China’s Growing Independence and the New World Order
By Noam Chomsky
Of all the "threats" to world order, the most consistent is democracy,
unless it is under imperial control, and more generally, the assertion
of independence. These fears have guided imperial power throughout
In South America, Washington's traditional backyard, the subjects are
increasingly disobedient. Their steps toward independence advanced
further in February with the formation of the Community of Latin
American and Caribbean States, which includes all states in the
hemisphere apart from the U.S. and Canada.
For the first time since the Spanish and Portuguese conquests 500
years ago, South America is moving toward integration, a prerequisite
to independence. It is also beginning to address the internal scandal
of a continent that is endowed with rich resources but dominated by
tiny islands of wealthy elites in a sea of misery.
Furthermore, South-South relations are developing, with China playing
a leading role, both as a consumer of raw materials and as an
investor. Its influence is growing rapidly and has surpassed the
United States' in some resource-rich countries.
More significant still are changes in Middle Eastern arena. Sixty
years ago, the influential planner A. A. Berle advised that
controlling the region's incomparable energy resources would yield
"substantial control of the world."
Correspondingly, loss of control would threaten the project of global
dominance. By the 1970s, the major producers nationalized their
hydrocarbon reserves, but the West retained substantial influence. In
1979, Iran was "lost" with the overthrow of the shah's dictatorship,
which had been imposed by a U.S.-U.K. military coup in 1953 to ensure
that this prize would remain in the proper hands.
By now, however, control is slipping away even among the traditional
The largest hydrocarbon reserves are in Saudi Arabia, a U.S.
dependency ever since the U.S. displaced Britain there in a mini-war
conducted during World War II. The U.S. remains by far the largest
investor in Saudi Arabia and its major trading partner, and Saudi
Arabia helps support the U.S. economy via investments.
However, more than half of Saudi oil exports now go to Asia, and its
plans for growth face east. The same may be turn out to be true of
Iraq, the country with the second-largest reserves, if it can rebuild
from the massive destruction of the murderous U.S.-U.K. sanctions and
the invasion. And U.S. policies are driving Iran, the third major
producer, in the same direction.
China is now the largest importer of Middle Eastern oil and the
largest exporter to the region, replacing the United States. Trade
relations are growing fast, doubling in the past five years.
The implications for world order are significant, as is the quiet rise
of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes much of Asia
but has banned the U.S.—potentially "a new energy cartel involving
both producers and consumers," observes economist Stephen King, author
of Losing Control: The Emerging Threats to Western Prosperity.
In Western policy-making circles and among political commentators,
2010 is called "the year of Iran." The Iranian threat is considered to
pose the greatest danger to world order and to be the primary focus of
U.S. foreign policy, with Europe trailing along politely as usual. It
is officially recognized that the threat is not military: Rather, it
is the threat of independence.
To maintain "stability" the U.S. has imposed harsh sanctions on Iran,
but outside of Europe, few are paying attention. The nonaligned
countries—most of the world—have strongly opposed U.S. policy toward
Iran for years.
Nearby Turkey and Pakistan are constructing new pipelines to Iran, and
trade is increasing. Arab public opinion is so enraged by Western
policies that a majority even favor Iran's development of nuclear
The conflict benefits China. "China's investors and traders are now
filling a vacuum in Iran as businesses from many other nations,
especially in Europe, pull out," Clayton Jones reports in The
Christian Science Monitor. In particular, China is expanding its
dominant role in Iran's energy industries.
Washington is reacting with a touch of desperation. In August, the
State Department warned that "If China wants to do business around the
world it will also have to protect its own reputation, and if you
acquire a reputation as a country that is willing to skirt and evade
international responsibilities that will have a long-term impact …
their international responsibilities are clear"—namely, to follow U.S.
Chinese leaders are unlikely to be impressed by such talk, the
language of an imperial power desperately trying to cling to authority
it no longer has. A far greater threat to imperial dominance than Iran
is China's refusing to obey orders—and indeed, as a major and growing
power, dismissing them with contempt.
This is the second of two columns by Noam Chomsky about China. In
These Times published the first, "China and the New World Order," in
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