Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The Coming War On China - a disturbing and uncomfortable watch (ITV 6 Dec 2016)

John Pilger’s authored documentary The Coming War On China invites audiences to rethink their worldview and consider whether they’ve been looking at the wrong aggressor across the Pacific Ocean. Could concern about Chinese airstrips being built on disputed islands in the South China Sea be as a result of focussing western gun sights on one small area and forgetting to pull back to see the full picture of what’s been happening in the region over the last sixty or more years? Is China “wilfully misunderstood” by the west?

The two hour film will be shown tonight (Tuesday 6 December 2016) on ITV and was previewed last night in cinemas across the UK. (I saw it in a temperature-challenged Queen’s Film Theatre.) The narrative builds up a picture of historical US misuse of the South Pacific for military gain before focussing on its continuing build-up of bases around China.

It’s an odd mixture of archive footage, photographs, contemporary footage and pieces to camera by Pilger. The Star-Spangled Banner appears twice, confronting the patriotic untruths that the film-maker wants to overthrow.

The first ‘chapter’ could have been a documentary in its own right, looking back at the ‘Bravo’ nuclear bomb testing in the Marshall Islands that destroyed one island and irradiated thousands of people on others. Just as animals were strapped to the decks of moored navy vessels during explosions to gauge the effect of the blasts, local people were not evacuated from nearby islands – in fact they were told that the US were there to improve the habitability of the region – and were later even ferried to live on ‘safe’ islands were everyone would suffer from thyroid cancer while being measured as guinea pigs in a long-running study.

Monetary compensation – blood money – was woefully inadequate and poverty remains as rife as the ill health that blights these tortured communities. Yet the US defence industry’s rape of these islands continues today with a missile test site with its $100m missiles and a lush green golf course importing workers each morning from a neighbouring ‘slum’ island across the bay with 12,000 people crammed onto a one mile strip that has lacked a working sewage system from the 1960s.

Maps flash up on screen to show the location of the thousand or so US military bases outside the North America landmass. US officialdom disputes whether a couple of hundred troops in a US conclave is a ‘base’ when it’s built onto the side of another nation’s existing base. But the war on words is clearly a mere smokescreen.

The second part of Pilger’s film reconsiders the relationship that Mao Tse-tung desired with the US, pointing to evidence that he sought to be a friends of the US, cooperating rather than being an enemy. But the legacy of the “yellow peril” communist-fearing foreign policy is still felt today.

(Chinese) experts contend that in the past China built a wall to keep barbarians out while the US sought to convert people around the world to their way of thinking. The market economy in China is one where billionaire capitalists cannot control the politburo policy like they can in the US. Yes they want to prevent the US dominating Aisa Pacific, but China doesn’t want to run the world. While there’s an absence of American talking heads to back up this alternative world view, and it’s poorly balanced with some gentle criticism of China’s record on gender discrimination, oppression of political opposition and an increasing class poverty gap, the new narrative is engaging.

A further chapter examines resistance to US military presence on the Japanese island of Okinawa, South Korea’s Jeju and its return to five locations in the Philippines. Pilger argues that the US is intimidating China and is acting as the aggressor and escalator of conflict in China’s back yard. Would the US appreciate a military build up off its western seaboard?

Pilger says that “nuclear war is no longer unthinkable” and later asks experts to outline the devastating effect of thousands of tons of smoke entering the upper atmosphere and triggering a nuclear winter that would cease crop growth for several years. He asks how the process can be stopped before it starts a war? Scenes of Trump speaking about China at the Republican National Convention are not encouraging. Can ordinary people act as an alternative superpower, swapping their normal silence for loud shouts that call for reason and abeyance?

The Coming War On China is a disturbing and uncomfortable film to watch. It educates about US abuses of power and challenges viewers to think for themselves whether the history and analysis that they are fed daily by western society are complete and accurate. Some of Pilger’s contentions will be quickly disputed and no doubt knocked over. But the thrust of his line of reasoning bears examination.

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