Is the USA Kneecapping China?

"The factory of the world has suddenly found itself without customers."

“No surprises” is the motto of the franchise ghetto, its Good Housekeeping seal, subliminally blazoned on every sign and logo that make up the curves and grids of light that outline the Basin. The people of America, who live in the world’s most surprising and terrible country, take comfort in that motto. Follow the lo-glo outward, to where the growth is enfolded into the valleys and the canyons, and you find the land of the refugees. They have fled from the true America, the America of atomic bombs, scalpings, hip-hop, chaos theory, cement overshoes, snake handlers, spree killers, space walks, buffalo jumps, drive-bys, cruise missiles, Sherman's March, gridlock, motorcycle gangs, and bungee jumping. They have parallel-parked their bimbo boxes in identical computer-designed Burbclave street patterns and secreted themselves in symmetrical sheetrock shitholes with vinyl floors and ill-fitting woodwork and no sidewalks, vast house farms out in the lo-glo wilderness, a culture medium for a medium culture. The only ones left in the city are street people, feeding off debris, immigrants thrown out like shrapnel from the Asian powers….

― Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash

There is a puzzle I played when I was a kid—a finger trap made of bamboo paper. If you've never seen one, you place your index fingers in either end, and when you try to pull them out, the tube constricts, trapping your fingers. When you push your fingers inward, it causes the trap to loosen. If you are a child, it is very easy to get stuck. You think it is just a toy when you stick your fingers in but when you get stuck, you panic and pull rather than slowing down and thinking your way out.

I suspect it may be like that the way the Joint Chiefs are drawing President Biden into conflict with China. We aren’t at the panic stage; we are at the enticing toy part. Stick your fingers in, Joe. It's only paper.

Encouraged by the success of a proxy war in Ukraine that boldly began with Obama poking the bear, endured a hiatus during the Putin-Trump bromance, and then re-launched with a NATO full-court press in Biden’s first 100 days, the Chiefs have lately been raising toasts and quoting Hannibal Smith, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

Russia has tipped into dark recession. They need to send untrained conscripts from Chechnya to shore up a routed, crumbling line that is chaotically exiting newly annexed Donbas. The scenes are reminiscent of World War I, when Tsarist troops were sent to the front in 1915 without arms — only one rifle to every ten soldiers — and instructed to pick up the rifles or pistols of the fallen.

The Chiefs may imagine it will go that way with China, too. The US has been poking the dragon in the Strait of Taiwan. I can imagine a new Taiwanese government declaring the island independent, daring Xi to act. In mid-September, President Biden said for the fourth time that should China invade Taiwan, the United States would send troops there, as though it were the Chosin Reservoir in Korea and this is November, 1950.

But as former President Jimmy Carter has told us many times, military confrontations are not the Chinese way, even when they have clear superiority. To defend Taiwan the US would need to project its Naval power thousands of miles from its principal bases. China has vastly more ships, troop numbers, planes and missile defenses in the Pacific. Even if Congress were to approve funding today, it would be sometime in the mid-2030s before the US could even imagine defending Taiwan. The New York Times has called Biden’s taunts “foreign policy for the middle class,” designed for the campaign trail but indistinguishable from standard Trump stump.


Relations between the US and China have been tense since China joined with Russia and Iran in challenging the hegemony of petrodollars, a serious threat to the concentration of wealth and power from periphery of empire to center. This week the CEO of Konnech, which is based in Michigan and develops software to manage election logistics, was arrested for sharing Los Angeles County poll personnel data with China.

Before Covid I made a number of trips into various regions of China to teach courses in permaculture and ecovillage design and to train trainers in those disciplines. I stayed in several very different Chinese ecovillages and met with ecovillagers from distant provinces that had their own distinct styles and philosophies. In one of my blogs I told the story of Xi Jinping’s rise from regional government to national prominence and why I thought he brought a fresh look that would be good. His consolidation of power, treatment of the Uyghurs, and responses to internal conflict have now colored my early optimism, serving only to remind me that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Tech giants like Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Google that had been partnering with Chinese firms to produce hardware and software are now madly relocating facilities to India, Vietnam, Malaysia, or wherever they think they can stand up an inexpensive but skilled workforce and their robot minions. They are asking their myriad suppliers to do the same. Apple is producing the new iPhone 14 in India and iPads and AirPods in northern Vietnam. Microsoft has shipped Xbox game consoles this year from Ho Chi Minh City. Amazon has been making Fire TV devices in Chennai. During Nancy. Pelosi’s provocative visit to Taiwan, Apple reminded its Taiwanese suppliers to label components destined for China as made in “Chinese Taipei” or “Taiwan, China” so as not to anger its Shenzhen partners.

During the Obama years, China and the US grew gradually closer, to great mutual benefit. Manufacturing workers in China tripled their annual income to more than $9,300, according to the country’s Bureau of Statistics. When Trump levied a 15 percent tariff on tech products made in China, the tech world flinched. The Chiefs have more to think about than smartwatches and Alexis, however. China’s tech labs are starting to leapfrog the West in AI, robotics, neurobiology, transhumanism, nuclear fusion, and genetic engineering. All of that, once merely grist for science fiction dystopias, is coming to fruition more quickly than anyone had foreseen.

Japan’s Softbank pulled out a huge amount of cash from Alibaba, while Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway is selling its stake in electric vehicle maker BYD. Tencent has had more than $7 billion worth of investments withdrawn in the second half of this year alone.

The exodus is having an impact on China’s economy, but that pales beside the triple threat of Xi’s zero-Covid policy, the birthrate collapse, and global extractive resource limits. China’s real estate boom was in large measure levered up by higher fertility and foreign industrial investment and is crashing now. Meanwhile, Vietnam’s industrial real estate values are soaring. Now Xi has to deal with severe recession on top of everything else. Absolute power collides with absolute limits. Limits always win. 

President Carter's decision to normalize the relationship between the United States and the People's Republic of China in 1979 changed China. After Carter was ousted from the White House by Ronald Reagan, he continued to work with China, focusing on human rights, not only for Uyghurs but also Zhuang, Manchu, Hui, Miao, Tujia, Yi, Mongol, Tibetan, Buyi, Dong, Yao, and Korean minorities.

In a 2019 phone conversation, Jimmy Carter told Donald Trump, "I normalized diplomatic relations with China in 1979. Since 1979, do you know how many times China has been at war with anybody? None. And we have stayed at war.”

We have wasted, I think, $3 trillion. China has not wasted a single penny on war, and that's why they're ahead of us. In almost every way. And I think the difference is if you take $3 trillion and put it in American infrastructure, you'd probably have $2 trillion left over. We'd have high-speed railroad. We'd have bridges that aren't collapsing. We'd have roads that are maintained properly. Our education system would be as good as that of, say, South Korea or Hong Kong.

The US, after more years of planning than is readily apparent, has decided to call the bluff of the Former Soviet Union, correctly perceiving that the era of open advancement and democratization introduced by Gorbachev was being undone by Putin, who apparently desires a return to the mighty counter that USSR had posed to US global hegemony. The Chiefs are winning their bet. Red Army military might has been revealed as far from a daunting counterpoise and more of a paper tiger. While it might even be a good idea to have a check on US hegemony, it won’t likely come from Moscow or even a Moscow/Beijing/Tehran axis. Likely it will have to come from the EU getting gorm.

Buoyed by its seeming success in Ukraine, the eye in the palantír is now focused on Taipei. That is a serious mistake. Carter’s 1979 policy was the right one. I just pray it is not already too late to recall it. And yet, China is doing as much to harm itself as any outside forces.

  • Zero Covid policies without effective vaccines are wreaking havoc on jobs and retail

  • Monetary response to the weak economy has been tepid at best

  • The real estate market is in crisis from mortgage defaults and business failures

  • Climate change is battering the nation with typhoons, droughts and floods

  • The iron and steel industries were down more than 80% in the first seven months of 2022

  • One in five people aged 16 to 24 are unemployed

  • The yuan is on course for its worst year in decades as it plummets against the US dollar.

Beijing's goal - an annual growth rate of 5.5% - is now out of reach although officials have downplayed the need to meet the target. China narrowly avoided contraction in the April to June quarter. This year, some economists do not expect any growth.


So what would I recommend? I am not naive enough to think China can be bought off or brought to heel, but you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar and anyway, does the US really want to fight a two-front war? If I were POTUS I would wheelchair over the 98-year-old Jimmy Carter as Special Emissary with the following deal:

Stop playing footsie with Putin and messing with US sociopolitics through the Metaverse and we will prop up the Yuan, bring back Apple, and provide universal Starlink coverage. Free the Uyghurs, Tibetans, Hong Kong and Taiwanese from bland Han homogenization and we will send Chinese cosmonauts to the Space Station, increase exchanges of permaculture and regenerative ecovillages, and work together to rapidly solve the climate crisis.

We might even give a little boost to the next primary opponent of Marsha Blackburn.

I know, I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. I have met plenty of young idealistic Chinese who dream like I do.



Towns, villages and cities in Ukraine are being bombed every day. As refugees pour out into the countryside, ​they must rest by day so they can travel by night. Ecovillages and permaculture farms have organized something like an underground railroad to shelter families fleeing the cities, either on a long-term basis or temporarily, as people wait for the best moments to cross the border to a safer place, or to return to their homes if that becomes possible. So far there are 62 sites in Ukraine and 265 around the region. They are calling their project “The Green Road.”

The Green Road also wants to address the ongoing food crisis at the local level by helping people grow their own food, and they are raising money to acquire farm machinery and seed, and to erect greenhouses. The opportunity, however, is larger than that. The majority of the migrants are children. This will be the first experience in ecovillage living for most. They will directly experience its wonders, skills, and safety. They may never want to go back. Those that do will carry the seeds within them of the better world they glimpsed through the eyes of a child.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has destroyed lives, livelihoods, and economies. But it has not slowed down climate change, which presents an existential threat to all life, humans included. The warnings could not be stronger: temperatures and fires are breaking records, greenhouse gas levels keep climbing, sea level is rising, and natural disasters are upsizing.

As the world confronts the pandemic and emerges into recovery, there is growing recognition that the recovery must be a pathway to a new carbon economy, one that goes beyond zero emissions and runs the industrial carbon cycle backward — taking CO2 from the atmosphere and ocean, turning it into coal and oil, and burying it in the ground. The triple bottom line of this new economy is antifragility, regeneration, and resilience.

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