THE COMING WAR ON CHINA A new film by Emmy and Bafta award winning director John Pilger In Cinemas 5th December 2016 Satellite Q&A with John Pilger from Picturehouse Central
Another shadow looms over all of us. This film, The Coming War on China, is a warning that nuclear war is not only imaginable, but a ‘contingency’, says the Pentagon. The greatest build-up of Nato military forces since the Second World War is under way on the western borders of Russia. On the other side of the world, the rise of China as the world’s second economic power is viewed in Washington as another ‘threat’ to American dominance.
To counter this, in 2011, President Obama announced a ‘pivot to Asia’, which meant that almost two-thirds of all US naval forces would be transferred to Asia and the Pacific, their weapons aimed at China. Today, some 400 American military bases encircle China with missiles, bombers, warships and nuclear weapons. They form an arc from Australia north through the Pacific to Japan, Korea and across Eurasia to Afghanistan and India. It is, says one US strategist, ‘the perfect noose’.
In secrecy, the biggest single American-run air-sea military exercise in recent years – known as Talisman Sabre – has rehearsed an Air-Sea Battle Plan, blocking sea lanes in the Straits of Malacca, cutting off China’s access to oil, gas and other raw materials from the Middle East and Africa.
It is largely this fear of an economic blockade that has seen China building airstrips on disputed islands and reefs in the South China Sea. Last year, Chinese nuclear forces were reportedly upgraded from low to high alert.
This is not news, or it is news distorted or buried. Instead, there is a familiar drumbeat identifying a new enemy: a restoration of the psychology of fear that embedded public consciousness for most of the 20th century. The aim of The Coming War on China is to help break the silence. As the centenaries of the First World War presently remind us, horrific conflict can begin all too easily. The difference today is nuclear.
This is my 60th film, the majority for ITV and including those made for the cinema. Filmed on five potential frontlines across Asia and the Pacific during almost two years, the story is told in chapters that connect a secret and ‘forgotten’ past to the rapacious actions of great power today and to an inspiring popular resistance, of which little is known in the West.
Chapter one, ‘The secret of the Marshall Islands’, describes a secret programme – Project 4.1 – that turned these Pacific islanders into guinea pigs for the development of nuclear weapons. Once known as the Last Paradise, the Marshalls and their indigenous people were subjected to the equivalent of a Hiroshima bomb exploded every day for twelve years.
Of all the places of upheaval I have reported from, I have not experienced anything quite like Bikini atoll. In the emerald lagoon where the US exploded a hydrogen bomb called Bravo in 1954, there is a vast black hole, a void in which an entire island was vaporised. Bikini’s people have never returned. The food is unsafe to eat and the water unsafe to drink. There are no birds and no natural sounds. Our shoes registered ‘leave now’ on a Geiger counter. The US Department of Energy comes regularly to measure its mutations; there is a radioactive market garden and palms planted in surreal grid formation. The experiment never ends.
“We were screaming,” Betty Edmond told me. “I tried to hide behind my parents.” Lemoyo Abon said, “We thought it must be another war or the end of the world.” These women, and others we filmed, were children on the nearby island of Rongelap when Bravo irradiated them. Described in long-forgotten archive footage as ‘amenable savages’, most of the survivors have had thyroid and other cancers and have received little compensation.
Today, they live in the shadow of the Ronald Reagan Missile Test Site, a huge and secretive US base on the largest island, Kwajalein, where they are again subjected to the testing of weapons of mass destruction. Here, the US Air Force fires missiles into the lagoon at a cost of $100 million a shot. A missile test is announced with a few sentences in the Marshall Islands Journal, if it all; then the sky lights up and people fall ill, ‘mysteriously’. Many of the fish are unsafe to eat.
Like a tableau of expatriate suburbia, the base’s golf course is watered by dispossessed islanders who are ferried to work from their slums across the bay, and back again, at dusk. The base commands the Pacific all the way to Asia and was built, says official archive film, ‘to protect America from communist China’.
Crossing the Pacific, I arrived in Shanghai for the first time in more than a generation. Then, Mao Zedong had recently died, and the cities seemed dark places, in which foreboding and expectation competed. Within a few years, Deng Xiopeng, the ‘man who changed China’, was the ‘paramount leader’. Nothing prepared me for the astonishing changes today.
‘I make the joke’, says the Shanghai social scientist Eric Li in the film, ‘In America you can change political parties, but you can’t change the policies. In China you cannot change the party, but you can change policies. The political changes that have taken place in China this past 66 years have been wider and broader and greater than probably any other major country in living memory’.
This is one of a number of views from within China’s new and confident political class that make a rare appearance in a western documentary. In Western ‘media culture’, these revealing voices are generally excluded, because they do not fit the received wisdom, a form of censorship by omission. Like the imperial Edwardians, we in the West still prefer to see Asia in terms of its usefulness or hostility to us, or its failings by our standards, which we promote as enlightened. The Coming War on China is about the imposition of this sense of superiority and its reckless power.
Using some remarkable archive footage, the film touches on the American cult of ‘exceptionalism’ that influences America’s view of humanity and ignites its wars. Since 9/11, the US has spent $5 trillion on aggressive wars, according to a study by Brown University. The current flight of 12 million refugees from at least four countries is one consequence.
Andrew Krepinevich, a former Pentagon war planner and the influential author of war games against China, wants to ‘punish’ China for extending its defences to the South China Sea. He advocates seeding the ocean with sea mines, sending in special forces and enforcing a naval blockade. ‘Our first president, George Washington, said if you want peace, prepare for war.’ This speaks for a view dominant in political Washington.
The Japanese island of Okinawa has 32 US military installations, from which Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq were attacked. The principal target now is China. There are military aircraft constantly in the sky, sometimes crashing into homes and schools. A hugely popular Okinawan movement against this repressive occupation is an extraordinary expression of how ordinary people can peacefully take on a military giant, and begin to win (by electing Japan’s first anti-base governor). One of their leaders is Fumiko Shimabukuro, aged 87, herself a survivor of the world war and perhaps the most resilient human being I have filmed.
Lying at the southern tip of Korea is Jeju Island, where a proxy US base has been recently completed. Nuclear submarines will dock here, along with the latest Aegis missile destroyers, less than 400 miles across the horizon from Shanghai. A people’s resistance has been an everyday presence in the villages around this base for almost a decade. They are indefatigable; priests block the gates by staging a twice-daily mass, backed by people from all over Asia and the world. It is these voices that make the lessons of Hiroshima and Bikini more urgent than ever. ‘We offer a choice,’ says Fukimo, ‘Silence or life’.
The movie started with the Bikini islands, which is a foreign island FAR from the US mainland annexed by the States for military and human laboratory purposes. China is indeed making a move on the disputed area of the South China Sea. While I am not defending the absurdity of this action, it is hypocritical of the US to criticize China while itself is spreading its military influence all over the world for it’s economical and political purposes. The movie is rather unbiased because it also exposes the social inequality of China as a result of the economic reforms. Both countries have their problems, but this movie gives an insight to the viewers for the reasons we wouldn’t see from the western media: Being demonized by the western mainstream propaganda, China has no choice but to react to the suppression of the States or it will meet the same fate as the Bikini islands or the Okinawa island.
The US government has been conducting covert operations since WW I. And probably many other nations do that same thing. The world is sadly so indoctrinated with false information and the media and the school systems are so controlled that the truth does not reach the people. Therefor I am glad John Pilger made this film and showed not only evidence of those covert actions by the US government but also the heroic and relentless effort that other so called ordinary people make to expose and oppose these actions. This movie is made in deep honor of all those who have been railroaded And even killed by these actions of a nation that has grown to have become the largest psychotic, delusional, megalomaniacal force in this world. Sadly again many of its inhabitants as well as people from other nations are indoctrinated because of false information and lack of true information and will hold on to that this film as well as many other proof belongs in the category of conspiracy theories. The only thing someone has to do to get to the truth is rid oneself of all prejudices and look at the information with an open mind. Take that challenge and watch this movie and see for yourself. Only the truth will set you free.
Seasoned journalist John Pilger casts a light on the amount of US Naval Bases situated around China and the amount of warships pointing in their direction, and the globally catastrophic consequences this hostility could create. He charts the shameful, untold history of the US army’s activities on the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific, where they were lied to about chemical testing and the terrible consequences it’s had years later, as well as revealing how General Mao may not have been the monster the imperialist west made him out to be.
China is certainly the main contender looking to take it’s shot at being top boy on the world stage, from trade to military might, but it seems the almighty US of A doesn’t want to go down without a fight, and, knowing its enemy, is aggressively trying to keep it in its place. At least that’s the picture that director John Pilger is trying to portray, and although he offers alternative viewpoints to speak their mind, it’s clear throughout which country he thinks is most to blame for this feud. At any rate, he’s certainly produced something that is a contrary assault on the western media’s presentation of Chinese life under a ‘communist’ regime.
Pilger highlights what could only be described as one of the US’s dirty little secrets, questionable testing on minuscule little islands tucked out of sight off the coast of China, where untold damage was inflicted in pursuit of a rich, powerful countries aggressive expansion. Not being familiar with any of his work before, it’s hard to know if any political affiliation is swaying his views, but he’s certainly created a well researched and eye opening documentary that just about manages to excuse the just under two hour running time.
An absorbing and, ultimately, chilling account of what may be to come.