Interview with Professor Evgeny Bazhanov, Director of the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Federation.
Why would the US and Philippines conduct something like unprecedented naval exercise in the region?
Well, I think it is a very well know fact that America strives for supremacy in the world, for what one may call hegemony. So, any state which does not agree with the American supremacy and moreover challenges American supremacy is perceived in Washington as an adversary which has to be contained, deterred and weakened. And China of course is perceived as the most dangerous adversary because of its actual might, its fast growth and its potential. I mean it is not a secret, Americans say it very openly – China is the adversary number one, the foe number one. And Americans do everything to stop China, to contain it, to weaken it and they apply various methods to do it. They apply economic pressures, they apply ideological attacks and of course the most important role is given to political and military actions.
And the United States uses every opportunity to increase its military presence in the Asian-Pacific. They announced a new policy of returning militarily to Asian-Pacific. As we know periodically America leaves that region after they lose a war, like it happened in Vietnam for example. And now they are trying to come back to contain China, and again it is not a secret, they say it openly. It is done to contain China which is perceived as a threat. And of course they try to have naval bases, military airports, antimissile systems and everything else in the vicinity of the Chinese shores. And for this purpose of course they need certain territory, they need to have certain military relations with the local states. And Washington does everything it can to court the local governments, older allies like Japan, South Korea, Australia, partners in the South East Asia and South Asia, and they try to use every problem which exists or might exist between the local states or states of that region and China. They try to exploit those differences which exist or may appear in the future.
And this territorial dispute concerning the islands in the South Sea is of course a very good opportunity for America to widen differences between the local states and China, and to have an opportunity to increase its military presence in the region. So, it is not a surprise they held the military exercises, they do it all the time. And they grow in number, and they grow in quality, in scale and today it is the Philippines and Vietnam, recently they had unprecedented maneuvers with the South Korea, and South Korea is involved all the time by the Americans to hold these exercises theoretically or officially against a possible attack from the North Korea or a possible military confrontation on the Korean Peninsula. But everybody understands very well that the main target is China and China understands it. And every time they hold those exercises involving the South Korea, China is very much against it and launches protests against America, South Korea and etc.
So, this is the reason they hold these exercises and they talk all the time now that there is a real threat to the security of the Philippines and Vietnam from China. They say that China openly threatens Philippines and Vietnam with the wars. Recently somebody in China, I think a military official, said something on this account like China is ready for a military conflict over the islands vis-ŕ-vis the Philippines and Vietnam and of course Americans blew up this statement in order to have an opportunity to promote military cooperation between themselves and the Philippines, plus Vietnam.
And among those who perceive China as a potential threat or challenge there are people who say that China’s military expenditures grow too fast. If you ask me I would say that I think it is understandable because China is a great power, it has economic interests all over the world and at this point it cannot defend those economic interests. For example China takes most of its oil and gas from the Middle East and if it cannot control the lanes through which they get this oil and gas, and I think it is quite natural for China to try to have a certain fleet which would be able to a certain point defend the Chinese economic interests there. And of course China look at America which has the biggest military budget in the world, and as we know the American military budget is bigger than the military budget of the most countries of the world put together…
… and for China, what they do is quite natural. And I also want to say that it is nothing new, I mean this reaction to the Chinese growth, not only military growth but also economic growth and growth in every other aspect. If we look at the history of mankind, every time the balance of power began to change all other countries that looked at the country which moved too fast had this kind of reaction. And unfortunately, again if we look back into the history of mankind, we know that in many cases because of this the worse happened. And it is enough to look at the 20th century in Europe where the balance of power began to change and as a result we had the World War I.
And I’m not saying that it will happen again but of course it is a dangerous situation when one country becomes strong and other countries, especially those countries which were the leaders like the United States, are not ready to accept the fact of the change in the balance of power and so they try to use every opportunity to stop the competitor. And the competitor feels that he is challenged and so he adds his efforts to be stronger militarily, to have military alliances, to have military preparations in every way. So, that is what happening.
Professor Bazhanov, may I ask you a question? Right now there is another exercise going on in the Western-Pacific, I mean Russo-Chinese naval exercise. Do you think it is just a coincidence with the US-Philippine maneuvers or it is a sort of counterbalancing act?
Well, it looks like a counterbalancing act but of course we have to ask the military leaders in China. Maybe they would answer to us that these maneuvers were planned three or four years ago to take place now. It might be like this, but at the same time of course, I mean the military exercises are happening not just for the sake of it, not because it is fun but because they have certain purposes. And when they see that Americans are becoming more and more active militarily in that part of the world of course they want to do something to be prepared against the new preparedness of the potential adversary.
Just how real do you think the threat coming from China is?
Well, first of all I would say there is no military threat whatsoever from China towards Russia, and this is the most important for all of us. And of course there is no naval threat from China to Russia. As far as other countries are concerned, it is up to them to decide if it is a threat or not. But what I’m trying to say, and I began to talk on this account already, is that China does not have an aggressive foreign policy.
If you compare Chinese foreign policy and American foreign policy at this point they are quite different. Americans openly say they want to be the unchallenged leader of the world, second to none. They want to make sure that nobody can even think about attacking or challenging America and to achieve this goal they are quite aggressive. They open new and new military bases all over the world, they increase their military budget, they have maneuvers with many, many countries, not only in the Asia-Pacific but all over the world. And China doesn’t have such a policy. It is not only doesn’t proclaim such a policy but it doesn’t do anything which can tell that they do have such purpose.
What they do now – they want to make sure that their economic interests are satisfied, that their security is in order and it is not easy to ensure the Chinese security because it has as we know a huge territory, very long borders with quite a few countries and some of these borders are not regulated yet. And they have a huge population, and they have a lot of internal problems, and some of these problems have to be tackled by the Chinese military forces, it is even in the Chinese constitution that the Chinese military force has tasks not only outside its own country, not only as far as defense of its own country is concerned, but also in the internal things like earthquakes and other emergencies they have to use their military force.
And if you take into account all this and if you take into account the fact that historically they have a very difficult relations with Japan, they still have the Taiwan problem, they still have the border problem with Vietnam, India and etc. what they do doesn’t amaze me with its speed and with its scale, I mean the growth, but it is quite natural for such a big state with so many problems and so many tasks. And, as I said, the essence of their foreign policy is defense of their economic interests.
But interestingly enough, doesn’t it mean that those smaller states of the region which have the so called mutual defense treaty with the US are becoming somehow hostages to the US interests?
Of course they are. And what is interesting, I used to say it to my American friends and colleagues all the time, I would say this policy of containment of China, a very pronounced policy, and these worries about China, began to surface in America 10 or even 15 years ago, right after the end of the Cold War when the Soviet Union was no longer there and American military industrial complex and the American Government were looking for a new enemies to justify their military expenditures, justify the appetites of its military industrial complex etc. And they’ve found China and they were talking about the Chinese threat even in the middle of the 90’es and at that time most states in Asia did not agree with Americans. I remember South Koreans were quite peaceful, I mean they didn’t feel any threat coming from China, and they kept saying that they have good relations with China, and the fact that China is becoming an economic giant is not a problem, it is good for South Korea, it is a good partner and all that.
And only recently they began to worry about China. The same happened to the states like Vietnam, India, the Philippines. I would say it is not only because the Chinese policy is becoming more aggressive or more active, more pronounced but also because of the American influence, American pressures and the overall American policy. Again I used to say it to my American colleagues, you know, - how come, you are so big and so strong, and you are afraid of China more than any other country in the Asia-Pacific, and more than any other country in the world. Now, you know, some of those countries are getting in the same direction and I would say that the role of the American influence is very pronounced.
Yes, it is huge. I really get an impression that sometimes they create enemies with their own hands.
Yes. And you know, I have a colleague, I know him for like forty years, and he was the first one in America, in the 70’es who proposed to sell arms to China to contain the Soviet Union. He was the enemy of the Soviet Union number one and he was number one in America who wanted to have a military alliance with China.
Was it Mr. Pillsbury?
Pillsbury. Last year he came to visit our Academy, we had a seminar and he tried to convince us that it is time to have an alliance between Russia and America against China. People like him, they are always looking for an enemy. At that time it was the Soviet Union. Now we are good guys because we are weaker and the Chinese are bad guys because they are becoming stronger.
And the same applies for the Chinese democracy. In the 70’es Americans used to say to me, movies stars, Mr. Pillsbury, other scholars, military experts that the China is a very peaceful country and the Chinese are very good people. They have so much democracy there, they smile all the time, people in China unlike in the Soviet Union where people are threatened, they don’t have any freedoms, and in China everything was perfect. And at that time as you know China was undergoing Cultural Revolution and of course there was no freedom, there was nothing in China. It was, as the Chinese now call that period, a fascist dictatorship.
But now the same people like Pillsbury and others, they say that there is no democracy in China despite the fact that China has ten times more freedoms and more I would even say democratic teachers than it had at that time. So, when you want to have an enemy you create him.