We talk about the US-led New Cold War, in particular the parallels with the original Cold War against the Soviet Union; the New Cold War as a war on multipolarity and the right of nations to determine their own destiny; the Biden administration and the basic continuity in US foreign policy; and the disastrous failure of much of the Western left to take up a consistent position against the New Cold War.
This article first appeared in Ebb Magazine on 24 June 2021. Reproduced with permission.
Since the launch of Obama’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ in 2012, the US has prioritised China containment over all other foreign policy commitments. This includes steadily increasing its presence in the South China Sea and encouraging China’s neighbours in their various territorial claims. Obama also initiated an expansion of US military, diplomatic and economic cooperation with other countries in the region. The overarching strategic goal of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was to isolate China and to draw East and Southeast Asia back into the US economic – and ideological – orbit.
The Trump administration, while dropping the TPP due to its domestic unpopularity, escalated the Pivot in other respects: launching a trade war in January 2018, imposing a ban on Huawei, attempting to ban TikTok and WeChat, spreading conspiracy theories about the origins of Covid-19, and turning ‘decoupling’ into a buzzword. Anti-China propaganda became – and has remained – pervasive in the West.
Alongside the economic and information warfare, there has been a rising militarisation of the Pacific and a deepening of a ‘China encirclement’ strategy that goes back to the arrival of the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet in the Taiwan Straits in 1950, just a few months after the establishment of the People’s Republic. Recent years have witnessed ever more frequent US naval operations in the South China Sea; increased weapons sales to Taiwan; the encouraging of Japan’s re-armament; the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile defence system in South Korea and Guam; the establishment of a US marine base in northern Australia; and the bulking up of the Indo-Pacific Command.Continue reading The left must resolutely oppose the US-led New Cold War on China
This article has also been translated into Greek.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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