Event report: Oppose the propaganda war against China

On Saturday 9 October, Friends of Socialist China held a webinar focused on opposing the propaganda warfare being waged by the US and its allies against the People’s Republic of China. The event was co-sponsored by the Morning Star, the Grayzone, Pivot to Peace, the Geopolitical Economy Research Group, the International Manifesto Group, and Qiao Collective. The full webinar (along with individual speech videos) can be watched on our YouTube channel. Below we provide a summary of the proceedings, written by Carlos Martinez.

Introducing the event, Radhika Desai (Professor of Political Studies, University of Manitoba, Director, Geopolitical Economy Research Group) pointed out that, on the left, the most fundamental lie about China is that it is not building socialism but rather that it is just another capitalist country, indeed a particularly brutal capitalist country. Once this untruth is accepted, China can be treated as an enemy of progressive humanity – successes can be ignored, weaknesses exaggerated and accusations hurled.

For decades, the West constructively engaged with China at an economic and diplomatic level. But the capitalist powers were suffering under two illusions: first, that the Communist Party of China would transform itself into a social democratic or even a neoliberal party that would lead China towards the type of financialised, neoliberal, unproductive capitalism that prevails in the West; second, that China would remain on the bottom rung of the global economic ladder, providing low-cost manufacturing for goods consumed in the West.

Neither of these dreams have been realised. Now that China has clearly emerged as a major technological and geopolitical presence, the West has started to treat it as an existential threat, and it uses propaganda to build support for its broader Cold War strategy. This approach is profoundly reckless. The emerging military realignment in the Pacific (with for example the Quad and AUKUS) warns us that Cold Wars can become hot. It is thus essential that we oppose the West’s anti-China hybrid warfare, including its information warfare.

Speaking on behalf of the Friends of Socialist China co-editors, Danny Haiphong described the propaganda war against China as “an imperialist and racist set of fabrications wielded in the interests of US unipolar hegemony.” He noted that the relentless anti-China propaganda keeps people ignorant of the achievements of Chinese socialism and thus prevents them learning from China’s experiences. Surely there is something to learn from China’s eradication of extreme poverty, particularly given poverty and inequality are rising rapidly in the major capitalist economies; surely there is something to learn from China’s hugely successful containment of Covid-19.

Danny stated that Friends of Socialist China is a tool for progressive forces everywhere to help build mass opposition to imperialist aggression against China and to raise solidarity with China’s path of peaceful, sovereign, socialist development. Anti-China slander is designed to impugn the very concept of socialism and rubbish the idea of sovereign development outside the US-led imperialist world system. Therefore, as socialists and anti-imperialists, we must vehemently oppose the propaganda war and celebrate China’s successes.

CGTN presenter Li Jingjing pointed out that any Chinese person who supports their government is liable to be accused by Westerners of being ‘brainwashed’. And yet the vast majority of Chinese people do support their government, not because of any sinister plot, but because China has been transformed in the 72 years following the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. From being a country characterised by mass poverty, starvation and backwardness, it has emerged as a major power in science and technology and has lifted over 800 million people out of poverty. Life has changed beyond recognition for most Chinese people, but one thing that hasn’t changed very much is the crass anti-China propaganda in the Western media.

Li Jingjing pointed to some recent examples of false reporting about China in the press, including intense close-ups of television cameras on the street, portraying China as a police state. But a quick investigation reveals that these cameras are in fact monitoring traffic violations, just as happens in all modern cities in the world. Similarly, a recent report showed footage of a security guard standing outside a building in Xinjiang, claiming it was a prison; it turns out however that the building was a school and that the guard was keeping people out, not in. Every story about China is spun in such a way as to support an overall narrative of ‘China bad’. Meanwhile, any positive voices from China are ignored at best or, at worst, actively suppressed – for example with Twitter closing down their accounts.

China Daily EU bureau chief Chen Weihua observed that China-bashing has become a favourite sport for US politicians, particularly since the escalation of the New Cold War under the Trump regime. There are three key reasons for the US’s hostile attitude towards China. First is China’s economic emergence: the US dislikes any country threatening its economic hegemony (even Japan was subjected to negative media coverage in the 1980s and 90s owing to the possibility of it overtaking the US in per capita GDP). Second is that China has a completely different ideology and political system, to which the US is fundamentally hostile. Third is related to sheer racism: the difficulty of coping with the idea of China, a non-white country, as a major global power.

Chen Weihua highlighted the anti-China bias of the US media which, in spite of its nominal independence, consistently supports US foreign policy objectives. He noted that several news outlets are quite enthusiastic about running fact-checks in relation to domestic issues, but when it comes to China, every absurd slander goes unquestioned. Chen Weihua closed by condemning the way in which the US ruling class, having defined China as an enemy, relentlessly promotes a negative image of China, thereby generating broad anti-China opinion and building support for anti-China policy. Given the need for close cooperation between the US and China in solving common problems, such activity is highly dangerous.

Political analyst and popular YouTuber Daniel Dumbrill recalled President Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell address in which he warned about the growing power of the military-industrial complex and its ability to exert undue influence on government policy. Sixty years later, these fears have been shown to be well-founded. For example, during the Iraq War from 2003, 100 billion dollars of taxpayer money went to military contractors. With the recent US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the putative ‘China threat’ has now become the main cash cow for the military-industrial complex: bulking up the Indo-Pacific Command, the formation of new military alliances, the deployment of hypersonic missiles and reaper assassin drones, and much more.

One area of activity of the military-industrial complex that receives little attention is its attempts to influence opinion. Through extensive investment in think tanks, companies specialising in the business of war effectively increase demand for their services by creating a threat narrative and spreading it far and wide. Pointing out the deadly conflict of interest involved here, Daniel urged the audience to campaign to make it illegal for military contractors to engage in any activities aimed at influencing public policy or opinion. Pro-war propaganda has contributed to wars killing millions of people, and we must do everything possible to prevent it.

Author and peace activist Jenny Clegg discussed the role of racism in bolstering the New Cold War on China, talking in detail about the notorious fictional character Fu Manchu, invented by Arthur Ward in the early 20th century. Ward (who later changed his name to Sax Rohmer) was a British author who knew nothing about China but who rode the wave of yellow-peril racism, which had intensified in the aftermath of the ‘Boxer Rebellion’.

Fu Manchu was the personification of the “menace from the East”, masterminding a dangerous conspiracy to undermine Western civilisation. The books (and later films and comic strips) portrayed Chinese people as subhuman and given to extreme cruelty and barbarism. Sharing her screen, Jenny showed a Fu Manchu film poster from 1940, reading: “Cruel, insidious, treacherous Dr Fu Manchu is ruthless in his mad scheme to rule the world.”

Jenny pointed out that, emerging at the beginnings of the mass media era, the image of Fu Manchu came to “resonate into the deepest recesses of popular consciousness the world over”, and indeed it remains there to a significant degree. The enduring legacy of these and similar portrayals is that they psychologically prepare people in the West for anti-China policy.

Editor of Praxis Press and Morning Star contributor Kenny Coyle pointed out that the propaganda war has both psychological and ideological elements. The psychological element induces us to suspend our critical faculties, presenting a strongly emotional narrative. Stories about genocide and concentration camps in Xinjiang aren’t designed to foment a critical and rational debate about ethnic policy in China; rather they are designed to evoke elements of historical memory. The ideological element to the propaganda war is based on promoting Western-style capitalist democracy as the only truly democratic system; the most advanced form of civilisation.

Picking up Daniel Dumbrill’s theme about the military-industrial complex, Kenny posited that this has been expanded in recent decades to incorporate intelligence services and the media. Intelligence agencies feed stories to the media in order to promote a military agenda to an unsuspecting public. A noteworthy recent example is the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), which receives funds from several major arms manufacturers and a number of imperialist states, and which has been at the forefront of slandering China over the human rights situation in Xinjiang. The ASPI report ‘Uyghurs for Sale’, published in 2020, was paid for by the British foreign office and promptly republished in most major Western media outlets.

A further problem is that significant elements of the Western left echo the ruling class’s anti-China propaganda. Kenny noted an article in Jacobin, ‘Hong Kong’s Trade Unions Are Under Attack’, protesting the suppression of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU). The article fails to mention that there are multiple trade union federations in Hong Kong, of which the HKCTU is the most right-wing and pro-imperialist; that the HKCTU is funded by the US government (via the National Endowment for Democracy); and that HKCTU leaders have lobbied US Congress to impose sanctions on China. Kenny concluded by remarking that there is an awful lot of work to do opposing and exposing the propaganda war.

Grayzone assistant editor Ben Norton comprehensively debunked the notion, widely promoted in the West, that China is some kind of colonial or imperialist power in Latin America using ‘debt traps’ to influence other countries’ economic and political strategies. Ben noted the US and Spain – the two most prolific imperialist powers in Latin America – have been the loudest in decrying China’s putative neocolonialism: for example in 2018, then-secretary of state Rex Tillerson warned of China’s ‘imperial’ ambitions in the region.

Ben pointed out that China over the last three decades has developed extremely strong economic and diplomatic relations with progressive, socialist and anti-imperialist governments in Latin America. One manifestation of this is that trade between China and Latin America increased ten-fold in the decade 2000-10.

Latin America’s greatest socialist and anti-imperialist leaders have long supported China’s role in the region. Fidel Castro in 2004 said that “China has become objectively the most promising hope and the best example for all countries of the Third World.” A decade later, he described Xi Jinping as “one of the strongest and most capable revolutionary leaders I’ve met”. Similarly, Cuba’s current president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, said recently that “it’s admirable and exemplary the work the CPC has done for the prosperity of the Chinese people and for balance in the world.”

Ben highlighted this use of the word ‘balance’, observing that leftist Latin American leaders in Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil and elsewhere often praise China’s approach to international relations – based in multilateralism, multipolarity and support for sovereign development – and contrast this with the US’s unilateral, hegemonic approach.

Michael Wong focused on countering the media narrative around Hong Kong. He started with the basic history, about which most people in North America and Europe are almost entirely ignorant: Britain’s seizure of Hong Kong in 1841 as part of the Opium Wars; its opening up of Chinese ports to force opium on the population; its violent, racist and authoritarian colonial rule of Hong Kong. How many people know for example that, in 1967, there were mass protests against British rule, to which the authorities responded with extreme repression, killing 60 people.

Michael stated that the protest movement in 2019-20 was, in essence, an attempted colour revolution engineered by the US. It started in response to a proposed extradition law which had been drafted in order to extradite a known criminal to Taiwan, where he had murdered his girlfriend (the draft specifically excluded any political crimes).

The Western media presented these protests in simple and emotive terms as being peaceful and favouring democracy. Yet from the beginning, protestors were setting fires, beating up opponents, smashing up shops, and attacking police with baseball bats and fire bombs. Protestors killed a senior citizen with a rock, and set another man on fire when he argued with them. Rioters were highly organised, funded by the NED and other US assets, their leaders met with high-ranking US officials including Mike Pompeo.

In spite of the protestors’ violence over the course of an entire year, Hong Kong police exercised huge restraint, and no protestors died. Meanwhile there were huge peaceful demonstrations by Hong Kong citizens that supported the Chinese government, but these were never covered in the Western media, which offered a consistently warped and biased portrayal of the situation.

Following a short Q&A session, the meeting adopted a statement opposing the propaganda war against China, with the event’s speakers, co-sponsors and organisers of the event as initial signatories. We urge our readers to share and sign the statement.

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