China and the struggle for peace

The following text is based on presentations given by Friends of Socialist China co-editor Carlos Martinez at Morning Star Readers and Supporters meetings in Manchester (19 February), Leeds (13 March) and Brighton 24 March), on the subject of China’s global strategy.

Carlos responds to the assertion by Western politicians and media that China is an aggressive and expansionist power, comparing China’s foreign policy record with that of the United States. He shows that China’s foreign policy is based on the principles of peace, development and win-win cooperation, and explains how this approach is rooted in China’s history and ideology, and is consistent with China’s overall strategic goals.

Carlos also takes note of China’s contribution to the global struggle for multipolarity and to the project of global development. He highlights the Belt and Road Initiative and China’s role in the struggle against climate catastrophe.

The text concludes:

On questions of peace, of development, of protecting the planet, China is on the right side of history. It’s a force for good. As socialists, as progressives, as anti-war activists, as anti-imperialists, we should consider China to be on our side… Those of us who seek a sustainable future of peace and prosperity, of friendship and cooperation between peoples, have a responsibility to oppose this New Cold War, to oppose containment and encirclement, to demand peace, to promote cooperation with China, to promote understanding of China, to build people-to-people links with China, and to make this a significant stream of a powerful mass anti-war movement that our governments can’t ignore.

The Manchester event was also addressed by Jenny Clegg; the Leeds event by Kevan Nelson; and the Brighton event by Keith Bennett.

I’m going to focus my remarks on China’s international relations and its global strategy. This is a subject about which there’s a great deal of misunderstanding and obfuscation, particularly in the context of an escalating New Cold War that’s being led by Washington and that the British ruling class is only too happy to go along with.

The mainstream media is full of hysteria about China’s “aggression” or “assertiveness”. When China reiterates its position on Taiwan – a position which in fact has not meaningfully changed in the last seven decades, and which is completely in line with international law – it’s accused of ramping up the threat of war.

When China refuses to go along with the US’s illegal, unilateral sanctions (for example on Russia, Iran, Syria, Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela, Eritrea and Zimbabwe), it’s accused of “subverting the international rules-based order”.

When China establishes bilateral relations and trade agreements with Solomon Islands, Honduras, Nicaragua and Nauru, it’s accused of engaging in colonial domination.

When Chinese companies invest in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific, they’re accused of imposing debt traps.

And unfortunately much of the left takes a fairly similar position to the ruling class on these issues, considering that China’s an imperialist power, that it’s engaged in a project of expansionism.

This sort of analysis on the left leads inexorably to a position of “Neither Washington Nor Beijing”, putting an equals sign between the US and China; putting China in the same category as the imperialist powers. According to this analysis, the basic dynamic of global politics is today that of inter-imperialist rivalry between the US and China.

And of course if that’s the case, if China’s just another imperialist power, and its only interest is growing its own profit margins and competing with the US, Britain, the EU, Canada and Japan for control of the world’s resources, labour, land and markets, it goes without saying that the global working class and oppressed – the vast majority of the population of the world – cannot possibly consider China to be a strategic ally in the pursuit of a better, fairer, more peaceful, more equal, more prosperous, more sustainable world.

China’s view of international relations

How does China consider its role in the world? What does the Communist Party of China propose regarding China’s foreign relations?

What the Chinese leadership calls for is “building a global community of shared future, with the goal of creating an open, inclusive, clean and beautiful world that enjoys lasting peace, universal security, and common prosperity.”

China consistently expresses its commitment to multipolarity; to peace; to maximum and mutually beneficial cooperation around economic development and tackling climate change, pandemics, and the threat of nuclear war; to working within the context of the UN Charter and international law in support of peaceful coexistence.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi, at his recent Meet the Press session, talked of China “advocating vigorously for peace, development, cooperation and mutual benefit”, and urged that “countries should rise above their differences in history, culture, geography and system, and work together to protect the Earth, the only inhabitable planet for us all, and make it a better place.”

Xi Jinping often talks about China’s orientation towards peace: “Without peace, nothing is possible. Maintaining peace is our greatest common interest and the most cherished aspiration of people of all countries.”

All of this is of course a pretty beautiful and compelling vision. But to what extent does it line up with reality? To what extent is China actually working towards peace, development and sustainability? To what extent does China diverge from the model of international relations pursued by the US and its imperialist allies?

Comparison of China and the US

Let’s compare the US and China in the realms of war, militarism and coercion.

The US is waging a permanent war – a war against multipolarity, a war against sovereignty, a war against socialism. A war to protect and expand its domination of the world’s markets, natural resources, land and labour. The Korean War, the Vietnam War, the carpet bombing of Laos and Cambodia, the Iraq War, the Afghanistan War, the regime change wars in Yugoslavia, Libya and Syria. These are all part of the same project of imperialism, of domination, of hegemonism.

It’s pretty widely understood now that the US is the driving force behind the war in Ukraine. People increasingly understand that the Western powers, led by the US, identified Russia as an impediment to their global strategy, and have for many years been attempting to turn Ukraine into a launching pad for the weakening and destabilisation of Russia.

Over 32,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza in the last four months, the majority of them women and children. The UN has referred to Gaza a “children’s graveyard”. That Israel is engaged in a genocide is implicitly recognised by the International Court of Justice, thanks to the brilliant and courageous case brought by South Africa. And this genocide is being supported, defended, financed and armed by the US and its allies. Britain sponsored the creation of Israel specifically as a colonial outpost in the Middle East, and Israel continues to play that role for the US today. Israeli militarism remains the cornerstone of imperialist strategy in the region.

Meanwhile the US is escalating its long-running campaign of encirclement and containment against China. The US has over 800 overseas military bases, positioned all over the world, including in Britain, incidentally.

The US stations nuclear-enabled missiles and warplanes in Japan, Okinawa, Guam and South Korea, as well as tens of thousands of troops. The US has announced that it’s planning to deploy five of its 11 aircraft carriers to the Western Pacific this year, in a “show of strength to China”.

The US actually has wartime operational control of the South Korean armed forces – an arrangement that has been in place for more than seven decades.

With the announcement of the AUKUS trilateral nuclear pact between the US, UK and Australia, and the attempts to revive the ‘Quad’ – Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – between the US, Australia, India and Japan, the US is clearly driving towards the establishment of some kind of Asian NATO.

China on the other hasn’t waged war for over four decades. China’s armed forces haven’t dropped a single bomb in that time. And the record of the People’s Republic in general has been remarkably peaceful.

The contrast between the US and China is particularly stark if we take the case of Iraq. The US and its allies – including Britain (under a Labour government) – waged an illegal war on Iraq in which hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed and the country was flattened. The country’s development was set back by decades. The use of such weapons as white phosphorus and depleted uranium led to a horrific increase in birth defects, infant mortality and cases of leukaemia.

China’s relationship with Iraq is very different. Iraq is one of the top recipients of infrastructure investment under the Belt and Road Initiative. China’s building 7,000 schools in Iraq, alongside huge numbers of bridges, roads, railways. China is even leading the investment in Iraq’s solar energy industry – a significant development in a country whose abundance of oil has made it such a popular destination for Western interference over the course of a century.

There’s a popular saying in Baghdad that sums up the differences between the US and China: “America bombs, China builds.”

Since the escalation of the war in Ukraine, China has been among the countries pushing for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. The US and Britain on the other hand, determined to weaken Russia and insistent on “fighting Russia to the last Ukrainian”, has added huge quantities of fuel to the fire, and has deliberately stood in the way of negotiations.

Since the launch of Israel’s brutal offensive against Gaza, China has been among the countries calling loudly for a ceasefire and for the establishment of a lasting peace, based on – in the words of the Chinese peace proposal – “realising the dream of an independent state of Palestine” and “redressing the historical injustice suffered by the Palestinian people”. Wang Yi recently reiterated China’s support Palestine’s full membership in the UN. And in its deposition to the ICJ, China acknowledged the legal legitimacy of the Palestinian people’s right to armed resistance against colonial occupation.

The US and Britain provided weapons, advice, financial support and diplomatic cover for Saudi Arabia’s proxy war against Iran in Yemen, creating an extraordinarily severe humanitarian crisis, with millions on the verge of famine. China in contrast, by mediating a rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, has facilitated a significant step towards peace in Yemen.

How are we to understand these differences? Why does China build where the US bombs? It’s not simply that the Chinese drink more jasmine tea and practise more qi gong. It’s that China’s economic success is built on a framework of socialism, of public ownership, and of meeting the needs of the people rather than being directed exclusively towards increasing the profit margins of big business.

If you look at the rise of Britain, or France, or Germany, or the US, you’ll see that they were based on colonialism and imperialism; on the extraction of superprofits from the exploitation of the oppressed countries. And this domination remains core to the economic model of the imperialist countries. The US doesn’t spend a trillion dollars a year on its military just because it likes to feel powerful. When it wages wars of regime change, carries out coups and assassinations, destabilises governments and imposes crippling sanctions, this is all directed at ensuring that a “business-friendly environment” prevails throughout the world.

In the shockingly honest words of right-wing journalist Thomas Friedman, “the hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist – McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas”.

Because China’s a major economic power now, it’s tempting to assume that it will follow the trajectory of the other major economic powers, but China’s history is different, and its development is driven by a socialist dynamic, not by a capitalist dynamic. China’s rise wasn’t built on the basis of colonialism or imperialism, but is based on the hard work of the Chinese people and an extraordinarily far-sighted economic policy, itself a product of communist leadership and the fact that the capitalist class doesn’t hold the reins of power in China.

Uniting the Global South in the struggle against imperialism

China opposes imperialism, because China has suffered under imperialism. China doesn’t want war and has nothing to gain from war. China’s per capita military spending is around 20 times smaller than that of the US. And although China is also a nuclear power, China has around 350 nuclear warheads, in comparison to the US’s five and a half thousand.

As Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi pointed out in a recent speech, China is “the only country that has incorporated peaceful development in its Constitution, and the only country among the nuclear-weapon states to pledge no first use of nuclear weapons.”

China is very consistent in advocating peaceful resolution to international disputes, and is very careful not to exacerbate existing conflicts.

Ultimately, whereas the West thrives on war, China thrives on peace. At a day-to-day practical level, China prefers other countries to be stable and prosperous, because that provides a better environment for trade, investment and all forms of mutually-beneficial cooperation. As Deng Xiaoping put it back in 1984: “The last thing China wants is war. China wants to develop; it can’t do that without a peaceful environment.”

At a higher strategic level, China recognises that the countries of the Global South in particular have a shared interest in opposing imperialism, defending sovereignty and pursuing peaceful development. As such, China stands at the centre of this process of uniting the countries of the Global South in promoting a multipolar system of international relations. This has a crucial role in the overall struggle against imperialism and indeed towards socialism.

In China’s vision, multipolarity will allow the nations of the world to defend their sovereignty. And sovereignty will create space for different peoples to explore their own paths towards socialism. After all, how many roads towards socialism have been blocked, impeded or diverted by the imperialists? Chile, Indonesia, Grenada, Angola, Iran, Nicaragua, Congo, Guatemala, the list goes on.

In the words of the Marxist theoretician Samir Amin, multipolarity “provides the framework for the possible and necessary overcoming of capitalism”.

Global development

China is making an important contribution to global development.

The Belt and Road Initiative, announced by Xi Jinping a decade ago, is already playing a hugely significant role. It’s providing the countries of Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific with the opportunity to modernise; to break the chains of underdevelopment – chains that were imposed during the colonial era and that have been maintained in various forms in the era of modern imperialism.

The BRI has become the world’s largest platform for international cooperation, with more than 150 countries and 30 international organisations participating across five continents. A trillion dollars have been spent or committed on major infrastructure projects. A huge number of roads, railways, bridges, factories and ports have been built, along with energy and telecommunications infrastructure.

The Mombasa-Nairobi Railway is the largest infrastructure project carried out in Kenya since independence.

The China-Laos Railway, which was completed just three years ago, has provided a huge economic boost to Laos – a poor and land-locked country.

And the BRI is becoming increasingly green. In many cases it’s providing the technology and investment for underdeveloped countries to leapfrog fossil fuel-based development and go directly to solar, wind, hydroelectric and geothermal energy. Erik Solheim, the former Norwegian minister and UN Environment Programme Executive Director, describes the BRI as the most important global project in history when it comes to green, sustainable development.

Ecological civilisation

On which note, it’s worth mentioning China’s contribution to the project of preventing climate catastrophe.

Much is made of the fact that China has become the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide. Of course the context for this is that China has experienced very rapid development, and the increase in emissions has been accompanied by an extraordinary decrease in poverty. Furthermore China has become “the workshop of the world”, with the wealthy countries essentially exporting their emissions to the East. On which basis we might ask why per capita carbon emissions in the US are still twice as high as they are in China, when it’s in China that all the industrial activity takes place.

Anyway, over the last decade, China has emerged as the undisputed global leader in renewable energy, biodiversity protection, forestation and green transport systems.

China accounted for 55 percent of all renewable energy investment last year.

Its solar power capacity is now greater than that of the rest of the world combined.

Coal has gone from 80 percent of its power mix two decades ago to around 50 percent now, and continues to decline fast.

Around 99 percent of the world’s electric buses are made in China.

Around 70 percent of the world’s high-speed rail can be found in China.

Forest coverage has doubled from 12 percent in 1980 to 24 percent today.

It’s looking likely that China will reach its target of peaking carbon emissions by 2030 several years early.

China takes ecological issues more seriously than any other major country. Whereas a Green New Deal is a radical, pie-in-the-sky, eco-socialist demand in Britain or the US, China’s program of ‘ecological civilisation’ is essentially a Green New Deal on an enormous scale.

China is our ally

So on questions of peace, of development, of protecting the planet, it seems clear to me that China is on the right side of history. It’s a force for good. As socialists, as progressives, as anti-war activists, as anti-imperialists, we should consider China to be on our side.

Which of course means that it’s not on the side of our class enemies, of the imperialist ruling classes, which are waging an increasingly vicious New Cold War against it.

The political classes in the West are still in a state of shock in relation to China’s rise. They really thought that, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, so-called liberal capitalism had won the day, that the ‘end of history’ had arrived. They assumed China would follow the trajectory of the Soviet Union, or would quietly accept a position of permanent subordination in the US-led imperialist system.

Now all of a sudden China’s the largest economy in the world by any sensible measure; it’s the biggest trading partner of two-thirds of the world’s countries; its people live increasingly well; its life expectancy has overtaken that of the US; and it’s become a leading force towards establishing a fairer, more equal, more democratic system of international relations.

That’s the fundamental reason for the New Cold War; for the trade war; for the sanctions; for the relentless anti-China propaganda; for the establishment of AUKUS; for the attempts to stir up conflict in relation to Taiwan; and so on. They’re ramping up their campaign of encirclement and containment of China, so that they can prevent its further rise and thereby protect US hegemony.

Those of us who seek a sustainable future of peace and prosperity, of friendship and cooperation between peoples, have a responsibility to oppose this New Cold War, to oppose containment and encirclement, to demand peace, to promote cooperation with China, to promote understanding of China, to build people-to-people links with China, and to make this a significant stream of a powerful mass anti-war movement that our governments can’t ignore.

2 thoughts on “China and the struggle for peace”

  1. From the perspective of my PaGaian Cosmology I am particularly impressed by the fact that Xi Jinping begins and ends his annual address with reference to the planet Earth’s seasonal moments ie; he begins with reference to the Winter Solstice and ends with reference to the four seasons. Unfortunately, this reference to planet Earth’s natural cosmic cycles is very rare among world leaders. Moreover, this reference to the seasons helps explain how and why China has once again become an example of how Chinese philosophy and governance combine to move not only with the times, but more importantly to move in accord with nature; thereby demonstrating a modern statehood of excellence.

  2. I am from Vancouver,Canada and i wanted to say that the Native People of the USA knows all about the US Peace Treaties going back hundreds of years.. Like one Native Chief said every Treaty signed by the US Gov’t concerning the Native People of the USA was broken by the US Gov’t.That continues to this day.
    Today there are US Military Basis in all parts of the world.That is the only thing the US builds in other. People in other countries are not interested in US Military basis.The slogan: Yankees Go Home was because of Yankee Military Basis in other countries.
    In 1963 in the USA there was a Japanese Protest song called Sukiyaka that made it to Number 1 on the Hit Parade of Songs. It was against US Soldiers occupying Japan. I liked that song back then.
    I never heard of anyone saying Chinese Go Home. It is because China builds Houses, Hospitals, Roads and other things People needs not Military Basis.China is building a better future in all parts of the world while the USA is still building Military Basis.

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