What follows below is the full text of a written interview with Carlos Martinez, conducted by the Global Times.
The interview deals with a wide range of issues, including the New Cold War on China, the nature of Chinese socialism, the Belt and Road Initiative, capitalist versus socialist democracy, and anti-China propaganda in the Western media.
An abridged version was published in the Global Times on 31 August 2023.
Could you please briefly introduce yourself to us? When did you start to study China? And what made you start to be interested in the country?
I’m an author and campaigner from London, Britain, with a longstanding interest in the socialist countries and global anti-imperialism. My first book, released in 2019, was about the reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union. I was involved in setting up the No Cold War campaign in 2020, and the Friends of Socialist China platform in 2021.
There were two main motivations for me to start studying China. The first comes from being a Marxist and wanting to understand how socialism is constructed in the real world. The second comes from being anti-imperialist and anti-war, and wanting to understand China’s role in the development of a peaceful and multipolar world.
The more I study China, the more I realise how poorly it’s understood in the West. In recent years, the anti-China propaganda in the media has been increasingly intense, corresponding to the rise of the US-led New Cold War. Many people have this absurd idea of China as some sort of authoritarian dystopia that’s intent on taking over the world. Many people believe the media’s disgraceful slanders about the suppression of human rights in Xinjiang, and so on.
China is misunderstood even on the left: lots of people believe that, because China uses market mechanisms, or because there are some very rich people in China, that it can’t be socialist any more. But then how do we explain China’s achievements? China has raised living standards beyond recognition; it’s become the world leader in renewable energy; it’s gone from being a poor and backward country to being a science and technology powerhouse; it’s leading the global shift to multipolarity; its life expectancy now exceeds that of the US. All this is historic and unprecedented progress, on a scale which has never been achieved by any capitalist country. Why on earth would the left want to attribute these successes to capitalism rather than socialism?
Your new book The East is Still Red – Chinese Socialism in the 21st Century recently got published. Could you please give us a brief introduction to the book? What is the context of writing this book?
As part of the ongoing imperialist campaign to encircle and contain China, there is a wide-ranging propaganda campaign designed to give the Western public a negative impression of China. Look at some of the books about China that are in the bestseller lists: Hidden Hand: Exposing How the Chinese Communist Party is Reshaping the World, Every Breath You Take: China’s New Tyranny, Stealth War: How China Took Over While America’s Elite Slept, and so on.
All of these books are written with the intention of showing people that China is an authoritarian, dystopian, expansionist, aggressive, repressive, reactionary country. There’s also a significant component of racism in this narrative, resting on old stereotypes of megalomaniacal Fu Manchu-type characters seeking world domination.
Anti-Chinese racism has a long history in the West. Just as anti-African ideas spread as a means of justifying the colonisation of Africa and the enslavement of millions of its people, anti-Chinese ideas spread as a means of justifying the Opium Wars, the unequal treaties, and the imposition of an apartheid system in Hong Kong. So when the Western media spreads these seeds of anti-China sentiment, they’re working on a fertile soil of colonial history.
My motivation in writing The East is Still Red was to counter this anti-China narrative, to debunk myths, to tell the truth about China, and to challenge the propaganda war.
There’s a phenomenon in psychology called the illusory truth effect, in which people tend to believe false information to be correct after repeated exposure. This can easily be seen in the Western media’s treatment of China. Lies and slanders are repeated so often that they acquire the force of truth. Journalists and politicians tell us that China is engaged in ‘cultural genocide’; that it’s suppressing religious freedoms; that it prevents the use of minority languages; that it’s creating ‘debt traps’ in Africa, Asia and Latin America; that it’s spying on us using weather balloons and electric vehicles; that it’s militarising the South China Sea; that it’s stealing our jobs, and so on.
These slanders are all being used to generate public support for a New Cold War – and potentially a hot war – against China. So in my book I wanted to set the record straight, and I also wanted to present China’s successes.
The greatest, most extensive poverty alleviation program in history has taken place in China. China is by far the global leader in renewable energy, biodiversity protection, forestation and electric vehicles. China handled the Covid-19 pandemic far more effectively than any other major country, saving literally millions of lives. China is playing a profoundly positive role in international relations, in pursuit of peace and multipolarity. People in the West should know about all this.
Finally, I wanted to contribute to the debate in the Western left as to the class character of 21st century China. Many people feel that, with the introduction of market reforms starting in 1978, China has become a capitalist country. In my opinion it’s nonsensical for leftists to take such a position. I don’t believe it would be possible for China to achieve what it has done in terms of poverty alleviation, infrastructure development, renewable energy, rising living standards, science and technology and so on if it had a capitalist ruling class; if the state didn’t control the commanding heights of the economy and didn’t control the main levers of the economy. What capitalist country has achieved what China has achieved? What capitalist country has ended extreme poverty, solved homelessness, and gone from being one of the most technologically backward countries in the world to being a powerhouse of science and technology?
What kind of feedback have you heard since the publication of your new book?
The feedback has been very positive so far. What people tell me is that the book provides them with the information they need to debunk anti-China propaganda, and that it is helpful for outsiders trying to understand China’s political economy in the 21st century.
The book received a warm testimonial from Cheng Enfu, Chief Professor of the University of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, who said that “although there are many works on China from scholars worldwide, the vivid description and objective analysis of this book provide a perspective for accurately studying China.”
Professor Roland Boer of Renmin University said that “the book will soon become an indispensable resource for anyone who wants to know the facts concerning China”. The book also received praise from Chen Weihua, Vijay Prashad, Ben Norton, Professor Ken Hammond, Professor Radhika Desai, Margaret Kimberley, Andrew Murray and others that have previously written for (or been interviewed in) the Global Times!
I certainly hope the book is successful in building solidarity with China, and with helping to develop better people-to-people links between China and the West.
How do you understand the concept of “Chinese modernization”? What is the value of this concept to today’s world?
What China has shown the world is that there is more than one path to modernisation. The US, Britain and the other advanced countries tend to claim that their successes stem from their ideology of so-called liberal democracy. This is the dominant narrative: if you have free markets plus a multi-party parliamentary system, you can achieve modernisation. But if you look under this very attractive cloak, the truth is considerably uglier.
There are three characteristics of capitalist modernisation that are important to understand.
First, it is built on a brutal history of colonialism, slavery and genocide. The conquest of the Americas, the conquest of Australia, the transatlantic slave trade, the colonisation of India, the rape of Africa, the Opium Wars, the theft of Hong Kong, and more. The profits of colonialism and the slave trade were essential for propelling the West’s industrialisation and modernisation.
Second, capitalist modernisation is terribly unequal. Even today, not everyone is able to enjoy its fruits. Consider for example the US, where tens of millions lack access to healthcare; where half a million people are homeless; where life expectancy for African Americans is six years less than for their white counterparts; where – according to the US Department of Education – over half of adults read below a sixth-grade level.
Third, capitalist modernisation has had a disastrous impact on the environment. With 4 percent of the global population, the US alone is responsible for 25 percent of historic carbon dioxide emissions.
This path to modernisation is not open to the countries of the Global South, and it wouldn’t be desirable even if it were available. China is pursuing a new form of modernisation, one which is built on global cooperation rather than domination, one which features common prosperity so that everybody shares its fruits, and one which strongly emphasises environmental sustainability and the symbiosis between humanity and nature. China is blazing a trail and setting an example in socialist, peaceful, green modernisation; clearly this is a tremendous service to the world.
How do you summarize and evaluate the features of China’s efforts in building a modern socialist country?
The completion of the first centenary goal – the elimination of extreme poverty – is a historic achievement and provides a springboard for further progress. China has already made important strides towards the second centenary goal of building a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious and beautiful.
Per capita GDP continues to increase, as does life expectancy. With the focus in recent decades on rural revitalisation and the extension of modern infrastructure throughout the country, inequality between regions and groups is on a downward trend.
Common prosperity policies are being introduced in order to prevent the disorderly expansion of capital and to ensure that everybody benefits from growth. Important steps are being taken to ensure that everybody has access to high-quality education and healthcare. Special attention is being paid to the rights and living standards of migrant workers. Whole-process people’s democracy is being continuously improved. The whole country is working towards a thorough and ambitious plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting biodiversity.
One crucial aspect of becoming a modern socialist country is mastering advanced science and technology, with semiconductors being the key example. The US is absolutely desperate to prevent China from catching up with the West in semiconductor technology, but its attempts are destined for failure. The sanctions and export restrictions are only serving to bolster China’s resolve and self-reliance, while at the same time causing significant damage to the US’s own chip industry.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). In your opinion, what contributions has the initiative brought to the world? And why do some in the West keep attacking this Chinese project?
Since the announcement of the BRI a decade ago, over a trillion dollars has been invested in BRI infrastructure projects, particularly in Central Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. A huge number of roads, railways, bridges, factories and ports have been built, along with energy and telecommunications infrastructure. Around three quarters of the world’s countries are signed up to the BRI, including almost every country in Africa.
For the countries of the Global South, the BRI represents a historic opportunity to modernise; to break the chains of underdevelopment that were imposed on them during the colonial era and maintained under modern systems of neocolonialism and imperialism.
Very importantly, the Belt and Road is becoming increasingly green, with a major focus on environmental sustainability. This is giving developing countries the change to expand their energy systems while ‘leapfrogging’ the stage of intensive emissions from burning vast quantities of fossil fuels.
“China is much more meaningfully democratic than Western countries,” as you commented in 2022. Why did you say so? What’s the difference between Chinese and Western governance? Has something gone wrong in the Western system, especially the US one?
The statement that “China is much more meaningfully democratic than Western countries” is very controversial in the West. People have been taught over many decades to believe that so-called liberal democracy is a sort of universal and absolute truth. According to this thinking, there is a fundamental dividing line in global politics, between ‘democracies’ (primarily in Europe, North America and Oceania) and ‘non-democracies’ or ‘authoritarian regimes’ (China, the DPRK, Vietnam, Laos, Cuba, Iran, Russia, Venezuela, and most of the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America).
The claim that capitalist democracy is the only – or the best – form of governance is part of a general ideological line that considers capitalism to be a political and economic end-state for humanity. If we accept it as the norm, we accept that the capitalist class must always be the ruling class in society, that governance must always primarily be in the interests of the relatively small group of people that own and deploy capital, and that capitalist production relations are natural and correct.
And yet capitalist democracy in reality suffers from serious flaws. The vast majority of people have no say or involvement in how their societies are run, and their governments do not represent their interests. Referring to capitalist democracy, Xi Jinping pointed out: “If the people are awakened only at voting time and dormant afterward; if the people hear big slogans during elections but have no say after; if the people are favoured during canvassing but are left out after elections, this is not true democracy.”
This is a very accurate summary of how the ‘democratic’ process works in the US and Britain. President Xi is absolutely right – this is not true democracy. In fact, his comment echoes Marx’s observation over 150 years ago that, in a capitalist democracy, “the oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class shall represent and repress them in parliament”.
A truly democratic system in the West would have solved the problems of homelessness, of extreme poverty, of terrible inequality in education and access to healthcare, of systemic racism, of crumbling infrastructure, of deep-rooted political corruption. Such a system would have prioritised the construction of green energy systems, would have implemented a Green New Deal, would have listened to the popular demand for peace and an end to imperialist aggression.
In the West there is a strong correlation between wealth and power. In China, on the other hand, governance is finely turned to the needs of the masses. The number one priority is to attend the needs and demands of ordinary people for a better life. This is reflected in the fact that, despite being a developing country, and despite having a per-capita GDP of only around a quarter that of the US, China’s life expectancy has now surpassed that of the US; China’s literacy and average education levels are higher than those of the US; China has eliminated extreme poverty; China has essentially solved the problem of homelessness; China has emerged as the clear global leader in renewable energy; China has been far more successful than any of the major capitalist countries in tackling the pandemic.
Furthermore, the system of people’s congresses and political consultative conferences are far more democratic and inclusive than Western democratic systems. China’s whole-process people’s democracy means making democratic rights available at all levels of society at all times, and constantly striving to increase participation.
The US has apparently launched a new Cold War with China, and as a result, many measures have been taken in various areas. How have these moves and Cold War thinking from Washington hurt the US’ own interests? And what chaos have they brought to the world?
Faced with a rising socialist world and a rising multipolarity – with China at its centre – the West has resorted to its old tactics of Cold War, first used against China, the Soviet Union and other countries, starting in the late 1940s.
This approach is dangerous and self-defeating.
For one thing, cold wars can turn hot. The US isn’t sticking to economic, diplomatic and propagandistic attacks on China; it is also developing an infrastructure of encirclement. AUKUS; the Quad; ‘Freedom of Navigation Assertions’ in the South China Sea; the undermining of the One China Principle; the increased supply of weapons to Taipei; the stationing of thousands of troops in South Korea, Japan, Okinawa and Australia – these are all part of preparing for a potential US-led war against China.
But even a Cold War is a disaster for humanity. We are all the same species, sharing the same planet, sharing the same natural resources, and facing many of the same problems. And, in an increasingly connected world, these problems can’t be solved in the context of escalating tensions, diplomatic hostility, and the constant threat of military conflict.
For example, if we want to prevent a future pandemic, we will need massive global cooperation – on vaccine development, on containment measures, on early warning systems, on advancing epidemiological research, and so on.
The same goes for climate change. Averting climate breakdown, a situation whereby large parts of the planet are rendered uninhabitable, is a problem for the whole world. For China for example, with its huge coastal cities, rising sea levels are a very serious threat. And they’re also a very serious threat for the US, with cities such as New York and Miami at risk.
China has consistently said that it wants peaceful cooperation with the US, with Canada, with Britain, with Australia, with Europe. This is what’s on the table for the West if it can adapt to a multipolar reality; if it can accept China’s rise; if it can accept that the era of colonialism and imperialism is over; if it can accept that the idea of any one country being the “world’s policeman” really has no place in the modern world.
Even capitalists in the West don’t benefit from a New Cold War. This is clear from the big semiconductor companies that are being forced into ‘decoupling’ from China, and which as a result are losing their biggest market. All because US strategists mistakenly think they’ll be able to prevent China’s rise and thereby preserve their own hegemony.
It seems to us that there are fewer and fewer Western intellectuals who refuse to view China through a distorted lens. What’s your take on such a phenomenon?
Just a few years ago, Britain and China were enjoying a ‘golden era’ of relations. The US and China had a strong and expanding mutually-beneficial economic relationship. Only six or seven years ago, it wasn’t so controversial in the West to be friendly towards China.
Now, however, along with the New Cold War, there’s a New McCarthyism – an environment in which it’s extremely difficult, and to some degree dangerous, to pursue friendship with China. As a result, there are some Western intellectuals who find themselves having to suppress their feelings and go along with this absurd ideological consensus.
On the other hand, there are also decent and honest people who want peace, who want friendship, who want to ensure humanity’s survival in the face of major shared challenges. It’s important to amplify such voices.
You and some of your comrades in the West have been actively pushing for an objective view of China over the years. For instance, we know that you are one of the co-editors of The Friends of Socialist China platform. After your efforts, do you think that ordinary people in the West have started to realize that they are often misled by Western media’s coverage of China-related issues?
Friends of Socialist China was launched in 2021 in response to the very intense anti-China propaganda campaign that had been set in motion. We do our best to tell the truth about China and to promote friendship and understanding. Of course, we get no support in the mainstream media, but we’ve been able to develop a substantial following on our website, our social media and for our online events. For people in the English-speaking world who are able to drop their prejudices and learn about China’s reality, I think we provide a valuable service.
You once noted that “propaganda wars can also be war propaganda.” Can you elaborate on such an opinion?
What is the reason for the barrage of anti-China propaganda, for the despicable slanders that are levelled against the Chinese government and the CPC? The Western ruling classes, in the era of New Cold War, want ordinary people in the West to hate China, to fear China. If people hate and fear China, they will be willing to support their governments’ anti-China policy – and potentially even a war on China.
The West has a long history of using propaganda wars as war propaganda. A well-known example is the accusation that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. This lie was used to build public support for a truly brutal war that resulted in a million deaths. In 2011, the propaganda machine told people that Gaddafi’s forces in Libya were planning to perpetrate a massacre of the people of Benghazi, that the Libyan army was using rape as a weapon of war, and so on. These lies were used to build public support for NATO’s war of regime change, in which Libya was bombed into the Stone Age.
For this reason, it is essential that anti-war campaigners in the West challenge the relentless lies about, and slander against, the People’s Republic of China.