Professors Zhang Weiwei and Jeffrey Sachs call for multilateralism and an end to the New Cold War

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 US presidential elections and the prospects for peace

This article originally appeared in the Morning Star, and has since been translated into Dutch on ChinaSquare.


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.

International peace movements unite against the New Cold War

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.

Book review: Rebecca Karl – China’s Revolutions in the Modern World: A Brief Interpretive History

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.

Socialists should oppose the new cold war against China – a reply to Paul Mason

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.

Labour should not be parroting Trump’s anti-China Cold War rhetoric

This article originally appeared in the Morning Star


There’s been a worrying upsurge in anti-China propaganda on both sides of the Atlantic. While imperialist hostility towards China’s rise has become an intrinsic characteristic of the current era – particularly since the launch of the ‘Pivot to Asia’ by the Obama administration in 2011 – the rhetoric has become increasingly hysterical and absurd over the last few months.

There are currently four main lines of attack being pushed on a daily basis by the US and British ruling classes:

  1. The newly-introduced National Security Law is an attack on the basic freedoms of the people of Hong Kong and violates China’s legal obligations under the Sino-British joint declaration of 1984.
  2. The Uyghur population of Xinjiang is being repressed in any number of indescribably brutal ways, including through mass incarceration in ‘re-education camps’ and forced sterilisation.
  3. China – as a result of its secrecy, incompetence, vindictiveness, or some combination thereof – didn’t give the world sufficient warning of the Covid-19 outbreak and must therefore bear responsibility for the havoc being wreaked by the pandemic.
  4. China’s technology companies are providing, or seek to provide, secret information to the Chinese state, and therefore their involvement in Western economies should be actively restricted.

Unsurprisingly, it’s the US government leading the charge. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accuses China of having “broken multiple international commitments including those to the WHO, the WTO, the United Nations and the people of Hong Kong”. He rails against China’s “predatory economic practices, such as trying to force nations to do business with Huawei, an arm of the Chinese Communist Party’s surveillance state.”

This is a bi-partisan position in the US, sadly. Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden is keen to prove he’s also every bit the China hawk, threatening sanctions and promoting a zany and totally unfounded smear about the forced sterilisation of Uyghur women. Even progressive congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib have joined in with this mindless China-bashing.

In both the US and Britain, relations with China are at their lowest point for decades. It’s no surprise that the Boris Johnson government, instinctively Atlanticist and desperately pursuing a post-Brexit trade agreement with the US at almost any cost, is largely parroting Trump’s line.

Having agreed in January to Huawei having a role in the development of Britain’s 5G infrastructure, the government is now considering dropping Huawei so as not to be “vulnerable to a high-risk state vendor”. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has stated there’ll be “no return to business as usual” in Britain’s relations with China. Meanwhile, leading government officials have been vocal in their criticism of Hong Kong’s new National Security Law, going so far as to offer some three million Hong Kong residents the opportunity to settle in Britain and apply for citizenship.

Those of us who stand for peace and for mutually beneficial cooperation between Britain and China might hope that the Labour Party would provide some meaningful opposition to the government’s reckless behaviour. Unfortunately the indications thus far are that Labour is enthusiastically climbing aboard the New Cold War bandwagon.

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy has been actively promoting anti-China propaganda and pushing the Tories to take a harder stance against China, for example urging that action be taken against British businesses that are “complicit in the repression” in Hong Kong (ie that don’t actively support the riots).

While Nandy’s words might bring disappointment to socialists, progressives and peace activists, they were at least welcome in certain quarters: notorious right-wing blogger Guido Fawkes celebrated the “welcome change in Labour Party policy – standing up to, rather than cosying up to despotic regimes.”

Nandy’s position is however positively nuanced in comparison to that of Stephen Kinnock, Shadow Minister for Asia and the Pacific, who accuses China of promoting its “model of responsive authoritarian government” worldwide. Kinnock describes the ‘golden era’ of Sino-British relations, inaugurated during the Cameron government, as being an “abject failure” in which Britain had “rolled out the red carpet for China and got very very little in return”.

It therefore seems that the Labour leadership in its current incarnation is moving towards unambiguous support for the US-led New Cold War on China. It’s particularly demoralising that, with a few honourable exceptions, most notably Diane Abbott, the Labour left isn’t currently putting up any serious resistance to this dangerous trajectory.

While very few Labour MPs have spoken of the dangers of a New Cold War, John McDonnell has recorded a histrionic (and hopelessly one-sided) denunciation of the Chinese state’s alleged mistreatment of the Uyghur Muslims. Apsana Begum has repeated these tropes in parliament, claiming that when the Chinese government celebrates its successful suppression of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement’s murderous bombing campaign, its “definition of terrorism is troublingly vague”. The usually-excellent Claudia Webbe has called on the government to “oppose state-sanctioned violence” in Hong Kong, choosing to ignore the United States-sanctioned violence of separatist protestors.

This is all frankly disastrous and worrying. The US administration is leading a very serious escalation of the New Cold War, trying to isolate China, trying to demonise it, trying to undermine it and to prevent its economic rise. The propaganda ‘soft war’ with regard to Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Covid-19 is combined with moves towards economic ‘decoupling’ along with ‘hard war’ encirclement measures, including ramped up and provocative patrols in the South China Sea.

A New Cold War will bring no benefit whatsoever to ordinary British people. It will mean fewer jobs, reduced investment, reduced export markets and increased prices on imports. All this will be accompanied by rising anti-Asian racism and a renewed momentum along the ideological dead-end of empire nostalgia. Even the relatively more sane representatives of the ruling class such as Jeffrey Sachs recognise the danger of this wave of sinophobia “spiralling into greater controversy and greater danger”, resulting in a US-China Cold War that’s “a bigger global threat than the coronavirus.”

What British people need to do, in the interests of peace and progress, is to push for respectful, friendly and mutually beneficial relations with China. Opposing the New Cold War must become a key priority for the labour and anti-war movements.


Activists in Britain and the US are organising an international online meeting against the New Cold War, to take place on Saturday 25 July at 2pm BST. Speakers include Medea Benjamin, Vijay Prashad, Qiao Collective, Wang Wen, Jenny Clegg and Kate Hudson. More info at www.nocoldwar.org

From Bristol to Boston to Hong Kong, the statues of colonisers and racists must fall

On 7 June, during an anti-racist rally in Bristol (part of the global wave of protests in the aftermath of the police murder of George Floyd), a group of protestors ripped a statue of notorious slave trader Edward Colston from its plinth and rolled it into Bristol Harbour. This act, although widely condemned by establishment politicians (Home Secretary Priti Patel for example describing it as “sheer vandalism”), was justly celebrated by anti-racists and anti-colonialists worldwide. A prominent member of the Royal African Company, Colston is estimated to have been involved in the enslavement of at least 84,000 Africans, nearly a quarter of whom died on the journey between West Africa and the Americas. People in Bristol – particularly its black community – have long campaigned for the statue to be removed, and have endured nothing but endless prevarication from the local authorities.

Colston’s upending was quickly followed by similar actions around the world. In Boston, Christopher Columbus was decapitated. In Richmond, Virginia, Jefferson Davis was toppled. (Davis was president of the Confederate States from 1861 to 1865 and a pro-slavery activist). The long-running campaign to remove Oxford University’s statue of the white supremacist and imperialist Cecil Rhodes has gathered fresh momentum. In Antwerp, Belgium, the statue of King Leopold II has had to be pre-emptively removed, while in Brussels, protestors climbed on a statue of Leopold and defiantly flew a giant flag of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which country suffered so terribly under Leopold’s brutal colonial rule.

Slavery and colonialism created the foundations of modern capitalism

This struggle around statues is immensely important. In Britain, statues of people like Edward Colston and Cecil Rhodes provide an uncomfortable reminder of just how much of Britain’s ‘greatness’ is built on a foundation of slavery, colonialism, plunder and genocide. The industrial revolution, which propelled Britain to domination in the early 19th century, started with the development of the steam engine. This scientific development was funded to no small degree with profits from the slave trade. Many of Britain’s cities blossomed as a result of “the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins”, as Karl Marx so memorably put it.

For those of us that live in countries that have benefitted from colonialism, it’s crucial that we assess and understand this history. The primary beneficiary of colonialism and the slave trade was of course the capitalist class. However, ordinary people also benefitted to some extent. Indeed the ruling classes sought to justify colonialism on the basis that the profits resulting from it could be used to improve conditions for the working class and thereby maintain social stability. It was none other than Cecil Rhodes who said: “The Empire is a bread and butter question. If you want to avoid a civil war you must become imperialists.” Only by facing up to these uncomfortable facts can we hope to forge a path towards a united, non-racist and non-imperialist future.

The link between racism and imperialism

The tearing down of statues in the context of a global protest against white supremacy also reminds us just how closely linked racism and imperialism are. Columbus, Leopold, Rhodes, Colston and their ilk were racists and imperialists, and as representatives of a relentlessly expanding European capitalism couldn’t realistically be otherwise. Racism served as a justification for slavery and empire: “all men are created equal”, but that doesn’t apply to subhuman species. As capital spread into Africa, Asia and the Americas, so did a globalised racial hierarchy that continues to assert itself today on the streets of Minneapolis and elsewhere.

Just as racism in the colonial era served to prevent the working class in the imperialist countries from taking up the interests of the masses in the oppressed countries, racism in the modern era serves to divide the white working class in the imperialist countries from the masses of the developing world, and furthermore from minority communities originating in the developing world. The constant theme of racism is therefore its role in undermining solidarity between oppressed peoples.

So there is an inextricable link between racism and imperialism. Both are manifestations of national oppression, carried out by the ruling classes of the major colonialist countries (initially Britain, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Holland, Belgium and Germany, and later the US and Japan) as a means of perpetuating capitalism. This link between racism and imperialism is paralleled by the equally inextricable link between anti-racism and anti-imperialism. One cannot meaningfully oppose one manifestation of national oppression without opposing all manifestations of national oppression. To oppose racist policing is also to oppose the legacy of slavery represented by the likes of Edward Colston and Cecil Rhodes. It also means opposing imperialist wars, such as have been carried out against Syria, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia. It also means opposing imperialist destabilisation and coercion, such as is currently being carried out against Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Iran, Cuba, Syria, DPR Korea, Nicaragua and other countries. It also means opposing attempts to reassert US global hegemony, currently gathering steam in the form of a New Cold War against China.

What statues should fall in Hong Kong?

Which brings us to the contentious issue of the protests in Hong Kong, a source of much confusion in the West. As Ajit Singh and Danny Haiphong have recently noted, some of the protest leaders in Hong Kong have attempted to associate themselves with Black Lives Matter, claiming a common cause against oppression and police brutality in spite of their close ties to some of the most reactionary and racist elements in US politics. Student activist Joshua Wong has gone so far as to accuse basketball star LeBron James of hypocrisy over his active support for anti-racist protests in the US and his lack of support for anti-government protests in Hong Kong.

The anti-racist protests taking place around the world in response to the gruesome murder of George Floyd are protests against national oppression, as discussed above. The attacks on the statues of racists, slave-traders, colonisers and imperialists are deeply connected to this movement. If black lives matter, the adulation of colonial oppressors must end.

So are the anti-government protests in Hong Kong also directed at racism and imperialism? If they are, wouldn’t we expect the protestors to be toppling the statues of Queen Victoria, King George VI and Thomas Jackson? After all Hong Kong is practically the quintessential example of colonialism. Incorporated into China since 214 BCE, it was seized by Britain in 1842 following the First Opium War, converted into a colony, and used as a base from which to direct British commercial operations, the most important of which was pushing opium onto the Chinese people. In 155 years of colonial rule, there were 28 British governors, with not a single one elected by Chinese people; Hong Kong was run essentially as an apartheid colony in which white people led a highly privileged existence.

Hong Kong was only returned to Chinese control in 1997, and thus a great deal of its colonial legacy remains. And yet the Hong Kong protestors don’t attack this legacy; in fact they are nostalgic for the days of British rule – waving union jacks and singing God Save the Queen – and they work closely with imperialist anti-China hawks like Tom Cotton, Marco Rubio and Mike Pompeo (all of whom, incidentally, are violently opposed to Black Lives Matter).

The only action Joshua Wong and his group have taken in relation to statues was to cover the Golden Bauhinia statue in black cloth ahead of President Xi Jinping’s visit to the city in 2017. The Golden Bauhinia statue was built in 1997 to celebrate the handover of Hong Kong and the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. So it turns out the Hong Kong protestors attack anti-colonial symbols, not colonial symbols. This amply demonstrates the fundamental difference between the global anti-racist protests and the Hong Kong ‘pro-democracy’ protests.

Toppling the statues of colonialists and white supremacists is a matter of global resistance against oppression. From Bristol to Boston to Hong Kong, the statues of colonisers and racists must fall.

Karl Marx in Wuhan: how Chinese socialism is defeating COVID-19

The initial outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) took place in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, in early January 2020. The epidemic was limited almost entirely to China until a month later, when it flared up in Iran, South Korea, Japan and Italy. By 11 March, it was clear that sustained community-level transmission of the virus was occurring in multiple regions of the world, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared it a pandemic. With the virus spreading throughout Europe and North America, there is now a serious possibility that COVID-19 will infect a large proportion of the global population and cause the early death of millions of people. It is a global health emergency of almost unprecedented proportions.

China’s successes containing the virus

In the absence of a vaccine or cure, the only way to defeat a viral epidemic is to drastically reduce contagion, and this is achieved through rigorous testing, contact tracing, isolation of patients, and social distancing for the wider population.

Once it understood the nature and scope of the crisis, the Chinese government took swift, uncompromising action. A total lockdown was imposed in Hubei, the epicentre of the outbreak, on 23 January, at which point there were around 800 confirmed cases. Tens of millions of people were required to stay indoors. Schools and workplaces were closed, and sporting and cultural events were cancelled. In the words of Bruce Aylward, epidemiologist and senior advisor to the Director General of WHO, “old-fashioned public health tools” were deployed “with a rigour and innovation of approach on a scale that we’ve never seen in history.”

The report of the WHO-China Joint Mission, conducted in late February, concluded that “in the face of a previously unknown virus, China has rolled out perhaps the most ambitious, agile and aggressive disease containment effort in history.” The report noted that up-to-date public health information was regularly and widely distributed through multiple channels; there was a coordinated nationwide effort to get sufficient medical supplies to Hubei; and local authorities worked to ensure a stable supply of basic goods and to prevent speculation and hoarding.

The government announced immediately that testing and treatment – including expensive and sophisticated techniques such as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation – would be free to all, and it immediately introduced various measures to mitigate the effect on people’s daily lives (for example pausing mortgage and credit card payments, and providing subsidies to ensure continued payment of wages). Food shopping moved completely online, and provincial authorities and Communist Party of China (CPC) local branches coordinated to ensure every home received food packages and that people on medication received their prescriptions.

More than 30,000 doctors and nurses were sent to Wuhan from across China. Forty-five hospitals were designated as COVID-19 treatment centres, 12 temporary hospitals were converted from exhibition centres and similar buildings, and two brand new hospitals (with a capacity of 1,000 and 1,300 beds) were constructed from the ground up in a matter of days. The health system prioritised keeping people alive, scaling up the production of ventilators and adding capacity across the range of treatment and detection options. Dr Aylward remarked: “the Chinese are really good at keeping people alive with this disease.”

Public health officials attempted to trace every single confirmed case, and then tested everyone that had come into contact with the infected person, in line with the WHO’s clear message to “test, test, test”.

China’s containment effort has been facilitated by the extensive use of advanced technology. Temperature checking stations have been set up throughout the country, and people have been asked to install a smartphone app that provides information, allows users to check and report symptoms, and enables the health authorities to monitor the spread of the disease.

Artificial intelligence is being widely deployed; for example a prediction model “is helping health care authorities in Chongqing and Shenzhen predict outbreaks ahead of time with accuracy rates of more than 90 per cent.” Meanwhile Chinese tech giants have made crucial services available for the fight against COVID-19. “Alibaba Cloud has offered AI computing capabilities to public research institutions for free to support virus gene sequencing, new drug R&D and protein screenings. Baidu has opened up LinearFold, its RNA prediction algorithm, to genetic testing agencies, epidemic prevention centres and research institutes around the world. Neusoft Medical donated high-end CT scanners, AI medical imaging, cloud platform and remote advanced post-processing software to hospitals in Wuhan.”

Robots have been put to use delivering meals to people under quarantine. Huawei and China Telecom worked together to set up a 5G-enabled remote video diagnostic centre, enabling medical staff to conduct remote online consultations.

In a clear sign of its commitment to international cooperation to contain the virus, the Chinese Centre for Disease Control sequenced the entire COVID-19 genome and published it within a few days of the virus being identified. By comparison, it took two months for the genome to be sequenced during the 2014 Ebola outbreak.

China’s “incredibly difficult measures” were recognised by the WHO as having probably prevented hundreds of thousands of cases. The crisis reached its peak in early February, when new confirmed cases were increasing at a rate of around 3,000 per day. The curve started to flatten in mid-February, and was almost completely flat by the beginning of March: in the first three weeks of March, case numbers increased from 80,026 to 81,008, and at the time of writing (in late March), almost all new cases in China are imported rather than domestically transmitted.

Containment measures successfully prevented any really serious outbreak in China outside Hubei. The worst affected province after Hubei has been Guangdong, a vast province of 113 million people in Southern China, where by late March there had been around 1,400 confirmed cases and just eight deaths. At the time of writing, two of the provinces neighbouring Hubei, Hunan and Anhui, have zero active confirmed cases.

With the outbreak clearly under control in China, lockdown measures are being eased and people are starting to return to normal life, while remaining vigilant to the possibility of a resurgence of the virus. China’s extraordinary response to COVID-19, although it came at significant economic and human cost, has provided an indispensable lesson to the rest of the world in how to tackle this pandemic. An epidemiological analysis in The Lancet stated: “What has happened in China shows that quarantine, social distancing, and isolation of infected populations can contain the epidemic. This impact of the COVID-19 response in China is encouraging for the many countries where COVID-19 is beginning to spread.”

Continue reading Karl Marx in Wuhan: how Chinese socialism is defeating COVID-19

Building solidarity and friendship with China: notes on a trip to the People’s Republic

Between 27 December and 7 January, I joined a China Silk Road Tour led by former US congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and organised by Chinese-American activist Lee Siu Hin. There were various strands of political ideology to be found among the 20 delegates, but we were united in our opposition to the growing US-led Cold War, which is directed primarily at China and which seeks to prevent the emergence of a multipolar world.

We spent around three days each in Beijing, Xi’an (capital of Shaanxi province, and one of the oldest cities in China), Dunhuang (a small oasis city that served as an important stop on the ancient Silk Road) and Ürümqi (capital of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region). China is enormous, but this itinerary – stretching across the north of the country – allowed us to develop some understanding of its diversity.

Housing

Walking around in Beijing, Xi’an, Dunhuang and Ürümqi, one thing that immediately strikes you is how clean, modern, safe and well-organised Chinese cities are. The metro is cheap, extensive, efficient, and easy to navigate. There are public toilets everywhere. The streets are spotless. People come across as friendly and confident. Remarkably, you don’t see beggars or people sleeping on the street. Those in the delegation who live in London or New York all commented on the contrast.

In meetings with the Chinese Academy of Marxism and the Beijing People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, we were able to find out more about the housing situation in China. Around 90 percent of Chinese families own their own homes (and the majority of these homes are owned outright, without a mortgage). The remaining 10 percent live in heavily subsidised social housing, or in accommodation provided to migrant workers by their employers. The latter group – migrant workers from rural areas – also benefit from the fact that the Chinese Revolution wiped out feudalism and the landlord system in the countryside, so if work dries up in the city, migrant workers have the option of going back to their land. As a result, there are none of the urban slums that are so commonplace in a lot of Asian countries.

The housing situation is by no means perfect – significant inequality has opened up, particularly between urban residents (who were able to buy their apartments at very low cost during the first phase of housing reform) and villagers and migrants; however, the government is working hard to resolve various housing-related problems: preventing speculation, liberalising the hukuo (household registration) system, building millions of units of low-cost social housing, and investing heavily in the development of smaller inland cities so as to even out the imbalance between the big East Coast cities and the rest of the country.

To basically solve the problem of homelessness in an enormous Asian country of 1.3 billion people is a remarkable accomplishment. It’s extremely difficult for most other countries in Asia and Africa – those that didn’t have thoroughgoing land revolutions – to meaningfully tackle homelessness. Meanwhile in the developed capitalist countries, the resources exist to address the problem, but the political system is built around the needs of the rich and therefore homelessness is simply never a priority. In short, it’s one of the huge socio-economic problems that only socialism has solved.

Addressing inequality

Housing inequality is connected to the broader issue of inequality between urban and rural areas, between coastal and inland zones, and between city residents and migrant workers. The Chinese development model in the 1980s and 1990s was based on allowing the major trading cities on the south-eastern coast to develop first, attracting foreign capital and new technology by offering a huge pool of low-cost, well-educated and diligent workers. Many of these workers were migrants – typically people in their 20s – who would come from the countryside because they could earn more in low-paid factory work than they could from their land (with 20 percent of the world’s population but only 6 percent of its arable land, overpopulation of the countryside has been an intractable problem in China for many centuries).

The migrant worker system is particularly attractive for foreign capital, because it means companies can base their pay scales on the costs of a single worker rather than a whole family, and because it’s consistent with seasonal or casual work (since migrant workers simply go back to the village when labour supply exceeds demand).

The Chinese government recognises that this system has fomented inequality and that the millions of migrant workers have benefitted far less from China’s rapid growth than most of the rest of the population. However, in a situation where it had practically zero capital and desperately needed to attract investment to develop its technology and integrate into the global economy, China had little choice but to implement pro-capital policies. From the late 1990s, China has had the material base to deliver much improved living conditions for all workers.

In terms of protecting the rights of migrant workers in the big cities, the two major policy strands are to mandate higher pay and better conditions, and to gradually replace the hukuo system with a residency permit that will allow long-term migrant workers access to the full range of rights and services provided to city residents.

The government is also pursuing a broader rebalancing strategy, promoting the development of smaller cities in the west, north and centre of the country. Towards this aim, there has been incredible infrastructure development over the last decade. The whole country is connected via high-speed rail and road. Modern energy is available everywhere, and internet access is practically universal. Although Xinjiang has historically been the poorest region of the country, we found it to be almost as modern and developed as Beijing, with good quality roads, 4G internet, plentiful housing, and a newly-opened metro system.

In Dunhuang, a small city of around 180,000 people, we travelled on the local network of electric buses, which run regularly through the city. We also happened upon the Gansu Dunhuang Solar Park, one of the big new industries in the area. It’s utterly enormous, with an annual net energy output of around 80 GWh. China was responsible for 32 percent of global renewable energy investment last year, and is increasingly recognised as the world leader in preventing climate catastrophe. Its move to green development fits perfectly with its rebalancing strategy, and solar parks and other alternative energy plants are being set up throughout the country.

We took the high-speed train from Beijing to Xi’an, and from Liuyuan (Gansu) to Ürümqi. The Beijing-Xi’an journey was cheap, comfortable and fast, taking a little over four hours to cover a distance approximately equal to that between New York City and Chicago – which journey would take at least 19 hours by train and cost several times more. China’s state-owned high speed rail network is by far the largest in the world; in fact it accounts for two-thirds of global HSR capacity. CRRC, the state-owned train manufacturer, is currently working on magnetic levitation trains that will travel at 600km/h – approximately twice the speed of current HSR.

China’s vision for the coming 20-30 years focuses on continuing this process of rebalancing, spreading prosperity throughout the country, and moving to a model of development that’s highly innovative, technological, ecological, localised and networked.

Air pollution

Many people associate China with terrifying levels of pollution. Our experience was that the air pollution in Beijing is noticeable but not terrible. Residents all say it’s improved massively in recent years. We learned at the Beijing People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries that the current mayor of Beijing, Chen Jining, is an environmental engineer who got his PhD at Imperial College London and who was China’s environment minister from 2015 to 2017. He has been strongly focused on reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and establishing Beijing as a global innovator in the fight against environmental catastrophe. One recent innovation has been to ban the purchase of internal combustion-based cars – that is, if you buy a new car, it has to run on new energy.

Similar processes are taking place throughout China, as the government tries to simultaneously tackle air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Although China’s rapid economic growth has been based in no small part on its abundant supply of cheap coal, coal takes up an ever-decreasing share of its energy mix (down from 80 percent to 60 percent in the last decade), and China is by far the biggest investor and innovator in solar and wind energy.

Mistreatment of Muslims

Western media has built a powerful narrative of Chinese oppression of its Muslim minority. Most notably, we’re told of the existence of ‘concentration camps’ in Xinjiang, where millions of people are denied their religious and human rights. The US House of Representatives recently passed the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act, calling for sanctions to be imposed against China because of the alleged detention of millions of Uighur Muslims.

Urumqi skyline

Our delegation wasn’t a fact-finding mission; we didn’t have a specific aim to verify the truth of these various allegations. We did however walk freely around Ürümqi and the Muslim quarter in Xi’an, and failed to see any evidence of religious or ethnic oppression. In Ürümqi one sees mosques everywhere; indeed Xinjiang has one of the highest number of mosques per capita in the world. Walking well off the beaten track, we saw hundreds of Chinese Muslims, wearing their distinctive Uighur dress (including headscarves for many women) and going about their lives without any indication that they were living in fear of persecution. We ate in Uighur restaurants, in which halal food was served and alcohol wasn’t available.

What’s true is that the levels of security in Ürümqi are much higher than the other places we visited – you walk through metal detectors and have your bag x-rayed when going into any tourist spot, train station or major shopping area. This is a response to a wave of terrorist attacks conducted by al Qaeda-aligned groups since the 1990s. China has attempted to tackle terrorism through a holistic approach involving security, poverty alleviation and education. It is the latter part which has been most controversial within the western human rights community. Where China is attempting to tackle religious extremism with what it considers to be a fairly soft touch – requiring people to attend courses on religious tolerance (as opposed to, say, holding people captive for years on Guantanamo and subjecting them to vicious torture) – this has been portrayed as a system of arbitrary mass incarceration. Such far-fetched Cold War propaganda has been helpfully debunked by investigative journalists Ajit Singh and Max Blumenthal. The success of the anti-terrorism campaign is indicated by the fact that there hasn’t been a terror attack in Xinjiang for the last three years.

Dancing in the main square in Urumqi

Human rights

Soon after the end of our trip, the news came out that Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth had been denied entry to Hong Kong, where he was planning to release a report “spotlighting Beijing’s deepening assault on international efforts to uphold human rights”. This led to a chorus of protests in the media about Chinese abuse of human rights.

One thing that’s fairly obvious as you travel around China and talk to ordinary Chinese people is that the Chinese government is very much focused on human rights. First and foremost among these is the right to life: to eat, to work, to get an education, to receive good quality healthcare, to live in a secure home, to enjoy leisure time, to pursue one’s interests. In terms of these crucial rights, no state in history has made as powerful a contribution as that of the People’s Republic of China – no state in history has lifted so many out of poverty, or provided education and housing for so many, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion and income level. The enormous popularity of the Chinese government within China is down to its record in delivering on people’s needs. Meanwhile there’s very little demand for a western-style parliamentary system, because the particular configuration of political forces that prefigured the parliamentary system in the early days of European capitalism doesn’t prevail in China.

The activities of Human Rights Watch in relation to China must be considered in terms of the overall geopolitical situation. US capital is leading a ‘full-court press’ against China, with the aim of preventing (or at least decelerating) its rise. Ultimately the western capitalist countries would like to see the overthrow of the Chinese Communist Party government and its replacement with a regime that’s willing to put the Chinese people and resources at the service of multinational capital. They want a neo-colonial relationship with China, which ultimately would constitute a disastrous blow of untold proportions for the human rights of the Chinese people. This is the context of the ‘Pivot to Asia’, of Trump’s trade war, of the media frenzy about Xinjiang and Hong Kong, and of the endless reports issued by the likes of Kenneth Roth.

Say no to the New Cold War

While our delegation was in Gansu, on 3 January, we received the news that Iranian general Qasem Soleimani had been murdered by US forces in Iraq. This reckless and illegal act marks a significant escalation against Iran. It’s almost certainly not a coincidence that, just a few days previously, Iran, China and Russia launched their first joint naval exercises in the Gulf of Oman. An alliance of China, Russia and Iran – working closely with progressive Latin America, South Africa, Vietnam, Syria, Iraq, Belarus and others – is a real threat to US attempts to reassert its global dominance. Trump’s murder of Soleimani should therefore be seen not only as an attack on the people of Iran but on the entire multipolar project, on the right of nations to determine their own development paths.

With the new Cold Warriors going all out to demonise and undermine China, it’s more important than ever to build solidarity and friendship with the People’s Republic.