The Longer Telegram: To Contain China or the USA?

The paper repeats the mistake inherent in all American thinking about the world, of inventing a rival that does not exist, and then positing strategies to deal with this fiction.

Washington, Beijing and European capitals have been firing off barrages of commentary in the past weeks on an anonymously authored paper on China published on January 28 by the U.S.-NATO think tank, the Atlantic Council, entitled “The Longer Telegram: Toward A New American China Strategy.”

It is modelled on another policy paper written by George Kennan in 1946, called the Long Telegram in which Kennan set out a strategy for “containing” the Soviet Union, that is, for destroying it. Kennan’s advice was adopted and became U.S. strategy. The Longer Telegram purports to set out a strategy for undermining China and its socialist system.

The Longer Telegram has met with approval by some U.S. and allied strategists and governments but alarm by others. China has denounced it for what it is, a plan for aggression against China and its socialist system.

The paper repeats the mistake inherent in all American thinking about the world, of inventing a rival that does not exist, and then positing strategies to deal with this fiction. This delusory thinking has led the United States into one defeat after another and caused the world untold troubles as it tried to throw its weight around to secure markets and resources for its industries and capital. The destruction of one country after another to achieve that objective, the deaths of millions, the immiseration of entire regions of the world are nothing to American capital so long as it can make money.

All their rhetoric about “human rights” “democracy” and other such platitudes is just a cover for maintaining their economic hegemony and keeping everyone else down. They even sometimes admit this. In the National Defence Strategy issued in 2018, the real reason for the slanders against China, the constant provocations in Hong Kong, and the South China Sea is stated clearly. “Failure to meet our defense objectives will result in decreasing U.S. global influence, eroding cohesion among allies and partners, and reduced access to markets that will contribute to a decline in our prosperity and standard of living.” Of course even this is a lie since American capital does not care at all about the standard of living of the American people, only about the prosperity and standard of living of the big capitalists. The world can see what conditions are in the United States. The failure to protect their people from the Covid pandemic, the almost daily extrajudicial killings of blacks and poor people, the hollow promise of Biden to institute a higher minimum wage, the collapse of the power grid in Texas are eloquent expressions of the contempt and disregard big capital has for the common people.

The document describes a China that exists only in their furtive imaginations; an “authoritarian” country whose communist rulers are divorced from the people they rule, in which President Xi is described as more or less a warlord surrounded by “cronies,” enriching themselves at the expense of everyone else, and who have visions of ruling the world. This fantasy is in fact a mirror image of the United States. The author sees China as he has been conditioned to see America, and then projects that outward to any nation that attempts to develop its economy and improve the conditions of its people. And just as the forces of capital in the United States manipulate elections and the political system to guarantee their power in order to feather their own nests, the author of the Longer Telegram accuses the President of China of doing the same in China, of using his position for his own benefit. It then offers recommendations on how to try to split the Chinese leadership from the people, and even on how to split the Communist Party from its membership and the people, using false claims as propaganda to undermine social cohesion.

China did well to kick out the BBC last week and to arrest the U.S. and British agents in Hong Kong. The document adopts the Henry Kissinger strategy urging a soft approach to Russia to try to lure it away from its alliance with China. This would require a complete reversal of American strategy of surrounding Russia with bases, ships and missile systems, of attempting to ruin the Russian economy with all the illegal trade and financial embargoes. It is not going to happen. But the suggestion shows the confusion in the American leadership on how to stop its economic decline that precedes its decline as the world hegemon.

For decades the Americans have claimed to support nations trying to raise themselves from the poverty created by European and American colonialism, to achieve economic prosperity and a better life for their peoples. But when a country achieves those goals it suddenly becomes an enemy. They want no rivals. China is declared an enemy simply because the Communist Party has, over its long struggle from the Long March to today, raised a billion and more people out of poverty, has created a social and economic system no western nation can equal. Their example shows the world what can be achieved by nations finally freed from colonialism, and shows the strength and vitality of socialism. But now China faces renewed threats from the aspiring colonial powers. Defeated in 1949, the colonial powers have never abandoned their ambitions to again reduce China to a colony and are, once again, actively engaged in trying to undermine China as a sovereign nation, to slander it, to sabotage its economy, to threaten it with armed force, to break it into manageable pieces, as they want to do with Russia. The method of attack is wide. The Canadians, on U.S. orders, have essentially kidnapped and still hold hostage, Meng Wanzhou, Chief Financial Officer of the technology company, Huawei. At the same time, the U.S. used the arrest as a warning to others trading with Iran. They have increased their military provocations off the Chinese coast with the U.S. and its vassal states sending naval ships, time and again, through the Taiwan Strait, claiming to be enforcing “freedom of navigation” but in reality declaring that Taiwan, a province of China, is their protectorate.

The complete response to the Longer Telegram is found in China’s national defence white paper which states, “Though a country may become strong, bellicosity will lead to its ruin. The Chinese nation has always loved peace. Since the beginning of modern times, the Chinese people have suffered from aggressions and wars, and have learned the value of peace and the pressing need for development. Therefore, China will never inflict such sufferings on any other country. Since its founding 70 years ago, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has never started any war or conflict. Since the introduction of reform and opening-up, China has been committed to promoting world peace, and has voluntarily downsized the PLA by over 4 million troops. China has grown from a poor and weak country to be the world’s second largest economy neither by receiving handouts from others nor by engaging in military expansion or colonial plunder. Instead, it has developed through its people’s hard work and its efforts to maintain peace. China has made every effort to create favorable conditions for its development through maintaining world peace, and has equally endeavored to promote world peace through its own development. China sincerely hopes that all countries will choose the path of peaceful development and jointly prevent conflicts and wars.” All those who want peace in the world, can support that statement.

The Longer Telegram is not just a policy paper, it is also propaganda which must be rejected as a call for the violation of all the principles set out in the Charter of the United Nations that guarantee every nation the right to peaceful development, to its sovereignty and to non-interference from other nations; to be treated with respect. Instead of contemplating strategies on how to contain China the world must instead contemplate strategies for containing the United States of America.”