to take advantage of China's preferential loans to upgrade their industries. On the other hand, due to the confederation system, the sovereignty of these central governments is not enough to provide loan guarantees, so they wouldn't qualify for China's preferential loans.

Second, the assistance is mainly used to raise local living standards. Most of these countries even have trouble in developing their tourism industries due to the deficient infrastructure. The assistance covers the costs of construction for such projects as roads, bridges, airports, schools and hospitals, and for goods such as multi-purpose ships and pharmaceuticals. China would like to donate regional jets to support direct flights among the island countries. But this idea is unfortunately blocked by Australia and New Zealand.

Last, some countries with resources don't want free money. It is a harsh reality that donors do not want to admit. The independent state of Papua New Guinea is rich in oil and natural gas resources. Fiji and Samoa make decent money from the tourism industry. Those countries prefer to take loans since they are confident about their debt positions.

Western countries have characterized the cooperation between Angola and China as the so-called "Angola Model." They have distorted the arrangement of the Angola government, which repays loans with oil, as being evidence that China is squeezing Angola's resources. One simple fact that seems to be ignored is that the US is the largest importer of Angola's oil.

From the "China Threat" to "Chinese neocolonialism" and "debtbook diplomacy," the US is disseminating falsehoods based on the colonist experience and using Western phrases.

These fabrications show that the US cannot escape the Thucydides's Trap, which will become a horrific nightmare. That's why the US has been wielding a stick at any imaginary enemy. The reality is, the US is just frightened by its own shadow.

The author is an associate researcher with the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation.


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