Can we avoid war with China, and save the planet instead?

In this review of Carlos Martinez’s The East is Still Red: Chinese Socialism in the 21st Century, author and activist Dee Knight decries the US ruling class’s obsession with maintaining its “single-superpower status”. This obsession – shared by both Republicans and Democrats – is the top source of instability and the threat of war. Furthermore, it stands in the way of desperately-needed cooperation to prevent climate breakdown.

Dee writes that, while the US is aggressive in asserting its hegemony, China is “aggressive about saving the planet”, becoming the world’s first renewable energy superpower. It is in the process of shifting its growth model towards high-quality, green growth, based on innovation and emphasizing fairness of distribution. However, China’s path to modernization – built on common prosperity, peace, and harmony with nature – is “viable for a socialist society, but difficult to achieve with capitalism in which growth is the holy grail, no matter at what cost.” Dee writes that “China can indeed have ‘the best of both worlds’ – faster growth through centralized planning in a mixed economy, and better quality development since it doesn’t have to depend exclusively on the profit motive.”

As such, China’s socialism provides valuable inspiration and support for the countries of the Global South.

This article was first carried in LA Progressive on 22 June 2023.

Carlos’s book can be purchased in paperback and electronic formats from Praxis Press.

As US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in China June 18, a NY Times report said “a wall of suspicion awaits him.” In a phone call before the visit, the report said “China’s foreign minister told Mr. Blinken it was ‘clear who bears responsibility’ for deteriorating bilateral relations.” The report added that the US has “issued a barrage of sanctions on Chinese officials and companies, and tried to cut off Chinese access to critical technology globally.”

The next day Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Blinken. Xi said China “respects the interests of the United States and will not challenge or replace the United States,” and that Washington “must also respect China and not harm China’s legitimate rights and interests.” Xi also said what happens between the two countries has a “bearing on the future and destiny of mankind,” and that their two governments “should properly handle Sino-US relations with an attitude of being responsible to history, the people and the world.”

There was a near-war incident in the Taiwan Strait during the second week of June. A Chinese patrol boat intercepted a US Navy war ship. The two vessels came within about 150 yards of each other, according to reports. US officials deemed the Chinese interception an “unnecessary provocation,” claiming its war ship was merely exercising freedom of navigation on the open seas. The Chinese defense minister said such “freedom of navigation” patrols are a provocation to China.

For US officials The Taiwan Strait is “open seas,” but China regards the narrow waterway as part of its internal territorial waters. For comparison, we can imagine what would happen if China sent war ships to exercise freedom of navigation next to the island of Santa Catalina, near Los Angeles, or near Hawaii, or Puerto Rico.

The Taiwan Strait interception is a reminder of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, which led to the nightmare of war in Vietnam. The two incidents are part of a pattern: the US first fosters and fortifies “friendly” elements inside a country it wants to dominate, then deploys its military dangerously close to the chosen enemy’s borders; then it accuses the enemy of “aggression.” The pattern has been at work against both China and Russia in recent years. The results have already been disastrous, and could easily become catastrophic.

An obsession for ‘single-superpower status’

Why is this happening, and what can be done about it? A new book, The East Is Still Red, by Carlos Martinez, suggests the problem is an obsession among neocon strategists in Washington with maintaining “single-superpower status” and “forestalling the rise of any geopolitical challenger.” Joe Biden put it simply when asked if China might leapfrog the U.S. economically sometime soon. “Not on my watch,” he said. Former Pentagon planner Paul Wolfowitz wrote back in the early nineties that “Our strategy must now refocus on precluding the emergence of any potential future global competitor.” That became known as the Wolfowitz Doctrine, enshrined in the Defense Planning Guidance for 1994–’99. It has been at the core of US policy toward both China and Russia ever since.

It’s not just neocons that have this obsession. Martinez writes that “Barack Obama was explicit that the purpose of his ‘pivot to Asia’ was to preserve US hegemony: ‘We have to make sure America writes the rules for trade around the global economy… Because if we don’t write the rules for trade around the world, guess what – China will’.”

Martinez traces these concerns about China back to the post-WWII Cold War – a “planet-wide war against the socialist countries and the Global South.” He cites W.E.B. DuBois, who said in 1952 that the US elite wanted to prevent ordinary people “from daring to think or talk against the determination of big business to reduce Asia to colonial subserviency to American industry; to re-weld the chains of Africa, to consolidate United States control of the Caribbean and South America; and above all to crush socialism in the Soviet Union and China.”

The plan seems to have succeeded for a long time, but now it’s coming apart. The US “won” the Cold War against the USSR, but as Martinez says, “is very unlikely to ‘win’ the New Cold War. Compared to the Soviet Union in the 1980s, China is much stronger economically, much more integrated into the global economy, has much stronger political leadership, and has learned several crucial lessons from the Soviet collapse.” He cites Foreign Affairs, the flagship magazine of the elite Council on Foreign Relations, that the trade war is “unwinnable,” and that “tariffs have hit US consumers harder than their Chinese counterparts.”

Martinez suggests the New Cold War is doomed to failure, “but it can do plenty of damage along the way. Cold War tensions can easily develop into violent confrontation… And history indicates that the US and its allies are not above using military means in order to maintain their ‘sphere of influence’ intact.”

Meanwhile, time is ticking on things that need cooperation to save the planet – like climate change. “If humanity is to avoid triggering any of the several planetary tipping points, it will have to address its environmental challenges with the utmost coordination and cooperation.”

Aggressive about saving the planet

“China has been aggressively pursuing decarbonization for over a decade,” Martinez writes. At the UN General Assembly in 2020, President Xi declared “humankind can no longer afford to ignore the repeated warnings of nature and go down the beaten path of extracting resources without investing in conservation, pursuing development at the expense of protection, and exploiting resources without restoration.” At the World Economic Forum in January 2022, Xi said carbon neutrality is an “intrinsic requirement of China’s own high-quality development and a solemn pledge to the international community.”

Over the 15 years from 2007 to 2022, Martinez writes that China cut its dependence on coal from 80 percent to less than 50 percent, and converted the still existing coal plants to “modern, cleaner, more efficient plants.” Meanwhile it is building “a giant floating solar farm – the largest in the world – on top of a former coal mine” in Anhui province. And provincial authorities in Datong, China’s “coal capital,” are seeking to “put coal reserves to better use: producing hydrogen for use in emissions-free hydrogen-powered vehicles and electricity storage.”

China is rapidly becoming the first “renewable energy superpower,” accounting for 46 percent of new solar and wind power generating capacity in 2021, Martinez writes. He says “China is responsible for around a third of global renewable energy investment, and 28 percent of its electricity is already generated from renewable sources, compared to 20 percent for the US.” China now accounts for over 80 percent of global solar panel production. One result has been “to push down prices worldwide to a level where solar is increasingly competitive with fossil fuels… helping solar to become the most affordable electricity, with generation technology in many parts of the world.” At the same time, “China now operates almost half of the world’s installed offshore wind turbines.”

In terms of energy efficiency in transport, “around 98 percent of the world’s electric buses are in China,” Martinez writes. In rail transport, China has “more high-speed rail miles than the rest of the world combined.” And “more electric cars are sold per year in China than in the rest of the world put together… There is also a network of 1.15 million electric vehicle charging stations – 65 percent of the global total.”

Reforestation and afforestation is another key area. Martinez notes that trees absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide, mitigating the greenhouse effect. He says “China is carrying out the largest forestation project in the world, planting forests ‘the size of Ireland’ in a single year and doubling forest coverage from 12 percent in 1980 to 23 percent in 2020… Hundreds of national parks have been developed and a third of the country’s land has been placed behind an ‘ecological protection red line’.”

China’s whole economic strategy is changing – shifting emphasis from quantity to quality of growth. “Such growth is ‘innovative, coordinated, green, open and inclusive,’ and seeks to find ‘development opportunities while preserving nature’.” One Chinese economist proposes a “Green GDP” that “comprises nominal GDP, green investment measures (environmental protection, renewable energy usage, energy saving measures), investment in human capital (education, health, research), alongside a subtractive component for greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, forest depletion, mineral depletion and losses from natural disasters. Such a model encourages moderate consumption, low emissions, and the preservation of ecological capital as a fundamental goal. Its basic aim is ‘the accumulation of green wealth and improved human welfare to achieve harmony between humanity and nature.”

Such an approach is viable for a socialist society, but difficult to achieve with capitalism in which growth is the holy grail, no matter at what cost. This is an important difference between China and western capitalist economies. China can indeed have “the best of both worlds” – faster growth through centralized planning in a mixed economy, and better quality development since it doesn’t have to depend exclusively on the profit motive. This makes China a healthier model for other countries in the developing world. And it provides food for thought for everyone: what if US leaders could re-direct our economy to healthy growth and development, based on common prosperity, peace, and harmony with nature?

In Beijing on June 19, Secretary of State Blinken sounded optimistic. He even “raised the prospect of cooperating on key global challenges, including ending the war in Ukraine… and stemming climate change.” On Ukraine, the Washington Post report said Blinken “welcomed Xi’s involvement in bringing a ‘just’ and ‘durable’ end to the war” there. Whether that can actually happen remains to be seen.

An editorial in China’s semi-official Global Times on June 19 said “We hope that Blinken’s visit can be a good start for more communication, and we also hope that he can bring back the accurate information obtained in China to American society. The information is, in short, mutual respect, peaceful coexistence, cooperation and win-win. These short words deserve Washington’s careful consideration.”

One thought on “Can we avoid war with China, and save the planet instead?”

  1. I am from Vancouver,Canada and i wanted to say that during the first and second world wars attempts were made in Europe to stop both wars.Karl Kautsky and Eduard Bernstein deliberately misled the people of Europe about the works of Marx and Engels. This led to a false way of ending world war 1 and led to starting the war.
    China don’t mislead people about the works of Marx and Engels and this can be seen throughout the world today.
    Clara Zetkin was old when the second world war started but despite that she traveled to Germany from Russia where she was staying at the time.Hitler was already in power but the war had not broken out yet. She spoke out against Hitler and for peace in Germany. Clara Zetkin was a well known Socialist in Europe going back to the late 1800s. She knew how to speak to people about Peace and against War. War was close and more time was needed which she didn’t have. Today China and Russia got time on their side and the USA don’t.

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