WASHINGTON - China cannot allow Hong Kong or Taiwan to be successful democracies in its plan to turn a vast swathe of the globe essentially into tributary states through the "predatory capitalism" of the Belt and Road Initiative, said former White House strategist Steve Bannon.
"One of the reasons for the move in Hong Kong, let's be brutally frank about this, is that I think they're prepared to stand up to the West right now and say, 'We don't need your capital and we don't need your technology'," he told The Straits Times in an interview.
Chinese on the mainland could not be allowed to see the successes of democracies such as Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, he said.
Among Washington's China hawks, the nationalist and anti-globalist Mr Bannon, who was a former strategist to President Donald Trump, considers himself an ultra hawk.
Mr Bannon, 66, who among other things once served on a US Navy battleship that cruised the South China Sea, has been out of the White House since he was fired in August 2017.
But his fingerprints can still be seen all over the Trump administration's deconstruction of not just the "administrative state", but also the post-war global order.
In remarks at a February 2017 conservative gathering, Mr Bannon said that at the core of his belief is "we're a nation with an economy - not an economy just in some global marketplace with open borders, but we are a nation with a culture and a reason for being".
He repeatedly used the phrase "economic nationalism" and posited that Mr Trump's withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement that year was "one of the most pivotal moments in modern American history".
Ms Jessica Tarlov, head of research at Bustle Digital Group and a Fox News contributor, wrote "Steve Bannon is winning" in a June 1 opinion piece in the journal The Hill.
"There is a war being waged on our institutions by the President," she contended. "This war - foreign and domestic - has been a wild success.
"Trump has been the perfect vessel for Bannon's vision to tear apart global infrastructure, take power and solidify control," she wrote.
Mr Bannon told ST: "Beijing cannot allow the success story that is Taiwan, particularly in this pandemic. They cannot allow the world to see the success of a democratic population in Hong Kong."
He believes China and the US are not in a Cold War, but already in a hot war.
The Chinese Communist Party must be confronted, he said.
If it is not "taken down", the "information and economic hot war that they're engaging with the West is going to metastasize into a kinetic war", he said.
"The book, Unrestricted Warfare, lays it quite simply," he said, referring to the book on military strategy written in 1999 by two colonels in the People's Liberation Army.
The book lays out an information/cyber war, an economic war, and a kinetic war.
Mr Bannon said: "They do not want to fight a kinetic war against the West because they understand that we are very powerful, but they're prepared to.
"And they are prepared to win on the information war. They're prepared to win on the economic war.
"It's a hot war right now, and it's going to get a lot hotter."
On the ramifications for the US alliances in the region - the US is arguing with South Korea over the cost of positioning US troops there - Mr Bannon said: "I think President Trump is voicing (that) the United States is not there to be daddy anymore. It's there to be a partner.
"And that's why South Koreans have got to step up. Japan has to re-militarise. Then you have to have the South-east Asian allies… and Australia.
"I'm very confident they will. You know why? They like being free people."
Q+A: Steve Bannon on China, India and nationalism
Excerpts from The Straits Times' interview with Steve Bannon, former strategic adviser to US President Donald Trump.
On the end game for the US in its competition with China
"I think the end game for the US is the end game for all of our partners and for freedom loving people like in Singapore. I mean, you can't have this… totalitarian, mercantilist, dictatorship. It's got to be confronted.
"I think the mask has been stripped off the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) by the demonstrators in Hong Kong and the pandemic.
"If the CCP is not taken down… this information and economic hot war that they're engaging with the West is going to metastasize into a kinetic war and it's going to happen right at the front door of Singapore. It's going to happen in the South China Sea and on the border of China, Pakistan, and India."
On President Trump's approach to China
"States, we have two choices, very simple. We either can become the leader of the fourth industrial revolution, or we're going to just devolve into continual class and racial strife as we fight over an ever shrinking pie based on a service economy.
"We're in a full scale economic war with the CCP right now. And… if we don't stand our ground now, united, we're going to pay with a kinetic war in a couple of years.
"Donald Trump's the hammer and American capital and technologies the anvil. The only problem I have with President Trump and the administration… (is) about the timing.
"The reason that I'm called the leader of the ultra hawks, the super hawks, is that I say no. You must immediately cut them off of any access to capital. You must immediately cut them off with any access to technology. We have to force their hand now and put an extreme economic pain regarding Hong Kong. Otherwise they will move on Taiwan in a couple of years and then into the South China Sea."
On America today
"People will talk about the times we're in right now, hundreds of years from now. The world's at an inflection point. We are being drawn in, inexorably, into a potentially massive global conflict.
"That can be avoided if we remember the moral imperative of what we've been bequeathed. Of what everybody that came before us, of what everybody in Singapore, everybody in South-east Asia, everybody in the Pacific, that died and gave their lives in World War II. For what? For freedom.
"We have a moral responsibility to those that came before us to make sure that we've bequeathed a world that's more free and more prosperous. And that's the challenge of our times.
"History is going to weigh and measure us, whether we were able to step up to challenges of this time."
On India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and confronting China
"I'm chairman of the Hindu Republican Coalition. And I couldn't be prouder. I've actually started to work with many Democrats who are Hindu Americans.
"I think just like China can't have Hong Kong be successful as a democracy, or Taiwan, they can't have India. Because that puts a direct lie to their totalitarian dictatorship in China. India is a very messy democracy, but it works.
"We're nationalists. Modi was Trump before Trump.
"The Chinese Communist Party looks at Modi as, I think, as big an enemy as the United States, because he makes this democracy work. I think it's something to be very proud of. I think the Indians are fantastic. I've been a huge advocate that we should become a bigger and bigger partner on India.
"India is absolutely the key that picks the lock. There's no doubt about that."