china Opinion Vijay Prashad

Can We Please Have an Adult Conversation About China?

Wang Bingxiu of the Shuanglang Farmer Painting Club (Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, China), Untitled, 2018

By Vijay Prashad / Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research

As the US legislative leader Nancy Pelosi swept into Taipei, people around the world held their breath. Her visit was an act of provocation. In December 1978, the US government – following a United Nations General Assembly decision in 1971 – recognised the People’s Republic of China, setting aside its previous treaty obligations to Taiwan. Despite this, US President Jimmy Carter signed the Taiwan Relations Act (1979), which allowed US officials to maintain intimate contact with Taiwan, including through the sale of weapons. This decision is noteworthy as Taiwan was under martial law from 1949 to 1987, requiring a regular weapons supplier.

Pelosi’s journey to Taipei was part of the US’s ongoing provocation of China. This campaign includes former President Barack Obama’s ‘pivot to Asia’, former President Donald Trump’s ‘trade war’, the creation of security partnerships, the Quad and AUKUS, and the gradual transformation of NATO into an instrument against China. This agenda continues with President Joe Biden’s assessment that China must be weakened since it is the ‘only competitor potentially capable of combining its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to mount a sustained challenge’ to the US-dominated world system.

China did not use its military power to prevent Pelosi and other US congressional leaders from travelling to Taipei. But, when they left, the Chinese government announced that it would halt eight key areas of cooperation with the US, including cancelling military exchanges and suspending civil cooperation on a range of issues, such as climate change. That is what Pelosi’s trip accomplished: more confrontation, less cooperation.

Indeed, anyone who stands for greater cooperation with China is vilified in the Western media as well as in Western-allied media from the Global South as an ‘agent’ of China or a promoter of ‘disinformation’. I responded to some of these allegations in South Africa’s The Sunday Times on 7 August 2022. The remainder of this newsletter reproduces that article.

Ghazi Ahmet (Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China), Muqam, 1984.

A new kind of madness is seeping into global political discourse, a poisonous fog that suffocates reason. This fog, which has long marinated in old, ugly ideas of white supremacy and Western superiority, is clouding our ideas of humanity. The general malady that ensues is a deep suspicion and hatred of China, not just of its current leadership or even the Chinese political system, but hatred of the entire country and of Chinese civilisation – hatred of just about anything to do with China.

This madness has made it impossible to have an adult conversation about China. Words and phrases such as ‘authoritarian’ and ‘genocide’ are thrown around with no care to ascertain facts. China is a country of 1.4 billion people, an ancient civilisation that suffered, as much of the Global South did, a century of humiliation, in this case from the British-inflicted Opium Wars (which began in 1839) until the 1949 Chinese Revolution, when leader Mao Zedong deliberately announced that the Chinese people had stood up. Since then, Chinese society has been deeply transformed by utilising its social wealth to address the age-old problems of hunger, illiteracy, despondency, and patriarchy. As with all social experiments, there have been great problems, but these are to be expected from any collective human action. Rather than seeing China for both its successes and contradictions, this madness of our times seeks to reduce China to an Orientalist caricature – an authoritarian state with a genocidal agenda that seeks global domination.

This madness has a definite point of origin in the United States, whose ruling elites are greatly threatened by the advances of the Chinese people – particularly in robotics, telecommunications, high-speed rail, and computer technology. These advances pose an existential threat to the advantages long enjoyed by Western corporations, who have benefited from centuries of colonialism and the straitjacket of intellectual property laws. Fear of its own fragility and the integration of Europe into Eurasian economic developments has led the West to launch an information war against China.

This ideological tidal wave is overwhelming our ability to have serious, balanced conversations about China’s role in the world. Western countries with a long history of brutal colonialism in Africa, for instance, now regularly decry what they call Chinese colonialism in Africa without any acknowledgment of their own past or the entrenched French and US military presence across the continent. Accusations of ‘genocide’ are always directed at the darker peoples of the world – whether in Darfur or in Xinjiang – but never at the US, whose illegal war on Iraq alone resulted in the deaths of over a million people. The International Criminal Court, steeped in Eurocentrism, indicts one African leader after another for crimes against humanity but has never indicted a Western leader for their endless wars of aggression.

Dedron (Tibet Autonomous Region, China), Untitled, 2013.

The fog of this New Cold War is enveloping us today. Recently, in the Daily Maverick and the Mail & Guardian, I was accused of promoting ‘Chinese and Russian propaganda’ and having close links to the Chinese party-state. What is the basis of these claims?

Firstly, elements in Western intelligence attempt to brand any dissent against the Western assault on China as disinformation and propaganda. For instance, my December 2021 report from Uganda debunked the false claim that a Chinese loan to the country sought to take over its only international airport as part of a malicious ‘debt trap project’ – a narrative that has also been repeatedly debunked by leading US scholars. Through conversations with Ugandan government officials and public statements by Minister of Finance Matia Kasaija, I found, however, that the deal was poorly understood by the state but that there was no question of the seizure of Entebbe International Airport. Despite the fact that Bloomberg’s entire story on this loan was built on a lie, they were not tarred with the slur of ‘carrying water for Washington’. That is the power of the information war.

Secondly, there is a claim about my alleged links to the Chinese Communist Party based on the simple fact that I engage with Chinese intellectuals and have an unpaid post at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University, a prominent think tank based in Beijing. Yet, many of the South African publications that have made these outrageous claims are principally funded by George Soros’ Open Society Foundations. Soros took the name of his foundation from Karl Popper’s book, The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945), in which Popper developed the principle of ‘unlimited tolerance’. Popper argued for maximum dialogue and that opinions against one’s own should be countered ‘by rational argument’. Where are the rational arguments here, in a smear campaign that says dialogue with Chinese intellectuals is somehow off-limits but conversation with US government officials is perfectly acceptable? What level of civilisational apartheid is being produced here, where liberals in South Africa are promoting a ‘clash of civilisations’ rather than a ‘dialogue between civilisations’?

Countries in the Global South can learn a great deal from China’s experiments with socialism. Its eradication of extreme poverty during the pandemic – an accomplishment celebrated by the United Nations – can teach us how to tackle similar obstinate facts in our own countries (which is why Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research produced a detailed study about the techniques that China employed to achieve this feat). No country in the world is perfect, and none is above criticism. But to develop a paranoid attitude towards one country and to attempt to isolate it is socially dangerous. Walls need to be knocked down, not built up. The US is provoking a conflict due to its own anxieties about China’s economic advances: we should not be drawn in as useful idiots. We need to have an adult conversation about China, not one imposed upon us by powerful interests that are not our own.

Yang Guangqi of the Shuanglang Farmer Painting Club (Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, China), Untitled, 2018.

My article in The Sunday Times does not address all the issues that swirl around the US-China conflict. However, it is an invitation to a dialogue. If you have any thoughts on these issues, please email me.

Vijay Prashad
Vijay Prashad

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.

9 comments

  1. Here in Australia we are bombarded with the same anti – China propaganda. Not surprising really. Rupert Murdoch has a strangle hold on Australian media – and he is, after a US citizen ( and a billionaire ). No surprise either, that the anti Russia propaganda follows the same script.
    It does seem like America cannot acknowledge and accept the fact that the American Century / Empire is in decline and China is on the rise, but that’s how history goes.
    To take that denial to the point of planetary destruction is insane. And that sort of look like where we’re heading.

  2. CENTRALIZED DRAGON v. UGLY AMERICAN CHIMERA
    OR GLOBAL COMMON GOOD.

    As a labor centered anarcho-syndicalist (Wobbly) of course I’m opposed to the extreme centralization and top down authoritarianism of China. And I’d prefer to believe at least some elements of my country’s government support the common good.

    However, look at this objectively. U.S. speeches opposing empire, supporting democracy and minority rights, accusing others of genocide, versus the spotty record and outright hypocrisy.

    Our political system is devolving into a plutocracy where corporations are legally people with rights while real humans are losing theirs. With government functioning as a subsidiary of the econ system.

    The U.S. can be considered successful because the upper middle class and the very wealthy are thriving. But only if certain facts are omitted. Mainly that the U.S. economy is still 70% consumer driven, the middle class is rapidly shrinking, the working class ignored, and the gig economy means insecurity and servitude for the many. Cui bono?

    Compare that with China as described by Vijay Prashad. Which metrics are people around the world going to find more attractive?

    How then can the U.S. econ empire maintain power? Leading by example? The current pols won’t. Which leaves domestic distraction and propaganda; global econ manipulation and political pressure; keeping governments in other countries unstable and military interventions. All of which are visible now. A sickly chimera of neolib economics and neocon imperial power.

    Post-Einstein relativity means we aren’t limited to either/or. The world doesn’t have to choose between the economics of the Middle Kingdom’s centralized dragon and the ugly American neo-chimera.

    Let’s have an adult conversation about the global common good.

  3. Sorry, Vijay but it’s the adults causing all the problems, but I have more confidence in kids to avoid war.
    Historians figure that WW1 was a sleep walk, such is not the scenario today as war drums and war chants have been beating and sung for at least 5 years now.
    WW1 was essentially a battle for territory – – Alsace Lorraine – – today’s battle is for economic territory.
    No one is allowed to surpass the West, especially USA, in economic might.
    Example : tariffs, export restrictions, massive expenditures to bring back manufacturers, as well as propaganda, false accuse of crimes /genocide, lies of debt trap, etc.
    The trouble is Adults talk too much about their own perspectives, vested interests and fears but do not hear the other side.
    We talk ourselves into false beliefs, such as Stolen
    elections, and dishonestly such as WMD to destroy an entire nation or the Domino Theory to interfere with Korea, Vietnam Civil wars.
    America is an Empire that uses its economic muscle upon the world, no different than the British East India company extracted trillion$$ from India and the forced
    opium trade. ( laughingly India still adores their master’s) .

    USA is unstoppable until kingdom of SA stops use of US$$ exclusively for oil.
    Vijay, it is useless to talk with most western adults, have you seen, heard QAnon? Or Trumpian truths?
    Half of America demands Trump returns to the WH and could happen in 2024…. Don’t bet against the Electoral College or Trump’s Supreme Court.

  4. The mainstream media told blatant lies about WMDs in Iraq, among countless other issues. Those who continue to uncritically swallow the propaganda vomited out by the MSM (which includes pseudoleft outlets like the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Guardian) are brain dead morons. Vijay Prashad is a an esteemed veteran journalist who has been smeared by the MSM, a good indicator that everyone needs to read and listen carefully to what he says, borne of careful research and thoughtful analysis. The alternative is to be led towards nuclear armageddon by brain dead morons.

    Good interview:
    https://www.listennotes.com/podcasts/economic-update/the-deepening-fragility-of-a7XmyITLic8/

  5. Fuck Rupert Murdoch. Famous quote from Ted Turner: Rupert’s idea of a better world is a world that is better for Rupert.

    1. Eric,
      There are millions of people just like Murdoch and we deserve them.
      Many people enable their excessive behaviors.
      Would you be in this situation if majority of people did not put up with the Murdochs of the world???

      Trump is the perfect example as he represents the basics of what most Americans really are.

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