By John Ross
This article analyses the relation between China and the international struggle of humanity in the context of COVID-19. The original version of the following article appeared in Chinese at Guancha.cn. It was, of course, written for a Chinese audience, which readers should bear in mind.
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Geopolitical consequences of the US rebellion against the murder of George Floyd
The eruption in the US of its deepest political crisis since the Vietnam War, in the huge protests following the murder of George Floyd, is on such a scale that it affects not only the situation in the United States but also world geopolitics.
This is the first time since the Vietnam War that the population of the US has entered into politics on a massive scale in a way objectively blocking the orientation of the majority of the US political establishment. Because the creation of formal political relations between China and the US in 1972 came almost at the end of the Indochina war, China has almost never recently seen a situation in which a mass clash between the US population and the American political elite has broken out on such a scale. This article therefore aims to contribute to accurately analysing the scale of what is taking place in the US and its geopolitical consequences in the new US cold war against China. In particular, it analyses that the fate of humanity in the next period will be decided by the formal or informal united action of China and progressive forces outside China.
If China is defeated by the US then progressive forces outside China will be overwhelmed by the power of the US – no other force in the world is remotely as powerful to resist US aggression as China. At the same time China’s success will be far harder, or easier, depending on its ability to unite with other forces which are opposed to US imperialism. In summary, the advance or retreat of progressive forces in the world in this period will overwhelmingly be decided by whether the combination of China and other progressive forces can defeat US aggression.
There are three major components of this international geopolitical situation which has formed around COVID-19 due to the crisis that has been created in the US.
- The immediate effects of the US political crisis created by COVID-19 and the huge rise of the Black Lives Matter movement after the racist murder of George Floyd.
- The consequences of what will be a medium-term period of much more rapid economic growth in China than in the US.
- The aggressive response of the US to its new crisis and the consequences of this for the alignment of social forces in different parts of the globe – with the response which is necessary to defend the interests of humanity against this US threat.
Each of these issues, and the threat they pose to humanity, will be analysed in turn.
Part 1 – The short-term effects of the political crisis in the US
The most immediate consequence of the eruption of the massive protests in the US is that it has thoroughly disrupted the plan by the leadership of both Republican and Democratic parties to adopt a campaigning framework for this summer and November’s presidential election attempting to focus US and international attention primarily on intensified attacks on China. This campaign was to have started in the spring using the pretext of the introduction of the new National Security Law in Hong Kong – a typical example of bipartisan US party support for this being the decision to hold an international conference featuring Hong Kong to be addressed by current US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, former Democratic Party Secretary of State John Kerry, and supporter of the Hong Kong rioters Joshua Wong. This was intended to be followed by a presidential election campaign leading to November in which both Republican and Democratic Parties would accuse the other of being ‘soft on China’.
This bipartisan plan was severely disrupted by the huge wave of US domestic protests ignited by the racist police killing of George Floyd. This movement bypassed the leadership of both Republican and Democratic parties and almost entirely refocused US public attention on domestic issues – with attention to Hong Kong being entirely peripheral to US and international concerns.
Less dramatically, but significantly, a further setback for the US was suffered globally by the extremely negative public international view of US handling of the coronavirus crisis. A serious measure of this was the international opinion poll carried out by the German polling firm Dalia Research and the Alliance of Democracies Foundation – an organisation headed by the former NATO secretary general Anders Rasmussen. This found, with a very large sample of 120,000 people in 52 countries, that: ‘Nearly all countries say that China’s response to COVID-19 is better than the US’s. When asked to assess China’s and the US’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, almost all countries rate China’s response as much better. The only countries that think the US’s response is better are Japan… and the US itself.’
The UK Guardian summarised this result: ‘China has beaten the US in the battle for world opinion over the handling of coronavirus…. Only a third of people around the world said the US responded well to COVID-19, compared with more than 60% who said China’s response was good.’ This is one of the most complete defeats the US has ever suffered in international public opinion compared to China.
But in addition to these immediate events the outcome of the US’s disastrous mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic has made the US political elite aware that in the next two years there will be a shift in the world economy in favour of China – with far more rapid economic growth in China than any other part of the world and accompanied by close to stagnation in the US. To give an indication of the impact of this, the latest projection of the IMF is that in the next two years China will account for 51% of world growth and the US for only 3%.
But it is also important to understand that these significant setbacks for the short-term US offensive against China were a product of the intensification of a more long-term new alignment of political forces within the US and globally which will characterise the next period. This new alignment of global social forces is that the US political establishment necessarily has to launch a simultaneous attack on its two main enemies – the American people and China. Globally this also has inevitable consequences. The economic stagnation in the US compared to China, but a simultaneous demand by the US that countries orient their economies to the US and not to China, leads the United States into economic conflict with the peoples of almost every country.
For reasons that will be analysed below, most developing countries will not agree to this US demand that they attack their own populations in order to engage in a US-led attack on China. But the leaders of a number of advanced countries will act against the interests of their own economies and go along with this US attack on China – which will therefore thereby bring them into conflict with their own populations. This creates a different international alignment of social forces to the four decades which followed Nixon’s trip to China in 1972.
A serious setback against the planned US offensive on Hong Kong
An assessment of the serious short-term setback suffered by the Democratic and Republican parties within the US in their planned anti-China plans is easily summarised. The intended tactics of the US to attack China in May/June were openly advertised in advance by US Secretary of State Pompeo in briefings and signalled publicly on Twitter. The campaign was to start with a coordinated international offensive against China centred on the pretext of the National Security Law in Hong Kong. The entire US media was encouraged to launch this by both Trump and the Democratic Party leadership, and a parallel campaign was promoted for US allied governments and media internationally. But instead the US suffered a double defeat, that is both domestically and internationally, on the issue:
- China’s National People’s Congress did not retreat from introduction of the National Security Law, making clear that attempts to undermine China in Hong Kong would suffer the full weight of the law – this firm action led to a quieting of the situation in Hong Kong itself.
- The massive US protests against the killing of George Floyd pushed Hong Hong to the absolute outer margins of US public attention. Instead of Western public opinion focussing on Hong Kong, as the US planned, Western media attention on Hong Kong was the merest fraction of that paid to the rebellion in the US – at least 90% of Western media coverage and public opinion was focussed on events in the US. Even at the level of international popular demonstrations there were no significant mobilisations whatever of support for the Hong Kong rioters whereas many hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in at least 50 countries in support of the protests in the US – including in traditional US allies such as Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and Switzerland.
In summary, due to the combination of China’s firm actions and the very large popular domestic protests by the American people, the US suffered a sharp tactical defeat.
The COVID-19 crisis remains central in the US
It is crucial to understanding this new alignment of social forces in the United States to grasp that the huge US popular mobilisations after the killing of George Floyd, which as will be shown are large enough to potentially alter the course of its national politics, were not due simply to the individual act of this racist killing. Racist murders by the US police are regular events. The huge nationwide protests across the US were therefore not due to only the individual racist murder of George Floyd but were caused by the overall circumstances of the US’s catastrophic failure in dealing with COVID-19 – more than 180,000 US deaths from coronavirus, and the loss of jobs by more than 20 million Americans. George Floyd’s racist murder was therefore the spark which ignited a powder keg.
But the huge resulting revolt meant that the first wave of international struggle around COVID-19 has created the most serious US domestic political crisis since the Vietnam War. One of its effects, but far from the only one, was that this outpouring of the US people disrupted the immediate anti-China plans of the leaderships of both the US political parties.
Of course, this massive action by the US people did not take place with a conscious understanding of its consequences for disrupting US plans for an attack on China. Nor is its objective impact determined by whether the US people had arrived at a more correct understanding of China – most have not. It was simply objectively, independently of whether they understand it consciously or not, a correct expression of the American people setting their own priorities independently of the leadership of the Republican and Democratic Parties – in essence acting on the basis, ‘we are not interested in this discussion about China, which is not at all our key concern, our enemies are not in China but in the US’.
Put in classical Marxist terms, the American people decided ‘the enemy is at home’ – enraged by the situation in the US, they were not interested in attempts to claim ‘the enemy is China.’ Put in a specific US idiom it paralleled famous words by US icon Muhammad Ali about the Vietnam War: ‘I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong’. He said: ‘they never lynched you, never called you n*****, never put dogs on you, never shot your leaders.’ In short, my enemy is in the US, don’t try to tell me it is in Vietnam. In demonstrations sparked by the killing of George Floyd, the US population was in practice replying to the attempted US offensive against China with the priority: ‘don’t tell me my enemy is China, my enemy is within the US.’
It is important to accurately understand the huge scale of support in the US for these protests and the scale of opposition to Trump’s handling of this situation. Polls showed 81% of Americans considered that the use of force against George Floyd was unjustified and only 2% believed that it was justified. There has been an almost complete reversal in attitudes to the policy of the US police. After the 2014 racist killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, 33% of Americans said that police were more likely to use excessive force against Black suspects; 58% disagreed. Two years later, the fatal shooting of Philando Castile near St. Paul, Minnesota yielded similar results. But in the wake of George Floyd’s death, 57% of Americans had come to believe that the police were more prone to use excessive force against Black people.
Overall, 74% of Americans say they support the protests carried out across the country. There were massive majorities against Trump’s handling of the situation – 66% of the US population disapproving of Trump’s handling of the protests compared to only 32% who approved, a majority of over two to one.
Americans were much more worried about police violence than outbreaks of violence by the demonstrators. The Brooking’s Institute noted: ‘When asked, “Which concerns you more, the actions of the police against George Floyd or protests that have turned violent?” about 6 in 10 Americans, including 54% of whites, name the police actions as their greater concern.’ It concluded: ‘The bottom line: it’s not 1968 anymore. A large share of white Americans now endorse views on race relations once confined largely to African Americans. While Americans of all parties and races continue to oppose violent protests, appeals to “law and order” not balanced with the recognition of deep injustice lack the resonance of half a century ago. This helps explain why barely one-third of Americans support President Trump’s handling of race relations – and why 53% of Americans say that relations have gotten worse on his watch.’
There was also a dramatic shift in US public opinion to support the Black Lives Matter campaign. Opinion polls show as recently as 2018 there was a net disapproval (approvals minus disapprovals) of 5% among the American public regarding Black Lives Matter. By 10 June there was net positive approval of 28% for Black Lives Matter – an 11% further improvement since the beginning of the present wave of protests.
Polls indicate that as many as 25 million Americans participated in the US protests. To show the scale of this it is notable that social forces who are not at all normally active in US politics entered into the conflict. To take just a few examples, in San Diego there was a massive demonstration of thousands of skateboarders in support of Black Lives Matter – the video of this received over 1.4 million hits on Twitter.
Users of TikTok, and fans of K-Pop, also got national coverage in the US by mobilising to create ridicule for Trump’s first election rally in Tulsa on 20 June by booking thousands of tickets, fooling the Trump campaign into believing the rally would be very popular and making exaggerated claims, when in fact the rally turned out to be poorly attended.
Such a pattern where social forces which are not normally deeply involved in politics enter into a struggle are a sign of a very deep social mobilisation.
Similar patterns of public opinion were shown in other countries. For example, in the UK an opinion poll asked: ‘From what you have seen or heard recently, to what extent do you support or oppose the Black Lives Matters (BLM) movement in the UK?’ The answer was Support 49%, Oppose 22%. Support, as might be expected was overwhelming among the Black and Ethnic Minority population with 67% Support and 7% Oppose, but the white population also supported by 49% to 23%.
Western media attention on Hong Kong was therefore the merest tiny fraction of that which was paid to the rebellion in the US. As the New York Times noted: ‘the national political conversation has been dominated by a fierce debate over police violence against black Americans after the killing of Mr. Floyd.’ Even tactically, the violence of US police against its own population was so much worse than the restraint of the police in Hong Kong in dealing with rioters that it seriously undermined any attempt to strategically condemn so called ‘police violence’ in Hong Kong. For example, the US-led Atlantic Council, whose emeritus chair is General Brent Scowcroft, former US National Security Adviser, admitted: ‘As Americans take to the streets to protest the shocking death of an African American man by a white police officer, global news channels have highlighted numerous displays of excessive police force against peaceful demonstrators and live attacks on and arrests of journalists. The aggressive use of tear gas and flash grenades to make way for a presidential photo-op across from the White House drew widespread global criticism…
‘These incidents have alarmed America’s closest allies and risk undermining US moral authority to lead the free world. Russia, China, and Iran have scored a propaganda coup, seizing the opportunity to portray the United States as a violator of human rights…
‘The protests mark a consequential moment of national discord. Racial injustices and images of excessive police force are reinforcing the view among many Americans that the United States can no longer serve as a credible advocate for democracy and human rights.’
This fear by the US political establishment that there had been a serious worsening of the perception of the US even among the populations of its closest allies was entirely justified by studies of international opinion polls. The Berlin-based European Council on Foreign Relations commissioned a poll conducted by Datapraxis and YouGov at the end of April and the first week of May, across nine EU countries with two-thirds of the union’s population. This found a very serious deterioration in the European public perception of the US. More than 60% of people in Germany, France, Spain, Denmark and Portugal said they had lost trust in the United States as a global leader. In almost every country a majority of people said their perception of the US had deteriorated since the outbreak. Negative attitudes of the US were most marked in Denmark (71%) Portugal (70%), France (68%), Germany (65%) and Spain (64%). In France, 46% and in Germany 42% said their view of the US had worsened “a lot” during the pandemic.
Finally the fact that the US politicians who were most opposed to the Black Lives Matter movement had the closest links with the Hong Kong rioters was noted. Leading Hong Kong anti-China figures such as Jimmy Lai denounced the nationwide protests in the United States against police brutality and racism, which helped discredit the Hong Kong rioters among layers in the US that had previously misunderstood the reactionary character of the Hong Kong movement.
The sheer size of protests in the US therefore thoroughly threw off course the plans of the leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties who had intended to focus the political situation in the US on attacks on China – instead the attention of the American people became almost entirely focussed on issues within the US.
This first wave of struggle in the coronavirus crisis in the US is not yet over and it remains to be seen how it ends. But this massive eruption of the American people into US politics thoroughly disrupted the immediate anti-China plan of both the Trump administration and the leadership of the Democratic Party.
Any such dynamic whereby the US people recognise by their actions, rightly, that their enemies are in the US and not in China, and any serious deterioration in the international public perception of the US, is intolerable for the overwhelming majority of the US ruling class. It is therefore today the most central goal of the leadership of both the Republican and Democratic Parties that the American people must be persuaded that the cause of the great problems that confront them – huge numbers of deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic, mass unemployment, lack of health care for large parts of the population, racism – are not due to forces within the US but are due to China.
The scale of the US political crisis
This fact that the scale of crisis in the US is its most intense since at least the Vietnam War has consequences for US policy towards China which are far wider than earlier very important but partial issues such as the trade war.
It is indeed quite difficult for people in China to grasp the full impact of this crisis in the US because of the very different history of the two countries. In fact the US even has a very different history to most ‘Western’ countries. The US is protected on one side by the Pacific Ocean and on the other by the Atlantic – a combination making a major military attack on the US impossible throughout almost its entire history. The consequence is that the US has undoubtedly suffered large scale casualties of its citizens abroad – in World War II, in the Korean War, in the Vietnam War – but it has virtually no experience of mass deaths on its own soil. Countries such as China, Russia, Germany, or France have, within living memory, the experience of millions of deaths on their own territory due to invasion and war – and while the UK was not invaded it experienced in World War II large-scale bombing of civilians. But the US never experienced large-scale domestic casualties from foreign attack – the terrorist strike on New York of 9/11 was miniscule in scale compared to Asian and European losses suffered in wars.
COVID-19 is therefore only the third ‘mass death’ experience on the United States own soil in its entire history, after the ‘Spanish flu’ pandemic of 1918 and the Civil War. Disastrous failure in dealing with this pandemic is therefore a far more traumatic experience for the US population than the large-scale deaths of US soldiers abroad.
If the reality of the catastrophic US failure to prepare for the predictable onslaught of COVID-19 was widely understood by the American people, it would consequently inflict tremendous damage on the ideological legitimacy of the US political establishment. It is therefore a total imperative for the US political establishment that this reality is concealed from the American people – and as much as possible from international public opinion.
Therefore, while the trade war was for the US ruling class an issue of economic and geopolitical competition with China the coronavirus disaster and the massive protest that have accompanied it is a crisis of the fundamental political legitimacy of the US political establishment – a far more serious issue. It therefore strategically demands a total mobilisation of the US ruling class to conceal the truth from the American people.
It is for this reason that no matter what immediate tactics are used for the great majority of the US ruling class there is no option but to intensify this attempt to hide the realities of the present situation from the American people and international public opinion by intensifying the campaign of falsification against China – the country which in reality most successfully defeated a major coronavirus outbreak.
The fundamental problem for the US ruling class, however, as analysed, is that at present, the US population is uninterested in focussing its attention on attacks on China but instead is concerned by problems created by forces within the US. Therefore, it is absolutely vital for the US political elite to attempt to get the situation back under control and to try to refocus the attention of the American people on its supposed enemy China rather than its real enemies in the US. That is therefore the strategic goal which both the Trump administration and the leadership of the Democratic Party are attempting to achieve.
The US discussion on whether it is necessary to remove Trump
To attempt to regain control of the political situation in the US a public discussion is taking place among the US ruling elite regarding whether radical measures, such as ensuring the defeat of Trump in the November election, may now be necessary.
Until recently it was clear that the most decisive sections of US capital wanted Trump re-elected – his policies of cutting taxes for the most well-off Americans had enormously enriched the US capitalist class. But now there is serious concern that Trump’s offensive against the US population has been an adventure which misjudged the relation of forces and that he has provoked massive resistance. Confronted with these huge protests Trump himself has tried to appeal to ‘law and order’ slogans and overt racism but, as polls already cited show, this has not been successful in heading off mass opposition to his policies.
Some key figures of US Republican politics, for example, former head of the US military Colin Powell, have therefore announced that they refuse to vote for Trump in 2020 and will support his Democratic opponent Biden. Former National Security Adviser John Bolton has also launched a full scale attack on Trump in a widely publicised book and has announced he refuses to vote for Trump in November.
A less spectacularly but very powerful institution, the US Supreme Court, one of the key institutions of the US capitalist class, in which judges were nominated by Trump, has also begun to decide against Trump by overruling his decision to deny legal protection and work authorizations to 600,000 people who were brought to the US as children by their parents. As the Wall Street Journal, one of the most important US pro-Trump media, noted: ‘The ruling hands President Trump one of the biggest legal defeats of his presidency, and in the middle of an election year in which immigration is again a top political topic.’
Regarding public opinion overall US opinion polls now show Biden well ahead of Trump – although the same polls show Trump’s base is more likely to vote than Biden’s and therefore Biden’s real lead is not as large as indicated.
The willingness of the US capitalist class for the first time to consider removing Trump is increased by the fact that they have ensured firm control of the Democratic Party by securing the selection of Biden as Democratic Party candidate. Biden’s rival for the nomination, Sanders, was considered completely unacceptable for US capitalism for two reasons.
- Sanders was a self-declared socialist, even if a very moderate one, and any mainstreaming of socialism in the US is considered unacceptable by capitalism.
- Second, more immediately, Sanders was committed to measures such as reducing the US military budget – he was one of the few Senators to vote against Trump’s increasing of military expenditure, and indeed supported cutting US military spending. As the US capitalist class wants a military build-up to confront China, Sanders’ position was unacceptable to them.
Biden, however, represents a continuation of Obama/Clinton’s policies and is therefore entirely safe for US capitalism. This includes Biden’s hostility to China – Biden has already announced Trump is ‘soft’ on China.
Trump and Biden’s anti-China tactics
There is, however, a difference in tactics between Obama/Clinton/Biden and Trump. The Democrats believed that in a simple confrontation between the US and China the US might lose. Obama’s tactics had therefore been to attempt to create a broad alliance of countries against China – as shown, for example, in the creation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Trump, on the contrary, considered that in order to create such a broad alliance too many concessions had to be made to countries such as Japan and Germany. Instead, therefore, it was necessary to demand that other allied countries supply more economic resources to the United States so that the US could directly confront China.
Trump’s foreign policy had therefore been to confront China – while his domestic policy was to mobilise white racists to ensure that there was no united working-class opposition to his polices. But COVID-19 seriously disrupted this. Of the more than 20 million Americans who have lost their jobs, certainly a much higher percentage of the black population lost their jobs than whites, but the greatest number of people who lost their jobs were white – simply because they are a majority of the population. With the black population rebelling directly against the racist murder of George Floyd, and with Trump having nothing to give to the white population, on the contrary attacking them, the reasons for the huge opposition to Trump around the protests is clear.
Biden’s domestic problem
Biden also faces a significant domestic problem. Sanders, who was Senator for the small white-dominated state of Vermont, did not have historic links with the black community. It was therefore the black community’s vote which ensured that Biden secured the Democratic nomination against Sanders. But it is the black community which has endured the most intense suffering from coronavirus and unemployment and is most enraged over the murder of George Floyd and the other victims of the US racist police.
For Biden to turn round and openly attack the black population is therefore extremely dangerous for him electorally – some of his early remarks in the protests, such as that police should shoot protestors in the legs rather than the chest were greeted with ridicule. Therefore, Biden has now instead attempted to appear to present himself as supporting the protestors – he delivered an online address at George Floyd’s funeral for example. This is the same approach as Democrat Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, who led the Democrats in ‘taking a knee’ in support of the protests against the killing of George Floyd.
But their entire record shows that Biden and the Democratic leadership are determined that the focus of US politics should not be the opposition of the US people to their real enemies in the United States. For them it is absolutely necessary to persuade the US population that ‘the enemy is not at home, the enemy is abroad – in China.’ Therefore all that Biden and the Democratic Party leadership are doing is attempting to present themselves as friends of the US massive protests in order to mislead it, head it off, and attempt to redirect it not against real enemies of the people in the US but against the fake enemy of China.
Biden’s problem is that the social conditions which gave rise to the mass protests after the killing of George Floyd have not disappeared and will not go away in any short-term framework. Therefore a very serious struggle is taking place in the US between a mass movement which is directed against domestic enemies within the US, and not against China, and the attempts of the Republican and Democratic Party leadership to redirect the American people’s attention to its so-called ‘enemy’ in China. China, as well as the American people, evidently, has a great interest in the first of these tendencies being as strong as possible in relation to the second. This domestic fight within the US will dominate the immediate short-term situation.
The electoral problems now confronting Trump
The huge protests in the US, the polls showing mass disapproval of Trump’s handling of them, and the clear move by Biden into an electoral lead for the presidential election clearly pose serious electoral problems for Trump. Whereas a few months ago Trump could have been very confident of victory now there is a serious chance he will lose. This therefore determines the re-examination of tactics by Trump.
There is no indication that the strategic anti-China line by Trump has changed at all – the placing of extreme anti-China figures such as Navarro at the centre of the Trump administration since its beginning has not changed. But all indications are that Trump has become seriously worried that a collapse of the preliminary trade agreement he made with China, and in particular the agricultural purchases China agreed to make, will have a seriously negative electoral effect for Trump in farming areas which are crucial for him electorally. For that reason a change in tactics seems to have been decided on within the Trump administration, including by Secretary of State Pompeo, whereby in private they attempt to cement deals with China while in public Pompeo continues to engage in harsh anti-China, and in particular anti-CPC rhetoric, actions to damage Huawei etc.
This change in tactical line, under the pressure of setbacks in the US caused by the huge popular protests, should however not be confused with a strategy. There is no indication that in strategy Trump, as with Biden, continues to be on anything except an extreme anti-China line. Trump has simply been thrown off course by the huge protests in the US.
Part 2 – The Medium-Term Economic Situation Confronting the US
The US fears a shift in the international economic situation against it, so it has launched a new cold war. So far only the short-term alignment and relation of forces in the US has been analysed. But the US also faces a more medium-term crisis which affects its orientation to China. Due to the US’s catastrophic mishandling of the coronavirus attack, it now faces the most rapid and severe economic downturn since the Great Depression. The speed of this economic downturn is much more rapid than that following the international financial crisis of 2008 and has the potential to produce a major shift in the international relation of economic forces against the US. Indeed, it is precisely the prediction of international organisations such as the IMF that this is what will occur – a fact which is well known to the US political establishment.
The US is fully aware that already following the international financial crisis its failure to rapidly overcome its economic downturn, in contrast to the success of China’s socialist economy, led to a large shift in the international economic relation of forces in favour of China and against the US. Between 2007 and 2019 China’s economy grew, in inflation adjusted terms, by 150%, while the US grew by only 22%. Measured at current exchange rates China’s economy grew from 25% of the size of the US in 2007 to 66% in 2019. Even more strikingly, when measured by the IMF in purchasing power parities (PPPs), China’s GDP grew from 62% of the US in 2007 to 127% in 2019.
The latest comprehensive analysis by the IMF, in April, updated in June, predicts a similar process to that at the beginning of the international financial crisis will take place due to COVID-19. Possibly because of uncertainty over exchange rates in the present situation, the IMF is not currently making projections for contributions to world economic growth measured in current exchange rates. But the IMF’s projections for real inflation adjusted growth, and those made in PPPs, leave no ambiguity as to the global situation and indicate far more rapid growth in China than in the US – which therefore threatens to produce a further major shift in the economic relation of forces in favour of China relative to the US.
Trends in the US economy
To assess the size of this shift, it should be noted that the full impact of COVID-19 crisis hit China almost throughout the 1st quarter of 2020 but the coronavirus only began to severely hit the US towards the very end of the 1st quarter. The full impact of COVID-19 was therefore seen only in the 2nd quarter of 2020 in the US.
Figure 1 shows that the impact of the economic downturn caused by COVID-19 on the US economy was hugely greater than that caused by the international financial crisis. Between the 4th quarter of 2007, the peak of the pre-financial crisis business cycle, and the 2nd quarter of 2008 US GDP fell by only 0.1%. At the worst point in the international financial crisis, in the 2nd quarter of 2009, US GDP was 4.0% below its pre-crisis level. But by the 2nd quarter of 2020 US GDP was 10.6% below its pre-COVID-19 crisis level. That is, the overall impact of the Covid19 economic downturn was two and a half times as severe as that of the international financial crisis while in terms of the speed of the downturn at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis this was one hundred times more rapid than during the international financial crisis.
The fastest downturn in industrial production in US history
Figure 2 also shows the downturn in US industrial production following the impact of COVID-19, after February 2020, compared to the downturn during the international financial crisis after December 2007. This shows that the impact of COVID-19 produced a decline in US industrial production far more rapid than during the international financial crisis – the deepest fall being to 16.6% below previous crisis levels which occurred after only two months. A longer term historical comparison shows that the current decline in US industrial production is faster than either during the Great Depression or the severe downturn in the US economy in 1920 after World War I – although the downturn in the Great Depression was of course prolonged and the length of the present downturn is not yet clear. There was a significant recovery by June 2020, but US industrial production by June was still 10.9% below its pre-COVID-19 peak – approximately in line with the overall fall in US GDP.
Medium term impact of the present downturn
Turning from the purely short-term impact of the present crisis on the US economy to its medium-term consequences, the most widely followed international starting point is the projections of the IMF which for China and the US are shown in Figure 3.
In October 2019, before the outbreak of COVID-19, the IMF had analysed that the US economy would grow by 2.1% in 2022 and its cumulative growth would be 3.9% by the end of 2021. But by June 2020, after analysing the impact of COVID-19, the IMF projected the US economy would contract by 8.0% in 2020 and by the end of 2021 it would still be 3.9% smaller than in 2019. Therefore, during 2020 and 2021 annual average US GDP growth would be minus 1.9%. This was even worse than the IMF’s projection in April 2020 when the IMF had foreseen the trend in the US economy in 2019-2021 as an annual average negative 0.7%. Furthermore, in light of the actual 2nd quarter 2020, results, the IMF’s projections for the US economy are still somewhat too optimistic.
In contrast, analysing China, in October 2019, the IMF projected that China’s economy would grow by 5.8% in 2020 and its cumulative growth would be 12.1% by the end of 2021. In June 2020, the IMF projected China’s economy would grow by 1.0% in 2020 and by the end of 2021 it would be 9.3% larger than in 2019. Therefore, during 2020 and 2021, China’s GDP growth would be an annual average 4.5%.
Contributions to global economic growth
Turning to the implications of these trends for percentage shares of world growth the latest IMF June projections for individual countries are shown in Figure 4. The IMF projects that of the 10 fastest growing economies in 2019-2021 nine will be in Asia – in descending order of total growth in the period they are China (9.3%), Indonesia (5.8%), the Philippines (3.0%), Malaysia (2.3%), India (1.2%), South Korea (0.8%), Pakistan (0.2%), Kazakhstan (0.25), Turkey (-0.2%). The other would be Egypt in the Middle East (4.0%). The IMF’s projection for India is almost certainly too optimistic given the severity of the current coronavirus outbreak.
In contrast to that situation of growth in Asia, every single G7 advanced economy is projected by the IMF to contract in 2019-2021. The falls in GDP in the G7 economies from 2019-2021 are projected to range from -2.8% in Germany, and -3.9% in the US to -7.3% in Italy.
Therefore, what will be created in the world in 2020-2021 is two regions of the global economy. The first will be a relatively dynamically growing region with its centre as China but including an important number of Asian economies. The second, with the US as its largest part, will be contracting/stagnant group of advanced economies.
Contributions to world growth
In its June analysis the IMF does not make projections for contributions to world growth at current exchange rates or PPPs – it only makes projections for individual countries and regions at inflation adjusted prices. Nevertheless the fundamental pattern of world growth analysed by the IMF in June is the same as in April, when it did make such detailed analyses, and leaves no ambiguity as to the key trends, and therefore this April data may be taken as showing the fundamental pattern of world growth. These April projections are shown in Figure 5.
As may be seen the IMF projects that in 2020-2021 China will account for the majority, 51.2%, of world growth and the US for only 3.3%. The latest IMF projections in June 2020 revised downward the change in US GDP in 2019-2021 from the -1.4% it had projected in April to -3.9% – therefore suggesting that the US contribution to global growth will be even lower than indicated here. In April 2020 the IMF projected both India (19%) and Indonesia (6.1%) will be larger contributors to world growth than the US. The EU will be a negative number, -0.5%, in its effect on world growth. Most of the other contributors to world growth, as already analysed, will be Asian economies who have strong trading relations with China – South Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.
The IMF figures for both India and Indonesia are likely to be too optimistic, given that the coronavirus is still developing in these countries, but the projected gap with the US is so large that it is highly likely that India and Indonesia in 2020-2021 will account for a greater percentage of world growth than the US! Meanwhile China will account for a far greater proportion of world growth than the US.
The difference in growth between China and the G7 will be particularly striking – as shown in Figure 6. The other six of the G7 countries apart from the US will together be a negative for world growth in 2020-21. The IMF therefore projects China will therefore contribute 15 times as much to world growth as the US in 2020-21 and more than 20 times as much as the G7.
Advanced and developing economies
Finally, to analyse the global situation, the impact of the COVID-19 crisis has a very dramatic impact on the pattern of development of the world economy as divided between developing and advanced economies – the IMF’s projections for this in 2019-2021 are shown in Figure 7. By 2021 world output will be a slightly larger 0.2% than in 2019. However, GDP in the advanced economies will still be 3.6% below its level in 2019 while in the developing economies it will be 2.7% above its 2019. That is therefore a major distribution of world economic growth in favour of developing economies and against advanced ones.
The pattern of global economic development
As already noted, in its June 2020 analysis the IMF does not make projections for the share of world growth at either current exchange rates or in PPPs – it only makes projections for economic growth at inflation adjusted prices. But the pattern of growth in its June projections is the same as in its April estimates in which projections are made in PPPs. So the fundamental pattern of world growth will not have changed. In April 2020 the IMF projected that in 2020-2021 more than 95% of world economic growth will take place in developing economies – 51% in China and 44% in developing economies other than China. Less than 5% of world economic growth will take place in advanced economies. This necessarily may have a major impact on the world geopolitical situation.
Interaction of US political and economic crisis
Analysing the geopolitical impact of these trends, the dimensions of the US domestic political crisis, the deepest since the Vietnam War, have already been analysed. But it is important to understand that what is occurring in the US affects fundamentally not only its political but its economic trends. To understand why it is necessary to grasp that while from the outside the US response to COVID-19, with more than 180,000 deaths and 5.8 million cases, may appear almost irrational it in fact has a deadly and entirely coherent capitalist economic logic.
By the US lifting its lockdown when it had more than 20,000 coronavirus cases a day it created the inevitability of a massive new wave of COVID-19 cases and deaths. Indeed, this began to occur immediately – as shown in Figure 9. Taking a 7-day moving average, to remove the effect of purely short-term fluctuations, the number of new daily US coronavirus cases reached its lowest level at 20,637 on 28 May. But due to the campaign by the Trump administration, supported by media such as the Wall Street Journal, to lift the US lockdown, the number of cases began to rise – reaching over 51,000 on a 7-day average by 8 July. The number of cases on 8 July itself was 57,000. In other words, a huge new wave of coronavirus infections was unleashed in the US which by July 31 had reached almost 66,000 a day.
Furthermore, the Trump administration was perfectly aware this new wave of infections was coming with its policies. As the New York Times put it: ‘As new cases surge in the US, the White House acknowledges preparing for a fall wave.’ Why, therefore, is the US quite deliberately preparing for a new huge wave of coronavirus infections and is not seeking to avoid this but is creating the conditions in which it is inevitable?
The massive rise of US unemployment
The logic for the US of allowing a huge new wave of coronavirus infections to occur becomes clear when the unemployment situation in the US is considered.
In terms of direct measure of US unemployment, Figure 10 shows that the rate of unemployment in the US has risen from under 4% to over 15%, the highest since World War II, in merely a few months.
To summarise these trends a gigantic simultaneous attack by disease and unemployment is being directed at the US population. The economic impact of this is that in addition to those who have lost their jobs tens of millions of American workers are having their wages cut.
A survey by CNBC found that: ‘A quarter of Americans have either lost their job or seen their wages cut as a result of the coronavirus shutdown.’ In detail: ‘One in 10 Americans said they have lost their job and 16% reported they have seen their wages or salary reduced.’ As Bloomberg put it under the self-explanatory headline: ‘Salaries Get Chopped for Many Americans Who Manage to Keep Jobs’: ‘Companies across the U.S. are cutting salaries… there are signs of “general wage softening and salary cuts” all over the economy, according to a Fed business survey in April. A study by Thomvest Ventures, which looked at 22 public and private technology companies, found that non-executive employees had seen pay reduced by an average of 10% to 15%.’
Such a policy’s objective effect is to attempt to terrorise the US population into accepting a large increase in the rate of exploitation and a large increase in the rate of profit. It is in anticipation of this that the US share market has recovered so quickly. Therefore, seen from the point of view of US capital, the massive number of deaths from coronavirus and the huge loss of jobs are not irrational at all – they are a way to attempt to increase the rate of exploitation and vastly increase profits. That is why Trump’s policies in allowing the coronavirus to spread in an uncontrolled way are so strongly supported by the media supporters of US capitalism such as the Wall Street Journal. Hundreds of thousands of Americans may die but Trump and the Wall Street Journal had calculated that this would be very profitable.
It is for this reason that Trump is therefore pursuing a simultaneous dual attack:
- Externally to attack China
- Domestically to attack the US population
The strategy being attempted by both Trump, and on fundamental issues by the Democrats is to attempt to convince the American people that this enormous attack on their living standards is not in fact due to US capitalist policy but is due to China.
The problem for Trump and the Democrats is that this attack on the US population has led to a social explosion and the deepest US political crisis since Vietnam. It is because the huge US protests over the murder of George Floyd indicate that there may be large-scale resistance to Trump’s attack on the population that the US protests are not merely a factor in the political but also in the economic situation in the US. They obstruct the strategy of the US political establishment to attempt to strengthen its economy to confront China.
Why the US must try to slow China’s economy
Clearly a further shift in the international economic relation of forces in favour of China of the type which is currently projected by the IMF would be a disaster for the attempted anti-China policy of the US. An all-out US ruling class mobilisation will therefore be carried out to attempt to prevent such a shift in the international relation of forces in favour of China. But the available US tactics to achieve this are severely restricted by the fact that the huge downturn of the United States economy after the impact of COVID-19 is inevitable – the US possesses neither the ideology nor the practical economic mechanisms capable of preventing this. The only question internationally is therefore by how much China’s economy will outperform the US?
As the US is incapable of stopping its own economic downturn, the only means available to Trump and the Democrats to attempt to prevent this deterioration of its relation of forces in relation to China is to try to slow China’s economy. The US’s catastrophic failure during the COVID-19 crisis therefore dictates it must strategically launch a frenzied lying attack against China to attempt to slow down China’s economic development which China must be prepared to confront during the next period. This US attack involves simultaneously strategically:
- An external economic assault by the US against China – but which will, as will be seen, produce a new shift in the global alignment of social forces.
- Simultaneously the US has to attempt to create domestic pressure within China to prevent China using the advantages of its socialist system – if China could be forced in the direction of acting as a capitalist economy then the US, as the strongest capitalist state, could win in its struggle with China in a way that is not possible if it is a struggle between a socialist China and a capitalist US. The ultimate aim of this, of course, is for the US to overturn socialism in China and to overthrow the CPC – although serious forces in the US do not believe this is possible in the short term and in particular do not believe it is possible while the CPC is led by Xi Jinping.
Part 3 – US Aggression Confronts the Majority of Humanity
US tactics for confronting China
The external US economic tactics for attacking China are well known and therefore need only be very briefly summarised here. Among the most important of these the US attempts to:
- Prevent China undertaking high tech development – illustrated in the attack on Huawei.
- To create anti-China trade pacts – the new US-Canada-Mexico trade agreement includes an explicit provision de facto giving the US veto rights over any attempt by Canada or Mexico to enter into trade agreements with China, and the US has made clear it wants a similar clause included in its proposed post-Brexit trade agreement with the UK.
- The US is attempting to create new supply chains for its companies which exclude China.
- The US is attempting to weaken or wreck the WTO and replace it with a series of bilateral trade agreements controlled by itself.
Summarising the totality of these actions the strategic goal of the US is to attempt to use numerous diverse means to attempt to force countries to weaken their economic links with China and instead reorient themselves to a bloc of chiefly advanced economies controlled/dominated by the US.
The main problem for the US in this attempted policy is that it means, because of the economic trends analysed above, that the United States is attempting to orient other countries’ economies away from China, which is the most dynamic part of the world economy, and which will account for the majority of world growth in 2020-2021, and towards an essentially stagnant part of the world economy. Such an orientation is inevitably damaging for the economies of any countries following this US policy.
Any such orientation towards more stagnant parts of the world economy has a necessary consequence for the domestic alignment of social and political forces in any country following this US policy. Because such a policy damages the economy of any country pursuing it, this necessarily increases conflict between the ruling class of that country and its own population. This will be worsened further if any attempt is made to compensate for this economic slowdown by attempting to increase the exploitation of its own population. Therefore, any country following the policy of the US is necessarily led into a simultaneous clash not only with China but with its own population.
Every country therefore faces a choice of going along with the US policy, which means a simultaneous clash with China and with their own population, or having better relations with China and with their own populations. This necessarily has a significant effect on the world alignment of social forces – although, as will be seen, the weight of these factors is different in different countries.
The US has increasingly become a direct enemy of humanity
- The US, by trying to slow China’s economy, when China is the main engine of world growth, is thereby attempting to slow down the entire global economy – and therefore is acting against the interests of economic development of the population of every country. In contrast, China promotes rapid economic development in which not only it but all countries share. The expansion of China’s economy, which creates the opportunity for ‘win-win’ relations with other countries, therefore corresponds to the overall interests and development of humanity.
The consequences for China itself of the US attempt to block its economic development are obvious and well known in China – it is an attempt to prevent China reaching economic prosperity and national renewal. Therefore, such a US policy is a direct attack on the Chinese people.
But this US policy is increasingly directly against the wider interests of humanity as a whole. China’s concept of a community of a shared future for humanity is therefore an increasingly crucial guide in this new international alignment of social forces. The success of China’s socialist path of development increasingly brings it into alignment with the interests of all progressive forces fighting, even if partially, for the interests of humanity – while the US’s path increasingly conflicts with the interests of humanity. This also means that there is an increasing conflict between the US and not only of those fighting for socialism but also those fighting even for more limited progressive interests of humanity. To take just a few key examples of this.
- The US’s catastrophic handling of the COVID-19 pandemic is not only an attack on the American people, with more than 180,000 deaths, but means the US is becoming a ‘plague state’, a centre of export of infections and death to the entire world – a direct threat to the whole of humanity. China, in contrast, is the country which has most successfully dealt with a major domestic coronavirus outbreak – showing a way forward for the whole of humanity.
- By withdrawing from the Paris climate change agreement, the US threatens a global climate catastrophe which will affect every country – China, on the contrary, has become the most powerful country in the world pursuing responsible climate change policies.
All these trends show that the victory of China against the US attack on it is in the interests of humanity. It is therefore vital for the whole of humanity that China defeats this attack.
United front policy
The strategic policy that flows from such a situation was classically outlined in China by Mao Zedong: ‘we must unite all the nationalities, democratic classes, democratic parties, people’s organisations and patriotic democrats and consolidate the great, prestigious revolutionary united front already in existence. Whoever contributes to the consolidation of this revolutionary united front is doing right, and we welcome him; whoever harms this consolidation is doing wrong, and we oppose him.’
Marxism analyses that for the victory of a major struggle it is necessary that the evil in society be concentrated in one place and the good in society be concentrated in another – in 1921-1949 the Communist Part of China (CPC) was victorious not only because it was Communist but because it became seen as the strongest embodiment of Chinese patriotism, land reform and anti-corruption while the Kuomintang became associated not only with capitalism but with subordination to foreign imperialist interests, landlordism and corruption. Today the US is acting against the interests of humanity and China is acting in the interests of humanity. This means China will be gradually be able to find international allies in this fight – including those who do not necessarily agree with China on all issues but who find their interests aligned with China in a fight for the common interests of humanity. This is precisely one aspect of the concept of a ‘community of common destiny for humanity’.
The weight of different issues
The analysis of the global situation given above makes clear what is the different weight of the key different issues in global geopolitics.
- The most crucial issue not only for China but geopolitically is China’s own domestic development. It is the support of China’s people for the Chinese state which is decisive for China’s own development. Only China is strong enough by itself to resist the offensive launched against numerous countries by the US. It is China’s more rapid economic development which is also decisive for creating an attraction for other countries
- Second, on the basis of its overall development, the increase of China’s military strength is the key to blocking off any attempt by the US to attempt to resolve issues created by its economic and political problems by armed means.
But while emphasising that China’s issues of domestic development are the most important not only for China itself but for the global situation these are not dealt with in detail here, nor is how China has to deal with the US attempt to create in China domestic forces supporting the US and against China. It simply underlined that these are the most vital issues. It is the international aspects of China’s policy which are analysed here. These reflect the different relation of forces in different parts of the world and on different issues.
Russia constitutes a specific and crucial case as although, from an economic point of view, it is a developing country, from a military and geopolitical point of view Russia is a very major power. Therefore, from the point of view of the international relation of forces against threats from the US the relation of China and Russia is of fundamental importance.
I lived in Russia from 1992-2000, and Putin’s administration is preferable to the pro-Western regime which led Russia and its people to disaster in 1992-1998. Therefore, the strategically good relations of Russia and China established in the last period are to be strongly supported.
For China Russia remains a crucial alliance, as China does for Russia, because the combination of China’s economic strength and Russia’s military strength is a formidable obstacle to the US.
Strategically pro-Western forces in Russia stand in direct counterposition to the Russian people’s interests over issues such as the Ukraine, Crimea, Syria and in demanding the great weakening of Russia’s military power in order to aid the US. For that reason, whatever may be any short issues, there is a stable base to China-Russia relations. The combination of China’s economic strength, its growing military strength, and Russia’s military power is an extremely strong force in world politics.
The situation in developing countries
Regarding the different geopolitical dynamics to be expected in different parts of the world the overall social and economic relation of forces it is important to be clear that the situation is extremely different in the advanced and developing economies and this strongly affects the situation of geopolitics around COVID-19. In the advanced economies the ruling classes have greater economic resources and are therefore more capable of implementing the line of the US of a simultaneous fight against China and their own populations. But the ruling class of developing countries do not have such strong resources and therefore to have a simultaneous fight both against China and against their own populations risks seriously destabilising their economies and political regimes. For that reason, even governments in developing countries with leaders such as Bolsonaro in Brazil, who are closely tied politically to the US, and who earlier engaged in strongly anti-China rhetoric, do not attempt to break economic ties with China.
Regarding most developing countries therefore major shifts in the alignment of social forces is unlikely and therefore no major change in their orientation to China – although the extremely important role of these countries in economic development in the next period makes China’s relations with them even more crucial. Problems with India, for example, are important but will be the exception rather than the rule regarding developing countries. As is well known China has built up excellent relations with a wide range of developing countries. China’s relation with both ruling groups and population in developing countries may therefore be anticipated to remain good. This was shown, for example, in the fact that 52 countries, almost all developing ones, have supported China over the Hong Kong national security law compared to 27, all Western, which have criticised it.
Social alignment of forces in the advanced economies
In contrast to the situation in developing countries, while it is not in the economic interests of advanced countries to tie themselves into a stagnant US economic bloc, rather than achieving links with a much faster growing China, it must always be remembered that, in the words of Lenin, ‘‘Politics must take precedence over economics. To argue otherwise is to forget the ABC of Marxism.’ For political reasons, therefore, many advanced countries will act even against their economic interests – creating a less favourable situation in regard to the advanced economies for China. Regarding the most important advanced economic centres outside the US the fundamental politics of the situation are the following:
- Japanese imperialism faces an impossible military problem without the support of the US. Japan’s economy is already far smaller than China’s and China’s military power is greater than Japan’s. But the situation of Japan is even worse than simply its relation with China because it is also confronted with Russia – which has good relations with China. The Japanese political establishment must therefore consider the possibility that in the event of a military struggle it would face a simultaneous conflict with both China and Russia. Defeat of Japan in such a struggle would be absolutely inevitable without the support of the US. In short Japanese imperialism considers its entire military position is untenable without US support. Therefore, historically Japan cooperated strongly economically with China, and will attempt to maintain this – and China can take advantage of this. But in the final analysis the US is in a position to dictate the most essential parameters of Japan’s policy. It is for this reason that anti-China forces within Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) tend to have great weight and attempts to create a consistently pro-China force within, or as an alternative to, the ruling LDP are generally unsuccessful despite the fact that very friendly relations with China are the most economically rational course for Japanese capitalism.
- The EU is a very considerable economic force – almost matching in scale the US. But it is far weaker militarily than the US. The single biggest military power in Europe is Russia and the EU relies on the US as a military balance against Russia. This does not mean that the EU and individual EU states will always submit to the US economically. Germany for example has refused to cancel the NordStream II gas pipeline from Russia despite US pressure, but the US has considerable leverage to change the policy of EU countries. For these reasons a number of EU countries will give in to US demands even although it damages their own economies. As the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell noted: ‘“Amid US-China tensions as the main axis of global politics, the pressure to ‘choose sides’ is increasing,” ‘He also admitted there were internal divisions within the EU with some wishing to follow a policy of equidistance between China and Europe, and others urging Europe to align with the US… He said the transatlantic relationship remained vital for Europe – “the values we share form its bedrock” – but that it was strained by the Trump administration taking “unilateral decisions with which we do not always agree”.’
Economically it would be far more rational for the EU countries to cooperate with China and evidently both sides must take advantage of this ‘win-win’ cooperation. But due to the political pressure of the US the number of EU countries cooperating with China will be less than those for whom it would be economically rational. The EU will therefore remain a major area of contestation between China and the US.
A change in the alignment of social forces in the advanced countries
The above situation produces a change in the social alignment of forces in the advanced countries.
Naturally it is very much in China’s interest to maintain strategically good relations with that minority of the US economic and political elite who wish to maintain objective or good relations with China, and towards any favourable tactical initiatives of the US towards China caused by the factors analysed above.
However other social forces within the US, for reasons already outlined, have moved for their own reasons into opposition to precisely those groups who are hostile to China and this opposition interferes with attacks on China. Thus, in summer 2020, it was not any significant part of the US capitalist class which rendered almost ineffectual within US politics the attack on China on Hong Kong but it was a large scale popular movement within the US which forced its quite different priorities into the centre of US politics.
It may be noted that the situation in Europe is more complex than in the US because, as already noted, significant capitalist forces are damaged by the insistence of the US that European countries orient to the United States’ relatively stagnant economy rather than to China’s more dynamic one. But in a number of European countries, for political reasons already noted, the ruling parties will accept US demands against China. In these countries, also for the reasons already analysed, the population of these countries will come into conflict with their anti-China ruling groups.
Struggle against climate change
In addition to these overall features of the developing and advanced countries there are also important common interests on specific issues in which the policies of the United States conflict with the overall interests of humanity. This is particularly true on climate change – where Trump is directly acting against the interests not only of humanity but of most countries and their governments policies.
In the last period quite a substantial part of the international environmental movement understood that China’s policies on climate change corresponded to the interests of humanity and Trump’s policies were directly against them. The US is, consequently, very directly intervening into the environmental movement to attempt to reverse this situation and to turn parts of it against China. All opinion polls show the increasing concern of Western public opinion with climate change. International activity by China on the issue of climate change is therefore not only crucial for objective reasons but also important for China’s international position.
The US Black movement
Historically China had extremely strong relations with the leaders of the Black movement in the US.
Malcolm X made clear his support of Mao Zedong and his opinion that Africa and Black Americans should follow China’s example. In fact Malcolm X urged Black Americans and Africans to follow Mao’s famous statement ‘the Chinese people have stood up’: He stated: ‘They used to have a saying that one doesn’t have a Chinaman’s chance [meaning no chance]. But they don’t say that anymore. They used that expression back when China was weak. But now since Mao Zedong has been successful in making China a strong country, the Chinese have more chance than anybody else. So this thing has become outdated.
‘Well, just as it took a strong China to give a Chinese person respected wherever that Chinese person is found on this earth, when we get a strong Africa, the person of African origin or African ancestry will be respected any place on this earth even in America. But he will not be respected in America until Africa is strong, just as the Chinaman wasn’t respected abroad until China became strong.’
One of the most revered historical icons of the leaders of the Black movement of the US, W.E.B. Du Bois, was a guest at China’s national day celebrations standing only a few metres away from Mao Zedong.
Mao Zedong in 1963 wrote a famous article ‘Appeal to the people of the world to unite against the racial discrimination of American imperialism and support the struggle of black Americans against racial discrimination’ stating unequivocally: ‘‘I am willing to take this opportunity to represent the Chinese people and express our firm support for the African Americans’ struggle against racial discrimination and their freedom and peaceful rights.’
Robert F. Williams, leader of the North Carolina, chapter of the NAACP in the 1950s and into 1961, and famous for being forced into exile by US state harassment, and for broadcasting to the US from China, moved to China and was met by Mao Zedong. At Williams’ request Mao wrote another famous article on the Black struggle in the US, ‘Oppose Radical Discrimination By U.S. Imperialism.’
Deng Xiaoping met Muhammad Ali – one of the most famous icons in the US not only among the black community but in the white population. Muhammad Ali declared: ‘I’ve wanted to go [to China] since I was 10 years old…. Those people are so self-sufficient; they have pulled themselves right up without asking for help from the Western world. I just admire them so much.’
The Black Panthers visited China.
Black Panther leader Huey Newton was a guest at China’s National Day celebrations and held a meeting with Chinese premier Zhou Enlai.
Mao Zedong was among the readings for Black Panther members.
A united front to reject a new US cold war against China
All the different issues analysed below have specific features, but they are integrated by and lead to a conclusion on a key point – there are Western forces which reject, for numerous diverse reasons, US aggression against China and of a new US cold war against China. The ‘people’ in such a struggle, as opposed to the ‘enemy’ are all those who oppose a new cold war against China. It therefore includes, but is not limited to, those forces who are explicitly pro-China. It also includes all those who may be neutral between the US and China, or those who in principle support a US capitalist system against China’s socialism but oppose a cold war, or those for whatever reason are against a US cold war against China.
It may be put in the following terms. Two types of ‘united front’ conceptions are required.
- The first which may be seen as a ‘narrow’ united front, but which is also the most stable, is of clearly ‘pro-China’ forces – those who either understand that China’s interests correspond to the general interests of humanity, or to their own interests.
- The second is a ‘broad’ united front, or united fronts on different issues, of all those who are not necessarily pro-China but those who, for whatever reason (economic, ideological, support for peace etc) are opposed to US aggression against China and a new cold war. In a framework of peaceful competition it will become demonstrated to the world which is more successful in development, the US capitalist system or China’s socialist system. Supporters of capitalism may believe their system will prevail while opposing, perhaps for that reason, cold or hot wars, supporters of socialism believe China’s system will prevail but equally oppose cold or hot wars – that is a perfectly adequate basis for an agreement to oppose any cold or hot war.
This global situation, of which the social alignment of forces around COVID-19, is the latest expression, necessarily involves China preparing for a prolonged struggle – it is no accident that in China Mao Zedong’s ‘On Protracted War’ has become one of the most read and referenced works The US has great economic and military resources. There are unfortunately confused illusions in some places that by some type of skilful media tactics China can project very strong ‘soft power’ in the US. This is an illusion.
The real basis of ‘soft power’ is always ‘hard power’ – the US is able to project its international image by its high per capita GDP, and therefore high average incomes, which people in other countries would like to enjoy, by its global military superiority, by the power of its global companies, by the massive scale of its world cinema and TV, the huge reach of its global internet companies etc. These are the real bases of US ‘soft power’ – not skilful media tactics. It will take China several decades to catch up with the per capita GDP of the US, and breakthroughs by individual Chinese companies, such as Huawei, or in the media sphere Tik Tok, will certainly increase but will be gradual. China is already very attractive to many developing countries, but it will take a prolonged period of development for it to acquire the same power of attraction in advanced countries. Chinese overseas media must therefore be prepared for a ‘long march’, a ‘prolonged war’ within the advanced countries.
These fundamental facts of the geopolitical situation outlined here are known among pro-US Western commentators – although naturally they think that areas where China is strong are negative and not positive! For example the following analysis by Patrick Wintour, Diplomatic Editor of the strongly anti-China UK Guardian, is worth quoting at length as a comprehensive summary of the situation regarding the geopolitical relations of the US and China as seen from the West:
‘‘According to Kishore Mahbubani a fellow at the Asia Research Institute… “These are not abstract issues for Korea and Japan. America wants them both to decouple from China, but for them that is economic suicide.”…
‘[Singapore’s] prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, is equally vehement… “China is far from a Potemkin village or the tottering command economy that defined the Soviet Union in its final years…”
‘Josep Borrell, the EU foreign policy chief, is reluctant to be dragged into Trump’s all-out war. After video talks with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi earlier this month he unveiled… Europe would do it in its own way.
‘Borrell insisted China was not a military threat and confided Wang had told him China did not like being called a “systemic rival”…
‘For countries such as Germany this is not about a play on words. China bought €96bn… of German exports in 2019 – nearly half as much as the EU’s… If Deutsche Telekom was forced to remove Chinese equipment suppliers from its network – a scenario called Armageddon – it would take 5 years and cost billions. A systematic rivalry is not in Berlin’s interests, or indeed what its people want. In survey after survey they affirm Trump is a greater threat to world peace than Xi.
‘Similarly, in Latin America some surprising countries are proving to be China-centric. Chile, probably the most free-market economy on the continent, counts China as its main trading partner both in terms of imports and exports.
‘China’s president, Xi Jinping, has extended his signature foreign policy, the Belt and Road initiative, right across Latin America, signing up 14 of the region’s 20 countries. China has surpassed Brazil as Argentina’s biggest trade partner. Argentina’s president, Alberto Fernández, preaches that “trade relations must be de-ideologised”.
‘In Brazil, where Jair Bolsonaro’s entourage have sent racist tweets about Beijing’s plans for “world domination”, exports to China rose by 13.1% in the first five months of the year compared with the same period in 2019. A third of Ecuador’s debt – $18.4bn (£15bn) – is owed to Chinese policy banks. Mexico, Venezuela and Bolivia also have strong trading links with China.
‘Once America’s backyard, Latin America is rapidly becoming China’s frontyard. With the closer economic links come political quiescence. On the issue of Taiwan, Panama, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador have shifted from Taiwan to China since 2017. In return they have secured infrastructure financing and investment.
‘China has long had Africa sewn up as its biggest creditor. “For Africa there is no other game in town when it comes to financing,” says the historian Niall Ferguson…
‘China has used this worldwide network to make its long march through the UN’s institutions, enabled by the US’s own shorter march out of the same forums. An early warning for the west came in 2017 when Britain’s candidate to run the World Health Organization was crushed by the Chinese-backed Ethiopian candidate, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. China itself now heads four of the UN’s 15 specialist agencies…
‘China has also become active in the UN Human Rights Council, sponsoring motions and in July 2019 crushing western criticism of China’s treatment of 1 million Uighur Muslims. That July vote was seen as an acid test of Chinese influence. Twenty-two western nations backed a resolution criticising China, but more than 50 nations signed an opposing letter accusing the west of “politicising human rights” and commending what it called China’s “remarkable achievements” in human rights. Not a single Muslim country backed the west. The so called “Like-minded Group of Developing Countries” all backed China or sat it out. Similarly, a tranche of eastern European countries refused to condemn Beijing…
‘Mahbubani argues that countries containing 20% of the world population are willing to join an anti-China alliance, but the rest would not. Dr Keyu Jin, an associate professor at the London School of Economics, says there is a global divide: “The attitude of many emerging markets to China is very, very different to rich industrialised nations. They want to learn from and aspire to the China model. They associate China with innovation in technology. Ten years ago during the financial crisis, China was the one to fill in the financial gaps when the US Fed[eral Reserve] had only swap lines with six major advanced economies.”’
A very prolonged struggle
What are the geopolitical conclusions that follow from this? As already analysed it is necessary to be clear that this will be a prolonged struggle – Mao Zedong’s ‘On Protracted War’ is indeed very suitable reading. The necessarily protracted nature of this struggle follows, in addition to the immediate trends noted above, from the following fundamental factors.
- The US is an imperialist power and therefore fundamentally opposed to the rise of China. As noted the US can be forced onto a ‘peaceful’ course when it feels weak – as during its defeat in Vietnam, in its struggle with the USSR, or after the international financial crisis. But whenever it feels strong it will resume an aggressive course against China – as was shown after its recovery from the international financial crisis. Numerous complex tactical features which will develop in this US-China relationship cannot be seen in advance – and all periods of good relations are welcome. But this fundamental character of the US as an imperialist state cannot be altered. Only if China became clearly structurally more powerful than the US would the US be forced, for self-survival, onto a stable friendly attitude to China.
- China cannot become structurally more powerful than the US until several decades have passed. Even when China becomes the largest economy in the world, it would not yet be as powerful as the US, for reasons analysed in my book The Great Game (一盘大棋——中国新命运解析). The US would still for a significant period have stronger military forces, larger international companies, a higher per capita GDP, more advanced scientific resources. China can certainly achieve sufficient power that the US will not dare to attack it militarily, because in an age of nuclear weapons this would lead to devastating and unacceptable losses for the US itself. China can also achieve superiority compared to the US in the geographical areas surrounding itself. But China will not be able to achieve a stable superiority of power over the US until several decades into the future. For that reason the US will maintain for a prolonged period a strategically aggressive attitude to China – which can only be turned into periods of good relations by the rise of China’s own power or domestic or international setbacks to the US.
- Neither the US nor China is powerful enough to dominate the world in a unilateral way even if they wished to (there is no evidence that China has the desire to while the US open proclaims it does). The US, for reasons already outlined, furthermore finds itself in increasing conflict with the interests of humanity. In terms of geopolitics this means that an increasing number of countries find themselves in conflict with the US. China’s ‘common future for humanity’, the central concept of its foreign policy, is therefore more and more relevant confronted with the increasingly reactionary role of the US. But particularly leaders in some advanced capitalist countries, for reasons already analysed, will surrender a number of their economic interests to the US for political reasons. A far larger number of developing countries, in contrast, will defend their economic interests and resist US aggression.
- The US, for the reasons already analysed, will intensify its attacks on countries which attempt to promote their own national interests – instead of pursuing policies which aid the US but damage their own interests. However Marxist theory, confirmed by history shows, that only a communist party, of the type of the the CPC, the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), or the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) is over the long run fully capable of successfully resisting such an attack by US imperialism. As Mao Zedong put it for China: ‘Without a revolutionary party, without a party built on the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary theory and in the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary style, it is impossible to lead the working class and the broad masses of the people to defeat imperialism.’ But it takes a tremendous national struggle, of the type experienced by China, Cuba, or Vietnam to create such a Communist party. At present almost no other countries have yet succeeded in creating such parties. In some countries currents have arisen which have opposed US attacks – for example Evo Morales in Bolivia, the PT in Brazil, Corbyn in Britain – but without the creation of a Communist Party, of the type of the CPC, PCC, or CPV, these suffered defeats. Some countries, such as Venezuela since the first election of Chavez, have successfully fought off US aggression but they have not yet succeeded in creating a party capable of leading the country forward with the same coherence and in a sustained way as with the CPC, PCC, or CPV.
- Political forces which have not yet risen to the level of CPC, PCC, or CPV, in determining a long-term strategic orientation for their country have, of course, succeeded in defending their countries against the US assault in some cases for significant periods. The fact that they do so aids the international struggle against US attacks and for that reason China has engaged in the closest possible dialogue and united front activity with such forces. But the fact that such countries have not yet created parties with the leadership capacities of the CPC, PCC or CPV means that a conclusive victory has not yet, and cannot yet, be gained against the US. Countries will hopefully move towards creating real communist parties like the CPC, or in Latin America like the PCC , but until this is achieved a final victory against the US cannot be assumed. For this most fundamental reason, the global struggle will be a prolonged one.
The interrelation between China’s struggle for national renewal and the common interests of humanity
From the point of view of China I concluded my book The Great Game published in 2016, before the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis, with the following words: ‘As the great German philosopher Hegel noted at a particular moment in history the general progress of humanity becomes determined by a specific country – Lenin explained the same concept noting that it was necessary to know at any point in time which link in the chain was decisive in order to grasp it and proceed to the next link. To take an historical process, in Europe, at the end of the 16th century, Holland carried out the first successful anti-feudal revolution in history. Holland was a tiny country, but so progressive and so great was the impact of this event that it inspired writers and other struggles for centuries…. At the end of 18th century the French Revolution created a struggle for liberty which shook Europe to its foundations. In 1917 a revolution took place in Russia that was not only one of the greatest events in world history but hastened the fall of all colonial Empires – and had a decisive effect on China itself.
‘Today, in equal measure, the greatest step that can be taken not only for China but for all humanity can only be taken by Chinese people, on Chinese soil, and in pursuing a Chinese Dream.’
These were not intended as polite words, because I was writing for a Chinese audience, but as a strictly objective analysis of the global situation. They have been confirmed by the fact that since then events have moved further in the direction they analysed. The leadership of the US has moved further against the interests of humanity. China has increasingly moved into a position where its national interests coincide with those of humanity. The global crisis around COVID-19 has simply developed that trend further.
The leadership of the US around COVID-19 is now launching an immense attack not even simply on other countries but also against the American people themselves, resulting in more than 180,000 deaths, with this number still rising, and with unemployment and therefore impoverishment for tens of millions. The US political elite today is quite literally slaughtering its own people to try to engage in an attack on China.
It is therefore absolutely vital not only for China itself but for humanity that China and all progressive forces defeats this US aggression. But this interrelation between China’s national interests and those of humanity is reciprocal. China will fight for its own national renewal with that as its own specifically Chinese goal. But objectively by fighting for this China is also the most powerful force fighting for the interests of humanity.
Equally China faces a powerful and ruthless enemy in this US assault. Although the US attack on China is directly acting against the interests of humanity there are capitalist forces in the world which, for the reasons outlined, will either follow the US or participate in that attack for their own reasons. China’s fight for its national renewal will therefore either be easier or harder, and have greater or less chance of victory, depending on how much other forces in the world act in alignment with China or against China.
The present crisis around COVID-19 confirms even more than previously that the Chinese people fight for national renewal, but this fight for national renewal coincides with the interests of humanity. As Xi Jinping stated it at his first press conference after becoming General Secretary of the CPC, China sees its own national rejuvenation as a part of the overall progress of humanity: ‘Throughout 5,000 years of development, the Chinese nation has made significant contributions to the progress of human civilisation… Our responsibility is… to pursue the goal of the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, so that China can stand firmer and stronger among the world’s nations, and make new and greater contributions to mankind.’
These words are eloquent, but they are also an objective statement of reality – as the global crisis around COVID-19 thoroughly confirms. They are, of course, an entirely different framework of a nation’s relation to humanity than the ‘America First’ of Trump.
From the point of view of humanity objectively the new US cold war against China is against the interests of the global majority – including the majority in the West, that is the working class and oppressed. However, due to the power of the imperialist ruling classes, at present only a minority of the population of the imperialist countries understand that objective situation. As long as this situation of domination by the imperialist ruling classes continues the majority of the population of the imperialist countries will continue to endure great suffering – hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths from COVID-19, deaths from disastrous wars as in Iraq and Libya, US racism against African Americans, Native Americans, Muslims, Chinese and any other group they choose, US trampling on the fight against climate change. In contrast, in most developing countries the majority of the population already does not support these US imperialist policies. Within the imperialist countries there will be a protracted and necessary battle first to enlarge the minority against such imperialist policies and then to turn it into a majority.
It is therefore a task for Western progressives and the left to deconstruct the wall of imperialist lies surrounding China – which starts with developing basic understanding and contact/links with China. There is far too little appreciation of the reality and extraordinary progress that has been achieved. China lifting more than 860 million people out of internationally defined poverty is treated as some sort of ‘detail’, when it is in fact equivalent to lifting the entire population of Western Europe, or more than the population of Latin America, out of poverty. This is by far the greatest contribution to real human rights in the world. As censorship of objective information about China in the Western mainstream media is extremely tight it means independent websites in the West, social media accounts, Twitter, YouTube are starting to get the truth out – although also here censorship is also increasing. There is a noticeable increase in the presence of social media giving objective analysis of China, including media from China itself, with a new phenomenon being much greater media activity by the Chinese diaspora – a diaspora which is itself becoming an increasing target of racist attacks which are an inevitable by-product of the new US cold war against China.
The extraordinary achievements of the Chinese people, of Chinese socialism, of a ‘non-white’, country, taking China from almost the poorest country in the world in 1949 to the brink of a ‘high income’ economy by international classification, taking more than 860 million people out of poverty, that in famous words ‘the Chinese people have stood up’, are the real reasons for the hate of the majority of the US capitalist racist class for China. For the reasons analysed here it is vital both for China and the whole of humanity that this US ‘cold war’ assault on China is defeated. In the most direct sense the interests of the Chinese people and of humanity coincide.
03 September 2020
The above article was previously published here by Learning From China.