The Coming War on China is a documentary examining the impending conflict between China and the United States, through the use of historical research and an exploration of current political and economic affairs. It is directed and presented by John Pilger, a veteran documentary filmmaker.
The first half of the film is the most interesting, and is where its strength lies. The story of the Marshall Islands at the end of World War II is told, with first-hand accounts given as to what life was like for the inhabitants of these Pacific Isles after the detonation tests of the H-bomb and its resulting radiation. This is a history lesson that does not receive very much attention.
However, it is in the second half of the documentary that it starts to lose its vigor. Pilger turns the focus to the construction of a blockade of military bases positioned all across the Eastern Pacific, occupying countries such as Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines. The presence of these bases is explored by looking at the affected communities, and the local opposition towards them.
But while the inclusion of senior officials like the now-former assistant to the Secretary of State carry the official perspective of what’s happening in the Pacific, it is a) undermined by a lack of sufficient commentary from the side of China, and b) is not enough to provide a balanced commentary by those on the ground like the activists, and those with the awareness of whether or not the big red button is going to be pushed anytime soon. One could argue that Pilger was giving more focus to the human element, but if you want to know whether World War III is coming or not, these people have to be situated in their political context. This was why the history lesson in the first half of the film worked so well, and it is a shame it was not replicated here.
All the while, John Pilger provides the narration and conducts the interviews in a confident, if somewhat dull, manner. There is nothing to be said of the way he presents this material other than that he has a clear voice. Emotion is nowhere to be seen, and if he cannot show investment in his own work, how can we? The delivery is good for an extended news report, but not for a feature-length documentary.
By Samuel Spiller