America’s ‘Munich Moment’?
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America’s ‘Munich Moment’?


I’ve been an admirer of Sen. James Webb of Virginia since the late 1980s, when I was a newly commissioned US Navy officer and he served as secretary of the navy. Alongside his accomplishments as a policymaker and a lawmaker, Webb is a decorated US Marine veteran of Vietnam, a novelist and historian of considerable note, and a fellow descendant of Scots-Irish immigrants who helped settle the American South. What’s not to like? So when the senator opines that the United States is ‘approaching a Munich moment with China’ in the South China Sea, it’s worth taking his words seriously.

He levels an incendiary charge. If this is a Munich moment in the making, who are the protagonists? Webb seemingly casts China in the part of Nazi Germany, an aggressive, acquisitive power bent on increasing its geopolitical sway at small states’ expense. This makes President Hu Jintao the counterpart to German dictator Adolf Hitler. President Barack Obama plays the part of Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who traded away much of Czechoslovakia in 1938 in the hope of slaking Hitler’s land hunger. Chamberlain returned home to riotous applause, proclaiming that the West had negotiated ‘peace in our time.’ British and French statesmen were also playing for time in case peace proved evanescent. By granting Hitler’s demands for ethnically German territories, they gained a respite to rebuild their armed forces for the coming European war. Southeast Asian countries are helpless Czechoslovakia, unable to prevent great powers from bartering away its vital interests—ultimately even its national existence. Webb’s casting choices can please none of the players in the unfolding South China Sea drama.

‘Munich’ is shorthand for ‘appeasement,’ a concept that took on malodorous connotations following 1938. It’s worth pointing out, however, that appeasement is routine diplomatic intercourse in normal times. Countries compromise all the time, as they should. Is Munich—whose infamy connotes give-and-take with predators—an apt metaphor for US conduct vis-à-vis the maritime disputes roiling the South China Sea?

Let’s deconstruct the analogy to develop some parameters for thinking about Southeast Asian events. First, Czechoslovakia was a secondary object for the appeasers. The threat to peace arose, in Chamberlain’s words, from ‘a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.’ Fighting for Czechoslovakia verged on unthinkable for Britain and France. Americans seldom follow Southeast Asian politics, despite the importance of this maritime crossroads to US and global commerce. Filipino leaders maintain that the 1951 security treaty between Manila and Washington covers maritime territorial claims in the South China Sea. Would Americans fight to defend such claims, or are they, like Czech sovereignty for the Western powers in 1938, a secondary affair?

Second, the Anglo-French delegates offered a land-hungry aggressor this secondary object to purchase temporary peace. Hitler had started amassing a track record for aggression. In 1936, for example, German troops remilitarized the Rhineland. Berlin thereby started undoing the Versailles Treaty, the accord that terminated World War I, while imposing burdensome provisions on defeated Germany. In early 1938, Hitler pressured Austria into accepting an Anschluss, or union in a greater German empire. At Munich, then, French and British leaders offered concessions that whetted a predator’s appetite for further territory. Having traded away the Sudetenland, the largely German-speaking industrial district of Czechoslovakia—and home to mountains shielding the republic from invasion—London and Paris nullified Prague’s ability to resist German demands. German forces occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia soon after.

August 29, 2012 at 20:59

Agree with Richard.. haha! USA will top the medal list for most foreign civilians killed by its armed forces. No other amalgation of other powers come close! For every finger developed western countries point at China, there are four fingers pointing unto themselves. Think global warming, neo-colonialism etc.

August 29, 2012 at 20:55

Cyrus, I think you are the one who is not reading the article carefully. The author DID IMPLY that China is an aggressive power waiting to ruin peace as we knew it. Another incendiary anti-China writing, with expression like "Beijing built up a similarly unambiguous record of aggression…". Throughout the dispute over Senkaku for example, The CCP has not even mentioned the use of navy, while the Japanese government reiterated the deployment of their "Self-Defence Force" at the turn of every tensions. Can the author please prove every assertion made? Btw, I am not a Chinese national. :)

December 14, 2011 at 13:02

Hmm … another American piece preparing and softening Americans and the world for Washngton’s attack on China in the near future. So obvious. So here’s my viewpoint from an overseas Chinese perspective which I wrote in response to another recent article in the Diplomat :

“China is “too assertive”, “made bellicose statements”, “volatile military expanson” …
obviously another spin job give China an unfavourable image as an agressive nation which is nothing further from the truth.

All these smear campaign is but a build up to a justification to attack China in the near future before it becomes too powerful. The tipping point is 2020 – a point in time which Washington feels China’s economic and military prowess may be on par with America’s. Beyond that, America’s economy and military may become increasingly over-shadowed. Thus, the current point in time to 2020 affords Washinton the only window of opportunity to either (i) subjugate China into a colony, or (ii) attack China and render her impotent economically and militarily.

Hence Washington’s evident all-out war to demonize, slander, and smear China through NGOs and sockpuppets and trolls recruited and funded by the Pentagon and the CIA. Not to mention using its “friendly” and allied mass medias to enhance its smear campaign by using every news opportunity to besmirch China. At the same time, it is also roping in “foreign aided” despots in “democratic” countries to use their special branches to similar conduct psychological warfare using similar trolls and sockpuppets to misinform, disinform, distort, lie, and slanders on the internet to manipulate public opinion. And concomittantly encouraging these despotic politicians to make full use of political opportunities to humilate and China and Chinese. Which explains why the corrupted tin-pot generals in some small Far Eastern Asian nations are so “brave” in conducting murder, racial slurs, and territorial violations. Of course, Washington’s coterie of CIA agents ensconced in its embassies are daily traversing the countries to plan, recruit, and carry out subversive activities.

Washington’s declared aim to “shape” China is basically a call to render China its colony and its Chinese workforce into becoming cheap American workforce. Much like Japan’s and S Korea’s. Washington seeks to create incidents which will give it an excuse and pretext to march up to Beijing and install “advisors” there while setting up military bases in China – much like the situation in Japan, and now increasingly so, South Korea. Once that is done, Washington’s pacification of East Asia is complete. China, South Korea and Japan will become the biggest source of revenue to America which can only increase the wealth of its 1% while the rest of East Asia, save for its corrupt qusilings, compradors, and collaborators, become incresingly poor.

With East Asia, principally China in its pocket, Russia is no more a threat and can be dealt with easily although it similarly, needs to be contained now. The world will then bow and kow-tow before the might and power of imperial Washington. Earth becomes Washington’s empire, and Pax Americana truly becomes global.

Liang1a has pointed out the danger of this in an albeit different manner, that is from China’s internal perpspective and need to move its economy from dependency on America’s and America’s allied world’s economy, which is correct and an appropriate response to Washington’s strategy against Beijing and China. But is Beijing aware of this? Or are they continuing to be “ball-less” “eunuchs” of dynasties gone by which saw them undermining Chinas’s military thus allowing smallish puny tribes like the Mongols to conquer China? They really need to be smarter and quicker in their responses. They rally need someone like Lee Kuan Yew who is at once smart and articulate and combative and understands the American mindset. Washington is a real and present danger, a very grave and urgent danger. Does Beijing realize that?

James Colbert hit job here is just part of Washington’s overall campaign against China.”

August 3, 2011 at 23:03

if we study whole history of world is very mystique,,world is always divided in two power,unfortunately,,now unipolar,,for geting more tax,creating fear among people,america govt need some thing to show,so they need enmy ,so chine can be another nation to create scare in among its citizen,the future world is very mysterious,what hold in future is very sensitive and full of mystery,,whoever is going toplay game ,chine is biggest powerful toplay games,,not so aggresively like german,did,,under hitler,in different circumstances,,now big massive weapon of destructive power,few dare to go out of diplomatic way, even usa will like to think 100 time before attacting anyone, afganistan,irak is failure advanture,

July 27, 2011 at 05:57

The effect of USA Decline is scarier than what is happening to their economy.

Once the US gives up its Hegemon Status then there would be a power vacuum that countries would want to fill up and their the struggle starts.

July 27, 2011 at 05:55

I just wan’t to enjoy looking at Chinese historical sights. Especially the Forbidden City and the Great Wall. Just hope I can save up enough money while this offer stands.

July 27, 2011 at 05:53

Then why afraid of the International Courts?

Tom Tran
July 27, 2011 at 04:02

I like your peaceful tone – but that peaceful tone contains a hidden assumption that is a nonstarter for anyone but China. “China wants to rise peacefully, it just does not want anybody to meddle its internal affairs, such as issues regarding Taiwan and territorial right in South China Sea”. Based on this assumption, anything China considers as “internal affair” (aka “core interests”) including Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang, East Sea, Senkaku etc must belongs to China.

July 26, 2011 at 08:50

India is a democracy, China is a communism. India has suffrage, China has not.

July 26, 2011 at 08:48

Thank you for that European, I wonder why the Chinese keeps on thinking that Europe will abandon the United States especially in a war of domination.

The US and Europe will always be partners and China could at best hope that Russia would help them. That in its own is even a far shot.

July 26, 2011 at 08:29

Filipino’s are living their btw, we have a filipino community their in the Kalayaan Group of Islands.

July 26, 2011 at 03:37

This is a controlled destination. The only way to see the truth is to have the freedom to go anywhere to observe. This is not possible in china. BTW, why did china block international journalists from entering Tibet?

July 26, 2011 at 03:25

@Sinodefender: “Can you prove that our evidence is false? I suppose the Wujing Zongyao and the Yuan shu never existed… French stole those islands when China was weak and Japan returned to ROC after WW2. Even Phạm Văn Đồng agreed the dashed lines were China’s such hypocrisy…”
Can you prove that chinese evident is true? The French didn’t steal those islands. Pham Van Dong’s letter basically said nothing about the islands. He only agreed to china’s 12 leages (international law). Beside, he had no authority to anything. His letter was just a political joke! Have you ever done any paperwork to get a car or a house? Look at the leagal details you have to go thorough, in a normal country (not china).

July 25, 2011 at 21:33

You obviously have no clue whatsoever of european politics or attitudes!
I am european and I disagree with many things the US does, but believe me we know whos side we are on. We would NEVER support a dictatorship against the US. You need to alter your strategic calculations significantly!
Better yet stop the war mongering on all sides. WW1 and WW2 caused nothing but death and destruction. WW3 will be no better. Lets solve our differences in a different way.

July 25, 2011 at 08:07

China still has a long way to go to become a hegemon.

July 25, 2011 at 08:06

People who signed the UNCLOS made exceptions like how China made an exception with the SCS and all the other neighbors around it expect Brunei also made exceptions on the SCS.

July 25, 2011 at 08:05

Well your ancestors never bothered to live on the islands, that is not my problem, Chinese live there expect now no one dares to live because if a military conflict arises they are the first to go.

July 25, 2011 at 05:40


China does not need to “project” itself into the SCS, just like the US does not need to project itself into the Gulf of Mexico. Basically any place within Tomahawk missile range (2,500km) of US border is under incontestable US influence, that does not means other powers cannot play in the Caribbeans, they just have to keep in mind that this is America’s backyard.

If you look at China, she has deployed DH-10 cruise missile which is similar to Tomahawk except even longer range. China also deployed CJ-10 which has the same range as Tomahawk except flying 3 times faster (which makes it much harder to intercept), and CJ-20 which is an extended range version of CJ-10.

Cruise missiles are cheap, the US Tomahawk cost only 500k a piece, the Chinese version are probably even cheaper due to lower labor cost. And the trucks for land based platforms are also very cheap. But the naval platforms (flat-tops, Ticonderogas, Burkes) are very expensive and the supply chains/ support structures for forward deployment are also very expensive.

For the cost of 1 single US carrier group, China can deploy 10,000 cruise missiles- that’s more than the combined capacity of all the ships the entire US Navy. In other words, a distant power will go bankrupt if she attempts to match China missile for missile in the ECS and SCS regions.

Of course if China tries to lock another power out of the ECS and SCS, that power will lock China out from other waters, and given the amount of trade between China and its neighbors and between China and other major powers this type of Cold War style stalemate will never happen.

What is happening is the US wants to extract some oil exploration/ weapons deals with the SE Asian countries and needs China to play the bad guy. In return, the US will play the aggressor role next time with some other little countries so that China can “save” them by selling them China’s surplus weapons and getting their natural resources for cheap.

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