Organised by the Goldsmiths Anti-Imperialist Society — Sunday 2nd April 2021
Text of Anna Chen’s talk
The Roots of the Clash between the United States of America and China
After a year of increasing anti-Asian violence encouraged by unscrupulous politicians and media, we took another lurch to the dark side when eight people were killed in the Atlanta shootings (16th March 2021), six of them Asian women. Elsewhere, Asian people are being regularly maimed and murdered.
Why have we been beset by this wave of sinophobic hatred when only four years ago, Christine Lagarde (International Monetary Fund) was remarking on the even pace of economic growth in the world? We had relative stability — if you weren’t a Palestinian, a Venezuelan or Iranian under US sanctions or a Black person in Ferguson — and as a species, for one glorious historical moment, we seemed to be headed towards the light.
But just as China’s economy was drawing level with the American superpower, we got the Thucydides Trap – classically the conflict that occurs when an established power feels threatened by a rising one — and now, more than 2,000 years after the original Sparta-Athens knock-down, we find ourselves being dragged into a war with a nuclear power which is also our global growth engine, the factory of the world and our lifeboat.
The road to war is paved with malign intent and the whipping up of China-hate to get the tax-paying American public on track for conflict is about as monstrous as you can get.
China is only 40 years into its modern era, having endured over a century of misery ever since Britain forced mass-produced opium onto the entire country at gunpoint in the 19th century Opium Wars, turning what had been an aristocratic vice into a nationwide addiction.
So why can’t the West take pleasure in China finally getting off its knees and raising an astonishing 850 million people out of absolute poverty? It is providing stability, healthcare, housing, education, food, an amazing high speed train system and beautiful cities. Why can’t we have a multi-polar world instead of one winner taking all?
One key difference between the American and Chinese systems is that US oligarchs control their government. Whoever you vote for, the government always gets in. Its politicians are backed by private money, and its corporations are too big to fail.
In China there is uneven distribution of wealth, but not on the scale of the declining superpower. This unevenness is something China appears to be tackling as it develops — as evidenced by the recent containment of Jack Ma’s Alibaba and Ant Financial empire.
Jack Ma was something of a philanthropist hero who’d promised his workers a share of the vast wealth generated by the Alibaba behemoth in the form of a shorter working week. He also produced a major online resource in the fight against Covid, and he offered to create a million new jobs for Donald Trump in America – which was was rejected.
But then he reverted to billionaire type, demanding that, despite his vast wealth, his workers should labour 996 hours — that is nine til nine, six days a week. He encouraged an excess of debt and then set about launching Ant Financial to service that debt with too small a cash reserve to stop it being too big to fail if anything went wrong. At the eleventh hour, the Chinese government audaciously clipped his wings, insisting Ant Financial should have a larger stash of cash, and are investigating possible monopoly transgressions.
The West was outraged. You can still hear them screeching that a government should have the temerity to reign in a company that could bring down the whole system in the same way that America’s deregulated mortgage industry almost collapsed the global economy in its 2008 crash … until China stepped in as the world’s shock absorber and lifted us out of danger.
China’s system is a new model that is not welcomed by certain parties in the West’s old declining capitalism.
America’s wealth is mostly stacked up in the hands of the top 0.1 per cent who own as much as the bottom 90 per cent. But it wasn’t always this way. Prior to Ronald Reagan’s presidency in 1981, post-World War 2 earnings for the majority went up by a hefty 77 per cent. Then, from 1981 earnings shrank by 3% under the Reagan regime. At the same time as America’s middle-class was expanding in its post-war glory years, earnings for the top 1% rose 29%, but from 1981 they soared by a colossal 176 per cent. It was the beginning of a huge transfer of wealth from the middle and working-classes to the super-rich that continues to this day.
This is where America’s healthcare, schools, jobs, roads, bridges and infrastructure went – into the pockets of the super-rich in the form of tax cuts. With little investment in its own people, poverty soars, the middle-class is hollowed out. And tent cities proliferate.
Having devoured the country down to the bone, like a shark that needs to keep moving or it dies, the billionaire class needs to look elsewhere for its dinner.
To jump metaphors, here’s China, the new rich kid on the block who’s just walked in wearing a Rolex and who’s about to get rolled.
China’s futuristic cities, transport and tech, its healthcare for all, its stability and safety present a juicy prize for stretched oligarchs hungry for new loot.
Not only that, but especially with the eradication of the coronavirus by day 43 of its 76-day lockdown — while Trump’s Covid super-spreader policy led to over a half a million dead — China is a model that America’s oligarchs do not want giving the public any big ideas.
“Hey. They look like they’re getting things right.” … is not what they want to hear.
So containment of the upcoming rival plus the promise of plunder have been too tempting to resist. The wall of hate propaganda is a form of self-hate as their lurid claims are all what’s happening at home in America, as we can see every day.
In the UK, we’ve gone through a similar immiseration of the working and middle-classes. Having inflicted austerity onto us, the same people who persuaded the country to leave the EU on the promise of fabulous trade deals with China are now trying to start a war with it. Having nailed us to the USS Titanic they are now trying to sink our lifeboat.
In true Tonya Harding Syndrome fashion, they’re out to smash the kneecaps of the upcoming rival. Biden said that China will not overtake America on his watch and pledged three hundred million dollars a year just to fight China’s Belt and Road initiative, on top all the rest of the psyops and dirty tricks.
The American ruling class would rather be the last one standing in the rubble than hand over the baton in the human race to fulfill its potential. The Asian women who were killed in Atlanta, the elderly who have been maimed and died, have already paid the price for this folly. We need to wake up and ensure they are the last and not the first.