Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon unleashed a volley of criticism against Beijing at a forum held in Tokyo on Sunday. In his speech, he exhorted Washington and its East Asian allies to unify to constrain China’s “frightening, audacious, and global ambitions.”
Bannon, who was attending a gathering of conservatives hosted by The American Conservative Union, said Japan was on the right track under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whom he called a “Trump before Trump.”
“Japan has every opportunity to seize its destiny, to re-establish its national identity (and) in true partnership with the United States, reverse what the elites have allowed to happen,” he said.
Bannon, now executive chairman of the right-wing website Breitbart News, told a packed auditorium that in order to confront China’s ascendance and growing hegemony, the US and its allies had to enter the “valley of decision.”
Drawing on 20th-century attempts to appease Nazi Germany as illustrative, he warned of the dangers of “appeasing China” as an ascendant competitor.
“Now go back and study what happened in other eras [such as] the 1930s, when leaders of the world [and] leaders on the side of freedom appeased people; didn’t face reality; kicked the can down the road,” Bannon said, not mincing his words in linking China to Nazi Germany in the lead-up to World War II.
US President Donald Trump, he added, has begun ushering in an American resurgence, a break from previous decades of American “acquiescence” to China’s rise, to stop America being reduced to a “de facto tributary state” to China.
In editorials that appeared in Chinese newspapers on Tuesday, Beijing was swift in hitting back at Bannon, lambasting his “white supremacy” doctrines and his rabid populist anti-globalism slant.
“The groundswell of political turmoil and populism seen last year in the United States lent Bannon, a total political and diplomatic layman, an otherwise impossible opportunity to endanger Sino-US ties,” said one op-ed, which called him a demagogue.
Global Times wrote: “Like a cancer cell, he has been ‘poisoning’ American society’s comprehension and perspective of China.… Luckily, an agitprop rightist like Bannon was so incongruous that he couldn’t get in sync with the rest of the Trump administration and had to be cast out.”
The paper also chided that Bannon, after his brief stint in the White House, had become a peripatetic Washington outcast giving outrageous speeches, whenever there’s an invitation, to continue to grab some of the limelight.
China’s ascent is the result of a gigantic yet tumultuous country finally settling down and embarking on a path that best suits its needs, and the reason Sino-US relations have never been engulfed by the kind of attrition or arms race that dominated Soviet-US ties is the rationale and cooperation demonstrated by elites on both sides, the paper said.
“Neither side can afford the consequences should [their relationship] be hijacked by Bannon & Co.”
Bannon’s latest comments mark a striking departure from his dovish remarks during a September visit to Hong Kong for a keynote speech at an investors’ forum organized by a brokerage close to Beijing.
“The conflict [between China and the US] is not preordained. It can be avoided if we work together,” he told reporters in the city back then.
“I don’t think there’s a world leader that President Trump respects more than the president of China,” he told investors attending the forum, according to Bloomberg, hailing “a great affinity between our two countries.”
He then flew to Beijing and reportedly met with Wang Qishan, China’s anti-corruption czar and President Xi Jinping’s right-hand man, inside Zhongnanhai.
A Chinese netizen on a forum managed by People’s Daily wrote: “He is shrewd enough to talk up different things to different ears, and that all reveals his capriciousness, or maybe he just want to get some extra honorarium by spouting preposterous anti-China notions in front of a Japanese audience.”