Invent the Future editor (and No Cold War co-founder) Carlos Martinez was interviewed by CGTN journalist Li Jingjing for her show ‘Talk it Out’. They discuss the relentless stream of anti-China propaganda in the Western media; Carlos’s experiences in China; and how Chinese socialism is solving problems that capitalism throughout the world has been unable to solve.
A newcomer to politics would likely assume that members of the global left support the People’s Republic of China. It is after all led by a communist party, with Marxism as its guiding ideology. During the period since the Communist Party of China (CPC) came to power in 1949, the Chinese people have experienced an unprecedented improvement in their living standards and human development. Life expectancy has increased from 361 to 772 years. Literacy has increased from an estimated 20 percent3 to 97 percent.4 The social and economic position of women has improved beyond recognition (one example being that, before the revolution, the vast majority of women received no formal education whatsoever, whereas now a majority of students in higher education institutions are female).5 Extreme poverty has been eliminated.6 China is becoming the pre-eminent world leader in tackling climate change.7
Such progress is evidently consistent with traditional left-wing values; what typically attracts people to Marxism is precisely that it seeks to provide a framework for solving those problems of human development that capitalism has shown itself incapable of satisfactorily addressing. Capitalism has driven historic innovations in science and technology, thereby laying the ground for a future of shared prosperity; however, its contradictions are such that it inevitably generates poverty alongside wealth; it cannot but impose itself through division, deception and coercion; everywhere it marginalises, alienates, dominates and exploits. Seventy years of Chinese socialism, meanwhile, have broken the inverse correlation between wealth and poverty. Even though China suffers from high levels of inequality; even though China has some extremely rich people; life for ordinary workers and peasants has continuously improved, at a remarkable rate and over an extended period.
Yet support for China within the left in countries such as Britain and the US is in fact a fairly marginal position. The bulk of Marxist groups in those countries consider that China is not a socialist country; indeed many believe it to be “a rising imperialist power in the world system that oversees the exploitation of its own population … and increasingly exploits Third World countries in pursuit of raw materials and outlets for its exports.”8 Some consider the China-led Belt and Road Initiative to be an example of “feverish global expansionism”.9 The Alliance for Worker’s Liberty, with characteristic crudeness, describe China as being “functionally little different from, and in any case not better than, a fascist regime,”10 every bit as imperialist as the US and politically much worse.
The growing confrontation between the US and China is not, on these terms, an attack by an imperialist power on a socialist or independent developing country, but rather “a classic confrontation along imperialist lines”.11 “The dynamics of US-China rivalry is an inter-imperial rivalry driven by inter-capitalist competition.”12 The assumption here is that China is “an emerging imperialist power that is seeking to assert itself in a world dominated by the established imperialist power of the US”.13 If that is the case, those that ground their politics in anti-imperialism should not support either the US or China; rather they should “build a ‘third camp’ that makes links and solidarity across borders”14 and adopt the slogan Neither Washington nor Beijing, but international socialism.”
It’s an attractive idea. We don’t align with oppressors anywhere; our only alignment is with the global working class. Eli Friedman eloquently presents this grand vision in the popular left-wing journal Jacobin: “Our job is to continually and forcefully reaffirm internationalist values: we take sides with the poor, working classes, and oppressed people of every country, which means we share nothing with either the US or Chinese states and corporations.”15Continue reading Neither Washington Nor Beijing?
Invent the Future editor Carlos Martinez interviews Li Jingjing, a Chinese journalist who covered the Covid outbreak in Wuhan for CGTN, about China’s coronavirus containment efforts. We discuss the current situation in China, the measures that have been taken to eliminate the virus, the broad mobilisation throughout China to help the people of Wuhan, the need for international cooperation to defeat the pandemic at a global scale, and more.
Our friends at ChinaSquare have transcribed some highlights from the interview in order to publish them in Dutch. Below you can find the English version.
So how is the situation in China now in terms of the pandemic?
Since May everything got back to normal everywhere. Recently, there have been some cases popping up in different provinces in China. But the government responded very fast. When there were five cases in a certain district, the next days they tested over 1.2 million people in that place. They found almost all close contacts, and put them into isolation centres for observation.
So as soon as there’s a case detected, then everyone is tested and they do the contact tracing and the isolation?
Early in the year people were still trying to figure out what’s the best method to do it. But now I think every city and every province has already got this format, how to deal with it. Anyone who was just potentially a tiny bit exposed to the virus, gets tested and treated.
And people are using the QR code system then? And that’s normal now?
Yes, they started to do that in Wuhan. It is like what we use for WeChat, or Alipay. They have different colours, green code, red code, and yellow. Green code basically means you were never exposed, not having contacted anyone who has exposed and you have never been to high-risk regions. So as long as you have a green code, you can go anywhere you want. Red code means that you were probably infected or exposed, or maybe you went to a high-risk region. Basically now, because of the new cases, everywhere we go, we have to scan this QR code. A restaurant will have my information, if they suddenly find some cases, they will be able to contact all the customers who went there. So that’s why we register, not for surveillance or something like that.
And how difficult is it to get tested? Do you have to travel a long way to do that? Does that cost money? Can you do it quickly? How long would it take to get the results?
You can just go to the nearby hospital, get tested, and get the result within 24 hours. But if there’s an outbreak they’re testing the regions where the new cases showed up. There they show the results within six hours. So that can be very, very fast.
And how long has all this infrastructure been in place? Was that put in place quite early into the initial outbreak?
Once they lifted the lockdown, people were going to shopping malls, to public places. Then this new system was put in place. In April or in May everybody in all provinces started to use this.
Could you tell us about why you were in Wuhan? What you did during the lockdown? What was the atmosphere like there in the city? How did people handle that?
I’m a reporter, so when I heard there was an outbreak, of course, I was scared, but my response was I want to go there to see what’s happening, I want to cover the story. So my boss allowed me to go. I went to Wuhan in February. I stayed there for 73 days and came back late April. To be honest, during that time, things were quite scary. Not just in Wuhan, but in general in China. Everybody knew there was unknown pneumonia, and there was the Spring Festival. So everybody was supposed to go home and be united with their family and suddenly there was this lockdown. Only a few people could move around. So occasionally you could see an ambulance, taking patients to hospitals, you could see people in protective suits on the street, transporting patients, or delivering food and necessities to different households. As a reporter I went to different hospitals, I interviewed a lot of nurses, doctors, patients, and those who just basically volunteered to do the job to deliver food for different communities and households. I was lucky to witness the entire process, how things got so scary in the beginning, and then how the people really got together to fight everything, and things gradually getting back under control.
I think one of the things that here in the West, we found really difficult about lockdowns is the lack of support going to disadvantaged people who haven’t been able to get the level of support that they would normally have. And we saw that in India as well. In China, how have those situations been dealt with?
Putting a strict lockdown doesn’t mean you’re just isolating this region entirely. Wuhan was trying to snap this transmission chain, so the virus would not go to other places. But they were providing all kinds of support to everybody. This highlights the importance of neighbourhood committees. Because in this kind of committee, probably 20 or 30 people were taking care of thousands of households, buying and delivering food. They went to every door to check different situations of each family. Some families have patients with other diseases, or those who have to go to hospital regularly. Most of the neighbourhood committee members are CPC members. They are just ordinary people who were working non-stop 24/7, during those three months of tough lockdown. The local people love those CPC members.
It is the Chinese way. In the West people are still debating whether they should wear a mask, but here this is a no-brainer. All of us know we have to wear a mask. We do not want to infect others and do not want to be infected. Everybody knows how to disinfect. When Wuhan was under lockdown everybody was trying to help inside the city, but also from outside the city. Top medics came from different provinces. Provinces donated the products, the food they are famous for or specialize in.
So in spite of what obviously was a very difficult situation, everybody had food, people had their medicines. When people needed dialysis or hospital treatment, they received that.
And you can compare that with the situation in New York City, where those kinds of people were queuing down several blocks on the street to get food from food banks
Yeah, here in China, you will get everything because some people will provide all those things to your door. And I just remember one story about a person in need of special treatment. I interviewed this Uyghur guy from Xinjiang. He had gone to Wuhan to do this kidney transplant. And so before the lockdown, he had just finished his surgery and had just got a new kidney. So he needed a lot of intensive care. He said: ‘community workers came to my door and knew my situation.’ Even though it was so difficult for them to manage that, they made sure to arrange whatever check was necessary. During that time one of his doctors just picked him up every day and took him to hospital to do certain checks and whatever he needed. He’s old, but he recovered from everything and has still got everything. He is from Xinjiang, but he says: ‘Wuhan is my second home, because they gave me a second life’. And he’s a Uyghur and a CPC member. This a true story.
China was able to send tens of thousands of doctors and other medical staff to Wuhan, more or less at a moment’s notice, and to build these incredible facilities, modern, fully equipped hospitals in a matter of a few days. How was it possible to mobilize resources at that scale so quickly?
This kind of thing is always possible here. In each province the government asked doctors and medics. Most doctors said: ‘of course I will go’. They said: ‘that’s our responsibility as a doctor, this is the place I need to go to. I’m not thinking of getting gratitude from the citizens. If I’m a doctor, and I’m not going, I will regret this for my entire life’.
In terms of how is it possible? I think maybe it’s really a very effective government. They’re able to work out an effective method within a very short time, with the best resources, the people or food, everything. They centralize resources and send them to the places where they’re most needed.
I think the incredible solidarity that people showed from different parts of China really runs against the stereotype that people have in the West about China and Chinese people. They think it is a strict authoritarian society, where Xi Jinping and the Communist Party tell everyone else what to do. And everyone else is just like robots and they hate their lives. So this idea of solidarity and not being motivated by material rewards, but by very human sentiments definitely goes against the stereotypes about China.
I think it’s never a problem for people here. We always think we should be united especially during this tough time. I think unity, helping each other is much more important than individualism. When my friends and I read in the news that some people are shouting: ‘I’m not going to wear a mask, because it’s my freedom, I was born in a free land’, we think: ‘your freedom is jeopardizing other people’s freedoms. Because of that individualism you will never get back to normal. Is that what you want?’ So I think here in China, we really value this collectiveness. One nurse, she was working eight hours every day in this makeshift hospital. She was providing more than medical checks, psychological treatment of the patients. After things got better and patients were healed, she could go back home. And she chose to stay, saying: ‘there are still severely ill patients in hospital. I need to go to ICU to help those patients.’ When the whole thing was finished, she had a health check and it was found that she had cancer, so she had put herself in danger, that was a sacrifice.
Back in February it felt like the virus was just China’s problem. And quite a few analysts in the West were saying: ‘you know, this virus, it could be China’s Chernobyl, the CPC is going to lose its popularity, it’s going to lose its legitimacy, because of the pandemic’. Is that what happened?
Probably this is going to disappoint a lot of Western politicians, but it made the people here, trust and love the government even more, this outbreak. Maybe in the beginning, it was chaotic. There was a tendency of some people who were just not satisfied with what the governments were doing. But I think it quickly stopped, once they realized that it was a brand-new unknown pneumonia and even the doctors and nurses didn’t know how to deal with it. And the question was: ‘Should we put on a lockdown? How do we provide necessities to people?’ But as soon as they figured out how serious it was, and how it was transmitted between people, all the methods were put in place quite fast and quite effectively. When the lockdown was announced on January the 23rd, it was just two days before Spring Festival, and the lockdown was put in place, right on time. After that the people had a lot of trust in the government and the CPC.
I guess one of the things that you hear on Twitter, is people saying: ‘Oh, well, China’s just lying about the statistics, they haven’t really handled the pandemic at all. They just made up the numbers’. What’s your response to this?
Infectious disease is something you cannot hide. China in their eyes is just inferior. They cannot accept that China is doing much better than the superior Western democracy. But if they don’t trust it, let them take a look at our life. What are we doing? We are partying, we are travelling everywhere, our economy is growing. We’re probably the only country where the economy is growing now. So that’s the reality. And then about the numbers. I know there are a lot of people with doubts about the numbers on Wuhan. I was there and interviewed a patient. His parents died in early February. And because it was so early, and it was chaotic, his parents were not listed. But he told me, during the two months into the pandemic, he got a lot of calls from different departments of local communities, government hospitals, everywhere, constantly checking, asking the information on his parents. And I asked him: ‘well, in the beginning, your parents were not counted in the numbers. Were you frustrated by that?’ And he said: ‘No, I totally understand because it was so chaotic. In the beginning, all the doctors, all the nurses were busy saving patients, those who still have the chance to live, and community workers were saving people locked into their apartments by delivering food, so it’s understandable that they didn’t have the time to count who precisely died of COVID-19’.
I hope everyone’s learning that international cooperation is extremely important to address this pandemic, and also future public health crises. How has China been helping other countries to cope with the pandemic? And related to that, in what ways did other countries help China during the crisis in Wuhan?
I think according to the official information, China already helped 83 countries to fight this pandemic, donating masks, test kits, or intubation machines or whatever. I think America was among those 83 countries as well. And they already sent medics to several countries as well, doctors who had already got the first experience in Wuhan of how to deal with this. And during the crisis, there were so many countries helping China as well, either by donating masks, or donating food. I remember Japan also showed quite a lot of support. So during that time Japan-China friendship got so much better during the worst time, the people who showed you support are the ones that you know are your true friends. And you’re going to remember forever.
Now, the Chinese vaccines are starting to be rolled out. And there’s clearly a big focus on developing countries. Also, the Chinese vaccines are much cheaper than the high profile, western ones. And because of that, the big story in the Western media is suddenly ‘vaccine diplomacy’. Do you have any opinion on that?
It’s always the same: first, it’s panda diplomacy, then it’s mask diplomacy. Now, it’s vaccine diplomacy. So no matter what you’re doing, when you are doing something good people are still going to judge you. I remember when, during the worst time in Wuhan we needed masks the most and the masks expired every few hours. We didn’t have enough for all citizens. In China we have a large population, 1.4 billion. So China stopped its export of masks and the sale of certain medical resources to other countries. And I remember some media were criticizing China for this. Finally we had enough and were able to help other countries. The government realized we can help other countries which are needing it now, because it is getting worse. So they decided to help other countries. We were helping them and they still judged us. But well, we don’t care what they’re saying. Because helping other countries and people in desperation is the right thing to do. We had been through that worst time so we knew how it felt: as if the world was coming to an end.
You monitor the Western media, you have probably seen there’s been a lot of racist anti-Chinese sentiment generated particularly by right wing politicians in the West, who want to blame China for their own failure to contain the Coronavirus. Do people in China see this? Do they talk about this? What do you know about their opinions about this?
I think most Chinese know that. It’s quite frustrating. We have so many international students in other countries. Many Chinese work in other countries, and they are living through a tough time. But also those Asian descendants that were born in America, in Britain also get discriminated against. Very unfair and sad. Do you really have to blame a whole race, or whole nationality for a certain disease? The first AIDS patients were detected in America. Did anyone blame the whole of America for AIDS? Did anyone blame America or Mexico for H1N1? It’s not right.
Anything that makes China look good or makes China seem attractive, especially as a socialist country, especially as a country that’s run by a Communist Party, especially as a non-white country as well, is considered a big challenge. And you know, it’s very predictable and almost inevitable that there’ll be some racism connected with that sentiment.
You’ve lived in the West. Do you have any advice? What do you think other countries, especially countries in the West can learn from the way that China has managed the pandemic?
I don’t think other countries need to exactly copy everything China does, because every country has their own situation, their own culture. What may be very useful is going from door to door to really check everyone, categorizing into four different kinds of people: confirmed patients, suspected patients, close contacts, and patients with a fever, provided with four different treatments. Some patients will be sent to hospitals, hospitals with ICUs, and mild symptom patients sent to makeshift hospitals, and fever patients and close contacts will be sent to quarantine centres. They will be treated well and they won’t overwhelm the medical system. You cannot let close contacts and fever patients stay at home, because they’re going to infect more people there. During the quarantines, they’re going to test those people four times. That’s the way to stop this transmission chain. And also for the food and groceries. I think some countries will probably think about their own plans. You have to deliver food, medicines and medical care to different households during the lockdowns. If you just leave people at their homes without providing any help, they’re going to die, not from COVID-19, but from other things. The third thing I think most important is: just unite. As long as we all pull together this thing can be conquered. In terms of the doctors and medics in Wuhan: seven times they upgraded their diagnosis and treatment schemes. The city, the government, the medical staff, they are always updating based on the information they have got. It took them three months. Other countries have already been seeing this for almost a year. Why are they not upgrading their methods, their solutions?
I can definitely relate to that here in Britain. You can’t get tested unless you pay privately for it, or unless you’ve got symptoms. And then I know people who tried to get tests, and they look on the app to see where they can go. And they’re being asked to go like 100, 150 kilometres to the nearest available test centre.
During the whole outbreak in Wuhan, nobody had to pay anything. They didn’t have to pay for the treatment they got in the hospital, no matter what that treatment was. They found five cases in one district and they tested 1 million people in that district without asking for any money. Because that’s needed. Those close contacts and fever patients who were sent to quarantine centres did not have to pay for the accommodation or the food. I think the government covered all the other costs. So the patients were willing and able to go to those places. Many patients were migrant workers , none of them had to pay. When they were discharged from hospital they were crying and saying: ‘you really saved our lives. Without this kind of hospital, I would just die probably on the street or at home’. I think what China did was really great. You will find that when you ask anybody.
Li Jingjing, I want to thank you for giving us a lot of your time, for sharing your experiences which has been really fascinating, and I hope it will provide some useful ideas for other people watching.
Thank you, thank you for having me here. I would love to help more people. Because I saw probably the worst outbreak in Wuhan. The knowledge we got is precious and, I think, useful for other people who are still suffering from this pandemic. We would like to help people in need.
In the four months since it launched, the No Cold War campaign has been working hard to unite diverse forces worldwide against the US-led New Cold War on China. Following its inaugural conference and the launch of its statement in July, the campaign has hosted an international peace conference, a dialogue between professors Jeffrey Sachs and Zhang Weiwei, a webinar analysing the impact of the presidential elections on US-China relations, and, on 14 November 2020, a webinar entitled ‘Uniting against racism and the New Cold War’.
Introducing the event, Sean Kang from the Qiao Collective noted that, since the start of 2020, the world had witnessed a dangerous deterioration in US-China relations. In the US, this escalation of tensions has been accompanied by a rise in racism against Asian-Americans, with the government seeking to shift the blame for the pandemic onto China, using racialised terms such as China plague’ and ‘Wuhan virus’. Meanwhile the pandemic has further exposed the racial fault-lines in US society, with indigenous, black and Latinx communities suffering particularly badly. This combination of factors demonstrates the tight bond between racism and imperialism, which is the major theme of this webinar.
Danny Haiphong, senior contributing editor with Black Agenda Report and member of the No Cold War organising committee, pointed out that Cold War politics and racism are connected by their shared vision: preserving the hegemony of US-led capitalism. There are some parallels with the original Cold War. After the “loss of China to communism” in 1949, the US moved quickly to impose sanctions and a military blockade, and China encirclement was one of the motives for the Korean War. During that war, racism was used to provide cover for the extreme brutality of the US-led forces, which included the first systematic use of napalm against a civilian population.
Danny noted that African-American activists in particular took a strong stance against the Korean War, and many – including very prominent figures such as Paul Robeson, WEB DuBois and Claudia Jones – were inspired by the possibilities of People’s China. Many saw China as a place of refuge from the threat of white imperial rule, and indeed the well-known civil rights campaigners Robert and Mabel Williams fled to China after being driven out of the US by white supremacists. Danny stated that the original Cold War used racism to dehumanise peoples choosing their own path of development in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The New Cold War employs similar same logic. Danny urged progressive people in the West to model peaceful relations, to denounce the New Cold War, to extend a hand of friendship to China, and to open up to a multipolar world.
British-Iraqi rapper and campaigner Lowkey noted that China’s rise in recent decades is serving to restore a global balance of forces that, until the industrial revolution, had been in place for more than a thousand years. China was producing steel 1.5 millennia before England was; it had movable type printing technology 500 years before England did. It had theories of meritocratic governance embedded in the Confucian system long before Europe’s feudal autocracies were overthrown. As such, within the long view of history, China’s re-emergence as a major global power should be nothing to fear.
Lowkey pointed to China’s remarkable progress over the last few decades. In 1978, China accounted for 5 percent of global economy, and 80 percent of Chinese people lived in poverty. By turning itself into the world’s biggest manufacturing power, China has been able to lift 750-800 million people out of poverty, accounting for two-thirds of global poverty reduction in that period. Some prominent economists predict that, by 2030, China will constitute one-third of the global economy. And importantly, China’s rise is taking place in conjunction with the rise of the rest of the developing world. Of the top 20 fastest growing economies, not one of them is in the ‘developed’ world, and this Global South development is to a significant extent being financed by Chinese development banks.
There’s a significant danger that, facing long-term decline and short-term crisis resulting from the pandemic, the US will turn to war and, in so doing, leverage the Yellow Peril racism that has been invoked multiple times in the last 150 years. The US will also try to pull Britain into its camp in opposing China. Lowkey stated that Britain would be shooting itself in the foot if it joined in the New Cold War, and should instead build a strong cooperative relationship with China.
Chinese journalist Li Jingjing gave her perspective on the protection of minority rights in China, responding to the stories she has come across in Western media accusing the Chinese state of wiping out minority cultures, destroying mosques, and so on. Having travelled extensively within China, Jingjing said the portrayal of human rights abuses was entirely out of step with reality, as the government is very proactive about supporting and protecting minority cultures. She said that the constitution recognises 56 different ethnic groups, and there is a vast body of legislation supporting each group’s rights and autonomy at local and regional levels.
The law mandates that minority languages be taught in the various autonomous regions. Jingjing said she had recently visited Tibet, and saw that all school students (including Han Chinese) have to learn Tibetan at school. She said that the stories of forced sterilisation of Uyghur women couldn’t be further from the truth; in fact the One Child Policy had only applied to Han people, and the Uyghur population has tripled in the period of existence of the People’s Republic of China. In her opinion, the real story about ethnic minority human rights in China is that poverty is being wiped out. However, this doesn’t fit with Cold War propaganda and therefore receives minimal attention in the West.
Beijing-based journalist Cale Holmes pointed to the gradually rising tensions between the US and China since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Part of the Nixon administration’s motivation for pursuing links with China in the 1970s was Cold War ‘triangulation’ against the USSR. With the collapse of socialism in Europe between 1989 and 1991, the US-China relationship thus lost some of its strategic value for the US. Although strong economic ties remain, US strategists recognise that China hasn’t conformed to the Washington Consensus; that it is an independent power that is responsive primarily to its own people.
Cale warned that a rising anti-Asian racism in the US is making the idea of military conflict with China more palatable to the US public. Any such conflict would be extremely dangerous for China, for the US, and for the world. Meanwhile China is pursuing multilateralism and international cooperation. For example, it has been very active sharing its resources and experience with African countries to aid their pandemic containment efforts. This is the type of international cooperation we should be building towards.
Activist and retired NBA all-star David West contrasted the US’s pandemic response with that of other countries such as China, Senegal and New Zealand. The utter failure of the US authorities to protect human life in the pandemic shows us what happens when profit is the determining factor in practically all areas of life. Hyper-capitalism, poor leadership and mixed messaging have combined to produce disaster. Meanwhile countries like Cuba and China are sharing medical expertise, personnel and supplies with other countries, modelling the type of collective spirit the world needs.
As a global community we have shared interests more than ever before. David pointed out that, facing common problems of an impending climate catastrophe, wars, pandemics and global poverty, the countries of the world must work together for the sake of humanity’s survival. There’s nothing to be gained and too much to lose in a Cold War. All nations must take the path of peace, of justice; that’s what the people of the planet strive for. We’re all interconnected and a shared future is the only way forward.
Lebanese-American journalist Rania Khalek discussed the threat posed by China to US unilateralism and domination. China is increasingly at the forefront of new technology – particularly in telecommunications – and this is a big threat to US profits. Furthermore China is starting to create new financial infrastructure to get around the US dollar, thereby challenging dollar hegemony. At an ideological level, China offers an alternative model to neoliberalism. This is particularly relevant for developing countries, which can see that China has been able to achieve huge successes in improving living standards via a decidedly non-neoliberal model.
The US wants to maintain economic dominance and unilateral political control. China stands in the way of both, hence the bipartisan consensus against China. China also provides a useful excuse for the US’s military-industrial complex to expand; it’s the scary boogeyman that can be used to justify enormous military expenditure. Meanwhile the trade war and the military encirclement are being supplemented with a propaganda war. The US will continue to leverage issues such as Hong Kong and Xinjiang to attack China, and it’s very important people look at these issues with a sceptical eye and understand the underlying Cold War dynamics.
Chris Matlhako, coordinator of the South African Peace Initiative and Deputy Secretary of the South African Communist Party, talked about the struggle against apartheid, noting that although South Africa was a global pariah, it received support from the US, Western Europe, Australia and Japan. However, a truly global movement emerged to oppose apartheid, to fight against racism and imperialism. Chris called for the construction of a global network against racism and war, across political divides. He said the anti-apartheid movement should be studied, as it was able to mobilise diverse progressive opinion from around the world.
Chris highlighted the growing possibilities for the Global South as a result of the rise of China and the emergence of BRICS and other multilateral frameworks. One particularly important example of international cooperation in recent times is the collaboration between China and Cuba on treatments for Covid-19. This is great news for the Global South, helping people to access medicines and to overcome the issues of intellectual property that continue to tie profit maximisation to scientific development and the improvement of people’s lives.
Chinese-American activist Lee Siu Hin, founder of the National Immigrant Solidarity Network, said that another virus is spreading alongside Covid at the moment: that of the New Cold War and the demonisation of China and Chinese people. This has dovetailed with a rise in racist and xenophobic sentiment throughout the world, a phenomenon both reflected in and exacerbated by the election of Donald Trump in 2016.
Siu Hin said that the US has been using every opportunity to try and destabilise China. At the end of last year, it was clear that the unrest in Hong Kong wasn’t going to have the desired effect of undermining the domestic popularity of the Chinese government. Meanwhile the trade war hadn’t meaningfully impacted China’s economic growth. So the pandemic provided a new opportunity to ramp up the Cold War. US policymakers thought China wouldn’t be able to control the virus; that the economy would collapse; that Chinese citizens would be furious. In reality, China was able to get Covid-19 under control within 2-3 months. Siu Hin said that he’s currently in China and that life has returned to normal. That this was possible highlights China’s prioritisation of the needs of its people, while the US consistently prioritises war and repression.
Indigenous American academic and activist Nick Estes talked about the parallels between the West’s handling of Covid-19 and its handling of climate change. As with the climate crisis, the most advanced capitalist countries had plenty of warning to get organised in advance of the pandemic, had access to the best science, and then did nothing, preferring to protect the wealthy and shift any blame onto others. Much like with climate change, the brunt of the current public health crisis is being borne by black, brown, indigenous and migrant communities. Once it was clear the virus was disproportionately impacting these communities, large groups of predominantly white and right-wing people started storming state capitols demanding the reopening of restaurants.
Nick pointed out that US militarisation of the Pacific – the centrepiece of its China containment strategy – is taking place on occupied lands. RIMPAC (the Rim of the Pacific Exercise) is a set of biennial war games organised by the US Navy Pacific Command (PACOM), with participation from US allies including Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and France. These games are conducted in Hawaii – a nuclearised ‘paradise’ and occupied territory at the centre of the Pacific militarisation project. Guantanamo Bay, Guam and Okinawa are in a similar situation. Indigenous land activists are calling for the dismantling of this military infrastructure and for the return of the land to its rightful owners.
Author and activist Carlos Martinez wrapped up the event on behalf of the No Cold War organising committee. He pointed out that ongoing economic stagnation, alongside the failure of the major Western countries to contain the pandemic, is producing a crisis of legitimacy and a corresponding sense of panic among the ruling class, which is responding by hitting out in all directions. He said that the US and its allies are struggling to come to terms with China’s rise. China is a politically independent country, a Global South power with a Communist Party government and an essentially planned economy. As such, it poses an existential threat to the prevailing world order based on neocolonialism, neoliberalism and white supremacy.
Carlos emphasised that the emergence of a New Cold War concurrent with a worrying rise in racism is no coincidence. Both are manifestations of neoliberal capitalism in crisis, and both are being deployed in an attempt to preserve a system based on the needs of a wealthy elite at the expense of the vast majority of humanity.
Carlos thanked the speakers and organisers, and encouraged everybody to sign the No Cold War campaign’s statement, ‘A New Cold War against China is against the interests of humanity’.
The full event can be viewed on YouTube.
On 24 October, No Cold War hosted a dialogue between Zhang Weiwei (professor of international relations at Fudan University, former interpreter to Deng Xiaoping, and author of several books including the best-selling The China Wave: Rise of a Civilizational State) and Jeffrey Sachs (a leading expert in sustainable development, former director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, and author of several books including the influential The End of Poverty). The online event was attended by over 400 people, with registrations from 62 countries.
Chairing the event, Jenny Clegg (academic, activist, and the author of several books including China’s Global Strategy: Towards a Multipolar World) outlined the rationale for organising the dialogue. When the countries of the world should be coming together to find common solutions to common problems – the climate crisis, the pandemic, a fragile global economy – we find ourselves at the cusp of a New Cold War.
With the rise of China and the decline of the US, there’s more and more talk of the Thucydides Trap, in which the rising power is destined to come into conflict with the prevailing power. Clegg stated that a massive effort and bold vision will be needed if the world is to avoid a catastrophic confrontation. This is the reason for bringing high-level figures from the US and China together: to expand and deepen communication, and to start to forge a path towards a future of peace, multipolarity, cooperation, and global prosperity.
Zhang Weiwei calls for global cooperation in the interests of humanity
In his introductory remarks, Professor Zhang offered a broad outline of China’s vision for a multipolar world order, pointing out that China has no desire to be a hegemonic power or to impose its will on other countries. He stated that China wishes to see a democratic and peaceful system of international relations from which everybody can benefit, consistent with the ancient Chinese concept of harmony in diversity. Unfortunately US political culture seems to be stuck in the idea of the zero-sum game, and can only imagine China’s rise being at the expense of the US.
Zhang asserted that China has no interest in exporting its ideology or its values, although it is certainly happy to offer its advice and the fruits of its experience. For example, the US is desperately in need of political and economic reform. China has some expertise in reform, since the Chinese engage in continuous pragmatic reform in order to further their development and improve living standards. Meanwhile, a large number of developing countries increasingly look to China for inspiration, having tried unsuccessfully to follow a Western development model.
China firmly opposes war, both hot and cold, and it believes all disputes can and should be solved through negotiations, dialogue and compromise. It believes in multilateralism and a global approach to peace. For example, ever since China became a nuclear weapons power in 1964, it has maintained a no-first-use policy, and has pledged never to use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state. The world would be a safer place if all nuclear powers would make similar commitments.
Professor Zhang responded to the popular characterisation of China as a ‘one-party dictatorship’ with a deteriorating human rights situation. He pointed to the results of multiple surveys, including those conducted by US academic institutions, that indicate an extremely high level of public satisfaction with the Chinese government. Over 90 percent of Chinese people express satisfaction with their central government, compared to around 40 percent for their US counterparts. Meanwhile, approximately 150 million Chinese tourists leave China every year, and 99.999 percent of them come back; this isn’t indicative of a disastrous human rights situation.
Zhang also pointed to the rank hypocrisy of US criticisms of China’s human rights, given that the US itself is responsible for perpetrating by far the worst human rights violation this century: the war on Iraq, in which at least 100,000 civilians died and millions became homeless. Over the course of 2020, the brutal murder of George Floyd and the violent suppression of the Black Lives Matter movement have revealed the depths of ongoing human rights abuses in the US.
Professor Zhang urged the US leadership to stop pursuing the path of war, which would be disastrous for China, for US and for the world. Instead of fighting endless wars and devoting vast resources to the military, it would be far better to direct this investment towards developing the US economy and upgrading its infrastructure. Meanwhile, to handle the challenges it faces of economic rehabilitation, tackling the pandemic and tackling climate change, the US may find that it needs China’s help. Rather than launching a Cold War, it would be better if the US sought China’s help and cooperation. The correct path for the US and China is to reject Mutually Assured Destruction and work instead towards Globally Assured Prosperity, in which the US and China work together with other countries for the common interests of humanity, for peace and development.
Jeffrey Sachs calls for a US foreign policy reset
Professor Sachs opened his contribution by stating that, with Donald Trump in the White House, it is simply not possible for the US to shift towards a rational and multilateral foreign policy. Trump’s trade war has been conducted via executive decree and doesn’t reflect any serious public debate; as such, it doesn’t reflect the will of the US people. His xenophobia, racism and stupidity have very much stood in the way of developing better relations between the US and Chinese people. This is disturbing since, in an increasingly interconnected world, people-to-people exchanges and programmes developing mutual understanding are so important.
Under the Trump government, and with the active support of much of the media, anti-China sentiment has been rising. This reflects a particular strain of American thinking – a Protestant evangelical ideology that views the US as having the providential right to dictate the affairs of the rest of the world.
Sachs observed that the rise of China has made the notion of US hegemony increasingly infeasible, and this has inspired a level of panic in US foreign policy circles. We’re at the end of the period of American domination. The US share of the global economy and technical leadership is declining. We have reached a new era, in which no one country can or should lead. This is an era in which we need cooperation; we need multilateralism. We’re not moving towards a China-led world or a US-led world, but a multilateral rule-based world. Such a system will allow us to work together to effectively fight climate change, poverty and pandemics.
Professor Sachs pointed out that the countries of the world have already agreed to certain basic approaches to the future, particularly around sustainable development. These are embodied in the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement, both agreed in 2015. The most important thing now is to follow through on these. In this regard, President Xi’s recent commitment that China will reach net zero emissions by 2060 is very important. The European Union has made a commitment to net zero emissions by 2050. Sachs stated his belief that, if Joe Biden wins the presidential election, he will commit the US to net zero emissions by 2050. With these parallel commitments, we will then need extensive cooperation between China, the US and Europe so that the world can meet this challenge.
Sachs said that the idea of ‘decoupling’ – the division of the world into two hostile blocs of nations – is sheer insanity; an invitation to mutual destruction rather than solving the problems we face as a species. Instead, the US and China must figure out how to build more institutional connections, more and more cultural and intellectual exchanges; which is why he appreciates the opportunity to have this dialogue with Zhang Weiwei and to address hundreds of audience members from around the world. With these connections, and with a clearly-defined multilateral system, the world can thrive.
A consensus for multilateralism and peace
Kicking off the discussion section of the event, Zhang Weiwei commented that China is taking ecological matters extremely seriously and that it has changed many policies in the last few years in order to reduce its environmental impact. He said that green technology and sustainable development could be the ideal project to give substance to US-China cooperation.
In answer to a question of whether there were significant forces in the US that were opposed to Cold War, Jeffrey Sachs said that the situation wasn’t beyond hope; that there’s a strong contingent of academic and policy leadership that believes in multilateralism. Many people in the US have fought vociferously against aggression and wars, from Vietnam to Iraq, and will continue to hold up the UN Charter as the key means for preserving peace.
Zhang Weiwei responded that China is a staunch supporter of the UN Charter and the overall framework of international law. Indeed China has been a beneficiary of that system, and believes it can usefully contribute to it going forward. If China and the US can both move in the direction of mutual understanding and cooperation, it would be a tremendous boost for world peace and common prosperity.
In response to a question about whether Cold War could develop into Hot War, the speakers agreed that the situation called for deep institutionalised engagement between the two countries; an agreed approach to disarmament and de-escalation; and sophisticated early warning systems. Professor Zhang pointed out that the US had spent trillions of dollars fighting wars in the 21st century, whereas China has devoted its resources to developing its infrastructure and improving living standards. For the US to reduce the risk of war, it would be well advised to follow China’s example.
A question was raised about whether economic ‘decoupling’ was a serious possibility. Zhang stated that China is firmly opposed to decoupling and won’t be drawn into a system of international relations based on hostile blocs. In reality, most supply chains are too globalised and complicated to be broken up into separate blocs. In terms of technological competition, the US and China have their own strengths and areas of expertise; it would be best if they could cooperate and share. China is promoting a vision of a single global community – a shared future for mankind – and it considers this to be a far better option than decoupling and Cold War.
Sachs noted that the issue of decoupling is most relevant in the digital area: connectivity, computation, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and so on. There’s proven value to having global standards in this domain. Agreed standards and interoperability have accelerated technological progress and economies of scale. A decoupled digital world with different camps would be a costly mistake. Technological advance can do so much to improve human existence; it would be hugely damaging if it were to be subjected to a Cold War mentality.
In his closing statement, Sachs stated that the most pressing issue right now is to deal with the pandemic. China and other countries have shown that the pandemic can be suppressed. The US, Europe and Latin America need to be willing to learn from this. Sachs outlined an optimistic vision for 2021, in which the world is able to get the pandemic under control and re-focus on sustainable development and poverty alleviation. COP15 on biological diversity, COP26 on climate change, and the World Food Systems Summit are all scheduled for 2021, and each of these will offer an opportunity for the countries of the world to cooperate in a professional and systematic way.
Zhang Weiwei noted that there is currently a bipartisan consensus in the US around being “tough on China”, and the Chinese very much appreciate the fact that Jeffrey Sachs stands outside this framework. Trump and Pompeo are pushing a dangerous and stupid New Cold War. The Chinese leadership is strongly promoting an alternative vision based around peace and cooperation. Zhang urged the US not to let a Cold War mentality become embedded.
Closing the event, Jenny Clegg thanked the panelists, the audience and the organisers, and urged people to visit nocoldwar.org and sign the campaign’s statement, A New Cold War against China is against the interests of humanity.
The full proceedings can be viewed on YouTube.
The most significant foreign policy component of Donald Trump’s four years in the White House has been the US’s increasingly hostile stance in relation to China.
While Trump has led a dangerous escalation, the general direction of travel is not significantly different from that of the Obama administration, which pointedly kicked off the reorientation of US global strategy from Middle to Far East with its ‘Pivot to Asia’.
This shift in US-China relations from cooperation through containment to confrontation is most likely a long-term fixture, driven as it is by historic changes in the global economy. To the extent that China’s extraordinary growth in the earlier part of the Reform and Opening Up period was driven by low-cost, low-margin, low-tech, large-scale manufacturing within Western-led supply chains, the US felt that its interests were sufficiently well served that it could accept China’s emergence as a middle-income country. Indeed, the abundant supply of cheap, competent, diligent and well-educated Chinese labour has made a lot of Americans very rich.
But China’s strategy was not aimed at permanently playing a subservient role in a globalised economy dominated by the US and its allies. As Yang Weimin, a senior economist in the Chinese government, said in 2018 in reference to the nascent trade war: “You can’t let China only make t-shirts while the US does high-tech. That is unreasonable.”
China is gradually shifting towards a leadership position in the global economy. Furthermore it is – horror of horrors – a non-white, non-capitalist country that aspires to build socialism. As such it is considered a serious threat to contemporary US-led capitalism. This is the principal trigger for the New Cold War; it is the reason the US has started to prioritise China containment over all other foreign policy concerns.
Escalation under Trump
The Obama administration adopted a relatively sophisticated, multifaceted and multilateral approach, designing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, installing a US marine base in Australia, strengthening the US’s relationship with its
traditional European allies, and quietly encouraging Japanese re-armament. Obama was explicit that the purpose of his ‘pivot’ was to preserve US hegemony: “We have to make sure America writes the rules of the global economy. And we should do it today, while our economy is in the position of global strength. Because if we don’t write the rules for trade around the world – guess what – China will.”
Nevertheless, the overall anti-China strategy was accompanied by some level of sensible cooperation with Beijing, particularly around environmental issues; the Paris Climate Agreement came about in no small part due to the coordination between Obama and Xi Jinping.
The Trump administration has continued along the same overall path of hostility and containment, but without the sophistication and multilateralism. Its approach has instead been characterised by overt threats, bluster, blackmail, demagoguery and racism.
Anti-China rhetoric was a key plank of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Trump told his interviewers and his rally attendees: “We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country and that’s what they’re doing.” He repeatedly described China’s trade imbalance with the US as “the greatest theft ever perpetrated by anyone or any country in the history of the world”. The decline of US manufacturing was blamed on Chinese currency undervaluation – and of course weak presidents like Bill Clinton that had allowed the Chinese to get away with murder.
Needless to say, Trump’s line of argument is ludicrous and unsubstantiated. The US has benefitted enormously from China’s rise, and its failure to strategically re-invest and upgrade its own economy is the fault of its own myopic ruling class. Singaporean academic and former diplomat Kishore Mahbubani puts it succinctly: “The American people would be far better off if America stopped fighting unnecessary foreign wars and used its resources to improve the well-being of its people.”
Furthermore, as Martin Jacques points out, China’s accumulation of US treasury bonds has “allowed Americans to continue with their spending spree, and then partially helped to cushion the impact of the credit crunch.”
Nonetheless, Trump’s demagoguery has performed its intended role. Significant sections of the US population have been persuaded to direct their anger towards China rather than towards the ruthlessness and decrepitude of neoliberal capitalism.
Trump and his top China hawks – Robert Lighthizer, Peter Navarro, John Bolton and Steve Bannon – thought they would be able to apply ‘the art of the deal’ in order to win unfair concessions from China. Essentially they wanted China to agree to buy hundreds of billions’ worth of US produce that it didn’t need; end state subsidies to key industries; allow US companies unrestricted access to Chinese markets while accepting tariffs on Chinese exports; and stop negotiating technology transfer deals with US companies.
In summary, the US negotiators wanted China to sign up to permanent subservience. Unsurprisingly, the talks collapsed, and the US launched a trade war in January 2018, introducing tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of Chinese exports. In 2019, the US government imposed a ban on Huawei, and pressured its ‘Five Eye’ and European allies to do the same. In 2020, it has sought to ban the popular Chinese-made apps TikTok and WeChat.
Meanwhile Trump has led US politicians and media in blaming the coronavirus pandemic on China, insistently referring to it as the “China virus”. Alongside the president’s racist rants, the media propaganda around Hong Kong and Xinjiang has reached hysteria levels. Parallel to the economic and propaganda attacks, there’s been a military escalation that includes ever more frequent US naval operations in the South China Sea and an enormous new weapons deal with Taiwan. The US administration has relaunched the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, a strategic cooperation network between the US, Japan, Australia and
India, obviously meant to be an instrument of China containment.
Better with Biden?
There’s a significant chance Donald Trump will no longer be resident in the White House as of January 2021. This would be a very good thing since, in spite of Joe Biden’s proven and outspoken commitment to the neoliberal imperialist status quo, Trump represents the most reactionary and dangerous section of the US ruling class; given his climate denialism, Trump’s presidency is quite literally a danger to the planet.
The question is: would a Democratic victory in November open the door for improved relations between the US and China? Might the US ruling class be willing to step back from a potentially calamitous New Cold War?
It is rather unlikely that there’ll be any meaningful change in the US’s overall strategic position vis-a-vis China. This has become an invariant of a declining US capitalism that’s determined to hold on to global hegemony via whatever means it can muster. China is rising, and along with it a multipolar world order is coming into being, in which no single country will be able to act as ‘global policeman’, imposing its will and reaping the rewards.
A particularly acute problem for the capitalist class in the US is that China is set to surpass the US in the realm of digital technology; it is already leading the field in artificial intelligence and network infrastructure. US companies have been pre-eminent in the digital world for several decades, and this has been the key engine of growth for US capitalism. The household names of the digital era – Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon – are based in the US, and their enormous profits flow primarily into American banks. This is the context for the attacks on Chinese tech companies such as Huawei, ByteDance, Tencent and ZTE. The desire to preserve US digital dominance will not go away with a change of president.
Similarly, the policy of military encirclement will remain in place, as will the propaganda war and blame game. As US capitalism continues its inexorable decline, both Republicans and Democrats can be expected to try and build cross-class solidarity against the big external ‘enemy’ of the era: the People’s Republic of China.
A Biden victory may allow the US to extricate itself from a trade war that has damaged the US economy significantly more than it has the Chinese. This would certainly be a welcome development. Meanwhile, Biden can be expected to return to Obama’s multilateralism, and this is positive; even though the US concept of multilateralism is centred on building a broad alliance against China, it necessarily involves re-engaging with the UN and with international law. Indeed, Biden has said that his administration would return the US to the Paris Climate Agreement, the World Health Organisation and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Iran nuclear deal).
On balance, then, the interests of peace would probably be better served by a Biden presidency. The most reactionary elements of the ruling class throughout the world are certainly hoping for a Trump triumph, and aggressive China containment is a large part of the reason. As Nigel Farage recently commented: “In terms of stopping China effectively taking over the world, the reelection of Trump is actually central to it.”
This issue was be one of the key themes discussed at the recent No Cold War-organised dialogue between the US economist Jeffrey Sachs and Chinese international relations expert Zhang Weiwei. The dialogue can be viewed on YouTube.
Invent the Future editor Carlos Martinez summarises ‘The China Wave: Rise of a Civilizational State’, an important book by Professor Zhang Weiwei.
On 26 September 2020, the No Cold War campaign held its second webinar: an international peace forum, bringing together peace movements from around the world (including the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Stop the War Coalition, CODEPINK, Black Alliance for Peace, Pivot to Peace and Vrede vzw) to analyse the dangerous deterioration in US-China relations and discuss what measures we can take to reverse the tide of war.
The first panel was chaired by Indian historian and journalist Vijay Prashad of the Tricontinental Institute for Social Research, and was focused on an analysis of the current political situation. Vijay opened the event by paying tribute to his fellow anti-imperialist journalist Andre Vltchek, who tragically died just a few days prior to the webinar.
Vijay noted that the Doomsday Clock, maintained by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, is currently set at 100 seconds to midnight. The threat to humanity is very high, and a significant component of this is the bullying and belligerent attitude that the US is taking towards China and Russia. We are living through dangerous times, and it is the responsibility of all of us to fight for peace.
Jodie Evans, a co-founder of the US-based women-led grassroots peace organisation CODEPINK, spoke of how the US administration is using Cold War tactics in a bid to divert attention from the parlous state of American capitalism. She pointed out that the US today is a country in decline; a country characterised by increasing homelessness and poverty, failure to respond appropriately to the climate emergency, disastrous handling of the pandemic, mass incarceration, and the extensive use of solitary confinement.
While it paints itself as a force for peace and democracy in the world, the US has attacked over 80 countries since the end of World War II, has dropped bombs on 39 countries, and is the only state in the world to have used nuclear weapons.
Jodie also pointed to the standard pattern of propaganda that’s employed whenever the US defines an ‘enemy’ that it wants to attack, building a sophisticated media campaign to demonise countries and create a popular sentiment in favour of war.
Jodie concluded by stating that the US peace movement has a huge responsibility to mobilise the widest possible alliance of forces to stop the drive to war.
The second speaker was Chris Matlhako, Second Deputy General Secretary of the South African Communist Party. Chris spoke of the campaign in the West against China’s involvement in Africa, with many politicians and analysts decrying China as being the new imperialist force on the continent. This is particularly hypocritical given that Europe and North America are both deeply involved in pursuing economic and political domination in Africa, supporting civil wars, promoting uneven trading relationships, and – via Africom – driving increased militarisation. Chris pointed out that France continues to be in charge of important fiscal policy instruments in much of West Africa, such that several countries are prevented from asserting their sovereignty and pursuing progressive policies that would benefit their populations.
Chris noted that China’s involvement in China has served to offset the West’s negative influence, and that African countries have benefitted from Chinese investment in infrastructure, schools and other important projects. With the Belt and Road Initiative, there’s huge potential for an expanded mutually beneficial relationship between Africa and China – not simply an extractive relationship, but a process that cultivates African manufacturing and economic sovereignty. The sort of multilateralism promoted by China is key to developing a new type of civilisation, a new model of international relations.
Abdallah al-Harif, founder of Democratic Way (Morocco), described the bleak state of contemporary capitalism, exposed and accentuated by the pandemic. The desperate search for profits is leading to the immiseration of peoples and the destruction of nature.
However, this dangerous situation at the same time creates the conditions for the unity of humanity towards a better future. Faced with a vast disinformation machine, this process requires a radical change in consciousness and the emergence of a credible and attractive alternative to capitalism.
Abdallah pointed out that the long road to socialism contains many steps, and the first is to draw together a global front against US imperialism, which is the biggest threat to peace and to life on Earth.
Abdallah urged the meeting to work to make the movement against Cold War part of a general front against US imperialism, for peace and self-determination. We must patiently explain to people the enormous economic, social and environmental cost of this war, and the significant threat of Cold War developing into Hot War. The enormous resources being thrown at this project of aggression should be diverted towards meeting human needs and protecting the planet.
One of China’s leading experts in international relations, Victor Gao, warned that the world is at a very critical juncture. We’re no longer just facing the challenges of development, but also the threat of a disastrous war. How we act now will have a huge impact throughout the world.
Victor pointed out that China has no desire to engage in any type of war, hot or cold. China’s rise has been predicated on a peaceful international environment, and it is a top priority for China to continue to develop peacefully. Unfortunately the US sees that China is expected to surpass the US economically within the next 10-15 years and, as a result, is desperate to find a way to suppress China’s development. Victor drew a parallel with the figure skater Tonya Harding, who in 1994 was implicated in a physical attack on her competitor, Nancy Kerrigan. Her then-husband paid a thug to break Kerrigan’s leg by whacking her knee with a baton. Having developed an acute case of Tonya Harding syndrome, the US is now trying to whack the knee of China, put China out of the economic competition. This runs against the principles of fair competition, against the interests of the Chinese and American people, and counter to the goals of peace and development.
Victor called on the meeting to spread a clear message of peace. Any war unleashed by the US will not be of benefit to the US. A Cold War would be tremendously damaging to US consumers, workers and businesses. There will be collateral damage to many other countries. We must unite to defend the legitimate right to peace. War can be avoided.
Bolivian journalist Ollie Vargas spoke to the meeting from the election campaign trail in Cochabamba, and described the setbacks suffered by Bolivia since the US-sponsored coup in November 2019 that removed Evo Morales from government. As a result of this coup, Bolivia has left the path of sovereign development and been forced into the US model of free market destruction and neocolonial dependency. Indigenous and working class people in Bolivia are now once again excluded from power, after 14 years of people-centred government by the Movement for Socialism (MAS). Neoliberal reforms have been introduced, social spending has been destroyed, unemployment has tripled, and poverty has reached the levels of 20 years ago.
Ollie said that China stands as an inspiration for countries in the Global South, because it has successfully taken the path of national development, using the state as the motor of development. And even though China doesn’t seek to impose its model on other countries, it’s a model that should be studied, because it’s a model that can bring peace and progress.
Ollie pointed to the broad cooperation that had taken place between China and the Morales government in Bolivia, including on the construction and launch of a telecommunications satellite. “Bolivia is a small country, it doesn’t have the expertise to launch a rocket into space, so it worked with China to launch the satellite which now provides internet and phone signal to all corners of the country, from the Amazon to the Andes, and here in the working class areas of the big cities.” Ollie said that the project had been a positive model of mutually beneficial cooperation, as China brought expertise and investment but it didn’t seek to take ownership of the final product; the satellite belongs to the Bolivian people. The world can learn a lot from this model of peaceful cooperation.
The second panel was chaired by CND General Secretary Kate Hudson, and focused on strategy and tactics against the New Cold War. Kate read out solidarity messages that had been sent to the meeting by Veterans for Peace (US), International Action Center, and Hamilton Coalition to Stop the War (Canada).
The first speaker in this panel was Margaret Kimberley, a leader of Black Alliance for Peace. Margaret pointed out that the US government is currently ramping up its war propaganda, noting for example that President Trump’s speech at the recent UN General Assembly meeting was made up of slurs and accusations against China. While the US acts as a rogue state in its international relations – for example with the assassination in January this year of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani – it presents itself as the arbiter of justice and democracy. Meanwhile, many Americans are only exposed to corporate media opinions about China, and therefore believe that the Uyghur people are enslaved in concentration camps and that Hong Kong is not a historical part of China.
Margaret pointed out that the African-American population has a proud history of opposing US foreign policy. Black America opposed war in Vietnam and Iraq, and consistently questioned the justifications put forward for these wars. Sixty years ago, Fidel Castro stayed in Harlem and met with Malcolm X at the Hotel Theresa. The Black Alliance for Peace, founded three years ago, seeks to organise people of African heritage and to restore their traditional support for radical politics and opposition to US aggression.
Julie Tang, retired superior court judge and co-founder of Pivot to Peace, spoke of the impact of the New Cold War on the Chinese-American community. Many scientists, students and academics have come under suspicion and investigation; the FBI has foregrounded the threat of “Chinese government economic espionage”, and identified Chinese-Americans and Chinese students and academics as the vectors of this threat. Even longstanding organisations such as the US-China Friendship Association and the China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification are being targeted by the State Department.
The media is also participating in this demonisation of China and Chinese people. For example, PBS recently pulled its documentary about poverty alleviation in China. It’s undemocratic that people are only being allowed to hear one side of the story. Julie remarked that the peace movement has a responsibility to ensure that the mainstream media isn’t the only voice when it comes to the questions of China and Cold War.
Lindsey German, convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, made the important point that, beyond the Cold War, there’s also the serious danger of a hot war with China. Trump is trying to damage China economically, but he’s also ramping up the military threat, agreeing an unprecedented arms deal with Taiwan, and upgrading US military capacity in a way that is very clearly directed towards confrontation with China.
Lindsey pointed out that there is now a bipartisan approach on China, both in the US and Britain. Joe Biden has been trying to present himself as every bit the ‘China hawk’ that Trump is, and meanwhile the Labour leadership in Britain has been urging the government to take stronger action against China. It’s crucial to unite the broadest possible forces against what the US and British governments are doing. Lindsey emphasised the importance of uniting people against war, even where they might strongly oppose certain aspects of the country under threat. We don’t necessarily have to agree 100 percent with everything China does, but we should nonetheless be able to unite against a war that would have devastating consequences for the people of China, the US and the whole world.
The final speaker was Ludo De Brabander, spokesperson for the Belgian peace organisation Vrede vzw. Ludo remarked that the rising hostility between the US and China is decidedly one-sided. The US is pushing for war while China pushes for peace. It’s true that China is trying to expand its global influence – just as other countries attempt to expand their influence – but so far China has been using strictly political and economic tools, and respecting the sovereignty of other countries. China has increased its military budget in recent years, but it remains less than a third that of the US. China has one overseas military base, compared the US’s several hundred. Hence we can say that China’s military policy is directed towards defending itself.
Ludo suggested that the peace movement work closely with the environmental movement, in which there are similar dynamics at play. While the US President continues to deny anthropogenic climate change, China has just announced its pledge to be carbon neutral by 2060. There’s an important opportunity at this moment in time to join forces and connect these social and environmental movements.
Following the speeches, the panelists responded to several questions that had been submitted by the audience. On the difficulty of countering incessant and pernicious anti-China propaganda in the media, Margaret Kimberley suggested that one of the most powerful ways to encourage people to think critically on this issue is to remind them about the media frenzy over Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, or the oft-repeated claims that Gaddafi’s troops were taking viagra and engaging in mass rape. These things turned out to be lies, but only after they’d done their job of winning support (active or tacit) for a war agenda.
In terms of building mass opposition to war, Lindsey German pointed out that public opinion in Britain tends to be surprisingly anti-war, in no small part because it’s working class people that have to fight in wars, and it’s working class people that suffer from insufficient services, health care and education because so much revenue goes towards the military. Julie Tang reiterated this point. Polling indicates that American voters’ main concerns are the pandemic, the environment and the economy; they’re not as concerned about China as the media makes us think. If political candidates want to attract the support of voters, they should address themselves to the really big problems in US society: racism, the pandemic, the environment, and rebuilding the economy.
This discussion concluded a very powerful and useful webinar that consolidated peace movements and activists from around the world. You can watch back on the No Cold War Youtube channel. You may also want to sign the statement ‘A New Cold War against China is against the interests of humanity’ and sign up to the No Cold War newsletter.
A version of this article first appeared in the Morning Star.
Verso’s latest offering on China is a concise and thought-provoking overview of nearly two centuries of Chinese revolutionary movements, written by respected historian Rebecca Karl.
Starting with the Taiping Rebellion (from 1850), the book goes on to discuss the collapse of the Qing Dynasty, the establishment of the Republic of China (1912), the May Fourth Movement (1919 onwards), the rises and falls of the United Front between the Communist Party and the Guomindang, the founding of the People’s Republic (1949), the Cultural Revolution, and the reform period (1978 onwards). Importantly, the author discusses the links between these processes, and explores their connection to contemporaneous events and changes in the rest of the world.
Karl provides a particularly interesting and nuanced analysis of some of the most controversial phases of modern Chinese history: the Hundred Flowers campaign, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution. Although she doesn’t shirk from describing the terrible excesses and mistakes associated with those periods, she manages to avoid the childish tropes usually found in Western historical accounts (Mao as crazed and vengeful dictator, etc). Instead, Karl describes the incredibly complex domestic and international political context, the deteriorating relationship between China and the Soviet Union, the resulting apparent need for China to be economically self-reliant; along with the heated ideological debates within the Communist Party about how to build socialism in a vast and underdeveloped country that had still yet to wipe out feudalism and undergo industrial revolution.
The turbulent history of the relationship between the Communist Party and the Guomindang is also told with skill and subtlety.
Turning to the post-1978 ‘reform and opening up’ era, Karl offers a disappointingly one-sided critique that takes its lead from the more extreme elements of the Chinese New Left. Socialism with Chinese Characteristics is portrayed as an unfortunate setback in which socialism has been undone and replaced with vicious neoliberalism and ruthless repression.
Karl’s criticism of the worrying inequality to be found in China today is of course valid and important, but it should be balanced with some discussion of how quality of life has improved for the vast majority of Chinese people. This rising baseline of human development certainly mitigates rising inequality, and helps to explain why the Chinese government retains its popularity and legitimacy.
Deng Xiaoping and his successors are criticised for a strategy in which the ‘ends’ (GDP growth and technical development) justify the ‘means’ (private capital, foreign investment, massive inequality). But this is a misrepresentation. GDP growth and technical development are not ends in themselves; they are a proxy for improving people’s lives and breaking out of backwardness. The reform period has achieved extraordinary successes in poverty alleviation, to a point where extreme poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition and homelessness have been all but wiped out for the first time in China’s history. Is it so difficult to see something socialist in this?
Another complaint about the book its treatment of the Tiananmen Square incident and the situation in Xinjiang. In both cases, the author offers little more than a recapitulation of the standard Western narrative of authoritarian Han Chinese leaders riding roughshod over the will of the masses. Karl certainly doesn’t do her credibility any favours by citing the professional anti-communist and Christian fundamentalist Adrian Zenz in relation to the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.
Disagreements aside, ‘China’s Revolutions in the Modern World’ provides some valuable insight into modern Chinese history. An excellent book to read alongside this one is Han Suyin’s biography of Zhou Enlai, ‘Eldest Son: Zhou Enlai and the Making of Modern China’, covering similar ground but from a different perspective.
This article originally appeared in the Morning Star.
Living in the heartlands of imperialism, you learn to expect censure if you defend socialism and oppose war. To be attacked by the forces of the hard right is nothing unusual; as Sekou Toure observed, “if the enemy is not doing anything against you, you are not doing anything.” Hence getting trolled by Donald Trump Jr for example can comfortably be worn as a badge of honour.
To be attacked by a stalwart of the left, someone who had been a prominent supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, is of course less welcome. In a recent piece for the New Statesman, Paul Mason singles out the Morning Star and Socialist Action as being “the two left-wing publications in the UK that appear committed to whitewashing China’s authoritarian form of capitalism”, highlighting articles by myself, the Morning Star editor and John Ross.
Uncritical parroting of Cold War propaganda
Mason’s key complaint against the anti-imperialist left is that it “parrots the Chinese state”, for example by labelling the Hong Kong protestors as a “violent fringe”. It’s ironic then that, in his critique, he prefers to parrot the China hawks in Washington – the likes of Donald Trump, Mike Pompeo, John Bolton and Peter Navarro.
Mason states for example that the Chinese state is “using forced labour, sexual violence, coercive ‘re-education’ and mass incarceration” to destroy Uyghur culture. The evidentiary basis for this narrative, which has now become hegemonic in the West, is laughably weak, on a par with the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, or that Muammar Gaddafi was using rape as a weapon of war.
These are perhaps sore points, since Mason supported the bombing of Libya and as recently as 2017 put forward the view that Iraq was ‘bluffing’ about having WMD, implying that the Iraq War was built on faulty intelligence – rather than being a knowing and callous act of imperialist domination.
The allegations regarding Chinese mistreatment of Xinjiang’s Uyghur population have been comprehensively debunked by Ajit Singh and Max Blumenthal, and there’s no need to recapitulate their work here. What’s worth noting however is the depressing familiarity of how the ‘Uyghur genocide’ story has become so widespread: separatist extremist group (in this case the World Uyghur Congress) forms an alliance with Washington-based NGO (in this case the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders), which uses US tax-payer money – via the National Endowment for Democracy – to create a slick PR campaign building mass support for a broad-based attack on an ‘enemy state’ (in this case China).
It was a very similar process that won significant support within the Western left for NATO’s wars in Yugoslavia, Libya and Syria. Interestingly, the two publications Mason cites in his recent attack – the Morning Star and Socialist Action – were among the honourable few that weren’t duped by this propaganda. Paul Mason on the other hand cannot make such a claim. Indeed his major criticism of the Western powers over Libya and Syria is the ‘powerlessness’ of their regime change operations.
By accusing others of “parroting the Chinese state”, Mason is simply trying to divert attention from his own record of parroting State Department talking points that serve specifically to build public support for wars (of both the hot and cold variety).
This isn’t taking a principled and consistent stance against injustice; it’s feeding into a dangerous propaganda campaign that’s combined with economic sanctions, naval patrols in the South China Sea, the construction of military bases, a strategy of ‘China encirclement’, diplomatic attacks, support for violent separatist movements, and an economic and political ‘delinking’ that threatens to demolish global cooperation around some of the crucial issues of our time, including climate change and pandemic containment.
Neither Washington nor Beijing?
Mason informs his readers that “the point of being a socialist is being able to walk and chew gum at the same time.” This isn’t an idea that I’ve come across in the writings of Marx, Engels or Lenin, but presumably it’s buried somewhere in the Grundrisse. Anyway, Mason’s point is that a good leftist can condemn both the US and China; that one should adopt a position of Neither Washington nor Beijing. This position – which appears to be gaining traction in parts of the left – was absurd in its original Neither Washington nor Moscow form, and it’s absurd now.
To put an equals sign between the US and China, to portray their relationship as a rivalry between imperialist blocs, is to completely misunderstand the most important question in global politics today.
The baseline foreign policy position of the US is to maintain its hegemony; to consolidate a system of international relations (economic, diplomatic, cultural and military) that benefits the US ruling class. This has its clearest expression in the wars, sanctions and destabilisation campaigns it wages, with devastating consequences, in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Zimbabwe and elsewhere.
China on the other hand strongly promotes peaceful cooperation and competition; it consistently opposes war; and it pushes a multipolar model of international relations – “a pattern of multiple centres of power, all with a certain capacity to influence world affairs, shaping a negotiated order” (Jenny Clegg, China’s Global Strategy).
In the words of Hugo Chávez: ”China is large but it’s not an empire. China doesn’t trample on anyone, it hasn’t invaded anyone, it doesn’t go around dropping bombs on anyone.” Equating the US and China means failing to stand up to a Cold War which is being waged specifically by the US and its allies. The target of this war is not just China but the whole concept of a democratic world order. As such, Neither Washington nor Beijing is better understood as Neither imperialism nor anti-imperialism.
The point of being a socialist
If there’s a “point to being a socialist”, it’s to work for the maximum extension of human rights to all people. Foremost among those rights are the right to life, to peace, to education, to healthcare, to freedom from poverty, to freedom from discrimination. A socialist surely believes that all people should be able to access a dignified, fulfilling, healthy and interesting life.
China has made rather impressive progress in that direction, having lifted over 800 million people out of poverty in the last few decades. At the time of the declaration of the People’s Republic in 1949, after a century of imperialist domination and civil war, China was one of the poorest countries in the world, with an average life expectancy of just over 30 and a pitifully low level of human development. Currently China’s life expectancy is 77 years and its literacy rate 100 percent. All Chinese have access to healthcare, education and modern energy. This is, without any exaggeration, the most remarkable campaign against poverty and for human rights in history.
The late Egyptian political theorist Samir Amin, who knew something of the conditions of life in the Third World, wrote of China’s successes in poverty alleviation: “No one in good faith who has travelled thousands of miles through the rich and poor regions of China, and visited many of its large cities, can fail to admit that he never encountered there anything as shaming as the unavoidable sights in the countryside and shantytowns of the third world.” (Beyond US Hegemony: Assessing the Prospects for a Multipolar World)
And yet, a prominent British leftist like Paul Mason can casually reduce the nature of the Chinese state to “China’s capitalist billionaire torturers” and “the brutal authoritarianism of the CCP.” Quite frankly, if you acknowledge China’s successes improving the lives of hundreds of millions of people but you think it’s “brutal vulture capitalism”, then perhaps you have to stop calling yourself a leftist and accept that brutal vulture capitalism is better than you thought!
Oppose imperialism and McCarthyism
The fundamental problem with Paul Mason is that, in the final analysis, he stands on the side of imperialism. Even his support for the Left Labour project – now quickly dropped in the era of Starmer – existed within a pro-imperialist framework, rejecting Corbyn’s anti-war internationalism and pushing support for NATO and Trident renewal.
Washington is currently leading the way towards a New Cold War that poses a potentially existential threat to humanity. This New Cold War is accompanied by a New McCarthyism which seeks to denigrate and isolate those people and movements that work for peace and multipolarity. In joining in with – and giving a left veneer to – this witch-hunt, Paul Mason provides proof once again that he doesn’t have any useful role to play in paving the long road to socialism.