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Vijay Prashad Warns Biden Is “Doubling Down” on Trump’s Anti-China Cold War Policy

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Beijing has accused the U.S. of perpetuating a Cold War mentality as President Joe Biden and senior administration officials shore up alliances in the Pacific region to counter China’s growing influence and increasingly describe the country as a geopolitical threat. Vijay Prashad, director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, says the “bellicose” tone out of Washington is not because the U.S. sees China as a military threat, but because China threatens U.S. dominance in the scientific, technological and diplomatic spheres. “It’s very chilling what the U.S. government is doing in ramping up this cold war,” says Prashad.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show looking at U.S.-China relations. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with their counterparts in Japan today and will next head to South Korea as part of their first overseas trip. The meetings are widely viewed as an attempt by the Biden administration to secure allies in Washington’s campaign to counter China’s growing power. Blinken spoke earlier today in Japan.

SECRETARY OF STATE ANTONY BLINKEN: We’re united in the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region, where countries follow the rules, cooperate whenever they can, and resolve their differences peacefully. And in particular, we will push back, if necessary, when China uses coercion or aggression to get its way.

AMY GOODMAN: The Japanese foreign minister also spoke at the joint news conference.

TOSHIMITSU MOTEGI: [translated] We agreed to oppose China’s unilateral bid to change the status quo, including in the East China Sea and South China Sea, and shared concerns about China’s coast guard laws.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, also speaking at the joint news conference.

DEFENSE SECRETARY LLOYD AUSTIN: I know Japan shares our concerns with China’s destabilizing actions. And as I have said before, China is a pacing challenge for the Department of Defense.

AMY GOODMAN: Last week, President Biden met virtually with the leaders of India, Japan and Australia in the first meeting of the so-called Quad, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. Beijing has accused the Quad of perpetuating a Cold War mentality. On [Thursday], Secretary of State Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan will meet with their Chinese counterparts in Alaska for the first direct talks between Beijing and the Biden administration. Earlier this month, Blinken described China as the “biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century” for the United States.

SECRETARY OF STATE ANTONY BLINKEN: China is the only country with the economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to seriously challenge the stable and open international system, all the rules, values and relationships that make the world work the way we want it to, because it ultimately serves the interests and reflects the values of the American people.

AMY GOODMAN: This comes as the United States and China are taking markedly different approaches to vaccines and the COVID pandemic. While the United States faces accusations of hoarding vaccines and blocking efforts to waive vaccine patent rights at the World Trade Organization, China has shipped millions of vaccine doses to nations in the Global South in what’s been described as a form of vaccine diplomacy. China has sent free samples of Sinovac’s vaccine to 53 countries and has exported it to 22 nations that have placed orders. Recipients include Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia.

To talk more about the U.S.-China relations, we are joined by Vijay Prashad, director of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, author of many books, including The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South. His latest book, Washington Bullets: A History of the CIA, Coups, and Assassinations. He’s a senior nonresident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. His latest article for Peoples Dispatch is headlined “Biden continues the US conflict with China through the Quad.”

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Vijay. Well, let’s begin right there, with that headline. Can you talk about the Biden administration’s approach to China, how it compares to Trump, and what you see needs to happen and change?

VIJAY PRASHAD: It’s great to be back with you, Amy. The first thing I’d like to say is that there are deep continuities not only between the Biden approach to China and the Trump approach, but also, before that, the Obama approach, because Obama, after all, inaugurated something called a “pivot” to Asia.

I just want to point something out, which is that, you know, when they say that China is a threat, as Antony Blinken said in what I thought was a very sharp and rather bellicose speech — when he says China is a threat, what do they mean? I think, here, precision is important. They don’t mean that China is a military threat to the United States. After all, the Chinese military has the capacity to defend its homeland, but it’s not in any way threatening the United States. In fact, it’s U.S. naval vessels that are sailing very close to the Chinese mainland in so-called freedom of navigation sorties right close to Chinese territorial waters. So, the Chinese don’t have a military threat against the United States at all.

What they’re talking about has been very closely clarified at this Quad meeting, which is that the United States government understands that China’s scientific and technological developments, particularly in robotics, in telecommunications, in green technology and so on, has far surpassed that of U.S. and European companies. And this is an existential threat, as far as the United States is concerned, the U.S. government is concerned, to Silicon Valley. China doesn’t threaten the American citizen, the average American citizen. But Chinese telecommunication companies, like Huawei and ZTE, are perhaps a generation ahead of U.S. telecommunications companies. And rather than compete, you know, in a, as it were, free market with these companies, the United States government is using immense military pressure, diplomatic pressure and a sort of information war to push China back into its boundaries. It’s one thing, as far as the U.S. is concerned, Amy, for China to deliver its workers to produce products for U.S. companies. It’s quite another when Chinese companies are competing fair and square against U.S. companies.

That’s the real issue here. It’s not human rights. It’s not military pressure. It’s not what Lloyd Austin, I think quite gingerly, called destabilization. That’s not the issue. The main issue here is scientific and technological competition. And China, I’m afraid, as far as Silicon Valley is concerned, is ahead of the United States in that game.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Vijay, I wanted to ask you about how China is covered in the U.S. and the Western media. You mentioned the technological competition that often gets some play, but the main issues that the U.S. press seems to concentrate on are the trade deficit with China, the democracy movement in Hong Kong or the fate of the Muslim Uyghurs in China. Very little attention is paid to China’s role as the principal reducer of poverty in the world. Today, there are about 112 million manufacturing workers in China. That’s more than the combined workforce, manufacturing workforce, of the United States, Germany, France, Germany, Italy and Japan combined. So, what’s happened over the last 30, 40 years is that China has lifted about 700 million people out of extreme poverty. Could you talk about this role of China as really changing the nature of the distribution in terms of — now, of course, American companies have benefited from that, from the low wages in China, but the Chinese people have also had an enormous change in their living standards, as well, no?

VIJAY PRASHAD: The first thing I’d like to respond to, Juan, is you mentioned the U.S. media. Look, frankly, most of the U.S. corporate media have become stenographers of the U.S. State Department. You know, the credibility to have Mr. Mike Pompeo, former secretary of state, stand up there on behalf of the Muslims of China, after what the United States has done in Afghanistan, in Iraq — and, don’t forget, Pompeo used to head the CIA — I mean, it strains credibility. When the U.S. government is defending people in the Hong Kong — Hong Kong, which was a colony of the British Empire for a hundred years and was ruled as a colony, the British government now standing up for human rights and democracy, it’s extraordinary that nobody asks the question about their own integrity on these questions. But let’s leave that aside.

Yes, it’s certainly true that as far as a developing country is concerned, China has played an extraordinary role in producing the ability for the Chinese people to lift themselves out of poverty. Let’s be clear about one thing: China had the longest Second World War on the planet. It started in 1937, ended in 1949. That’s years more than the Second World War in Europe. The country was devastated when the Chinese communists took power in 1949. They have fought a very serious battle to end poverty. And they didn’t do it merely by transfer payments, by cash payments. They did it by improving social indicators, by improving healthcare, literacy, education in general, and so on. This is an enormous, enormous feat that they’ve done by lifting, as you say, 700 million people out of poverty. This should be the headline, but it’s not.

And even more so, you know, Amy, you’re quite right to mention what’s been called vaccine diplomacy, rather than the vaccine nationalism we’re seeing in North America, Canada, where, for instance, there’s double the number of vaccine doses needed, and Canada, shamefully, has taken vaccine out of the COVAX vaccine fund, which is supposed to provide vaccines to developing countries. Yes, China is producing a kind of vaccine diplomacy rather than vaccine nationalism. But more than that, Chinese medical personnel, like Cuban medical personnel, have been going around the world assisting countries in combating COVID-19. You know, we are all for the Cuban doctors to get the Nobel Peace Prize this year, but we should also recognize the number of Chinese doctors who have been overseas providing assistance in the Global South.

Recently, even The Atlantic magazine ran a story to show that the myth of the Chinese “debt trap” needs to be called into question. In other words, China has been lending enormous amounts of money for development purposes in the Global South, in countries like Bolivia, where the United States has come in with a project called American Crece, trying to undercut Chinese investments by bringing in U.S. private sector investments and strong-arming countries, as we saw in El Salvador, strong-arming the government, saying, “If you don’t take American money and cut the Chinese out, we’re going to make great trouble for you.” I mean, this is old-fashioned gunboat diplomacy, and people need to see it for what it is. If you’re going to talk about human rights, what about the human rights of the people of El Salvador to craft their own foreign policy? Why should they be dictated to by Washington, D.C.?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Vijay, I wanted to center on that a little bit, the situation in Latin America. Latin America has now become the second major region for Chinese investment abroad, and the kinds of projects that the Chinese are helping to finance, they are really astounding. There’s the $5 billion that’s being spent to build two hydroelectric dams in the Patagonia section of Argentina over the Santa Cruz River, a transcontinental railroad between Peru and Bolivia, and, of course, a new canal across Central America, across Nicaragua, that would basically compete with the monopoly that the Panama Canal has had over world shipping. Could you talk about the sheer size of these projects? Really, most Americans are not aware of this enormous infrastructure that is resulting from the Belt and Road policy of China.

VIJAY PRASHAD: You see, Juan, during this pandemic, people have been aware of what we call the digital divide, you know, some people not having access to the internet. This is, of course, very difficult at a time when 168 million children have not been able to go to school, because they don’t have access to the internet. It’s not just a digital divide. There’s an electricity divide. There’s an infrastructure divide around the planet. It’s one thing to live in the United States and bemoan developments overseas, but you have to understand that in countries like Bolivia, Ecuador, even in the southern part of Argentina, there’s an electricity divide, there’s an infrastructure divide, there’s a lack of transportation and so on.

Very little capital has come into these countries from the World Bank, from the International Monetary Fund that’s enabled infrastructural projects. So what the Chinese have done with the Belt and Road Initiative is provide vast amounts of finance, as you mentioned, to develop some of this infrastructure, to bridge the electricity gap, to bridge the transportation gap.

This is very clearly in the case in Bolivia, where, during the administration of Evo Morales, they cut some very important deals with the Chinese, not only to mine lithium, which is a key component of batteries, but also to develop the processing of lithium in Bolivia and to create electric cars. I think people don’t know that during the last year of Evo Morales’s government, Bolivia produced electric cars for domestic consumption. It’s really quite incredible what’s happened in that partnership. They want to upskill these countries, not just leave them as a place to draw out raw materials and to sell products produced in China. They seriously have a project of upskilling, and I’m quite impressed to see, particularly in Bolivia.

But look at what happens to this. In Ecuador, the government of Lenín Moreno, under some pressure from the U.S. — but it must be said, Lenín Moreno of Ecuador doesn’t need much pressure from the U.S. government — decided to cut out Chinese loans, which had been taken by the previous government of Rafael Correa, and substituted for U.S. loans. You know, we looked closely at these two agreements. It was very clear that the Chinese loans were far less onerous than the U.S. loans that were coming in, because the Chinese, during the pandemic, essentially said, “We suspend all payments for another two years.” The U.S. has not been suspending debt servicing payments from developing countries. So, if you just look at the case of Ecuador, it’s a better deal to take the Chinese money.

Rather than accept this, rather than say, “Let’s have a collaborative approach between China and the United States” — I very much hope that in Alaska this becomes part of the worldview, that there should be a collaborative approach — rather than a collaborative approach, I’m afraid the Biden administration is doubling down on the Trump administration’s cold war policy against China.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Vijay Prashad, there is a tweet, a kind of meme, that a lot of the Chinese diplomats are putting out there right now, where they are saying that — oh, what is it? — China hasn’t dropped a single bomb on foreign soil in more than 40 years; meanwhile, the U.S. drops 46 bombs a day, on average. Your response to that?

VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, you know, Amy, the Stockholm Institute for Peace and Research releases their report every year on arms deals and on military spending. And the report recently released shows that the United States government has increased its military spending, and China has actually decreased its military spending. At the same time, just a few weeks ago, Admiral Philip Davidson of the Indo-Pacific Command went before the U.S. Armed Services Committee, and he basically has asked for $5 billion for the Indo-Pacific Command this year and $27 billion over the next period.

Mr. Davidson said something very chilling, Amy, at this hearing. He said the United States government must “be prepared to fight a war” against China. “Be prepared to fight.” The Chinese have not used any belligerent language. In fact, they have cautioned and said, “Look, we need to dial back this tension. This so-called freedom of navigation sorties by the U.S. Navy needs to stop. The United States needs to draw back. There’s no need to militarize Guam.” A conflict is unimaginable between two nuclear powers, and yet United States ramping up the language, spending more to militarize its Pacific outlets, the bases in Japan and so on. I haven’t seen anything comparable coming from China.

This is at a time when the U.S. government has developed a hypersonic cruise missile, which can fire from anywhere in the world, hit Beijing in 15 minutes. It’s very chilling what the U.S. government is doing in ramping up this cold war in the name of human rights, in the name of, you know, non-destabilization, democracy and so on. You’ve got to cut through the rhetoric and see who’s really violating the U.N. Charter.

For this reason, China and a host of other countries, about 10 other countries, have created a group called Friends of the U.N. Charter. This group of friends is going to be a group in the United Nations. They’re going to try and push the objectives of the Charter against groups like the Quad. You know, China has said that the Quad is fine. You can meet as the Quad, but don’t produce groupings like the Quad whose intent is to destabilize a country like China, destabilize another member nation of the United Nations. I think that was a very sober statement coming from Beijing. But more than that, this group of Friends of the U.N. Charter is a significant development, and I hope more people pay attention to it.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Vijay, I wanted to ask you about the role of the major multinational American companies, which clearly have benefited from being able to offshore their production capacity in China while selling the products in the West. Their role, as increasingly U.S. administrations become more and more belligerent toward China, but yet the companies still have to make money as a result of their relationships with China?

VIJAY PRASHAD: See, Juan, these companies know that what they make money on is on the patents against the technology. You know, Apple doesn’t make anything. Apple collects rent off products made by, in fact, a Taiwanese company inside China. Apple doesn’t make iPhones. It outsources the production of the iPhone. They make money off the rent, you know, off the patent. So, when Chinese firms develop new patents — and, indeed, the last couple of years, China has registered more patents than U.S. companies — as China develops new technologies and so on, this is what’s going to outflank U.S. companies.

It’s very significant that during the Trump years, none of the Silicon Valley firms opposed the trade war prosecuted by Mr. Trump against China. In fact, when the head of Apple went to see Mr. Trump, he didn’t say, “Dial back the trade war.” I mean, this is really important. He didn’t say, “Dial back the trade war.” He said that the trade war is unfairly helping South Korean companies like Samsung and that there needs to be a way to figure out this trade war so that a South Korean, a third country, is not benefiting from the U.S. trade war on China, because the real beneficiary, as far as the CEO of Apple was concerned, should be Apple.

You know, in other words, Silicon Valley understands that they require U.S. pressure on China to make China surrender its advances in high-tech, in telecommunications, in robotics, in green technology and so on, so that U.S. firms can continue to make money off the patents, to continue to make money as rent-seeking companies, because they are certainly not making money as innovative producers. You know, what are the new major technologies in green technology produced in the United States? Not much. Most of the big developments have taken place in Germany and in China. This is the reason why U.S. high-tech firms are basically aligned with this Cold War mentality that has emanated in Washington from the Obama administration onwards.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you, Vijay Prashad, back to the issue of vaccine, this idea of China dropping vaccines all over, and the U.S. still involved in these wars around the world and fighting waivers at the Word Trade Organization that allow for more vaccines to be made available to the developing world. I mean, The New York Times has a front-page piece. China is giving Latin America vaccines and gaining leverage. It’s about during Trump — under Trump, taking on China. Brazil, which is now in a massive surge of coronavirus, because Jair Bolsonaro was considered the tropical Trump, such a close ally of Trump — he refused to deal with China and Huawei, the large telecommunications company. But now, in their desperation and with Trump gone, they are turning to China in a major way, both around telecommunications and, at the same time, asking China, “Can you get us vaccines?” Chile is the — China is the dominant supplier of vaccines in Chile and, as we said, Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia. And here the U.S. is either being accused of hoarding vaccines or fighting the ability to get these vaccines around the world.

VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, you know, India and South Africa — India, a major part of the Quad. Nonetheless, these two countries have asked that the patents on the vaccine be unlocked, so that anybody can produce these vaccines, you know, and that you would have, therefore, ramped-up production. It’s very clear when you talk to people at DHL and other couriers. They say that the issue isn’t getting vaccine places. The issue right now is that the production lines have slowed down, that people are not producing it at the scale that they have to.

Look, this pandemic should not be looked at politically. Countries need to come together under the leadership of the United Nations, under the leadership of the WHO. We need to ramp up the production of these vaccines. By the way, these vaccines are almost all produced with massive public financing. There should be no patent on these vaccines. They need to be unlocked. India and South Africa were quite right to ask for them to be unlocked.

What the Chinese are doing with the Sinovac is, essentially, treating it as if it’s an unlocked vaccine, delivering it at scale to countries around the world. This should not be seen as a political issue. Why should a Swiss company or a U.S.-based company be making billions of dollars, hundreds of billions of dollars, on the pandemic? You know, we used to talk about something, Amy, called war profiteering, during a war, when companies made money producing armaments and so on. There should be no pandemic profiteering. Pandemic profiteering should be an immoral thing. Companies should not be making money during this pandemic. There should be no politics in this. There should be no profit in this. This should be treated as a human tragedy which has to be dealt with in a collaborative way by human beings.

And I must say, once again, here, the Chinese, but not only the Chinese, the Cubans, other countries are showing the way, because they are treating this as a human tragedy. Look, China doesn’t have a political litmus test where it sends its Sinovac. It’s not saying, you know, “Mr. Bolsonaro, you and your son have made horrendous, racist comments about the Chinese, therefore we won’t send you the vaccine.” No, the Chinese say, “We don’t really care what you say. It’s a human tragedy. The Brazilian people should not be held hostage by the ill humor of Mr. Bolsonaro.” And they’ve been providing vaccines. I think this is a very mature attitude.

And I hope this kind of attitude defines the policy not only at the United Nations, but at the WHO. We need a little more maturity in the world. And I feel that all of this warmongering, war talk, this false talk about destabilization and so on, should be set aside. I am not actually governed much by what Blinken said in his speech in early March. I thought a little bit of reality would have been useful. And despite the fact that Mr. Blinken is fluent in French, he is very, very, very much like Mike Pompeo.

AMY GOODMAN: Vijay Prashad, I want to thank you for being with us, author and director of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, senior nonresident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University in China.

Next, we go to El Paso for an update on the emergency at the U.S. southern border, where as many as 4,000 migrant children are seeking refuge in the U.S., being held in crowded cells. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G major” by the world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who gave a surprise concert this weekend at a vaccination site at the Berkshire Community College as he waited alongside others in an observation area after receiving his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Yo-Yo Ma is 65 years old.

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