Can We Please Have an Adult Conversation About China?
A NEW kind of madness is seeping into global political discourse, a poisonous fog that suffocates reason. This fog, which has long marinated in the old, ugly ideas of white supremacy and Western superiority, is clouding our ideas of humanity. The general malady provoked by the fog is deep suspicion and hatred of China, not just of the Chinese government or its current leadership or even the Chinese political system, but hatred of the entire country and of Chinese civilisation, hatred of anything, just about anything to do with China.
This madness has made it impossible to have an adult conversation about China. Words and phrases are thrown around, such as ‘authoritarian’ and ‘genocide’ with no care to ascertain facts. China is a country of 1.4 billion people, an ancient civilisation that suffered – as much of the Global South did – a century of humiliation from the British-inflicted Opium Wars (which began in 1839) until the 1949 Chinese Revolution when its leader Mao announced – deliberately – that the Chinese people had stood up. During the period since 1949, Chinese society has been deeply transformed by the utilisation of its social wealth to address the ancient problems of hunger and illiteracy, despondency and patriarchy. As with all social experiments, there have been great problems, but these are to be expected from any collective human action. But rather than see China for its many problems and contradictions, this madness of our times seeks to reduce China to a caricature – an authoritarian State with a genocidal agenda that seeks global domination.
This madness has a definite point of origin. It comes largely from the United States, whose ruling elites are greatly threatened by the advances of the Chinese people – particularly by their technological developments in robotics, telecommunications, high-speed rail and computer technology. These advances pose an existential threat to the advantages long enjoyed by Western corporations, who have benefited from centuries of colonialism and from the straitjacket of intellectual property laws. Fear of its own fragility and of the integration of Europe into Eurasian economic developments has led the West to launch an information war against China. This ideological tidal wave is overwhelming our ability to have serious, balanced conversations about China’s role in the world. Western countries, with a long history of brutal colonialism in Africa, for instance, now regularly decry ‘Chinese colonialism in Africa’ without any acknowledgement of their own past, or of the entrenched French and US military presence across the continent. Accusations of ‘genocide’ are always directed at the darker peoples of the world – in Darfur or in Xinjiang – but never at the United States, whose illegal war on Iraq resulted in the death of over a million people. The International Criminal Court, steeped in Eurocentrism indicts one African leader after another for genocide crimes or crimes against humanity but has never indicted a Western leader for their endless wars of aggression.
The focus of the animosity against China whips from Hong Kong to Taiwan, with words like ‘democracy’ emptied of their content. The United States recognised the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the sole authority over a singular China in 1978 and yet has continued to sell arms to Taiwan and to use Taiwan as an instrument against China. From 1841 to 1997, Hong Kong’s people lived as colonial subjects of the British Empire – and yet, at that time, there was no talk of democracy for the people of Hong Kong; from 1949 to 1987, the Kuomintang ran Taiwan as a dictatorship, and yet, there was no talk of democracy for the Taiwanese people. The use of the word ‘democracy’ by the United States demeans the concept and reduces it to an instrument of US foreign policy rather than as a dream of people who would like to live amidst sovereignty and with dignity. The two visits to Taiwan by US Congressional delegations in August were intended to provoke China into a reaction, which – fortunately – did not occur. Neither of these delegations was about democracy; both were about sending a message to Beijing that the United States can do whatever it wants, whenever it wants and establishing that the United States will simply not permit China to advance in social and economic terms.
DIALOGUE ACROSS CIVILISATIONS
Anyone who tries to talk with an element of reason about China is accused of being an ‘agent of China’. Force substitutes for argument.
There is now an attempt by elements in Western intelligence agencies to brand any dissent against the Western assault on China as disinformation and propaganda. Alongside this is the labelling of any Chinese media as ‘state supported’ (BBC, which is State-supported, does not earn this honour). In December 2021, Bloomberg published an article based on a falsehood. The website argued that as a consequence of malicious Chinese loans, the Entebbe International Airport was going to be seized by the Chinese government. This is part of an established pattern of arguing that Chinese loans create a debt trap which leads to the seizure of assets. In February 2021, two US scholars published a close assessment of such a claim about the Sri Lankan port at Hambantota. Deborah Brautigam and Meg Rithmire found no evidence of ‘debt trap diplomacy’, as it is called. I spoke to Ugandan government officials to see if there was indeed anything to the Bloomberg story. They told me that the deal on the table for the Entebbe International Airport had been poorly understood by the ministry of finance (a point reiterated by the minister of finance himself, Matia Kasaija). They could have negotiated for a better deal certainly, having been enthusiastic about the favourable terms of credit given by the Chinese banks. However, there was no question of the seizure of Entebbe International Airport. The entire story in Bloomberg was built on a lie, but Bloomberg was not tarred with the slur that it carried water for Washington: that’s the power of the information war.
Meanwhile, an airport on the African continent had been taken over by a foreign power, the United States, which now has over thirty military bases in Africa. This is the Kotoka Airport in Accra, Ghana, where the United States – despite its denials – has built the West African Logistics Network. The US armed forces are using this Logistics hub to supply their bases in the Sahel region, and to slowly eliminate their reliance upon the German base at Ramstein. An entire terminal at Kotoka is now seized by the United States military, who claim that this is not a base, and whose evasions have created a serious political crisis in Ghana. There has been virtually no reporting about this US base, as there is virtually none about the US military footprint on the African continent. Far easier to write about the Chinese in Africa rather than to focus on the main powers that not only have a military presence on the continent (France and the United States) but continue to use their military force for political ends.
ABOLITION OF ABSOLUTE POVERTY
Countries in the Global South can learn a great deal from China’s experiments with socialism. The abolition of absolute poverty during the pandemic – a feat celebrated by the United Nations – can teach us how to tackle similar obstinate facts in our own countries (which is why the research institute I direct, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research produced a detailed study about China’s poverty eradication techniques). No country in the world is perfect and none is above criticism. But to develop a paranoid attitude towards one country and to attempt to isolate it behind an American Wall is socially dangerous. Walls need to be knocked down, not built up. The United States is provoking a conflict due to its own anxieties about China’s economic advances: we should not be drawn in as useful idiots. We need to have an adult conversation about China, not one imposed upon us by powerful interests that are not our own.