On July 22 Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered the latest blast of aggressive rhetoric against China in a speech at the Nixon Library in California. Pompeo openly called for regime change in China, saying that “if we don’t change China, China will change us.” In almost hysterical language Pompeo made it clear that American corporate and political elites are terrified of China’s development and its emergence as an independent country with its own interests and capabilities. He characterized China as a country of oppression, with no freedom of expression or human rights, a place so steeped in the evil domination of the Communist Party that only an American-led campaign to end the current system and bring Western freedom and democracy to the country will save the Chinese people from their fate.
In the past two months the already harsh turn of American government policies and actions directed against China, which has been building for years under both the Obama and Trump administrations, has dramatically intensified. The United States Congress has passed several measures interfering in the internal affairs of China and is considering legislation which would abrogate the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act and set the stage for military confrontation over the island province. U.S. diplomats and agents of semi-official bodies like the National Endowment for Democracy have pushed an agenda of regime change in Hong Kong, an integral part of the People’s Republic, seeking to destabilize the territory and promote a radical separatist agenda which has little actual support among the local population. The U.S. Defense Department has spearheaded a campaign to force the closure of Confucius Institutes, which provided support for Chinese language education at universities and other schools across the country. And the drumbeat of lies and distortions about the origins and handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, through which the Trump White House seeks to cover up its catastrophic failures in managing this public health disaster, has sought to demonize China and frighten Americans into hostility towards their supposed enemies. This has led to racist attacks on Americans of Chinese or other Asian ancestry in cities across the United States.
In just the last two weeks the anti-China campaign has further accelerated. Federal agents have been arresting academics, both American and Chinese, for ties to China, at universities like Harvard and Stanford, in an effort to intimidate scientific research and other intellectual activities. Four scholars have been arrested in the last week alone. The Trump administration is planning a ban on travel to the U.S. by any member of the Chinese Communist Party or their families, which would affect over 270 million people. The Chinese consulate general in Houston was forcibly shut down on 72 hours notice, a symbolic gesture aimed at the first diplomatic office established when the two countries normalized relations in 1979. As with Pompeo’s speech at the Nixon Library, these moves make clear that the American government intends to terminate the policies of engagement with China which have underpinned the last 40 years, and put the United States and China on a collision course which threatens to break out into open warfare.
This portrayal of China as a nightmare of oppression and as an aggressive, expansionist empire is of course a ridiculous parody of reality. Since the end of World War II it has been the United States that has sought to dominate and exploit working peoples wherever they could be brought under American control. American corporations have extracted resources and drained profits from the labor of hundreds of millions of people in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America, as well as at home. The U.S. military machine has maintained a network of bases, and has conducted active, though often clandestine, operations, in more than 100 countries, to repress any social or political movements which do not conform to American policy interests. Wars have been fought from Iraq and Afghanistan to Somalia and the Caribbean. The CIA and other secret agencies have overthrown, directly or through proxy “color” movements, governments from Iran and Nicaragua to Indonesia and Ukraine. All of this has been to secure and maintain the profits and power of U.S. corporate and political elites.
Over the last 70 years China has devoted itself to developing its modern economy, a socialist economy with public ownership of the core industries and infrastructure. It has greatly enhanced the livelihood of its 1.4 billion people, more than doubling life expectancy, drastically reducing infant mortality, providing comprehensive public education, and lifting more than 800 million people out of poverty. The stark contrast in the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in China and the U.S. clearly highlights China’s achievements, as they have created a country in which public health is treated as a human right, not as a source of profits for private corporations. China does not maintain a global web of military bases. Its only overseas facility is part of a UN sponsored effort to control piracy off the east African coast, a multinational program to which China contributes forces. China has become a significant provider of development assistance in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and its Belt and Road Initiative is even helping European states like Italy and Serbia to improve their trade infrastructure. In the Covid-19 pandemic China has become a major source of medical assistance to poor countries struggling to cope with the virus. And China has made it clear that when it develops a safe and effective vaccine for the Covid virus it will make it available as a public good.
China had a long history of being the most advanced economy in the world, as a source of highly valued goods and as an inspiration for others to emulate. Western imperialism overpowered China in the 19th century, and China fell into a long era of humiliation and economic decline. The revolutionary struggle which led to the creation of the People’s Republic in 1949 gave China the ability to once more control its own destiny, and the Chinese people have worked long and hard to bring their country back to a place of respect and responsibility in the world. China’s rise does not constitute a threat to other peoples or countries.
The anti-China campaign which is being pushed by some American business and political elites, with support in Congress from both of the parties of the rich, is a dangerous and irrational response to what they perceive as a threat to their continued power and domination of global affairs. In the current context of increasing authoritarianism in the federal government under Trump, the possibility of a real outbreak of military confrontation with China as a way to manipulate domestic politics is growing. The threat of war is real. We must oppose it with the truth about China, and with the facts about American policies and actions. We must speak out against war, and push for peace, whenever and wherever we can.