The Coming War on China: John Pilger’s latest doco a sobering experience


The Coming War On China. Picture: supplied
The Coming War On China. Picture: supplied

WHILE leaving the preview screening of John Pilger’s latest documentary, one patron asked another what they thought.

“It was a bit unbalanced,” was the reply.

Well, there is the rub with anything from this particular journalist.

He’s not attempting to create a work that relies on the normal consensus of assumptions propagated in Western journalism.

That is a consensus largely shared by journalists of the left and right, which perceives the USA as, if not the world’s friend, then at worst a necessary evil.

Pilger takes us into a different space altogether: the United States as a warmonger intent on putting its stamp on every conflict.

Or, in the case of China, a conflict that doesn’t exist.

This is clearly contentious, as we are dealing now with the provocation inherent in China claiming islands in the South China Sea being prepared for military purposes.

However, Pilger turns this notion on its head.

If anything, China is depicted as intimidated and afraid.

Filmed over two years across five potential flashpoints in Asia and the Pacific, The Coming War On China illustrates a build-up to war on more than 400 US military bases that encircle China in a ‘perfect noose’.

Despite the title, a large portion of the film is given over to archival material and interviews with natives of the Marshall Islands in the central Pacific Ocean, once the epitome of a tropical paradise, before becoming the subject of prolonged American testing of nuclear weaponry.

It’s difficult not to come to the conclusion that these people were indeed guinea pigs in an experiment to determine the ghoulish effects of nuclear radiation.

Pilger says: “The aim of this film is to break a silence. A new cold war is under way along with the drumbeat to war, this time with the real possibility of nuclear weapons.

The Coming War On China is also a film about the human spirit and the rise of an extraordinary resistance in faraway places.

“On the island of Okinawa, home to 32 US bases, the population is challenging the greatest military power in the world. On the Korean island of Jeju, villagers block the entrance to a new nuclear naval base, with its missiles aimed at China.”

Pilger accuses former US president Barack Obama of talking of peace and de-escalation of nuclear build-up while simultaneously ramping up spending.

On this score, his assessment of Obama versus President Donald Trump is one of equivalence; his media pronouncements suggest one as having no particular moral superiority over the other.

Nevertheless, many feel great disquiet about the erratic, all-tweeting Trump having his fingers twitching near the nuclear codes.

Mistakes have been made in the past that have led us close enough to the ultimate catastrophe, as interviews in The Coming War attest.

The most disquieting aspect of the documentary is the description of a nuclear winter in the event of all-out nuclear war.

Whatever our cosy thoughts of some ultimate solution, the more likely outcome is simply MAD: Mutually Assured Destruction.

Pilger’s last effort, Utopia, on Aboriginal disadvantage and dispossession, was a rather disjointed polemic.

Perhaps the subject matter was too close to home, his passions and moral certitude surfacing almost uncontrollably.

The Coming War On China does not suffer from the same deficiencies.

The sweep of this subject matter suits the Pilger style and is at the very least an antidote to the sense of simply watching helplessly as tragedy unfolds.

His Chinese and American interviewees are engaging and provide lucid and credible observations about the state of the world.

I’m happy to eschew balance on this occasion.

A nuclear winter after a calamitous US-China could be a very long season indeed.

The Coming War On China

Director: John Pilger

Running Time: 113 minutes

Four stars

In Cinemas: March 9

Rating: CTC