Dr. Josef Braml’s newest book: “Dreamwalkers. How China and the US slide into a new world war.”

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By Elisabeth Hellenbroich

On April 16th an insightful presentation was given by the well- known US expert and author of several books, Dr. Josef Braml at the Frankfurt based section of the “Atlantic Society.” In his speech Braml outlined some key thesis of his recent book “Dream walkers. How China and the US slide into a new world war” (C.H. Beck Verlag 2023). Co- author of the book was US expert Dr. Matthew Burrows, who worked as analyst for the US Secret Services, in particular on strategic forecasts for the NSC. Dr. Josef Braml,General Secretary of the German Trilateral Commission Group since January 2021 is active at “the Center for advanced Security and Integration Studies” (CASSIS) of the Bonn university.

Braml focussed his presentation on the strategic warning that we “cling to many illusions” in respect to the United States and that the actual situation is characterized by a “Cold War” between the US and China which could escalate into a “Hot War” between the two countries.

Exemplary for the aggressive China- hype in the US, are people like Herbert Raymond McMaster from the Hoover Institute, who argues in favor of a much more aggressive US “Grand Strategy” in respect to China. Braml emphasized that the US suffers from a “false perception.” It’s based on the fact that they realize a big “technological gap” such as Big data and Quantum computers and are fearing to “fall behind”. President Biden’s hostile attitude towards China became clear when he stated that “during my term China will not outpace the US.”

Present relations between the US and China are characterized by an “icy” atmosphere. This was evidenced by the three- day visit during the last week of April by US Foreign State Secretary Anthony Blinken to China. The visit was characterized by a provocative behavior on the side of Blinken. He met according to “Reports on China” (Andy Boreham, Australian journalist, working with the Shanghai Daily) Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and President Xi Jinping who both sent a very clear message to the US.  According to the Chinese President Xi Jinping, “the planet Earth is big enough to accommodate the respective development and common prosperity of China and the United States. The Chinese, like the Americans are dignified, confident and self- reliant people. They both have the right to pursue a better life. The common interests of the two countries should be valued and their respective success is an opportunity instead of a threat to each other.”

“Icy” atmosphere in US-China relations

In his response Blinken tried to “lecture” the Chinese president, by telling him that China should stop trading with Russia including machine tools and electronic components for Moscow that allows Moscow to prop up its defense capacity.  “I also express my concern about the PRC’s unfair trade practices and its respective and industrial overcapacity for the global and US markets .”

Blinken furthermore threatened US “sanctions” on China, stating that China would be “contained economically and militarily.” Xi Jinping in return warned Blinken against a “vicious competition between China and the US. China and the US should rather be partners than rivals and help each other to succeed rather than hurt each other, as well as seek common ground rather than engage in vicious competition and honor words with actions.” I propose mutual respect and peaceful cooperation and a win -win cooperation to be the three overarching principle and guide for the future.”

In his discussion with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Blinken was told that “the US should not try to interfere in China’s domestic affairs or suppress its development nor should it cross China’s red lines….. China’s demands are consistent.”

This revelatory and embarrassing encounter between the US and Chinese Foreign Minister is reminiscent to a similar confrontation which happened in 2022 in Anchorage (Alaska) between then US Foreign Minister A. Blinken, NSC director Jake Sullivan and the former Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi. The meeting was prominently covered in Braml’s book.  At this meeting the US began the discussion by focusing on the „rules based order“ and Chinas “disregard of this order” . Each such action would threaten the “rules- based order” that maintains global stability,  Blinken complained, referring to China’s actions in Xingjian, Hongkong and Taiwan as well as  China’s cyber-attacks against the US and its economic pressure against US allies.” He was followed by NSC advisor Jake Sullivan, who stated that „China had launched an attack against basic values…. We don’t look for conflict but we want a hard competition.”  This triggered an angry reaction on the side of the then Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi. The US should stop praising its “model of democracy”, he responded, “while they themselves are shaken by domestic discontent.” He accused the US not to concentrate on its own human rights problems and criticized the condescending attitude of Blinken, Sullivan and other US officials. “We believe that for the US it’s important to change their own image and stop pushing their own democracy model to the rest of the world,” Yang said. “Many people in the US have little trust in the democracy of the US; therefore China will not accept any unjustified accusations from the side of the US.” He warned that „there is no chance to suffocate China.” (see book page 84/85)

The example of Anchorage in line with the recent Blinken visit in China underlines the arrogance on the side of the U.S. As Braml outlined in his speech, the U.S. wants to “contain” China, as exemplified by the “High end Chips legislation” in August 2022, whose explicit aim is to stop China’s progress.  The US de facto tells everybody to get out of Asia, Braml commented in his speech in Frankfurt and they deploy the US Dollar as a weapon- as “an economic means for geostrategic purposes.” (!)   This means the economy is being “used as a weapon” and the dollar is getting used as “a weapon of geo-economics.” In order to push through this policy the US usually confronts its partners with the proposition: “You want to do business in America? Then get out of Huawei.”

Vassal mentality of Europeans

Braml in a paragraph entitled “Europe: vassal or partner” notes in his book that “Europe will have to decide, whether it wants to be a player of the US or engages in trying to prevent a further collision between two Great Powers.” He further pointed to the technological dependency from the US. Given that the US “decouples” from China, particularly in the High-tech- area, it will be impossible to “negotiate with China, without being confronted with “US secondary sanctions.”  Europe has no Big Tech enterprise on its own and is dependent from the US in the area of Cloud computing and other advanced technologies, as well as dependent on relevant US corporations. He contrasted this with the BRICS power block whose influence is growing if we look at its new members (10 more that joined BRICS at the beginning of this year, including Saudi- Arabia E.H.). In his book Braml was also very critical about the “sanction policy” that is imposed by the US and Europe against Russia. Such policy would demonstrate a profound “political error” since by decoupling the “Americans inflict damage upon themselves.”

In his speech as well as in his book Braml spoke about the Global Financial Crisis of 2007/08 which essentially has become a “dollar trap.” According to Braml “we are dealing with “geo-economics” as a means to bring people in line, by “weaponizing” the dollar. He therefore strongly urged that we do our “homework” after the Lehman Brothers crisis, since “currency questions become power tools” and spoke at one point about the  “dance on the Titanic”  in order to describe the present strategic dilemma.

J.F. Kennedy and his handling of the Cuban missile crisis

Both in his speech as well as in his book, Braml expressed deep concern that “the danger that the cold war between the US and China may quickly turn into a hot, nuclear war,” which is even more fueled by the “fatalistic mood” among the US and European elites. “Biden has started a real economic war against China and obliged the US to stop China’s rise.  It seems that the Europeans will lose a lot of business, they will go along with the strategy without seeing the consequences.” He compares the present geoeconomic war waged by the US with the period that made Europe slide into the “First World War” (1914/ 1918) – a war which many European leaders stumbled into, without understanding its strategic consequences.

In the book Braml and co-author Burrows present the “Cuban missile crisis” 1962 as an event from which important lessons should be learned today. At the time US President J.F. Kennedy got the advice from Dean Acheson, then the dean of US war diplomacy, that he should “bomb” the Soviet missile positions in Cuba, which could have triggered a Russian revenge, as Acheson later admitted. Fortunately President Kennedy had read Barabra Tuchman’s book: “The Guns of August” which played a great role in discussions, he had with General Maxwell Taylor (1962- 1964, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff E.H. ). It was the „immobility of the mobilization plans on the side of the triple alliance that made it impossible for diplomats to avert a world war in 1914”.  In the midst of the crisis Kennedy told his bother Bobby “I will not choose a political course which allows someone to write a similar book about our times and would call it ‘the guns of October’.” Also Braml’s co- author is of the opinion that a systematic reflection “about plausible scenarios today” could prevent “that we,” as Kennedy complained, “would be driven to a military solution”.

The Taiwan conflict

China joined the „Regional Comprehensive economic Partnership“, which comprises 15 Asian- pacific countries that represent 30% of world- wide GDP.  China has a leading position with respect to trade with 128 out of 190 countries and the US was replaced by China that widened its influence by trade and investments. Yet the transatlantic relations remained for Europeans more important than for China, given that the US and Europe made an alliance so as to counter the Russian invasion in Ukraine.  One could say that the Ukraine war was used by the US to put Europe into place, given that it is a “prelude” to the much bigger looming war between China and the US, the book states at one point.

The global financial crisis 2007/08 was proof for the decline of the US and the West.  US politicians denied that the world had become more multipolar. But since 2010 China has progressed and Washington was shocked by its innovative progress. One of Trump’s National Security advisors, General Herbert Raymond McMaster complained in a meeting in the White House, with Burrows among them,  that the „Secret Services were incapable to recognize the technological progress of China and warn about it. As the book documents, Burrows rejected this and responded politely that the political decision makers had stated that Chinas progress is based on “theft” and “copying.” Yet – as the book documents- , “they ignored China’s mounting expenses for R&D for domestic research and development increasing from 9 billion Dollars in 2000 to 293 billion Dollar in 2018, the second highest investments after US, and higher than the EU. The number of doctoral theses in the area of mathematics, informatics, natural sciences and technology (MINT) exploded to 49.500, far more than in the US (42.000) and the EU (45.000).   China also has the highest amount of foreign student – over half a million per year, most of them in English speaking countries, to study natural sciences.

In a potential conflict between US and China, as the book states, Europe would position itself along the line „ America First – Europe Second“. The sad truth is:  Europe is being used to ally with the US against China. An example was the EU / China comprehensive agreement on investment in December 2020 which got signed, but then after Biden coming to power, the EU imposed sanctions against several Chinese officials and the ratification of the investment agreement was frozen.

For the West a new Cold War with China would be an economic catastrophe and it would be even worse for the developing countries and destroy what they gained in three decades. This however brings into focus the “Global South” which, as its reaction to Ukraine invasion shows, does not want to participate in another war. Their resoluteness to keep out of a bipolar rivalry has become stronger, as is proven by the refusal of most developing countries to play along with sanctions.   “For the US Taiwan today is more than Ukraine a symbol of engagement of the US defense of a ‘rules based order’ and its democratic allies“, as the authors state. They report that several US think tanks like CSIS simulated war games between US and Taiwan middle 2022.  Military expert Michael O‘Hanlon from Brookings Institution, according to Braml’s book, warned that „neither Beijing nor Washington would accept a defeat during a limited engagement. Instead the conflict would spread horizontally to other regions and vertically up to the threat of using and even deploy nuclear weapons. This could become the worst catastrophe in the history of war.”

Even if Biden and Xi said at the  G20 in Jakarta (2023) that “nuclear war never should be conducted  and could be won,” it should be stated that Biden also said several times that the US has the duty to defend Taiwan and has pleaded, that if China would invade, he would send troops to Taiwan. Even if the White House stressed that there was no change in the “One China policy”, de facto the US president is thinking about a nuclear war with China. “Hence the danger of a self- subsisting conflict grows more rapidly,” the book warns.

The real underlying cause for the US -China crisis

A quite revealing article was published April 11th  in the US Magazine “The National Interest” under the title “America’s greatest enemy isn’t China or Russia : Its $ 35 trillion in debt.”  The article warns in the clearest possible terms what Braml also referred to at the end of his speech: “With a $ 1,6 trillion deficit this year, $ 35 trillion in overall debt and $ 1 trillion in interest payments this year, if the U.S. dollar is no longer the primary reserve currency and there is suddenly a true rival to the U.S. currency, then the entire American financial system comes crashing down. Those are the stakes as the Sino- Russia led BRICs economic bloc slowly arises.”

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