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By Jeff J. Brown
Pictured above: the front cover of A.B. Abrams incredibly informative book, “Power and Primacy: The History of Western Intervention in the Asia-Pacific”.
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A.B. Abrams contacted me about his new book, “Power and Primacy – The History of Western Intervention in the Asia-Pacific”, and I was intrigued, since it is about Asian history as a whole and not about a particular time period or country. I’m glad I did, because it is a helluva good read. It really puts the headlines into proper perspective and what they mean behind all the mainstream propaganda spin.
“Power and Primacy” is one of the most thoroughly researched books I’ve ever read, with over 1,000 references, which A.B. lists at the end of each chapter. It is so informative and surprising that I took pages of notes and will surely be citing his book in my future writings.
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Please join me in a fascinating look into the long and shocking role the West has played in Asia, going back centuries. Below is our written interview. For audio-visual fans, I also recorded our questions and answers as YouTube and SoundCloud podcasts.
Jeff Question 1: A.B., please tell us about yourself, your origins, generation growing up, educational and professional life.
A.B. Answer 1: My primary field of expertise is the politics and history of the Asia-Pacific region. I have spent time in all countries of northeast Asia and many in Southeast Asia, and speak the four major languages of the region. East Asian politics and recent history were my primary focuses throughout my academic years and since.
Q2: Is “Power and Primacy” your first published book? If not, what other books have you written? Was it your idea or were you approached by your editor to write it? The research you put into “Power and Primacy” is phenomenal. It must have taken you a while to finish it. Tell us a little about your writing process. Was it all online, or did you go to some sources to see for yourself?
A2: This is my first book. I have published widely in the past under a number of pseudonyms, but usually as articles or papers. A second book with a more narrow geographical focus will be coming early next year.
I began this work because I felt there was a significant gap in existing scholarship in the field, namely that while individual cases of Western intervention in the Asia-Pacific such as the Korean and Vietnam wars have been covered extensively in isolation, an assessment of wider trends in Western intervention and consistencies over time have not been made. This is vital to understanding the nature of Western actors in the region and their intentions towards Asian nations and peoples, which I believe is particularly essential today in light of the ‘Pivot to Asia’ initiative and the growing focus on the region in Europe and North America.
The research for this book took well over a year, and involved extensive readings from a wide range of sources in multiple languages, visits to a number of key historical sites and a number of interviews.
Q3: I learned much new information about Asia and the West’s 500-year history in the region. Was what you learned a surprise? Were you shocked about some of the events that took place? I know I was.
A3: It is widely known that conflicts took place in East Asia between Western powers and Asian nationalist and socialist states, but information on the way these wars were waged and the context in which they took place can certainly change one’s outlook, especially when placed in a wider context of multiple Western interventions in the region. Certainly researching this work there were a number of surprises, but from the beginning it was expected that the events covered would naturally be rather scandalous.
Q4: Your description of the Chinese civil war and the role it played in World War II was riveting. As I was reading, especially after Japan surrendered in 1945 and then its remaining forces were used by the Guomindang (GMD/KMT) and United States to try to wipe out the Communist revolution, my admiration for Mao Zedong, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and their heroic citizens increased exponentially. I knew they fought against terrible odds, but your book shows that it was really one of the great underdog stories of modern history, from the CPC/PLA being almost extinguished on several occasions to governing the most populous nation on Earth, to this day. As you wrote your book, did you feel the same way? Any comments?
A4: Certainly I would agree that this conflict was one of the most pivotal in the history of the 20th century, and other than the Second World War, it may well be seen as the most pivotal by future generations. This is particularly true considering what we know now about the long-term consequences for East Asia and the entire world of the establishment of a Chinese People’s Republic under the CCP. The only supporter of the PLA in the harshest years of this conflict, from 1945-1947 was North Korea, which considering the billions of dollars and substantial equipment provided to the Guomindang, and its vast manpower, supplemented by tens of thousands of U.S. Marines, American air units and even rearmed Japanese troops, does appear to be a victory against all odds. I felt it was important to assess this conflict in which the United States was an active participant because it was the foundation of the Sino-American relationship with consequences for decades to come. It is interesting to contemplate how drastically different the world would be today had the U.S. and its client government in China prevailed. China’s regaining of its full independence and beginning of its rise may otherwise not have been a historical inevitability, and the world would certainly look very different today if a Western client government had been in power from 1949.
Q5: You really showed how the Sino-Soviet split in 1959-60 not only really hurt China in the immediate time frame, but gave the United States the “divide and rule” scenario it needed to dramatically influence the course of the Southeast Asian/Vietnam War in NATO’s favor. Close your eyes and imagine for a moment that the split never happened and the USSR and China worked arm-in-arm against global capitalism and Western empire from the 1960s onward. How might have world history played out?
A5: It is very difficult to say, but much of the advantage the Western Bloc was able to gain from the 1960s were derived from domestic changes in the Soviet Union under the premiership of Nikita Khrushchev, with the decline of relations with China largely a result of this. Assuming a best case for the two powers in which the status-quo before 1953 remained, we could see continued technology transfers and economic assistance to China to accelerate its economic growth and both states presenting a joint front in a number of theatres. The Vietnam War for example could have played out very differently if the Soviet Union had not been restricted in its assistance to the Viet Minh by Chinese fears of Soviet influence on its southern border, and we may have seen the North Vietnamese equipped with weapons systems a generation ahead of anything they previously had and quite possibly many more Soviet troops in North Vietnam. Multiple other conflicts, from Afghanistan to Angola, could have ended very differently, had Beijing and Moscow worked together rather than against one other.
Q6: You wrote about the Allied forces during the Korean War slaughtering up to 100,000 South Korean refugees. It makes no military or strategic sense to do so, with vast military resources burned up and spent on innocent non-combatants – mostly women, elderly and children. Why? What gives?
A6: I believe the figure was closer to 200,000, but also included political prisoners and their families, and those thought to have pro-North Korean or leftist sympathies. The decision by the U.S. military leadership and by servicemen to massacre South Korean refugees cannot be attributed to a single factor, but to multiple complementary factors. Under the Presidency of Rhee Syngman the U.S. aligned government in Seoul was extremely unpopular, and North Korean forces were widely welcomed into the south. The Americans were well aware of this, and widely suspected North Korean sympathies and support for North Korea. This had a complementary effect to the conditioning of U.S. soldiers, which was relatively consistent in the Philippine-American War, the Pacific War, the Korean War and later the Vietnam War. The enemy was defined by their racial qualities, which not only dehumanised the adversary but also facilitated to brutal mistreatment of Asian civilians and indiscriminate killings in all cases. Interviews with American soldiers who participated in the massacres, and eyewitness sources such as the memoirs of British writer Elizabeth Comber, as well as the testimonies of Korean survivors, all give testament to this.
The value attributed to the Korean or East Asian life was extremely low at the time in the United States – which had just five years prior killed over 100,000 Japanese civilians in a single night during the firebombing of Tokyo for no apparent material gain other than the psychological impact it would have on the population. At times the military ordered the killing of civilians for fear that they may be sheltering guerrillas or North Korean soldiers. Similar conduct was observed towards South Vietnamese civilians in the 1960s. Given the consistency of this conduct, how can we expect civilians of supposedly allied East Asian states to be treated should there be another major war in the region?
Q7: I am a founding member of the Bioweapon Truth Commission (BWTC – www.bioweapontruth.com), which likely has the largest collection of printed and multimedia documentation on this subject, on the internet. It does contain some information about the early use of chemical weapons, including the West, going back to World War I. But, my eyes widened when you wrote about the US not only using bioweapons in Korea and China, but also chemical weapons during the Korean War. Please tell us about that.
A7: Conflict with Chinese and North Korean forces and defeats at their hands came as a major shock to the Western world – arguably a greater shock than Russia’s defeat by Japan 45 years prior which was entirely unexpected for similar reasons. It was previously widely believed that East Asian peoples and the Chinese in particular were incompetent militarily, and that they would turn and run at the first sight of Western soldiers. This was far from the case, and against overwhelming odds North Korean forces forced the U.S. and its allies into a three-month long retreat southwards – with the Americans alone taking an estimated 20,000 casualties. With the Chinese entry into the war, the U.S. no longer outnumbered their enemy and the number of troops on the front was largely equalised. Seeking a means to kill more of their enemies more efficiently, extensive research was undertaken by the Chemical Corps in particular, into new means of killing larger numbers of enemies more efficiently – using weapons such as sarin gas. Sarin was mass produced for the U.S. Military for this express purpose, but reports indicate it was not ready before the war’s end. Some reports by international commissions indicate that chemical weapons were used on a limited scale, perhaps experimentally, but this remains uncertain. Chemical weapons have been termed the ‘poor man’s nuclear bomb,’ and any possible employment was overshadowed by very significant evidence and widespread use of biological weapons, the U.S.’s very near use of nuclear weapons and the brutalities of the firebombing campaign – spraying incendiaries such as napalm indiscriminately over population centres.
Q8: Close your eyes and imagine NATO attacking North Korea. In one scenario, the West does not use tactical nuclear weapons. In the second, it does. What do you think China and Russia would do in both cases?
A8: The answer would depend on the time period, but it is something I have covered extensively in my upcoming work in relation to Beijing and Moscow’s responses to a growing willingness by the United States to launch military action in 2016 and 2017. Both parties took extensive moves to prevent such an attack, including deploying long range air defence assets to their Korean borders with coverage over the peninsula and carrying out large scale naval and amphibious drills very near to the Korean Peninsula. It was also reported that China flew its new J-20 stealth fighters into South Korean airspace undetected, and later announced it to emphasise the vulnerability of U.S. bases there. Even the Chinese and Russian approval for U.S. drafted sanctions against North Korea was interpreted by some as a measure to prevent military action – providing the Western Bloc with an alternative avenue to put pressure on Pyongyang which undermined calls for an offensive.
There are indications that no matter what kind of weapons are used, both neighbouring states would intervene jointly to protect North Korea – something Chinese state media has reiterated Beijing’s commitment to see through. What matters most is to deter U.S. and allied military action by emphasizing their commitment to Korea’s defence, as even a symbolic ‘bloody nose’ strike on the DPRK would most likely escalate into a total war. Military exercises near the peninsula at times of high tension and deployment of military assets to respond to a potential attack are critical to this. While this was particularly vital in 2017, prospects for a U.S. led attack on North Korea today remain slim, with Pyongyang in a stronger position vis-à-vis the United States than ever before in its history due to successes in economic modernisation and the development of a viable and diverse nuclear and missile deterrent capability. The ability of a small state to hold a superpower’s cities in the firing line with thermonuclear weapons is historically unprecedented, and has allowed Pyongyang to increasingly stand up for itself militarily.
Q9: You write much about the West’s “interests” in trying to control all the Asian countries, but you never associate it with global capitalism, that being exploiting natural and human resources on the cheap. Was that intentional? Where do you think capitalism fits into the West’s “full spectrum dominance” to maintain its “postwar order”?
A9: The work primarily focuses on the nature of Western-led order, and the moves the Western Bloc takes to undermine threats to both its regional and global position of primacy which have primarily emanated from the Asia-Pacific. This had been the case for several centuries, long before Adam Smith and before capitalism in its current form existed. Where capitalism fits into this depends on how capitalism may be defined. Imperial Japan and the Asian Tiger economies are widely considered capitalist states, but they were quashed quite brutally on separate occasions when they challenged the primacy of the Western capitalists. Indeed, Western socialists and leftists have often been as vocal in their calls for a coercive and forceful Western led order and the interventionism needed to see it through as capitalists have, with the benefits of hegemony benefitting Western economies for centuries – benefits shared by the working classes. Detailing the role of ideology and of capitalism in interventionism may be something worth further researching in future.
Q10: Your book reminds me of Jeff Kaye’s investigation into several “suicides”, in his book, Cover-up at Guantanamo and parts of my China Trilogy. At times, they are all hard to read, because they rip the façade of whitewashed propaganda off Western empire, to expose some very unsettling, shocking, and at times gut-wrenching truths. How do you respond to people who complain about this or try to justify the West’s real history, often with the moral equivalence of, “Well, everybody else does it too”?
A10: Moral equivalence is very often a last resort of those found to have committed atrocities, but I make an effort to rule out options for this by directly comparing the conduct of Western and East Asian powers in my work. Moral equivalence can often result from cognitive dissonance – people may not want to believe a certain party are the ‘bad guys’ so attempt to portray them as a lesser of two evils or their misconduct as part of the nature of war or politics. I strongly refute these claims in my work, and can do so more effectively by showing the consistencies in Western conduct towards East Asian nations over a period of several decades. In the cases of Western conduct towards civilians in the Korean War, and separately the comfort women system established by the U.S. Military in South Korea, the work makes direct comparisons with the conduct of East Asian parties and shows a very stark contrast.
Q11: Do you have any other books in the hopper? What are your literary and writing ambitions, looking into the future?
A11: I have a second edition of this work scheduled to come out by early October, and have a second book which has been drafted and is coming soon. I hope to continue my research into this subject in the coming years.
Jeff: Thank you, A.B, for participating in this interview today…
Why and How China works: With a Mirror to Our Own History
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