The West's campaign against China

By Dave Holmes

July 30, 2021  — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Arguing for Socialism — Socialists are not the only ones who talk about a new cold war between the US and China. It is becoming a commonplace in the mainstream media.

But we have an explanation for it. All the endless propaganda and punitive measures against China are part of a campaign by Western imperialism, principally the United States, to isolate and contain China and reassert Washington’s hitherto uncontested hegemony — economically, militarily and politically.

Despite its enormous power, the US is in relative decline. Just compare its position now to that at the end of World War II. Then it was the unchallenged world superpower — the only one. Now China is a an emerging superpower. It is challenging the US, both economically and militarily. And the US is beset by truly massive, glaring social problems, obvious to everyone.

Over the last three decades China’s economy has surged forward. Arguably, China now has the world’s biggest economy and is vital to world economic growth. Per capita GDP remains low but it is rising.

One example says a lot for me and I cite it in the pamphlet: China now has 38,000km of high speed rail and plans to increase this to 70,000km by 2035. The US has next to nothing in this regard.

In response to China’s rise, Washington and its Western allies have pushed a raft of economic measures. Huawei has been stopped from bidding on contracts. Chinese companies are not allowed to buy certain assets. Trump imposed a range of tariffs which Biden has not lifted. Australia brought in an unprecedented foreign influence law.

The West’s propaganda campaign

Along with these measures there has been a non-stop drumbeat of propaganda. The Western campaign against China focuses on three broad themes:

  1. A fake concern for human rights centred on Hong Kong and the Uighur Muslim minority in Xingjiang in Western China.
  2. Charges against the Chinese government and China-based companies of tech surveillance, spying and industrial espionage.
  3. Whipping up fear of Chinese military growth and capabilities.

China is capitalist

At this point we have to be clear on one key point — What is the nature of China in a socio-economic sense? In our view, it is capitalist — the state promotes and defends capitalism.

China had a real revolution in 1949. Land reform was carried out and by 1956 the capitalist class had been expropriated. But the Mao leadership was always a privileged Stalinist bureaucratic caste. And over the last 30 or so years, it has restored capitalism. Chris Slee’s article in our pamphlet explains this transformation.

But having said that, we have to recognise that Chinese capitalism has some very distinctive features — the extremely strong centralised state control and the still powerful sector of State Owned Enterprises.

There is some confusion about China on the international left. Some leftists oppose the US cold war attacks but — to varying degrees — they think that China is socialist or at least non-capitalist; that the hue and cry about Uighur oppression is just Western propaganda; and downplay or reject claims that China is fundamentally undemocratic and repressive.

We can discuss this but I think such apologetics just weakens our argument. In fact, the case of China is only one instance of some leftists prettifying authoritarian regimes that come under attack by Washington (other examples include Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Syria under Assad and Zimbabwe under Mugabe).

Cornwall: An illustration of Western hypocrisy

The US charges that the huge Chinese tech company Huawei is under the control of the Chinese government and its technology will be used for spying, or might be used for spying, so we can’t use any of their telecommunications equipment — even though it seems it is the cheapest and best.

Trump even wanted to force Chinese divestment of the popular video-sharing company Tik Tok, accusing it of posing serious security and privacy risks to its 80 million US users. However, Biden has let that one slide.

But Washington’s charges are staggeringly hypocritical. Let’s look at one instance.

In early June the G7 summit was held in Carbis Bay on Cornwall’s north coast. The leaders of the main imperialist countries had a closed session to discuss what to do about China. The final communique predictably attacked China on Xinjiang and Hong Kong and the origins of COVID.

If the G7 leaders had been so minded, they could have travelled up the Cornish coast — about 100km as the crow flies — to Bude.

Bude is the site of a Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) station which plays a key role in tapping into transoceanic communications cables. This is the TEMPORA program first exposed by Edward Snowden in 2013. A Wired report explained:

Interceptors have been placed on around 200 fibre optic cables where they come ashore. This appears to have been done with the secret cooperation, voluntary or forced, of the companies that operate the cables, potentially giving GCHQ access to 10 gigabits of data a second, or 21 petabytes a day …

GCHQ wasn't exaggerating when it used the phrase ‘Mastering the Internet’ in the documents.

Around 300 GCHQ and 250 NSA operatives are tasked with sifting through the data …

They use specific searches, which can relate to trigger words, email addresses of interest, or targeted persons and phone numbers. GCHQ and the NSA have identified 40,000 and 30,000 triggers respectively …

The data is shared with the NSA. In fact, 850,000 NSA contractors have access to the data, according to the documents reported on by the Guardian.

Another report at the time explained that “GCHQ has tapped 200 of the world’s fibre optic cables, is surveilling more than 600 million ‘telephone events’ a day, can intercept emails, check Internet users’ access of websites, and can see what people are posting on Facebook.”

Clearly, China has a lot of catching up to do! The West’s charges really are an extreme case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Spying scandal in Denmark

Let’s look at another example. Last year a scandal erupted in Denmark. The FE — the Danish equivalent of the CIA — was exposed as having spied on its EU and NATO allies on behalf of Washington. Left-wing Denmark-based journalist Ron Ridenour summed it up in a Covert Action report:

Denmark’s military allows the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA) to spy on the nation’s Finance Ministry, Foreign Ministry, private weapons company Terma, the entire Danish population, and Denmark’s closest neighbors: Sweden, Norway, France, Germany and the Netherlands (NL).

This activity is exactly what the West accuses China of doing.

Hypocrisy on human rights 

Now let’s briefly look at the question of human rights.

There is no doubt that China has a repressive, authoritarian regime — a dictatorship. It represses the working class and forces them to endure a harsh exploitation, often for the benefit of big Western corporations.

It also subjects the non-Han Chinese populations in Tibet and Xinjiang to national oppression.

In front of the whole world, it crushed the Hong Kong democracy movement. Whatever the political confusion and mistakes of sections of this movement (calling for Western help, calling for independence) overall it was a progressive, deeply rooted struggle for democratic rights. Socialists had a duty to support it.

But when the West hits China over its repressive policies it is a bit hard to take it seriously. Just look at the US. The Black Lives Matter movement shone a searchlight on the nature of US society: There is what has been called a new Jim Crow system based on massive Black incarceration and racist killer cop forces across the country.

Incarceration plays a huge role in the US. Wikipedia explains the facts:

At the end of 2016, the Prison Policy Initiative, a non-profit organization for decarceration, estimated that in the United States, about 2,298,300 people were incarcerated out of a population of 324.2 million. This means that 0.7% of the population was imprisoned …

Total U.S. incarceration (prisons and jails) peaked in 2008. Total correctional population peaked in 2007. If all prisoners are counted (including those juvenile, territorial, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) (immigration detention), Indian country, and military), then in 2008 the United States had around 24.7% of the world’s 9.8 million prisoners.

As of 2009, the United States had the highest documented incarceration rate in the world, at 754 per 100,000.

A disproportionate percentage of this prison population is Black and minority.

China’s military revolution

The West makes a lot of propaganda about China’s military build-up. A February 26 Monthly Review  article by Liu Zhen explains that the 1991 Gulf War was a wake-up call for China’s leaders:

The Gulf War sparked 30 years of chaos and turmoil in the once powerful Middle Eastern country but also served as a rude awakening for China’s military leaders.

With the technology and firepower on show during the conflict — precision bombing, satellite guidance, missile interception, air-to-surface strike to eliminate tanks, electronic warfare, one-way transparency on the battlefield, stealth bombers — the Gulf War was a “psychological nuclear attack” on China, observers say.

The event helped to kick start China’s military modernisation and led to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) narrowing the gap with the U.S. military so much that it is now considered a “strategic threat”.

Desert Storm, which lasted six weeks, marked the dawn of a warfare revolution, showed the backwardness of the PLA at that time and sparked anxiety regarding national security, experts say.

That’s the reality. China’s military revolution and arms build-up is fundamentally a defensive measure against at the threat of a US attack. China saw what happened to Iraq and doesn’t want the same fate to befall it. Even if China were a vibrant socialist democracy, it would still face the same US war threat and would be forced to develop a countervailing military force strong enough to deter Washington.

US response under Biden

Donald Trump has gone and Biden has reversed many of his policies. But one area where he hasn’t is China. In fact, he has pushed new initiatives aimed at China. A May 31 Sydney Morning Herald article by Stephen Bartholomeusz discussed Biden’s “United States Innovation and Competition Act”:

A sprawling $US250 billion ($324 billion) -plus suite of legislation aimed squarely at enhancing America’s ability to compete with China, along with a grab bag of other anti-China measures, is winding its way through the US Congress …

At the core of the legislation is spending designed to provide incentives for domestic semi-conductor manufacturing and research and development in strategic sectors like artificial intelligence, 5G wireless, quantum computing, biotechnology and robotics — industries that China has identified as central to its plans for global technology leadership and into which it is pouring state funds …

It calls for Taiwan’s inclusion in international bodies; requires an unclassified report on the origins of the coronavirus; opposes international development banks’ assistance to China; provides funding to counter “predatory bilateral lending” (read China’s “Belt and Road” program) and would impose more sanctions on China for its treatment of the Uighurs in Xinjiang.

There’s also proposed sanctions against those engaged in cyber attacks against the US, with particular reference to China, and “transparency requirements ” and the threat of withdrawal of funding from colleges that have Confucius Institute partnerships with Chinese colleges and universities.

Along with the $US360 billion of the continuing Trump administration’s tariffs on China’s exports to the US, which the Biden administration appears in no hurry to revisit, the bill would represent a quite dramatic escalation of US efforts to improve its competitiveness against China.

And the US military continues to guzzle an enormous amount of funds each year. It is renewing its nuclear arsenal and continues to push allies like Japan to shoulder more of the burden of building a military force to counter China.

Of course — just as in the long Cold War with the Soviet Union — everything is presented as the US responding to threats from China. The opposite is true. US bases surround China “like a noose” and the US has a humungous nuclear arsenal. (The US is the only country which has ever used nuclear weapons in war and it refuses to make a no-first-strike pledge). The US routinely interferes in the affairs of other countries and organises destablisation campaigns and coups. Washington is the aggressor and wants to maintain its edge. China is right to be concerned.

Australia & China

I’m sure David Brophy will have a lot to say about the “China panic” in Australia. Our pamphlet also refutes a lot of the hysterical claims about Chinese influence in Australia. So I will be brief.

I wouldn’t dispute that China is active in the Chinese community here or that it surveils Chinese students in Australia or that it tries to cultivate political figures.

The US influence is qualitatively greater than China’s. We can assume it has agents, contacts and informants everywhere — in parliament, in academia, in the community, and in the trade unions.

I hope people read Jeff Sparrow’s recent Guardian article on Bob Hawke. When he was a celebrated trade union leader in the 1970s, Hawke was in regular contact with the US embassy. He said one thing in public and another to his US friends. If Hawke were around today he might well have fallen foul of the new foreign influence laws — after all, he was an unregistered foreign agent.

China’s economic influence has been massively hyped; it is much less than that of US. At the end of 2019, the US and UK accounted for 43% of foreign investment in Australia; China accounted for 5.7%. And all the various restrictions will continue to keep China’s share low.

In some quarters China has been blamed for the housing crisis. Again, this is rubbish. The housing crisis is a result of capitalist speculation, tax laws which facilitate this and above all, the absolute refusal of state and federal governments to build quality public housing on any serious scale. China plays a miniscule part in all this.

No war with China

In conclusion, how should we respond to all this? I want to suggest four key areas to campaign around:

  1. Left and progressive forces must campaign against any war with China.
  2. Australia must break with the US war alliance — i.e., withdraw from ANZUS, Five Eyes, and the Quad. Close down all US bases on Australian soil, especially Pine Gap and anything else used in nuclear war fighting.
  3. Our military should be reconfigured for strictly local, genuinely defensive activities. Scrap the frightfully expensive weapons programs — the planes, the submarines and the missiles — which are designed to fit into the US regional war effort and which have nothing to do with the actual defence of Australia. Use the money instead for useful programs — the transition to renewables, public housing, healthcare and public education.
  4. We want to see the main elements (the “commanding heights”) of the economy in public hands. Nationalise key sectors of our economy — first and foremost, the banks, the mining sector and the power industry — under real democratic control. Then we would prohibit any foreign company buying anything. If a foreign company wants to invest here, it should be a joint venture with the state under strict conditions (profit sharing. workers conditions, environmental safeguards, etc).