The cold war propaganda that we hear about China has become so normalized that rather than asking presidential candidates whether or not they believe it, TV pundits treat it as unquestionable truth and ask the candidates how aggressively they plan to act towards China. This was what we saw in the latest Democratic debate, where NBC’s Lester Holt said: “U.S. businesses say China steals our intellectual property and party leaders on both sides accuse China of manipulating their currency to keep the cost of goods artificially low…How would you stand up to China?”
The answers from the candidates-which could be summed up as “we should continue Trump’s economic war with China in a different way, and also we need more cold war escalations with Russia”-showed the insane nature of our national discourse about China. Both of America’s ruling parties, along with all the mainstream media outlets, agree that our only option is to pursue economic warfare against China-and therefore to enable the push towards world war that America’s tensions with China are creating.
This consensus goes unopposed because the rhetoric behind it is based in ingrained parts of our culture. In my articles about China from May and June, I’ve covered many of the deceptions that are being used to manufacture consent for cold war with China. But I still haven’t adequately countered the talking points that are being used to rationalize aggressions against China and stoke McCarthyite anti-Chinese sentiment, which run along the following themes:
When pundits and politicians say that we need to “stand up to China,” they’re trying to convince people that China poses a threat to ordinary Americans. In reality, it only poses a threat to American corporations and to U.S. imperial hegemony.
The claim that China has “stolen” American jobs, for example, serves both to deflect from the misdeeds of corporate America and to create irrational hatred of China. It makes no sense to expect China to refuse to let manufacturing plants be built inside of it; the Chinese Communist Party’s job is to advance the interests of its own workers, not those of America’s workers. China has merely taken advantage of the opportunity that’s been offered to it by American corporations, who’ve deprived their own country’s communities of jobs by closing down American plants and building new ones in China.
But anti-Chinese demagogues have made China into the scapegoat, effectively pitting American workers against Chinese workers even though both of them are merely pawns in the operations of multinational corporations. This dishonest framing has made it seem like the solution is to aggress against China rather than to get rid of the capitalist system that’s at the root of America’s deindustrialization.
It’s a very crude and cynical exploitation of nationalist sentiments, one that’s been engaged in not just by Donald Trump but by “progressive” leaders. In May, Bernie Sanders responded to Joe Biden’s defense of China’s trade policies by attacking Biden from the right, tweeting: “Since the China trade deal (in 2000) I voted against, America has lost over 3 million manufacturing jobs. It’s wrong to pretend that China isn’t one of our major economic competitors. When we are in the White House we will win that competition by fixing our trade policies.”
This disingenuous reinforcement of the rationale behind Trump’s trade war with China showed why anti-China sentiment is universal in mainstream American politics: Sanders, like the rest of the Washington elite, approachesAmerica’s relationship to China through the perspective of American capitalism and empire. When China accepts new jobs from U.S. companies, or uses existing American technology, or engages in business ventures abroad, American leaders see these things as nefarious rather than rational acts of self-interest.
From this perspective, the solution appears not to be to ensure the well-being of the American people by nationalizing the major industries under a socialist commonwealth, but to wage trade wars against China that stoke geopolitical tensions while hurting the American economy. It appears this approach towards China will prevail in Washington whether or not Trump is re-elected.
The journalist Tyler Burns observed this year that “Most of what we hear about China is red scare, yellow peril propaganda.” The headlines about things like Chinese spies, spooky monitoring practices from the Chinese government, and heinous Chinese mistreatment of Muslim prisoners are reliably misleading, and they come from the same vein as the old cartoon caricatures of menacing-looking Chinamen.
“The outpour of completely baseless, biased, and unresearched horror stories is astonishing,” writes Burns. “Tales of aggressive military expansion, neocolonialism, torture, human rights violations, and massive unrestrained surveillance systems have made headlines again and again. Besides the obvious hypocrisy of decrying the very same things these companies praise western countries for doing, what’s most concerning about these stories is their glaring inaccuracies.”
I’ve debunked these slanders against China extensively in my two previous China articles, and Burns gives a refutation of several additional fabricated atrocity stories (the most ludicrous one being the account of anti-Islamic prisoner abuse from the Uighur Omir Bekali, who was quite obviously lying given the total lack of similar stories from any other Chinese Muslim prisoners). You can go to the links I’ve provided to see exactly how you’ve been lied to about China, but my overall judgement from these stories is that Americans are being subtly nudged towards adopting anti-Asian racist sentiments.
These claims about wildly villainous behavior from the Chinese authorities echo the racist tropes about people from Asian cultures “skinning animals alive,” and they serve to legitimize the institutional anti-Chinese biases that are appearing amid the U.S.-China cold war.
Last month, the FBI and the National Institute of Health removed Xifeng Wu and other ethnically Chinese cancer researchers from their positions. Since the targeted individuals consist of American citizens, this purge of the American medical workforce goes even further than the purges that have been suggested by politicians like Marco Rubio, who said at a Senate hearing last year that “counterintelligence risk posed to U.S. national security from Chinese students, particularly those in advanced programs in the sciences and mathematics.”
It looks like the wishes of anti-Chinese McCarthyists like Rubio are now being more than answered. Bloomberg’s Peter Waldman reported last month that “Wu hasn’t been charged with stealing anyone’s ideas, but in effect she stood accused of secretly aiding and abetting cancer research in China, an un-American activity in today’s political climate.”
The U.S. applies a similarly ridiculous standard to China’s other activities, namely with the charge that China “steals intellectual property.” As the anti-imperialist columnist Dennis Etler has written, the claim of Chinese intellectual property theft “has been thoroughly debunked several times over. The US considers Chinese students in the US returning home as spies, collaboration between US and Chinese scientists as stealing US intellectual property, not contributing to joint research to be equally shared, and legal technology transfers, which all companies engage in, as IP theft.”
The assertion about China manipulating currency is also bogus. “Even the Trump administration abandoned this canard as it has been shown to be false,” continues Etler. “Anyway, it is the US that engages in monetary policies that influence the value of the US dollar far more than does China. What the hell is quantitative easing if not currency manipulation?”
These absurd claims have been popularized among America’s political elite largely through the Council on Foreign Relations, which cultivates a worldview that’s centered not just around the U.S. imperialist perspective but around the perspective of the capitalist bourgeois. Even if the CFR’s claims of intellectual property theft were true, the political and media class wouldn’t acknowledge that the very concept of “intellectual property” is a bourgeois idea that’s propagated in order to let wealthy executives maintain a monopoly over technologies. If our society were oriented around the Marxist philosophy instead of the neoliberal philosophy, we’d all recognize that China has the right to use whatever technology it wants, and that our country has no right to carry out imperialist aggressions against China in any case.
Sadly, I doubt that articles like this one will end the American empire’s war against China. This year, the U.S. has issued a criminal indictment of the Chinese tech company Huawei based on absurd charges of theft, imposedsanctions on China, and used the NGO-industrial complex to manufacture anti-Chinese unrest in Hong Kong. Since America’s conflict with China is linked with the U.S./NATO empire’s war against China’s allies Venezuela, Syria, the DPRK, Iran, and Russia, and since this empire is locked in a spiral of collapse that will accelerate throughout the next decade, these kinds of provocations from the West will no doubt get worse in the coming years.
However, when it’s the 2030s and the American empire has come to an end while China has risen to be the dominant world power, I hope that the efforts from socialist anti-imperialist journalists like myself will have an impact on which direction history goes in next. For the global socialist movement to succeed in the 21st century, it will need to recognize China as an ally in the struggle against capitalism and imperialism. If we spread the truth about China now, the global anti-capitalist movement will have a better chance of soon uniting under Xi Jinping and the Communist Party of China.
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