Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: John Pilger.
It was Napoleon who, two hundred years ago, called China a sleeping giant and warned of the consequences when she awoke. Since the fall of communism after the death of Chairman Mao, China has emerged as an economic superpower and its influence and wealth is somehow seen by America as both a challenge and a threat. There has been an aggressive build-up of US military strength in the Pacific, and a lot of its nuclear arsenal is aimed at China.
Veteran journalist and seasoned filmmaker John Pilger (Utopia, The War On Democracy, etc) looks at the history of the US’s aggressive stance towards China and its attempts to put economic, political and military pressure on the country. Pilger is something of a crusading journalist, and a bit of a cynical one too, who pursues inconvenient truths and injustices. Unlike documentary filmmakers such as Michael Moore, Louis Theroux and Morgan Spurlock, Pilger doesn’t go in for cheap theatricalities and clever stunts to get his points across – his style is straight forward and hard hitting and provocative. Pilger traces this aggressive military build-up from the end of WWII, with US nuclear tests in the Pacific, centred around the Marshall Islands. Its inhabitants were largely guinea pigs for US nuclear testing in the late 40s and 50s. Sixty-seven nuclear tests were conducted. As a result of these tests in Bikini Atoll, most of the population of the island suffer from radiation poisoning and much of the food and water supplies are contaminated. Bikini Island itself is still uninhabitable.
But at times the film seems a little unbalanced as Pilger spends a great deal of time exploring the shameful history of US involvement in the Marshall Islands and the Pacific, and not enough time on exploring the coming war with China. It also seems fairly one-sided, with Pilger pointing out the failings of America’s policies in the Asia/Pacific area, depicting China almost as the victim of aggressive bullying. He does mention China’s appalling history of human rights abuses, but only fleetingly. He also tries to show the social inequality of China as a result of its massive economic reforms and growth. Pilger also visits Japan where resistance is growing to the presence of US bases.
Pilger spent two years working on the film and it is meticulously researched. The film unfolds in four chapters as Pilger tries to identify the potential flashpoints for this coming war. There is a wealth of archival footage here, carefully assembled by Pilger’s regular editor Joe Frost into a coherent account. Pilger is an articulate and impassioned narrator who makes his points clearly and persuasively.
There are also lots of candid interviews with historians, authors and experts to give us an overview of the situation, and even some survivors from the Marshall Islands who speak about their experiences. What emerges is a fairly frightening picture of military posturing that could go well beyond mere sabre rattling. One US official flatly denies that there are US military bases in Australia, but when Pilger asks him about Pine Gap he cagily admits that it is an Australian base with US military personnel.
The Coming War On China is Pilger’s 60th film, and given the recent events in the US, particularly with the election of Donald Trump into the White House and his virulent anti-Chinese rhetoric, his film seems prescient and quite urgent. The film ends with a subtle nod towards Kubrick’s classic anti-nuclear black comedy Dr Strangelove. The Coming War On China is both an informative history lesson and a cautionary tale.