Britain, China, and the struggle for peace

What follows is the text of a speech given by Kevan Nelson, International Secretary of the Communist Party of Britain (CPB), at a public meeting in Leeds on 13 March 2024 on the theme of The Struggle for Peace: Understanding China’s Position in 21st Century Geopolitics. The meeting was organised by the Morning Star Readers and Supporters Group in Yorkshire, and was also addressed by Friends of Socialist China co-editor Carlos Martinez.

Kevan starts with an overview of the British media’s portrayal of China – overwhelmingly negative and fearmongering – and goes on to explain the CPB’s position on China, which is based on a Marxist-Leninist analysis of the country’s history, politics and economy. He observes that “our Party has always been committed to the defence of countries building socialism”, and affirms the party’s firm opposition to the propaganda war and the escalating US-led New Cold War. Kevan explains that the CPB’s position is based on the pursuit of peace and cooperation, and that it wholeheartedly supports the efforts of campaigns and platforms such as Friends of Socialist China, the Stop the War Coalition, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and No Cold War.

While “income inequality remains a major concern” in China (one that is being actively addressed), Kevan argues that “the processes of capital accumulation are politically subordinated to state power aligned to socialist goals” and that “a mass communist party and the potential for popular mobilisation remains the basis of this state power”.

Kevan notes the importance of Chinese trade and investment to the British economy, and the potential for mutually beneficial cooperation between the two countries. However, “the New Cold War threatens to undermine all these mutual benefits – particularly tens of thousands of jobs in the affected sectors – something trade unionists should consider when facing externally orchestrated calls for a boycott of China.”

The speech concludes with a call for developing deeper people-to-people relations between Britain and China, and building friendship and solidarity around shared interests of peace, progress and socialism.

Thanks for the invitation to speak at this important meeting which is an antidote to the relentless barrage of anti-China propaganda we are being subjected to in this period of the New Cold War against China.

Anyone reading the British press – the magnificent Morning Star excepted – is left in little doubt: China is our enemy.

The FT reported that ‘Biden vows to fight if China invades Taiwan’ – the same paper three days later ran a headline ‘China poses greatest threat, warns Blinken’.

The Guardian informs us that ‘China offers cash and spiritual rewards to citizens for national security tip offs’ (the spiritual reward being a mere certificate, not a weekend in heaven!).

The Economist (by far the worst offender) warns that ‘Chinese money is pouring into Britain’s universities. Critics say it comes at the cost of free speech’.

The Daily Mail claimed that the ‘NHS is dangerously reliant on China with 1 in 6 medical items coming from Beijing’, and a final example from the Daily Mirror: ‘I survived a labour detention camp where prisoners had organs harvested’ – this from a Falun Gong sect member who defected to Britain 15 years ago and did not witness anything of the sort.

At a Friends of Socialist China webinar last year – co-sponsored by the Morning Star – about the propaganda warfare being waged against China by the US and its allies, Danny Haiphong dismissed this relentless propaganda as ‘an imperialist and racist set of fabrications wielded in the interests of US unipolar hegemony’. The examples of this are endless and explain why many in the West increasingly perceive China as a hostile power.

The Communist Party of Britain’s attitude to China

In terms of the Communist Party’s attitude to China, our Party has always been committed to the defence of countries building socialism.

That is no less the case with China today than with the Russian Revolution in its early years, the Chinese Revolution in 1949 and the Cuban Revolution in 1959.

Looking back at Party statements, it is remarkable at how little has changed since the early days of China leaving the orbit of capitalism and imperialism.

In his report to the 21st National Congress of the Communist Party, November 1949 (75 years ago), Harry Pollitt said:

‘In the Far East, American imperialism is building up Japan… as well as maintaining puppet governments in South Korea and the Philippines, and Chiang Kai-shek in Formosa (today known as Taiwan). It has threatened New China with disruption and is fomenting counter-revolution wherever it can find agents in China. Under cover of warning the People’s Armies that any advance beyond the frontiers of China will be met by force, American imperialism is encouraging war preparations in Tibet, which is an old province of China. At the same time, the British Government has heavily reinforced Hong Kong, and may at any moment launch provocative action’.

Today the Uyghurs of Xinjiang may have replaced the Dalai Lama and Tibet as the main focus of destabilisation and propaganda, but the playbook of imperialism remains the same.

The New Cold War on China is a reversion to imperialism’s attacks on the People’s Republic of China during the formative years of socialism.

The Communist Party is committed to rebutting those attacks and supports initiatives such as the No Cold War campaign and Friends of Socialist China. These campaigns do excellent work not only exposing the machinations of imperialism but promoting the progressive development policies of China through the Belt and Road Initiative in mutual co-operation with many developing countries.

Together with the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) and the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), we have held webinars opposing the AUKUS Pact, and we back the work of Stop the War Coalition in opposing the New Cold War.

At our Party Congress last November the political resolution stated that:

“China’s rapid economic and technological progress and the resulting political influence are seen as a threat to Western imperialist domination, in particular to the position of the US as the world’s pre-eminent economic and military superpower. Some ruling class circles in the US believe this threat outweighs the benefits to be gained from closer economic relations with China, although ruling class opinion is divided. Under President Trump, additional trade and investment sanctions against Chinese companies were imposed. Military provocations continue to be staged around the borders of China by NATO, the AUKUS (Australia-UK-US) military pact countries and Japan. The US has opened new military bases in the Indo-Pacific region and recruited Australia, Japan and a more reluctant India into its anti-China QUAD security initiative. Meanwhile, the West’s state and monopoly mass media keep up their propaganda barrage against China with false claims and bogus concerns about human rights abuses, national minorities and Chinese ‘aggression’ and ‘expansion’.”

It went on to say that “the Communist Party will work with the peace movement to warn against any drift or drive to military conflict with China. This should include explaining how Taiwan is an integral part of China and that it is for the Chinese people and government to decide how and when they reunify their country. We will continue to work with No Cold War and Friends of Socialist China, not only to oppose the escalation of hostility against China but also to explain the realities of that country’s path to socialist modernisation and the benefits that positive relations can bring to the people of our respective countries. In place of the ‘de-twinning’ drive — based on ignorance or prejudice — to cut links with Chinese cities and regions, we will argue for establishing more and stronger links based on friendship. In 2024, the Communist Party will organise an all-Britain speaking tour of physical and online meetings to promote peaceful, constructive and mutually beneficial relations between our three nations and China. We will also highlight the unique role of the Morning Star which alone among the national daily papers in Britain, refuses to peddle Cold War propaganda and tells the truth about developments in China.”

Incidentally, on the question of twinning, I’m pleased to report that Liverpool City council is this year celebrating the 25th anniversary of its twinning with Shanghai – the most populous city in China.

But it’s important to be clear about what differentiates the socialist system in China and elsewhere. To a greater or lesser degree, they all use markets in the framework of country-wide planning. To a greater or lesser degree, internal capital operates to generate profit. Yet in China, the processes of capital accumulation are themselves politically subordinated to state power aligned to socialist goals.

A mass communist party and the potential for popular mobilisation remains the basis of this state power. This has led to a sustained growth in living standards and welfare – for the great majority of people – which has been the basis for rapid economic expansion in China.

China has been the only major economy that has continued to grow during the past three years following the pandemic. It has eradicated extreme poverty, and living standards are rising across all social groups.

However, it must be acknowledged that income inequality remains a major concern. It is being addressed by the Chinese government. Recently the Japan Times reported that – quote – ‘Marxism makes a comeback – China’s crackdown on disorderly capital’. Since the end of 2020, the CPC has reigned in capital with increased regulation of companies and the stock market, and the sector of for-profit tutoring of schoolchildren was outlawed entirely.

China’s overall status remains that of a developing country – facing major challenges in overcoming the negative social and environmental effects of what the CPC describes as ‘unbalanced and inadequate development’ – to complete ‘socialist modernisation’ over the next 20 years. 

As during the Cold War, we rebuke those in the labour movement who make a false equivalence between China and western imperialism or even worse parrot the anti-China lies of the latter.

As an anti-racist and internationalist Party we also reject all forms of Sinophobia which we witnessed during the pandemic, as well as the ludicrous and unprecedented witch hunting of Labour donor Christine Lee by MI5, who claimed that she was a ‘Chinese agent’ who had infiltrated Parliament to interfere in British politics. A claim repeated pathetically by Yvette Cooper, Shadow Home Secretary, who said ‘we condemn in the strongest terms the attempts by China to interfere in British politics’ and called on MI5 to brief MP’s and Peers on security risks. The fact that we are not talking about espionage in any form but simply open and legitimate political lobbying on behalf of the Chinese community in Britain shows up Labour’s full support for the British government’s anti-China agenda.

It is one example of many strands of an anti-China propaganda campaign promoted by forces ranging from the ultra-left to the right, including Western trade union centres always eager to dance to Washington’s tune.

The Communist Party opposes attempts by the imperialist powers to promote divisions in China and greater militarisation of the Asia Pacific region. We reject the British government’s neo-colonialist continuing interference in Hong Kong, which returned to China in 1997 after 150 years of rule by British imperialism. We oppose the use of British naval forces in the South China Sea.  In July 2021 HMS Queen Elizabeth, a new £3bn aircraft carrier accompanied by a US destroyer, a Dutch frigate, two Japanese naval vessels, and US F-35 combat aircraft, sailed provocatively in waters regarded by China as sovereign territory.

Benefits of cooperation

Despite the British government excluding the Chinese company Huawei from 5G network infrastructure, reducing China’s role in nuclear energy programmes and imposing sanctions on Chinese officials – all part of cynically coordinated measures against China by the US, Canada, the European Union and Britain – the Communist Party believes that improved British-China relations are in the interests of the overwhelming majority of the British people.

This means increased trade, economic, cultural and scientific cooperation. We must promote a better understanding in the labour movement about the actual realities of China, the immense benefits of socialist planning and China’s tremendous development assistance across the developing world.

It was as recently as 2015 that President Xi Jinping made a state visit to Britain and the then Prime Minster David Cameron spoke of a ‘golden era in bilateral relations’ between this country and China. A TUC delegation came back extolling the success of China’s planned economy.

Although the US ‘pivot to Asia’ dates back to 2011, it was only in 2018 – two years into the Trump Presidency – that we saw an escalation of a US-China trade war which quickly evolved into the New Cold War, with Mike Pence famously stating in July 2020 that ‘the era of co-operation with China is over’.  This geopolitical stance by the US has been a key factor in the deterioration of UK relations with China and is repeated across most western countries. The same TUC is now at the forefront of the anti-China campaign echoing the British government’s propaganda.

As stated in a House of Commons Library briefing on the UK-China relationship, the stakes are high in terms of trade, notably the rising UK export of goods and services to China, worth over £30bn in 2019; rising imports of goods and services which stood at £49bn having grown every year for more than 20 years. China is the UK’s sixth largest export market and fourth largest source of imports. Inward investment from China was £1.8bn in 2018 (now much higher) and UK investment in China £16bn. There is significant Chinese involvement in major infrastructure projects across numerous sectors – nuclear, airports, railways, utilities, housing construction and so on. For example, China’s Hualing Industry and Trade Group invested in the £400m Thorpe Park development here in Leeds.

Significantly, China sends more students to this country than any other country – more than 140,000 are enrolled in undergraduate or postgraduate courses, up 50 percent from fice years ago. This includes over 5,000 Chinese students at Leeds University – the largest international group on the campus. They account for a third of non-EU international students across all universities and around £2.5bn of the £7bn in tuition fees international students pay each year. This amounts to 6 percent of universities’ total income.

The New Cold War threatens to undermine all these mutual benefits – particularly tens of thousands of jobs in the sectors mentioned earlier – something trade unionists should consider when facing externally orchestrated calls for a boycott of China.

Although the British government maintains it wants a positive trade and investment relationship with China, the lack of high-level trade dialogue in recent years suggests otherwise and does not augur well for that relationship.

Friendship and solidarity

Finally, as in the Cold War itself, an important antidote to the relentless propaganda war being waged against China is to promote friendship and cooperation. Our General Secretary was in China twice in late 2023 and it would be good if more local friendship networks could be established across Britain.

In the Northwest, the Communist Party has worked closely with China’s Consulate General in Manchester.

In 2020 a major cultural and political initiative took place in Salford and Manchester to mark the bicentenary of Frederick Engels, and the Communist Party was invited to contribute alongside academic, cultural and business partners of China.

In 2021 we held a joint event to mark the centenary of the CPC which was addressed by the Chinese Ambassador and our General Secretary Rob Griffiths, as well as a contribution by the actress Maxine Peake who recited verbatim a speech given by Harry Pollitt on a visit to China in 1956. Incidentally we retrieved the Pollitt speech from the CPGB archives in Manchester, which include original material from the ‘Hands Off China’ campaign run by the CPGB and ILP in the 20s and 30s.

And in 2022, the then Consulate General Zheng Ziyuan and his team attended an event – organised by Morning Star readers and supporters’ groups in the North West – to mark the anniversary of the death of the Chartist Helen McFarlane (the first translator of the Communist Manifesto into English) – at her resting place in the remote village of Baddiley in Cheshire. Chinese media were present and it was a great occasion.

Last November the Northwest district sent the first ever district delegation to China from the British Communist Party. Previously it has been high level national Party or trade union delegations. It was an important breakthrough and hopefully the first of many from across the Party.

Delegations have an important role in witnessing first-hand the situation in China and this summer the Party will be organising, in cooperation with The All-China Federation of Trade Unions, a British trade union delegation to China.

The 75th anniversary of the Peoples Republic of China is on 1 October this year. The Communist Party and Friends of Socialist China will be among the key organisers of a China 75 celebration planned for London on Saturday 28 September.

These are a few examples of how we can promote friendship and solidarity with China, and I hope you can support this work here in Yorkshire.

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