We talk about the recent summit between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin; the US government’s supposed human rights agenda; the NATO and G7 summits; the prospects for multipolarity and the use of a New Cold War to prevent it; the Belt and Road Initiative; global production and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines; whether China is imperialist; whether China is socialist; and the record of the recently-deceased Zambian prime minister and liberation hero Kenneth Kaunda.
Freedom of speech is one of the key trademarks of capitalist democracy. For decades, people living in the West have been brought up with the idea that they live under an objectively superior political system. This assumed superiority derives from a high degree of individual freedom, in particular the freedom to criticise the government or hold beliefs that differ from mainstream political thought. This specific, idiosyncratic notion of freedom is fundamental to Western capitalist ideology. For our societies, freedom means “not the freedom to be fully alive to have the resources to eat, to learn, to be healthy – but to have free elections and a free press.”1
Of course, such a definition is not uncontested. While the law may allow freedom of speech at a theoretical level, the reality is that we live in a class society that affords a far louder voice to the owners of capital. The major news outlets are owned by private companies; even supposedly impartial state-run media organisations such as the BBC reflect the interests of capitalist governments, and therefore fit comfortably within the prevailing ideological hegemony. In that sense, freedom of speech cloaks a more prosaic reality in which power and ideology are dominated by the capitalist class and protected by “special bodies of armed men”2. As Chomsky puts it: “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum”.3
Nevertheless, modern capitalism’s apparent ability to exist without the need for political authoritarianism is considered proof that it is a better fit for humanity than socialism, which is associated with highly centralised one-party states. In the Cold War era, the US had two major political parties and two major cola brands, and that was freedom. The Soviet Union had one major political party and no major cola brands, and that was tyranny.
That freedom of speech is not an absolute and non-negotiable value of the Western ruling classes is brutally demonstrated by their refusal to allow it when it doesn’t suit their interests. For example, Britain never upheld the principle of freedom of speech in its vast colonial empire; in India, in Ireland, in Kenya, in Southern Africa, in Hong Kong, in the Caribbean, democratic principles were nowhere to be found. Since the end of World War II, the US has engaged in regime change operations around the world, overthrowing elected governments and propping up ruthless dictatorships quick to silence dissent with guns and prison cells. The US-backed military regimes in Brazil, Indonesia, Chile, Guatemala and elsewhere did not offer freedom of speech.Continue reading Red scare and yellow peril: challenging the New McCarthyism
In the four months since it launched, the No Cold War campaign has been working hard to unite diverse forces worldwide against the US-led New Cold War on China. Following its inaugural conference and the launch of its statement in July, the campaign has hosted an international peace conference, a dialogue between professors Jeffrey Sachs and Zhang Weiwei, a webinar analysing the impact of the presidential elections on US-China relations, and, on 14 November 2020, a webinar entitled ‘Uniting against racism and the New Cold War’.
Introducing the event, Sean Kang from the Qiao Collective noted that, since the start of 2020, the world had witnessed a dangerous deterioration in US-China relations. In the US, this escalation of tensions has been accompanied by a rise in racism against Asian-Americans, with the government seeking to shift the blame for the pandemic onto China, using racialised terms such as China plague’ and ‘Wuhan virus’. Meanwhile the pandemic has further exposed the racial fault-lines in US society, with indigenous, black and Latinx communities suffering particularly badly. This combination of factors demonstrates the tight bond between racism and imperialism, which is the major theme of this webinar.
Danny Haiphong, senior contributing editor with Black Agenda Report and member of the No Cold War organising committee, pointed out that Cold War politics and racism are connected by their shared vision: preserving the hegemony of US-led capitalism. There are some parallels with the original Cold War. After the “loss of China to communism” in 1949, the US moved quickly to impose sanctions and a military blockade, and China encirclement was one of the motives for the Korean War. During that war, racism was used to provide cover for the extreme brutality of the US-led forces, which included the first systematic use of napalm against a civilian population.
Danny noted that African-American activists in particular took a strong stance against the Korean War, and many – including very prominent figures such as Paul Robeson, WEB DuBois and Claudia Jones – were inspired by the possibilities of People’s China. Many saw China as a place of refuge from the threat of white imperial rule, and indeed the well-known civil rights campaigners Robert and Mabel Williams fled to China after being driven out of the US by white supremacists. Danny stated that the original Cold War used racism to dehumanise peoples choosing their own path of development in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The New Cold War employs similar same logic. Danny urged progressive people in the West to model peaceful relations, to denounce the New Cold War, to extend a hand of friendship to China, and to open up to a multipolar world.
British-Iraqi rapper and campaigner Lowkey noted that China’s rise in recent decades is serving to restore a global balance of forces that, until the industrial revolution, had been in place for more than a thousand years. China was producing steel 1.5 millennia before England was; it had movable type printing technology 500 years before England did. It had theories of meritocratic governance embedded in the Confucian system long before Europe’s feudal autocracies were overthrown. As such, within the long view of history, China’s re-emergence as a major global power should be nothing to fear.
Lowkey pointed to China’s remarkable progress over the last few decades. In 1978, China accounted for 5 percent of global economy, and 80 percent of Chinese people lived in poverty. By turning itself into the world’s biggest manufacturing power, China has been able to lift 750-800 million people out of poverty, accounting for two-thirds of global poverty reduction in that period. Some prominent economists predict that, by 2030, China will constitute one-third of the global economy. And importantly, China’s rise is taking place in conjunction with the rise of the rest of the developing world. Of the top 20 fastest growing economies, not one of them is in the ‘developed’ world, and this Global South development is to a significant extent being financed by Chinese development banks.
There’s a significant danger that, facing long-term decline and short-term crisis resulting from the pandemic, the US will turn to war and, in so doing, leverage the Yellow Peril racism that has been invoked multiple times in the last 150 years. The US will also try to pull Britain into its camp in opposing China. Lowkey stated that Britain would be shooting itself in the foot if it joined in the New Cold War, and should instead build a strong cooperative relationship with China.
Chinese journalist Li Jingjing gave her perspective on the protection of minority rights in China, responding to the stories she has come across in Western media accusing the Chinese state of wiping out minority cultures, destroying mosques, and so on. Having travelled extensively within China, Jingjing said the portrayal of human rights abuses was entirely out of step with reality, as the government is very proactive about supporting and protecting minority cultures. She said that the constitution recognises 56 different ethnic groups, and there is a vast body of legislation supporting each group’s rights and autonomy at local and regional levels.
The law mandates that minority languages be taught in the various autonomous regions. Jingjing said she had recently visited Tibet, and saw that all school students (including Han Chinese) have to learn Tibetan at school. She said that the stories of forced sterilisation of Uyghur women couldn’t be further from the truth; in fact the One Child Policy had only applied to Han people, and the Uyghur population has tripled in the period of existence of the People’s Republic of China. In her opinion, the real story about ethnic minority human rights in China is that poverty is being wiped out. However, this doesn’t fit with Cold War propaganda and therefore receives minimal attention in the West.
Beijing-based journalist Cale Holmes pointed to the gradually rising tensions between the US and China since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Part of the Nixon administration’s motivation for pursuing links with China in the 1970s was Cold War ‘triangulation’ against the USSR. With the collapse of socialism in Europe between 1989 and 1991, the US-China relationship thus lost some of its strategic value for the US. Although strong economic ties remain, US strategists recognise that China hasn’t conformed to the Washington Consensus; that it is an independent power that is responsive primarily to its own people.
Cale warned that a rising anti-Asian racism in the US is making the idea of military conflict with China more palatable to the US public. Any such conflict would be extremely dangerous for China, for the US, and for the world. Meanwhile China is pursuing multilateralism and international cooperation. For example, it has been very active sharing its resources and experience with African countries to aid their pandemic containment efforts. This is the type of international cooperation we should be building towards.
Activist and retired NBA all-star David West contrasted the US’s pandemic response with that of other countries such as China, Senegal and New Zealand. The utter failure of the US authorities to protect human life in the pandemic shows us what happens when profit is the determining factor in practically all areas of life. Hyper-capitalism, poor leadership and mixed messaging have combined to produce disaster. Meanwhile countries like Cuba and China are sharing medical expertise, personnel and supplies with other countries, modelling the type of collective spirit the world needs.
As a global community we have shared interests more than ever before. David pointed out that, facing common problems of an impending climate catastrophe, wars, pandemics and global poverty, the countries of the world must work together for the sake of humanity’s survival. There’s nothing to be gained and too much to lose in a Cold War. All nations must take the path of peace, of justice; that’s what the people of the planet strive for. We’re all interconnected and a shared future is the only way forward.
Lebanese-American journalist Rania Khalek discussed the threat posed by China to US unilateralism and domination. China is increasingly at the forefront of new technology – particularly in telecommunications – and this is a big threat to US profits. Furthermore China is starting to create new financial infrastructure to get around the US dollar, thereby challenging dollar hegemony. At an ideological level, China offers an alternative model to neoliberalism. This is particularly relevant for developing countries, which can see that China has been able to achieve huge successes in improving living standards via a decidedly non-neoliberal model.
The US wants to maintain economic dominance and unilateral political control. China stands in the way of both, hence the bipartisan consensus against China. China also provides a useful excuse for the US’s military-industrial complex to expand; it’s the scary boogeyman that can be used to justify enormous military expenditure. Meanwhile the trade war and the military encirclement are being supplemented with a propaganda war. The US will continue to leverage issues such as Hong Kong and Xinjiang to attack China, and it’s very important people look at these issues with a sceptical eye and understand the underlying Cold War dynamics.
Chris Matlhako, coordinator of the South African Peace Initiative and Deputy Secretary of the South African Communist Party, talked about the struggle against apartheid, noting that although South Africa was a global pariah, it received support from the US, Western Europe, Australia and Japan. However, a truly global movement emerged to oppose apartheid, to fight against racism and imperialism. Chris called for the construction of a global network against racism and war, across political divides. He said the anti-apartheid movement should be studied, as it was able to mobilise diverse progressive opinion from around the world.
Chris highlighted the growing possibilities for the Global South as a result of the rise of China and the emergence of BRICS and other multilateral frameworks. One particularly important example of international cooperation in recent times is the collaboration between China and Cuba on treatments for Covid-19. This is great news for the Global South, helping people to access medicines and to overcome the issues of intellectual property that continue to tie profit maximisation to scientific development and the improvement of people’s lives.
Chinese-American activist Lee Siu Hin, founder of the National Immigrant Solidarity Network, said that another virus is spreading alongside Covid at the moment: that of the New Cold War and the demonisation of China and Chinese people. This has dovetailed with a rise in racist and xenophobic sentiment throughout the world, a phenomenon both reflected in and exacerbated by the election of Donald Trump in 2016.
Siu Hin said that the US has been using every opportunity to try and destabilise China. At the end of last year, it was clear that the unrest in Hong Kong wasn’t going to have the desired effect of undermining the domestic popularity of the Chinese government. Meanwhile the trade war hadn’t meaningfully impacted China’s economic growth. So the pandemic provided a new opportunity to ramp up the Cold War. US policymakers thought China wouldn’t be able to control the virus; that the economy would collapse; that Chinese citizens would be furious. In reality, China was able to get Covid-19 under control within 2-3 months. Siu Hin said that he’s currently in China and that life has returned to normal. That this was possible highlights China’s prioritisation of the needs of its people, while the US consistently prioritises war and repression.
Indigenous American academic and activist Nick Estes talked about the parallels between the West’s handling of Covid-19 and its handling of climate change. As with the climate crisis, the most advanced capitalist countries had plenty of warning to get organised in advance of the pandemic, had access to the best science, and then did nothing, preferring to protect the wealthy and shift any blame onto others. Much like with climate change, the brunt of the current public health crisis is being borne by black, brown, indigenous and migrant communities. Once it was clear the virus was disproportionately impacting these communities, large groups of predominantly white and right-wing people started storming state capitols demanding the reopening of restaurants.
Nick pointed out that US militarisation of the Pacific – the centrepiece of its China containment strategy – is taking place on occupied lands. RIMPAC (the Rim of the Pacific Exercise) is a set of biennial war games organised by the US Navy Pacific Command (PACOM), with participation from US allies including Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and France. These games are conducted in Hawaii – a nuclearised ‘paradise’ and occupied territory at the centre of the Pacific militarisation project. Guantanamo Bay, Guam and Okinawa are in a similar situation. Indigenous land activists are calling for the dismantling of this military infrastructure and for the return of the land to its rightful owners.
Author and activist Carlos Martinez wrapped up the event on behalf of the No Cold War organising committee. He pointed out that ongoing economic stagnation, alongside the failure of the major Western countries to contain the pandemic, is producing a crisis of legitimacy and a corresponding sense of panic among the ruling class, which is responding by hitting out in all directions. He said that the US and its allies are struggling to come to terms with China’s rise. China is a politically independent country, a Global South power with a Communist Party government and an essentially planned economy. As such, it poses an existential threat to the prevailing world order based on neocolonialism, neoliberalism and white supremacy.
Carlos emphasised that the emergence of a New Cold War concurrent with a worrying rise in racism is no coincidence. Both are manifestations of neoliberal capitalism in crisis, and both are being deployed in an attempt to preserve a system based on the needs of a wealthy elite at the expense of the vast majority of humanity.
Carlos thanked the speakers and organisers, and encouraged everybody to sign the No Cold War campaign’s statement, ‘A New Cold War against China is against the interests of humanity’.
The full event can be viewed on YouTube.
This article originally appeared in the Morning Star
Capitalism is in turmoil. Ongoing economic stagnation, alongside the startling failure of the major Western countries to contain the coronavirus pandemic, is producing a crisis of legitimacy and a corresponding sense of panic among the ruling class.
The leading capitalist power, the United States, is the worst affected. Although it remains for the time being the world’s largest economy in GDP terms, its quality of life indicators are deteriorating. The poverty rate has reached 15 percent, the highest it’s been for 50 years. Infrastructure is crumbling. Large parts of the country are suffering chronic unemployment, a situation that Trump’s trade wars have singularly failed to fix. Covid-19 has taken the lives of a quarter of a million people, with the number increasing by a thousand every day.
Hitting out in all directions
Economic crisis goes hand in hand with social crisis, as a decline in people’s living standards leads them to question their political rulers. In response, capitalist governments look for ways to restore profitability whilst maintaining social stability. The most extreme example to date is the rise of European fascism in the 1930s, which employed barbaric violence and vicious racism in order to keep the working class in its place, whilst generating economic growth through investment in the war machine.
In Britain and the US, the ruling classes responded to the 2008 financial crash and ensuing economic crisis with bailouts for the rich and brutal austerity for the poor. In both cases, they have attempted to divert and debilitate working class resistance through the promotion of racism, xenophobia and islamophobia.
In geostrategic terms, the core component of the West’s response to the current crisis is the New Cold War on China.
China’s rise poses a particularly difficult problem for the US and for the imperialist world system it leads. For decades, the US grudgingly accepted China’s economic emergence, on the basis that its insertion into global value chains allowed Western multinationals to make fabulous profits. But Western politicians didn’t understand, or didn’t want to understand, China’s long-term strategy. It was never the Chinese leadership’s plan to turn their country into a permanent cheap labour pool for foreign multinationals. Rather, the quantitative increase in wealth and technological capacity would lead to a qualitative shift to becoming an economic powerhouse, an innovator, and a powerful voice in regional and global politics.
The China threat
This is precisely what is now happening, and the US doesn’t know how to deal with the situation. China will certainly overtake the US as the world’s largest economy within the next few years. It’s already ahead in several important areas of technology, and is catching up fast in others.
What’s more, China is a politically independent country and a Third World power. Unlike Europe, Japan and the Anglosphere, China can’t be told what to do; it won’t sacrifice the interests of its people for the sake of helping the US maintain the ‘post-war liberal order’, ie a system of international relations that primarily serves the US.
As a developing country, China is pushing for an end to hegemony and for a multipolar world in which the sovereignty of all countries is respected. As a non-white power that has constructed its own path to progress and prosperity, China is helping to destroy the ideology of white supremacy so intimately bound up with the imperialist world system.
As a socialist country with a Communist Party government and an essentially planned economy, China is dismantling the established wisdom that Western free market liberalism is the perfect way to organise society.
In summary, the much-discussed ‘China threat’ is real, albeit not in the sense that Cold Warrior politicians mean. China’s rise poses no threat whatsoever to ordinary people in the West, but it certainly poses a threat to the prevailing global system of imperialism.
This is the context to the New Cold War. It is the reason for the ‘Pivot to Asia’, the trade war, the propaganda war, the attempts to ‘decouple’, the attacks on Chinese technology companies, the attempts to diplomatically isolate China, the fomenting of anti-Chinese racism, and the strategy of military encirclement.
Even with a change of presidency in the US, the broad outlines of this New Cold War are unlikely to change much, given the paucity of intelligent and far-sighted politicians in the US able to come to terms with the idea of a multipolar world order in which China and other countries have as much say as the US. As William Worthy, the African-American journalist and activist, wrote back in 1957: “Is it possible that our China policy stems in part from a sense of outrage that a hitherto passive nation of ‘little yellow men’ should stand up to the West and insist on full respect?”
Uniting against racism and Cold War
That the New Cold War is happening at the same time as a worrying rise in racism is no coincidence. Both are manifestations of neoliberal capitalism in crisis; both are being deployed in an attempt to preserve a system based on the needs of a wealthy elite at the expense of the vast majority of humanity. Both should be resolutely opposed by all those that want to see a world characterised by peace and cooperation, free from all forms of racial or national oppression.
We have the collective power to make a stand for peace and equality. The vibrant Black Lives Matter protests this summer are an indication that racist scapegoating hasn’t been universally successful and that young people are increasingly unwilling to be manipulated by divisive propaganda; that popular consciousness can be quickly raised and that concessions can be won.
Taking inspiration from this, we must forge maximum unity between the anti-war and anti-racist movements. In so doing, we’ll be picking up the baton from the last big wave of global anti-imperialist solidarity in the 1970s, when the black liberation movement in the West stood as one with the socialist and non-aligned countries and the anti-colonial liberation struggles.
The African-American freedom fighter Robert F Williams, who spent several years in exile in Cuba and China in the 1960s, wrote: “There is a great trend developing wherein more and more Afro-Americans are beginning to identify with the liberation forces of the world. The militant black people of racist America are becoming more and more anti-imperialist as well as being anti-racist. They are beginning to understand that the struggles of the world’s oppressed peoples complement each other.”
We must return to this path of global solidarity against imperialism in all its forms.
This coming Saturday, the No Cold War campaign is holding a Zoom webinar around these themes, entitled ‘Uniting Against Racism and the New Cold War’. Speakers include Diane Abbott, Lowkey, Rania Khalek, Jingjing Li, Qiao Collective, Nick Estes, Chris Matlhako and Glen Ford. You can register for free at www.nocoldwar.org
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.
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.
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.