The latest anti-China hysteria being provoked in the UK around the protests in Hong Kong and China’s supposed culpability in connection with the coronavirus pandemic amount to nothing more than the screams of rage of a fading imperialist power confronted with a power which is swiftly rising to prominence in the world.
Martin Wolf of the Financial Times has drawn attention to disturbing parallels with the situation that existed at the run up to the First World War: “A fascinating paper by Markus Brunnermeier and Harold James of Princeton University and Rush Doshi of Brookings argues that ‘the rivalry between China and the US in the twenty-first century holds an uncanny resemblance to the one between Germany and Great Britain in the nineteenth’. Both rivalries took place in an era of economic globalisation and rapid technological innovation. … Moreover, both rivalries featured ‘countries enmeshed in profound interdependence wielding tariff threats, standard-setting, technology theft, financial power, and infrastructure investment for advantage’.
“’Latecomers’, such as Germany then or China now, simply will not accept permanent disadvantage”. And of course the old lags try to hang on like grim death to their historic privileges and increasingly unwarranted advantages! All this was, of course, explained, by Lenin over a century ago in connection with the First World War in his pamphlet Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism.
Unlike imperial Germany in the 19th century, however, China is not a rival imperialist power, but it is enough that it is a rival economic power whose fair dealings with various oppressed countries round the world tend to undermine the ability for imperialist powers, including Britain, to superexploit those countries to the full extent that they would like. Quite rightly Mr Wolf realises it was economic rivalry that led to the First World War and catastrophe, and, as it would seem he is not quite insane, he would prefer that this should not be the outcome of the present rivalry, though he is careful to assign the blame for any such outcome on “Germany then or China now”, the newcomer not the decaying power. In actual fact it was Britain and France that precipitated the war against Germany, and not the other way round, as they were anxious to defeat it militarily before it became strong enough to defeat them, and something of the kind is certainly in the mind of the imperialist powers with respect to China now.
An important part of preparing for war is to mobilise public opinion in support of the war, to dress up what would be an unjust predatory war as a noble war in defence of human rights, democracy and freedom. And a sure sign of the fact that imperialism is contemplating such a war is precisely the anti-China propaganda frenzy. If the Daily Express is to be believed, it is being very effective, at least among Tory party members: “With anger growing over the Chinese government allegedly covering up the coronavirus outbreak 68.7 percent want manufacturing capabilities brought back from China to the UK while 88.7 percent back the creation of the so-called D10 group of G7 economies plus India, Australia and South Korea to form an economic bloc to combat China” (David Maddox, ‘Tories vote to allow British Hong Kong citizens to come to the United Kingdom’, 15 June 2020). Goebbels, with good reason, always claimed to have learnt his disinformation techniques by emulating the British!
Of course, the main contender for war against China is the imperialist United States, angry not only about the undermining of its imperialist enterprises but also about China’s increasing ability to compete great effect with America’s remaining high tech and military industries. Imperialist Britain has for decades now been reduced to the position of America’s sidekick. Boris Johnson though is setting new records in falling over backwards to ingratiate himself the Boss, no matter the cost to the country. For instance, while at one time the government was prepared to have some consideration for the interests of the British economy by using Huawei equipment to provide the best and cheapest wifi, including what is expected to be a totally game changing 5G network, it is now ordering this to be ripped out:
“The National Cyber Security Centre in the UK is expected to conclude that US sanctions against Huawei will make it impossible to use the Chinese company’s technology as planned for 5G networks.
“The emergency review… is designed to pave the way for Downing Street to push for the total elimination of Huawei equipment in British phone networks by 2023 and quell a Conservative backbench revolt [actually, to appease US imperialism].
“That move will amount to a hasty reversal of the policy announced by ministers in January to limit Huawei to 35% of the British 5G network supply. It also risks irritating China and adding hundreds of millions of costs to BT and other phone companies” (Dan Sabbagh, ‘Cyber security review may spell end for Huawei 5G deal’, The Observer, 24 May 2020).
No less a person than CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn has expressed dismay at the damage any such action would do to British industry:
“The boss of Britain’s biggest business group has waded into the row over Huawei’s role in the nation’s 5G network, warning moves to restrict the Chinese firm’s involvement could ‘damage’ economic recovery.
“CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn said the nation’s future economic revival is already being labelled a ‘digital first’ recovery, with many employees working from home and firms seeking innovative ways to adapt and boost productivity” (Neil Craven, ‘CBI boss Carolyn Fairbairn storms into row over Huawei 5G involvement’, Mail on Sunday, 13 June 2020).
The anti-China belligerence extends well beyond the boycotting of Huawei, as is illustrated by the following weasel words from the Financial Times:
“Boris Johnson’s government is drawing up a strategy to reduce the UK’s reliance on China for key imported goods, as ministers acknowledge that a combination of the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit will force a big shake-up of the country’s supply chains.
“The planned overhaul will aim to implement the results of ‘Project Defend’ — an internal exercise to ensure Britain retains access to critical goods while diversifying the country’s trading relationships.
“Those working on the project… stressed it was primarily about strengthening the country’s trade links in the wake of coronavirus but would also lead to the production of some critical goods being brought back to the UK, after the pandemic exposed the UK’s reliance on imports.
“Reshoring everything doesn’t fit with our ambition to be a champion of free trade,” said one person briefed on the talks. But a recurring theme of the discussions has been the need to reduce Britain’s reliance on trade with China, the second-biggest source of imports by value after Germany.
“The Covid-19 crisis has forced ministers to confront the lack of domestic sources of critical medical supplies, such as protective equipment, vaccines and certain chemicals, after the pandemic led to global shortages” (George Parker and Daniel Thomas, ‘UK looks to wean itself off Chinese imports’, 10 June 2020).
So, the excuse for reducing trade with China, precisely at a time when the UK is desperate for trade deals because of Brexit, is to secure domestic sources of supplies in the event of supply chains being once more disrupted by a pandemic or other emergency. By targeting these measures at China, and China alone, the government could not be clearer in demonstrating that it is anticipating the ‘emergency’ would be war with China.
Further measures are being taken in the field of investment. “Boris Johnson is preparing to announce tough laws to prevent foreign takeovers that pose a risk to national security as concern grows about the influence of China”, wrote Steven Swinford in The Times of 8 June (‘Laws to curb Chinese takeovers’). Never mind that the UK is desperate for foreign investment to assist with its recovery from economic crisis. It’s better to suffer than to accept help from China!
All this kowtowing to the requirements of Uncle Sam will no doubt be pleasing to President Trump, although in pursuance of its perennial policy of ‘America First’, only a fool would look in that direction to make good the losses arising from wrecking friendly relations with China.
To ‘justify’ this unwarranted belligerence against China, the discontent in Hong Kong, undoubtedly fostered by the dirty-tricks brigades of US and British imperialism, is being milked for all its worth. We are asked to believe that the discontent is about ‘lack of freedom’, that the people of Hong Kong are being viciously suppressed, and that no worse fate could possibly befall them than to have China pass legislation criminalising treason. And of course, China is supposedly in breach of its international obligation undertaken when Hong Kong was returned to the motherland to maintain for 50 years a state of ‘One country, two systems’, which is being interpreted as meaning that China had accepted it was not to have sovereignty over Hong Kong at all!
As we have seen with the ‘colour revolutions’ fostered by imperialism, the trick is to take advantage of local grievances (in Hong Kong’s case the high cost of housing) to mobilise large public demonstrations and then to ensure that a violent task force causes sufficient damage to property to need police suppression, which is then touted as evidence that the innocent public have no right to express dissent of any kind. This violence is repeated as often as possible, and the whole recipe is soused in a rich mixture of anti-government propaganda, plenty of cash and other facilities being provided to make sure this ingredient thoroughly permeates the whole.
In the homelands of the would-be warmongering imperialists, acceptance of this ‘truth’ is hammered home by unremitting repetition in the media of these carefully crafted lies, along with suppression of those who try to spread the truth – suspension of social media accounts, withdrawal of broadcasting licences, etc., etc.
Much to the embarrassment of the imperialists, however, in the midst of their campaign of anti-China ravings huge demonstrations burst out in the United States, subsequently taken up all over the capitalist world, against institutional racism following the police murder of George Floyd on 25 May 2020 who gasped ‘I can’t breathe’ as a policeman kneeled with his full weight on George’s neck until he died. Because the murder of black people by police is such a regular occurrence in the United States, the genuine anger of the masses of people, both black and white, did lead to destruction of property, and the response of US imperialism was of course far more violent and repressive than anything that had been done by the Hong Kong police. In addition President Bush saw fit to refer to the demonstrators as terrorists, lowlifes and losers, and to threaten to deploy the National Guard, as well as the military against them, openly threatening that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”. So when “America’s state department last weekend [30-31 May] called on ‘freedom-loving people’ to hold China to account for its vow to impose a national security law on Hong Kong. A Chinese official instantly tweeted: ‘I can’t breathe’” (Editorial Board, ‘America’s battered moral standing’, Financial Times, 5 June 2020).
As far as freedom of speech is concerned, here too America far outdoes anything China might do to try to quell the mendacious speech of troublemakers: “This is what freedom of the press in America has looked like over the past week. As of 9pm Thursday [4 June], the US Press Freedom Tracker had received 192 reports of journalists being attacked by police while covering the protests across the US” (Poppy Noor, ‘Teargassed, beaten up, arrested: what freedom of the press looks like in the US right now’, The Guardian, 6 June 2020). Imagine the hysteria in the bourgeois media if China had responded to the Hong Kong protests in like manner!
The latest propaganda stick for beating China with is the fact that it proposes to provide Hong Kong with a security law that will provide criminal penalties for “splittism, subversion, terrorism, and any behaviour that gravely threatens national security, and foreign interference”. Since there is not a country in the world that does not penalise subversion, secession, terrorism and acts that threaten national security, this is obviously nothing that warrants the hysterical denunciations that are daily emerging from the bourgeois media. All that is left is to say China had no right to impose such a law, since the 1984 handover agreement established a mini-constitution for Hong Kong, the ‘Basic Law’, under which the territory is required to implement its own national security law to replace colonial legislation revoked during the handover. In the 23 years since the handover, however, Hong Kong has failed to do so. Given the present unrest, China could not but step in to remedy the omission. This is its sovereign right.
To boost the imperialist fantasy that Hong Kongers will be facing repression of holocaust proportions, the British government has come up with the wheeze – to please America and annoy China – of offering the right of residence in the UK to up to 3 million Hong Kong citizens who have British National (Overseas) passports or are entitled to them which hitherto did not confer any right to enter the UK. This amounts to a third of the territory’s population! Apparently almost two-thirds of Conservative Party members, according to David Maddox in the Daily Express (see above) support giving Hong Kongers full UK citizenship. Here we are talking about Tories who are notorious for not wanting a single genuinely persecuted refugee to enter the UK, or any foreign child to enter to be united with its family, and who seriously believe refugees threaten to ‘swamp’ our sceptred isle, yet they happily invite in Hong Kongers, who cannot by any stretch of imagination be described as persecuted, in numbers equalling a third of the population of London. By comparison, the East African Asians who took refuge in Britain in the 1970s numbered only some 70,000-75,000. Many of these Tories are people who voted for Brexit in the hope it would put a stop to immigration from Eastern Europe! If Britain recognises that it can accommodate 3 million extra citizens who face no persecution, which we are sure it can, then first and foremost it should open its doors to all those fleeing genuine persecution or destitution such as those languishing in refugee camps all over Europe.
The most important thing to bear in mind about the whole anti-China scenario is that it amounts to preparation for war, and a war against a power that has the ability to strike back at its antagonists in their home countries in a very serious way. This is not somewhere that Boris Johnson should be allowed to lead us.
Martin Wolf concludes his article, as we will conclude ours, with the following words:
“… We must also see that purblind nationalism and fantasies of grandeur [that led to the First World War] did not produce an elegant balance of power, but rather a cataclysm. …
“Above all, we must not forget how unbridled great-power competition has normally … ended. … We need to remember, too, that the weapons now available are far more destructive than those of a century ago. ….
“These are difficult and dangerous times. We need to rise to the occasion but are not. This is a fact. Recognise it”.
We would only say that Mr Wolf of course has drawn back from reaching the necessary conclusion that for the vast majority of people who abhor war, it is time to recognise that if we are unable to put an end to imperialism, imperialism is bent on leading us to war, and a war of unprecedented devastation at that.