We are pleased to publish the below article about the dangers of revived Japanese militarism, and its historical antecedents, which has been submitted to us by James De Burghe, a British socialist long resident in the People’s Republic of China.
James outlines how Shinzo Abe, a former Japanese Prime Minister assassinated in 2022, imbibed far-right, racist and militarist views from his grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, who had been in charge of economic policy when the Japanese occupied northeast China. Initially imprisoned as a class A war criminal by the American occupation authorities after Japan’s defeat in World War 2, he was soon released in order to play a key part in setting up the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has largely dominated Japanese politics ever since, eventually serving as Prime Minister, 1957-1960.
Abe, who served as Prime Minister from 2006-2007 and again from 2012-2020, followed in the same path as his notorious grandparent, controversially revising school textbooks, declining to apologize for – or even acknowledge – Japanese war crimes, and seeking to repeal or revise Article 9, the supposed ‘peace clause’ of the post-war Japanese constitution.
These revanchist policies are now being pursued with a vengeance under Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, leading to fraught relations with Japan’s neighbors, along with increasing resistance from people at home.
There are alarming signs that Japan is once again drifting towards becoming a fascist-led aggressive militaristic state. The legacy of Nobusuke Kishi has borne fruit through the efforts of his grandson, Shinzo Abe, who was Japanese Prime Minister from 2006–2007 and 2012–2020.
Nobusuke Kishi was the minister who ran Japan’s economic policy in Japanese-occupied Manchuria from 1937 to 1940. He was a convinced supporter of the Yamato race theory that proclaimed Japan as a racially superior nation. Kishi had nothing but contempt for the Chinese as a people, and he regarded them as “dogs – that need to be trained to obey us without question”. His brutal policies led directly to the deaths of thousands of Chinese civilians forced to work a 120-hour week at gunpoint for meagre food rations. There was no attempt to make working conditions safe, and many slave laborers perished through accidents with molten metals. Thousands more perished from starvation and disease or were executed. Kishi believed there was no point to establishing the rule of law in Manchukuo (as the Japanese called north east China when it was under their occupation) – instead brute force was what was needed to maintain Japanese control.
The recent state visit of French President Macron to China, and his subsequent comments regarding Taiwan and the overlapping relationships between China, Europe and the United States, have led to considerable furore on the part of other imperialist powers and politicians and certainly appear to indicate a significant breach in the coalition that US President Biden has been seeking to construct against China.
In this thoughtful and incisive analysis, written specially for Friends of Socialist China, Dr Jenny Clegg, author and campaigner, who is a member of our advisory group, takes a deep dive into the issues surrounding the visit and its aftermath, including:
To what extent does it indicate a return to a more independent Gaullist tradition in French foreign policy?
Does the Sino-French 51-point Joint Statement offer a fresh template for relations between major developed and developing countries?
How can all this contribute to the search for peace in Ukraine and to averting the danger of war in the Asia Pacific Region?
How does it relate to President Xi Jinping’s recently announced Global Civilisation Initiative?
Jenny concludes with the observation that, “even if the path is twisted, multipolarity is the objective trend – and a work in progress.”
The French President Emmanuel Macron departed for China in early April, apparently on a mission on behalf of the ‘collective West’ to get President Xi Jinping to “bring Russia to its senses”; he came away, however, with quite a different message, calling on the EU to not be too dependent on the US. It seems it was Xi’s mission to encourage Macron’s Gaullist instinct for ‘strategic autonomy’ that prevailed over the course of the three day state visit.
The fact that Macron was accompanied by a large group of businesspeople suggested that other, more commercial, motives were also at play. Indeed, China’s offer to bulk purchase 140 Airbus aircraft for $17bn was very generous. But this visit was by no means simply just another delegation along the vaunted ‘commerce over human rights’ pattern.
The meeting between leaders of the second and the seventh largest world economies – the largest developing and fourth largest developed respectively – between two of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and officially recognised nuclear powers, was made all the more significant by the exceptional times.
The summit took place following a few short weeks of intense diplomatic manoeuvres – from China’s Ukraine and Middle East peace initiatives and summitry with Putin to the bizarre Sinophobic ‘balloon incident’ in the US, which saw Secretary of State Antony Blinken call off his visit to China, and, in the Pacific, the AUKUS expansion of nuclear-powered submarine capacity. All this reflected the extremely precarious situation internationally, with the Ukraine conflict on the verge of escalation, and now US provocations over Taiwan, potentially bringing major powers to the point of a Third World War.
The prospect of working towards a lasting Sino-French comprehensive strategic partnership held the promise of injecting some rationality into a chaotic situation in danger of veering out of control.
For China, the summit was a key part of its major power diplomacy aimed at promoting a sound interaction between the world’s main players as set out in its recently released Global Security Initiative Concept Paper. As major powers, both permanent members of the UN Security Council, as China sees it, China and France have a particular responsibility to address the current situation of growing global deficits in peace, development, security and governance, even as the international community confronts multiple risks and challenges.
The Sino-French 51 point joint statement
US President Biden’s New Cold War China policy formula to ‘compete, confront and cooperate’ carries great risks of muddle and incoherence in practice whilst narrowly and unrealistically restricting cooperation to the window of climate change.
The 51-point France-China Joint Statement in contrast opens up a wide range of areas for cooperation – political and strategic; economic and business; cultural and educational – and not only on a bilateral but also a multilateral basis, setting the frame, as major powers on the world stage, of “a shared view of a multipolar world” with “the United Nations at its core”.
On the vital question of the Ukraine crisis, there was support for “efforts to restore peace…on the basis of international law and the purposes and principles of the UN Charter” and, although there was no explicit call for a ceasefire, acknowledgement of Russia’s legitimate security concerns or opposition to unilateral sanctions – all covered in China’s 12 point proposal on the Ukraine crisis – what was of significance was the call for “no action that could heighten the risk of tension”, given recognition of the dangers of escalation and even nuclear war.
On bilateral cooperation, from artificial intelligence and the digital economy, including 5G, from the general improvement of market access on both sides, to science and technology cooperation, language teaching, inter-university and cultural exchanges, there is little evidence of the paranoia that now permeates the US, UK and the rest of the Anglosphere over alleged Chinese ‘spying’ and the supposed hidden threat in all these to national security.
In the following article, written for Friends of Socialist China, Keith Lamb uncovers the real reasons behind the move by lawmakers in the US state of Montana to ban the hugely popular TikTok app.
Keith refutes the suggestion that the app presents any national security threat to the US, highlighting instead the degeneration of much of US popular culture as well as the contrast between a bourgeois government in the US – in hock to capital, including the big tech companies – and a socialist government in China, that prioritizes people’s welfare, including the balanced development of the younger generation.
He also looks at why Montana is the first US state to take this drastic step.
Montana lawmakers have decided to ban TikTok, the popular app owned by the Chinese company ByteDance. Now their decision will go to Montana’s Republican governor, Greg Gianforte, for consideration. The argument for banning TikTok is based on several conspiracy theories. But the real conspiracy theory, which Montana has a role in, isn’t being reported.
The popular conspiracy theory narrative is that China will be able to spy on US citizens, propagandize them, and that China is even using TikTok to dumb down Americans while the Chinese version of the app is used to edify China’s citizens.
First, even the CIA has stated there is no evidence that the Chinese government has access to US TikTok data. Indeed, TikTok stores US data on servers based in Texas. As such, the reasoning for banning TikTok is based on made up and hypothetical situations rather than factual evidence.
Second, it is vacuous to claim that China is using TikTok to propagandize US citizens as US TikTok users overwhelmingly consume homegrown content. Banning TikTok would only mean US content creators would migrate to different apps – this is probably the intention!
In terms of the Chinese version of TikTok, an episode of the 60 Minutes TV show argued that it is more likely to show edifying content to Chinese youth while US children get the dumbed-down version. Thus, the reasoning goes, China is purposely dumbing down Americans!
This dumbed-down argument speaks volumes to the ignorance that masks the real causes for seeking to ban TikTok. Any serious self-reflection on popular US culture would recognize that it has long been dumbed down before TikTok’s advent.
Ignorance and mindless hedonism, combined with the generally illusory prospect of quick wealth added onto a catchy jingle, has long been the background melody that big business has used to propagandize American youth. Without widespread ignorance arguments that combine multiple foreign invasions with notions of “democracy” and “the good guys” would be untenable.
In this detailed essay, British author and peace campaigner Jenny Clegg provides a comprehensive overview of the US drive to war against China.
Jenny describes the attempts being made to construct a Global NATO, leveraging AUKUS, the remilitarisation of Japan, the undermining of the One China Principle and the prolonging of the Ukraine crisis in order to link the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific theatres of war. Britain and Japan are emerging as the most important partners in this phenomenally dangerous strategy which, taken as a whole, constitutes “a historic restructuring of the international security order: strengthening of the NATO transatlantic military axis against Russia whilst elevating the US-Japan trans-pacific military axis at the core of newly created regional NATO-like multilateral security frame.”
The aim of this strategy is, of course, “to contain the growing multipolar trend”.
We must build a formidable global opposition to this warmongering. Thanks to an already-developing multipolarity, countries of the Global South are “starting to wake up to the real nature of US intentions”, and as such “a non-aligned resistance is taking shape”, with these countries asserting their sovereignty and interests. For anti-war activists in the West meanwhile, as we recall the historic protests against the Iraq War 20 years ago, Jenny writes that the task of playing our part in a worldwide mass movement for peace will require us to “resist the insidious influence of imperialism permeating through social democracy”.
The trajectory of war: Iraq then, China now?
Back in September 2002, Dan Plesch wrote an article in the Guardian entitled ‘Iraq first, Iran and China next’. Less than a year earlier, George W. Bush had put China on a nuclear ‘hit list’ along with Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria and North Korea. Twenty years on, it seems China’s turn has arrived, now identified as ‘America’s most consequential geopolitical challenge’.
Iraq was a turning point for the world as Bush ‘seized the unipolar moment’: ‘shock and awe’ and ‘full spectrum dominance’ in air, land, sea and space presaged a new militarism to secure US global primacy; and, blatantly displacing the UN on the pretext of ‘humanitarian intervention’, the US found a new means of rallying allies in a ‘coalition of the willing’, embedding key NATO partners into ‘out of area’ operations.
All this was in line with the neocons’ Project for a New American Century which had advocated for the US pursuit of hegemony through the preeminence of its military forces.
As Plesch foresaw, the 2003 war set precedents to be used against other states that stood up against US global control. US militarism has advanced into ‘air sea battle’ plans to wipe out multiple cities across China at a single strike, with trillions of dollars sunk into upgrading ‘full spectrum dominance’ capabilities; ‘humanitarian intervention’ has evolved into a New Cold War of ‘democracies against autocracies’ edging the UN further aside. And now, using the Ukraine war to subjugate Europe and weaken Russia, the US is starting to assemble a new ‘coalition of the willing’ in the ‘defence of Taiwan’, ordering the global security architecture anew as it sets the stage for a new war on China.
But much has also changed over twenty years with the rise of China and the emergence of a multipolar world: as the economic balance shifts from West to East, countries in the Global South are not so easily influenced to follow US leadership.
What does China want?
US political elites have convinced themselves that China is bent on global hegemony. Despite Xi Jinping’s assurances to Biden that China ‘has no intention to challenge or displace the United States’, they revert to racialised stereotypes of the Chinese as inveterate liars – recall the words of the popular 1880s music hall song: ‘for ways that are dark and tricks that are vain, the Heathen China is peculiar’ – rather than face history.
That China was its ally in WW2 is something the West conveniently forgets. KMT Nationalist and Communist armies successfully blocked the bulk of the Japanese forces from advancing west, a vital contribution recognised by Churchill and Roosevelt when they signed, with Chiang Kaishek, the 1943 Cairo Agreement. This stipulated that the territories seized by Japan from China, including Taiwan, be restored, and that Japan be stripped of all the islands in the Pacific seized or occupied since 1914.
As one of the allies, China took part in the establishment of the United Nations, assuming a permanent seat on the Security Council. But the UN order as based on the Cairo Agreement, confirmed in the 1945 Potsdam Declaration, was not to be. Instead, the Japan peace settlement was determined at the behest of the US by the 1951 San Francisco Conference from which both the PRC and RoC (Republic of China) and the two sides of the Korean war were excluded, with the USSR refusing to attend. US power came to prevail over the Pacific through a series of bilateral alliances and an extensive array of US military bases.
Despite political improvements over time – the PRC regained the UN seat,the US and China established official ‘One China’ ties, the USSR and China reached their own peace deals with Japan – the US-dominated military pattern remained and a number of territorial issues covered by the WW2 agreements affecting the USSR/Russia as well as China were left to fester.
What China wants is to see the promise of the Yalta of the East system realised through reunification with Taiwan and from this the construction of a cooperative security arrangement for the Pacific together with the US.
Militarising the Indo-Pacific
US control over the Pacific was never complete in the face of the armed resistance of the peoples of China, Korean and Indo-China and the non-aligned leanings of South East Asia states. The US was never satisfied.
Today, claiming the Russian invasion of Ukraine ‘raises the spectre of a Chinese takeover of Taiwan’, the US is creating a new militarised order for the Indo-Pacific. Increasing its own military capabilities to hem in China’s coastline and reinforce control across the wider oceans, the US is at the same time upgrading the key regional axis of power, its alliance with Japan, now elevated into a major military player. Taking the Japan alliance and AUKUS as the core, the US is attempting to pull together a group of militarily committed powers covering the whole Pacific to oppose China.
Where previously the US pursuit of a ‘free and open’ Indo-Pacific has focused on the South China Sea, the prospect of a war over Taiwan has become the new focus.
The US is now reinforcing its force structure across the region, increasing manoeuvrability along the first island chain and plugging the gaps in this arc of alliances and bases from Japan in the North stretching down to the Philippines in the South. The US has now secured agreement with the Philippines for four new bases, three in the Northern island of Luzon, within striking distance of Taiwan. Meanwhile under the terms of the new Japan alliance, the US Okinawa base north of Taiwan is being strengthened whilst the Japanese island of Mage is being rebuilt to serve US forces. A new base is opening in Guam, the first in decades and a US nuclear submarine base is under construction in Australia.
However it is the rehabilitation of Japan as a military power that is the biggest change in the region’s security pattern just as the US shifts its primary focus to the China challenge.
Japan also now identifies China as the main strategic challenge under a new National Security Strategy, the only US ally to do so. With the endorsement of its new US alliance, the country is undergoing the most radical overhaul in its regional positioning since WW2, vastly increasing its war-fighting capacity as it embarks on its largest military buildup in decades. Military spending is set to double from 1% to 2% of GDP over 5 years – from some $50 bn a year to an accumulated $318 bn – to see Japan leap to the third or fourth largest military power in the world.
Matching Japan in the North, Australia too is reconfiguring itself as a military power in the South Pacific, its military spend set to rise from around $49 bn to $57 bn per year by 2025-6. Meanwhile Taiwan’s increased budget of $19bn is being backed by the US-pledged $10bn in military aid.
For the US neocon Right, their long-held aspirations for a remilitarised Japan and an armed Taiwan serving as an ‘unsinkable aircraft carrier’ – passed from MacArthur and the McCarthyites to John Bolton and Paul Wolfowitz and now to Kagan and Blinken – are materialising.
As the US advances plans to catch Taiwan between the pincer of its forces in Okinawa and the Philippines, Biden’s constant vacillations between the One China policy and the defence of Taiwan are highly destabilising. China is committed to a peaceful reunification, yet states it will never renounce the use of force directed against interference by outside forces. The military display by the PLA following Pelosi’s August 2022 visit to the island demonstrates it is serious about this. It has the capacity: in its vast naval fleet capable of imposing a blockade on the island, and with missiles capable of sinking US aircraft carriers and destroying US warships on the far side of the island, as its recent missile overflights demonstrated.
Lying 100 miles to the north of Taiwan and less than 300 miles from the massive US airbase in Okinawa, are the disputed islands known as the Diaoyutai in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese which may become the locus of battle given their critical importance in the event of a Chinese blockade of Taiwan.
These uninhabited islands are claimed not only by China and Japan but also by Taiwan (the Republic of China); they were taken under control by the Japanese government in 2012 and now are increasingly patrolled not only by Japanese and Chinese but also by US forces.
To defeat any move by China, the US would need a coalition of forces – and this is what the Pentagon is seeking to construct.
Towards a Global NATO
With the transatlantic NATO alliance strengthened against Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, and a new Indo-Pacific regional security architecture emerging, the US is also working to construct a third axis under its control between the European and Asian theatres to serve as a counter to China’s Eurasian Belt and Road initiative.
AUKUS and the US-Japan alliance both offer access points for linking the security of the Euro-Atlantic to the security of the Indo-Pacific in accordance with NATO’s New Security Concept adopted at its 2022 summit.
NATO allies are getting drawn into the Indo-Pacific security pattern step by step. Military exercises have multiplied in the last year or two as a way of involving outside powers, not only the UK, but also France, which is boosting its military presence in the region. Germany has also sent in warships. NATO forces made up at least half of last year’s US-led RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific) exercises. Australia, South Korea and Japan are again to attend the 2023 NATO summit, and Japan has become a regular participant in NATO Chief of Staff meetings.
So far, NATO is committed to addressing the ‘systemic competition’ from China, but Stoltenburg’s recent visits to South Korea and Japan were looking for a more strategic undertaking. Japanese PM Kishida, mirrored by Zelensky’s visits around Europe, had embarked earlier in January on a diplomatic tour to rally support, visiting the UK, France, Italy and Canada as well as the US to gain approval for Japan’s new militarist orientation.
Eliciting statements of stronger support from Macron and Trudeau, Kishida was to agree a form of strategic partnership with Meloni of Italy.
But it was Sunak that took things furthest, signing a Reciprocal Access Agreement to allow the two nations to deploy military forces on each other’s soil. This represents Japan’s first military agreement with a European power.
The UK leads the way
The UK and Japan began to deepen military cooperation with the visit of the Queen Elizabeth carrier strike group in 2021.
This was followed in November 2022 with an agreement on new UK-Japan-Italy partnership – the Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP) – a hi-tech programme for unmanned aircraft and cutting-edge weapons heralded as an ‘unprecedented international aerospace coalition’. BAE Systems, Rolls Royce and MBDA are to work together with Leopard in Italy and Mitsubishi in Japan to deliver next generation combat fighter jets. The Tempest is to replace the Typhoon aircraft by the mid 2030s; its capacity to carry hypersonic missiles will significantly increase Japan’s capabilities in joining a US war with China.
Also in November 2022, a ‘Vigilant Isles 22’ joint exercise simulated the retaking of an island under enemy control. The new RAA aims to regularise such exercises in ‘island defence’. This should set alarm bells ringing.
Similar to ones agreed by the US and Australia with Japan, these arrangements gain significance together as providing the US with the means to break a blockade of Taiwan: the RAA could bring British forces into direct conflict with China given the deepening Sino-Japanese island dispute.
The RAA and GCAP are designed to sit alongside AUKUS and with the US and Australia also having access agreements, few barriers remain for Japan to join the ‘Asian NATO’.
For the UK, the deals cement Global Britain’s Indo-Pacific tilt, breaking new ground in military relations with Japan as an example for other NATO members to follow. As it opens the door for a wider international recognition of Japan’s rehabilitation as a military power countering any residual reluctance to do so given its past history, the UK is playing a significant role in the shift to a new Indo-Pacific security architecture.
At the same time, as the US’s key ally in the West, its links with Japan the US’ key ally in the East create a new global axis linking the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific theatres of war.
As it looks to build a future beyond Brexit, Global Britain follows the US in tying future prosperity to military development – arms manufacture and arms exports. Here it aims to serve as a new model of Western 21st century power ‘creating jobs, saving lives’ as through GCAP it boosts its ‘world beating defence industry’ to promote high-high-skilled employment, drive innovation, and open up markets in both Europe and Asia.
Aiding and abetting the US, the UK similarly indulges the military aspirations of Japan’s right wingers, long held in restraint by its constitutional pacifism. Now GCAP subverts Article 9 of Japan’s constitution, the ‘peace clause’, by developing Japan’s counterstrike – that is – offensive capabilities.
Shockingly, the UK Prime Minister’s office was to draw parallels between the RAA and the Anglo-Japanese alliance of 1902. Forged to counter Russia’s expansion to the East at the time, the alliance oversaw a twenty year period of Japan’s rapid military industrialisation which then drove its bloody expansion across Asia.
US progress after WW2 on democratising and demilitarising Japan ground to a halt after the CPC victory in China in 1949. Suspected Class A war criminals, such as the grandfather of former prime minister Shinzo Abe, were released from jail to help form the Liberal Democratic Party which has now held power almost continuously over the last 70 years. Senior political figures in Kishida’s government continue to visit the Yasukuni shrine to the war dead which still memorialises those convicted of war crimes.
It did not seem to bother either Biden or Sunak in promoting collaboration between Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems respectively with Mitsubishi to restore its role in arms manufacturer, that the company’s owners are yet to meet South Korean demands for compensation for the use of forced labour in WW2. South Korea and Japan have recently announced some measures to ease these particular tensions.
Constructing a new coalition
The US perceives the ‘security threats of the future’ – China – to be of such an order as to demand an entirely new response. Learning the lesson from the Iraq war not to alienate allies, the US seeks to secure military pacts and alliances through a fusing of economic and technological resources into their structure.
US Secretary of State Blinken states: ‘whether techno-democracies or techno-autocracies are the ones who get to define how technology is used … will go a long way toward shaping the next decades.’
AUKUS and the UK-Italy-Japan GCAP have both been designed to set the pace in the military use of new technologies, integrating security- and defence-related science and technology as well as arms production bases and supply chains centred on US core technologies. France, Italy, Germany as well as the UK are mentioned in Japan’s National Defense Strategy as partners with whom the government will work for training and exercises, defence equipment and technology cooperation.
Meanwhile the Quad, falling short of a fully-fledged military alliance, uses Australia and Japan as a means to draw India closer to the US.
Rather, then, than relying simply on formal alliance structures, the US is making good use of unconventional arrangements and linkages to draw others along in the slipstream of its agenda, knitting an array of supporters together around the militarised core – all singing from the same hymn sheet of ‘freedom and democracy’.
Revolutions in technology and communications are opening new opportunities to broaden the more flexible ‘coalition of the willing’ format to a wider range of partners involved in a hybridised warfare.
Short of actual military engagement, support can come in various ways – through the provision of material, arms, logistics, economic and technological assistance, and through participation in economic warfare with sanctions along the lines of the informal groups now aiding Ukraine. Arrangements involving data- and technology-sharing, and exclusive supply chains can serve as a dragnet to draw ‘democratic’ states away from economic and diplomatic links with ‘authoritarian regimes’.
In this way the emerging pattern of US military hegemony is being underpinned by the globalisation of what former CIA analyst Ray McGovern has called a new Military-Industrial-Congressional-Intelligence-Media-Academia-Think-Tank (MICIMATT).
Towards a new World War
With the Iraq war underway by March 2003, the US effectively stepped back from a fight on two fronts, agreeing within months to join the six-party talks on Korean denuclearisation. Today, in contrast, it is shifting from the strategy of containment, prolonging the conflict with Russia in Ukraine in order to gear up for war with China.
What is taking place is a historic restructuring of the international security order: strengthening of the NATO transatlantic military axis against Russia whilst elevating the US-Japan trans-pacific military axis at the core of newly created regional NATO-like multilateral security frame. Meanwhile the UK-Japan military pact together with the increasing presence of NATO in Asia are laying the preliminary groundwork to complete the third axis of its triangle of global power, between the Euro-Atlantic and the Indo-Pacific.
Not since WW2 with the Axis powers of Japan, Italy and Nazi Germany coordinating the worldwide fascist offensive, have these two theatres of war been bridged in this way, and not for want of the US trying.
Through these three axes of a Global NATO, the US aims to contain the growing multipolar trend. A key here is to block the Eurasian link: the prolongation of the Ukraine war is helping to drive China and Europe apart, as China maintains neutrality whilst Europe demands it take a position on what it sees as its existential priority.
The US is applying immense pressure to achieve this, endeavouring to break the remaining post WW2 pacifist restraints in the Indo-Pacific as it has been doing in Europe so as to achieve these goals.
Actually it is NATO that is being positioned to cover and play the coordinating role between the two theatres, with the US pushing plans at the next summit to prepare for fighting on the home front and beyond NATO borders simultaneously. Europe will be under great pressure to increase spending on weapons procurement to free the US to move more of its assets closer to China.
The major world powers are close to a stand-off – the last time this happened it ended indeed in world war. The UN has become a battleground for the New Cold War as US-influenced motions are designed to divide the ‘democracies’ from the ‘autocracies’. The UN Charter represents the deep learning from the horrors of the two world wars, lessons which are embodied in its institutional design built to maintain world peace. The UN is now under existential threat. Should war break out directly between the permanent members of the UN Security Council – the US and UK versus Russia and China – this would finally finish off the organisation. What then is left to prevent another word war?
One cannot help but wonder at the key players following the US into this deadly situation: the Anglosphere AUKUS pact intervening in an Asia becoming accustomed to managing its own affairs and a remilitarised Japan with its dark past to lead the region, partnering up in Europe with Italy, its former fascist ally and a Britain deluded by fantasies of past imperial glory.
But countries in the Global South are starting to wake up to the real nature of US intentions – to perpetuate its own and the West’s supremacy – and a non-aligned resistance is taking shape as they refuse to take sides over Ukraine.
More and more developing countries will be looking to China and others in the BRICS for economic stabilisation with the prolongation of the war further damaging further the prospects of world economic recovery after COVID.
The Iraq war unleashed over a decade of disruption for the Middle East, leaving the region even further divided: the countries of East Asia hardly want to see this happen to them. US plans to remilitarise and divide East Asia threaten to derail their promising prospects of further economic development, destabilising a region vital to the world’s future prosperity and the battle against climate catastrophe and not least at risk of nuclear proliferation.
Nor is Japan’s rearmament welcome in the region: not only China and the Koreas remain sceptical as to the sincerity of Japan’s apologies for its past, but other Asian nations, whose memories of Japan’s WW2 brutality and military-colonial occupations live on, may also be wary. Indications are that the Japanese public themselves will not support increased taxes to cover the proposed rise in military spending.
Meanwhile, new US proposals that allies host more intermediate range missiles in the region are being met with reluctance not only Thailand and the Philippines but also Australia, South Korea and Japan.
Ahead of the G7 summit, planned to take place in Hiroshima and built up by Kishida’s January tour of the Western powers, is intended to send a strong signal of their unity both to Russia and China. A visit by Kishida to Kiev is also on the cards.
With the Ukraine crisis threatening to escalate into a direct clash between major powers, China has stepped forward with guidelines for a political settlement backed by a concept paper for a new global security. It may be that the Global South, still rather disorganised, will find direction under China’s proposals and start to set a limit to the US-led wider war preparations.
The world is changing very fast indeed.
Peace and anti-war activists in the West seek to draw inspiration from the massive protests against the Iraq war, but to resist the insidious influence of imperialism permeating through social democracy requires a deeper historical and international understanding to unite a new worldwide mass movement for peace and common security.
 E.Ayketin “China has no intention of challenging the US: Xi Jinping” Nov 15, 2022 https://www.aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/china-has-no-intention-of-challenging-us-xi-jinping/2738050
 John W. Dower, The San Francisco System: past, Present and Future in US-Japan-China Relations, Asia Pacific Journal February 23, 2014, Vol. 12, Issue 8, No. 2 https://apjjf.org/2014/12/8/John-W-Dower/4079/artcile.html
 For details on the US military build up in the Pacific see Michael Klare, The Pentagon prepares for island combat in the Pacific as US-China tensions rise https://truthout.org/articles/pentagon-prepares-for-island-combat-in-the-pacific-as-us-china-tensions-rise/
 A. Wright “Largest ever US-Nato naval war drills in Pacific a Threat to Peace and Marine Life”, June 22, 2002 https://www.codepink.org/us-nato-naval-war-drills
 R. Nemoto, “Japan’s top uniformed officer to attend 1st NATO military chiefs meeting” May 17, 2022 https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/International-relations/Japan-s-top-uniformed-officer-to-attend-1st-NATO-military-chiefs-meeting
 K. Inagaki, L. Lewis and S. Pfeifer, “The fighter jet that could create a new alliance between the UK and Japan” Financial Times Nov. 27, 2022 https://www.ft.com/content/a013530d-82f9-4a89-b5cf-5d76032d8c47
 A. Chuter, UK, Japan ink agreement to enable bilateral troop deployments, Defence News, Jan 11, 2023 https://www.defensenews.com/global/europe/2023/01/11/uk-japan-ink-agreement-to-enable-bilateral-troop-deployments/
 The US is also now pushing the Philippines into a similar arrangement so that not only could Philippines’ forces be deployed in Japan but Japanese forces be deployed say in Luzon.
 Downing Street Press release, Jan 11 2023 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/prime-minister-hosts-japanese-pm-and-agrees-historic-defence-agreement
 A. Jung-a and K. Inagaki “US hails thaw between Seoul and Tokyo” Financial Times March 7 2023
 National Defense Strategy Dec 16, 2022 https://www.mod.go.jp/j/approach/agenda/guideline/strategy/pdf/strategy_en.pdf
 R. McGovern US-Russia Talk About Where Not To Place Missiles, Jan 11, 2022 https://original.antiwar.com/mcgovern/2022/01/10/us-russia-talk-about-where-not-to-place-missiles/
In this original article, Keith Lamb explains that, whilst China has scored enormous achievements in the battle against corruption, it still faces an uphill task in preventing new cases and rooting out existing ones.
Because the CPC is a Marxist party, Keith explains, with the historic mission to usher in socialism, it has to hold itself to higher standards than those political parties which operate within the framework of capitalism. However, when working towards socialism, utopian action will fail. Therefore, China took the pragmatic road by adopting a socialist market economy, which has advanced the forces of production and technology necessary for socialist development. However, this also creates a series of class and material contradictions that need to be navigated.
Achieving China’s goal of becoming a prosperous and modern socialist country by 2049, the author notes, not only requires a constant battle against corruption, but also provides part of the remedy for corruption.
Recently at the second plenary session of the 20th CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) it was noted that the corruption situation, in China remains grave and complex. The Communist Party of China (CPC) faces an uphill task in preventing new cases of corruption and rooting out existing ones.
In recent years, there have been enormous achievements in the battle against corruption at all levels of officialdom, which is encapsulated in the slogan “striking tigers and swatting flies.” In 2018, Lai Xiaomin the former state asset manager was executed for taking $277 million in bribes, and Sun Zhengcai, the former Chongqing Party Chief, was given life imprisonment for taking $27 million in bribes.
As of June 2022, a total of 4,516,000 corruption cases were handled by disciplinary authorities, and 4,439,000 people were punished for violating discipline. Just over a month after the closing of the 20th CPC National Congress, more than 10 officials who were suspected of severe violations of discipline and laws had turned themselves in.
Considering such successes, one may ask why the corruption situation still remains grave and complex. First, the massive anti-corruption campaign launched after the 18th National Congress was unprecedented in size, due to corruption becoming so deep-rooted. Consequently, considering the magnitude of the problem, no matter the achievements already accumulated, there is still much to do.
We are pleased to publish below the English version of an article by Adnan Akfirat, Chairman of the Turkish Chinese Business Development and Friendship Association (and member of the Friends of Socialist China advisory group), countering Western propaganda about China’s evolving strategy against the Covid-19 pandemic.
Having lived through 63 days of quarantine in Shanghai in 2022, and then contracted Covid for the first time upon travelling to Türkiye, the author has witnessed at close quarters the accomplishments of China’s Dynamic Zero Covid policy, which saved many millions of lives while China bought time to develop and deploy vaccines and treatments, and to bolster its healthcare system. He notes that China’s extraordinary mobilization of resources for the protection of human life against Covid is testament to the superiority of the socialist system.
Adnan further observes that there has been a positive side-effect of the Covid-19 pandemic in China, in that it has accelerated the improvement of the public healthcare system and stimulated a return to the development of comprehensive, state-funded, high-quality healthcare for all.
The article was originally published in Aydınlık and has been translated into English for us by the author. A shorter version has also appeared in Global Times.
The People’s Republic of China’s policies against the Covid-19 pandemic have been a major concern for US governments. The strict controls and quarantines required by China’s Dynamic Zero Covid policy were denounced as human rights violations. Towards the end of 2022, China determined that the virus was no longer so lethal and adopted a strategy of loosening restrictions. This time, the Atlantic camp accused China of “endangering humanity” and began to impose restrictions on Chinese tourists.
In his New Year’s speech at the start of 2023, President Xi Jinping emphasized that “since the COVID 19 pandemic, we have always put people and life first.” Xi said China has entered a new phase in its fight against the epidemic and “we have adapted our COVID 19 response in light of the evolving situation to protect the lives and health of the people to the greatest extent possible.”
For the last two months, US and European leaders and Western media have been accusing China of spreading disease and making the Chinese people miserable. Unfortunately, the Turkish media has also joined this campaign without questioning it. If you look at Turkish newspapers and TV channels, especially on social media, you will see that “China is collapsing from the disease!”
This article by Jenny Clegg – a revised and enlarged version of a three-part series originally published in the Morning Star (part 1 | part 2 | part 3) – provides a broad overview of China’s political trajectory in the present era.
Jenny takes on the media caricature of Xi Jinping as an “authoritarian” leader, analysing his political development over the course of several decades, noting in particular his longstanding commitment to combating climate change, his dedication to poverty alleviation, and his belief that China should shift away from using GDP growth as the central metric of economic success. As CPC General Secretary and China’s President, the most prominent aspects of Xi’s record have been the extremely rigorous (and popular) anti-corruption campaign; the success in eliminating extreme poverty; a major focus on environmental questions; and the centring of a common prosperity agenda that is already operating to reduce inequality and improve the conditions of the poor.
Sympathetic but not uncritical, the article provides valuable insights and a realistic assessment of China’s prospects for developing into a “modern advanced socialist country that is strong and prosperous” by the centenary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (2049).
1. Who is Xi Jinping?
The Communist Party of China’s 20th Congress confirmed Xi Jinping as General Secretary for a third term. According to the mainstream media, China is lurching once again toward ‘one-man rule’ under the ‘thrice crowned’ leader. But what kind of rule will this be? China is the world’s second largest economy and the politics of its leader is of great consequence for the world.
So what are Xi’s politics? What has his leadership over the last 10 years meant for China and what direction does he intend the country to take over the next 5 years and beyond?
Xi’s political development
The son of a revolutionary hero who became a vice premier of China in the 1950s only to later fall victim to political turmoil in the Mao period, Xi himself was a ‘sent down’ youth spending seven years from the age of 15 working in a poor community in China’s West. Serving for a time as a commune leader, he adopted the work style of ‘plain living and hard work’ – the ideal followed by the CPC from its earliest days.
Whilst these formative experiences moulded his core political outlook, it was through his work as Party Secretary of Zhejiang Province from 2002 to 2007 that a more concrete politics took shape.
Zhejiang is a commercialised province, one of those key Eastern seaboard areas which have driven the country’s hi-speed growth. After China joined the WTO in 2001, local cadres were exhorted to promote business, help new enterprises and court foreign investment, creating new jobs and opportunities.
But rapid industrialisation also brought increasing inequality, environmental degradation as well as corruption as the boundaries between politics and business blurred. Now in the senior ranks of Party leadership, one of some 3,000, Xi expressed his concerns in a series of articles in which he put great stress on the moral standards of the cadres and the need to prevent Party officials from solidifying into a privileged elite removed from the rest of society.
Power, he argued, was not a personal possession, to be used not for self-aggrandisement but for the public good. Grass roots levels were crucial – this was where the Party worked together with the people to build a better future. Emphasising the quality not just the quantity of growth – ‘not everything has to be done for GDP’; and the importance of the environment – ‘there is only one world and only one environment’ – Xi was paving a new way forward.
Cleaning up the Party
By 2012, when Xi became Party leader, China had recovered rapidly after taking a serious hit in the 2008/9 world financial crisis, resuming the fast growth that had seen the economy more than double in the previous decade. It was up to him now to realise the previously set goals of achieving a ‘moderately prosperous society’ by 2020.
Xi’s first step was to refocus the Party on its high values of public service, launching a far-reaching anti-corruption campaign targeted at ‘tigers’ at the top as well as ‘flies’ at the bottom. His insistence that his immediate family should not undertake any business dealings struck a chord with people, gaining him much popularity.
A graduate in chemical engineering, with a PhD in Marxist legal theory, Xi was also a good communicator, a skill acquired during his years in the countryside, and the fact that he could put over his political message in an accessible manner, avoiding stilted rhetoric, also added to his popularity.
Determined to restore ideology to the heart of the Party, he encouraged Marxist study as well as wider Marxist intellectual debate, these not for the sake of theorising but in order to drive policy and practice forward.
His affirmation in 2013 of the role of the market as playing ‘a decisive role in the allocation of resources in the economy’ saw a widening of market reforms whilst a new emphasis on commercial law which, together with the wider establishment of enterprise-based Party committees, vastly improved business practice. From 2015, a massive infusion of government support reinforced the role of state-owned enterprises at the centre of economic policy.
Two particular advances of Xi’s first term were, on the domestic front, the 2016 Made In China Initiative which laid the basis of China’s technological upgrading to a higher stage of modernisation; and, of international consequence, the Belt and Road Initiative, setting out a new mode for China’s integration with the world community.
In this detailed essay, Friends of Socialist China co-editor Carlos Martinez analyses China’s pursuit of an ecological civilisation, characterised by “green, circular, and low-carbon development.”
Explaining how China came to be the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and contextualising this within the country’s rapid industrialisation and development, Carlos details the steps China is taking in support of its goals to peak emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. Its achievements to date – in the fields of renewable energy, reduction of coal usage, nuclear power, energy efficiency, low-carbon transport and forestation – are all world-leading.
Carlos concludes the article with a discussion of why China, as opposed to any of the leading capitalist countries, has emerged as the global leader in sustainable development. The central component is that “the balance of power in capitalist countries is such that even relatively progressive governments find it very difficult to prioritise long-term needs of the population over short-term interests of capital,” whereas in socialist countries, “the interests of private profit are subordinate to the needs of society.”
Referencing the role played by the construction of welfare states in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in pressuring the Western ruling classes to grant concessions to the working class (in the form of universal education, social housing and healthcare systems), the author opines that, today, “China’s environmental strategy can create pressure on the capitalist ruling classes to stop destroying the planet and commit to climate justice.”
We must strike a balance between economic growth and environmental protection. We will be more conscientious in promoting green, circular, and low-carbon development. We will never again seek economic growth at the cost of the environment. (Xi Jinping)
The cost of development
Few events in human history have resonated throughout the world as profoundly as the Chinese Revolution. Standing in Tiananmen Square on 1 October 1949, pronouncing the birth of the People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong said “the Chinese people have stood up”. In standing up, in building a modern socialist society and throwing off the shackles of feudalism, colonialism, backwardness, illiteracy and grinding poverty, China has blazed a trail for the entire Global South. Lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty has been described even by ardent capitalists as “the greatest leap to overcome poverty in history”. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) describes China’s development as having produced “the most rapid decline in absolute poverty ever witnessed”. It is an extraordinary accomplishment that all Chinese people now have secure access to food, housing, clothing, clean water, modern energy, education and healthcare.
In environmental terms, however, this progress has come at a cost. Just as economic development in Europe and the Americas was fuelled by the voracious burning of fossil fuels, China’s development has been built to a significant degree on ‘Old King Coal’, the most polluting and emissions-intensive of the fossil fuels. Two decades ago, coal made up around 80 percent of China’s energy mix. Environmental law expert Barbara Finamore notes that “coal, plentiful and cheap, was the energy source of choice, not just for power plants, but also for direct combustion by heavy industry and for heating and cooking in people’s homes.”
This article by Jenny Clegg, author of China’s Global Strategy: towards a multipolar world, addresses the question of China’s putative ‘authoritarianism’, and in particular the issue of Xi Jinping’s election for a third five-year term as General Secretary of the CPC, which marks a break with the two-term limit introduced in the 1980s.
The author opines that China is opting for continuity and stability, in the face of “complex, unpredictable and fast changing international currents” – in particular the escalating US-led New Cold War – and a crucial shift in the emphasis of China’s economic strategy towards common prosperity and sustainable development.
Jenny writes that Xi’s supposed ‘authoritarian turn’ is “keeping China on a steady course, united in purpose”, whilst continuing to encourage vibrant inner-party democracy and exhaustive debate on key policies. “At a time of growing political chaos as the world’s dominant ruling classes flail about amidst multiple crises, the 20th CPC Congress stands out as an example of orderliness and clarity of direction.”
The 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) has made headlines in the mainstream media, but hardly because China’s future is of great consequence for the future of the world – rather, all eyes are on Xi Jinping’s continuing into a third 5-year term as Party General Secretary. What an opportunity, so the pundits think, to hype up the New Cold War by contrasting China’s ‘autocratic’ methods of leadership succession against the virtues of the West’s democratic ways.
Xi is being ‘anointed,’ we are told, or ‘crowned’, as China’s leader.
When, from the 1990s, the CPC introduced collective leadership, two-term limits on key posts, and other mechanisms institutionalising leadership selection in order to guard against the re-emergence of personality cults and political upheaval, this was widely welcomed both within China and beyond as a step forward in modernising and democratising the Party. In 2018 however, under Xi’s leadership, the two-term limit was abolished – a major factor in causing Western political elites to give up hope of integrating China into the existing global system under their dominance.
Of course, China’s centralised system has cultural and historical roots going back millennia. However, these traditions were profoundly transformed after 1949 by the CPC’s practice of democratic centralism – of ‘top-down, ‘bottom up’ processes of decision-making. Throughout its history the CPC has nevertheless gone through phases of relative tightening and relaxing of central control.
It is important then to understand why the CPC is once again strengthening its leadership, seeking to consolidate authority under a single leadership figure, at this time. A number of factors are at play.
In the first place there are the external conditions to consider. Since 2011 when Obama announced his Asian pivot, the US has increasingly squeezed China using both military and economic pressure not only to block China’s growing global influence – which has extended peacefully through for example the Belt and Road Initiative – but also, going beyond containment, to aggressively enforce technological and economic decoupling. The US has now effectively pledged to do all it can to obstruct China’s further development whilst mobilising all possible global forces and resources in preparation for a war, with Taiwan as the most likely pretext.
Amidst complex, unpredictable and fast changing international currents, the CPC must stay both firm and flexible in order to respond effectively at a time when China is also undergoing huge structural changes.
The following article by Friends of Socialist China co-editor Keith Bennett provides a brief summary of Xi Jinping’s highly significant and substantial report given at the opening of the CPC’s 20th National Congress on 16 October 2022.
As soon as the official English translation of the report is available, we will republish it on this site.
Entitled Hold High the Great Banner of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics and Strive in Unity to Build a Modern Socialist Country in All Respects, Comrade Xi Jinping’s report to the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China is a political document of great significance, summing up the work of a 96-million strong party over the last period and outlining its course ahead.
Comrade Xi begins by noting that the congress, “takes place at a critical time as the entire Party and the Chinese people of all ethnic groups embark on a new journey to build China into a modern socialist country in all respects and advance toward the Second Centenary Goal”, which is that of building a fully modernized socialist country. In this course, it is imperative that the party “never forget our original aspiration and founding mission”, and “always stay modest, prudent, and hard-working.”
Calling the five years since the last congress, “truly momentous and extraordinary”, he noted that the Party had led the Chinese people in “effectively responding to grave, intricate international developments and a series of immense risks and challenges.” It had promoted high-quality development, whole-process people’s democracy, improved public well-being as a matter of priority, put the people and their lives above all else, and launched an all-out people’s war to stop the spread of Covid-19.
Moreover, it had dealt with “drastic changes in the international landscape, especially external attempts to blackmail, contain, blockade, and exert maximum pressure on China”, by showing a “fighting spirit” and a “firm determination to never yield to coercive power.”
Over the last five years, the party had led the people “in solving a great number of problems that had long gone unsolved, securing many accomplishments that hold major future significance, and achieving impressive advances in the cause of the Party and the country.”
The following detailed article by Carlos Martinez explores the escalating propaganda war being waged by the imperialist powers against China. Carlos notes that “propaganda wars can also be war propaganda”, and that the torrent of anti-China slander has a clear purpose of manufacturing broad public consent for the US-led New Cold War.
Carlos shows how the propaganda model described in Herman and Chomsky’s classic work Manufacturing Consent has been updated and enhanced using modern communication techniques, and how it is being applied today against China, in particular in relation to the allegations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Carlos introduces the most frequently-hurled slanders on this topic and debunks them in detail.
The author concludes that this propaganda campaign is serving to “break the bonds of solidarity within the global working class and all those opposed to imperialism”, and that all progressives must resolutely oppose and expose it.
If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing. (Malcolm X)
The Western media is waging a systematic and ferocious propaganda war against China. In the court of Western public opinion, China stands accused of an array of terrifying crimes: conducting a genocide against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang; wiping out democracy in Hong Kong; militarising the South China Sea; attempting to impose colonial control over Taiwan; carrying out a land grab in Africa; preventing Tibetans and Inner Mongolians from speaking their languages; spying on the good peoples of the democratic world; and more.
Australian scholar Roland Boer has characterised these accusations as “atrocity propaganda – an old anti-communist and indeed anti-anyone-who-does-not-toe-the-Western-line approach that tries to manufacture a certain image for popular consumption.” Boer observes that this propaganda serves to create an impression of China as a brutal authoritarian dystopia which “can only be a fiction for anyone who actually spends some time in China, let alone lives there.”
It’s not difficult to understand why China would be subjected to this sort of elaborate disinformation campaign. This media offensive is part of the imperialist world’s ongoing attempts to reverse the Chinese Revolution, to subvert Chinese socialism, to weaken China, to diminish its role in international affairs and, as a result, to undermine the global trajectory towards multipolarity and a future free from hegemonism. As journalist Chen Weihua has pointed out, “the reasons for the intensifying US propaganda war are obvious: Washington views a fast-rising China as a challenge to its primacy around the world.” Furthermore, “the success of a country with a different political system is unacceptable to politicians in Washington.”
In this recent presentation to the International Manifesto Group webinar, The Case Against NATO, Dr Jenny Clegg traces the makings of an Asian NATO via such mechanisms as AUKUS and the Quad whose fundamental purposes are to contain and confront a rising China. She further draws attention to the extension of NATO influence into the Asia Pacific through its Partnerships for Peace for example with Japan, South Korea and Australia; and also considers the impact of the Ukraine crisis in relation to these developments with the increase of tensions, divisions and militarisation in the region
NATO serves as the nuclear-armed fortress that helps to elevate the West above the ‘Rest’; it anchors Europe to its western orientation, severing it from its Eurasian geography.
But NATO members are also Pacific powers – the US, Canada, but also France and Britain, which maintain possession of a few islands and hence some considerable maritime territory.
In this Pacific presence can be seen the makings of an Asian NATO as a counter to the growing Eurasian dimension.
Whilst the world’s focus is on Russia in the Ukraine, for the US, China is the ‘pacing challenge’, and from this perspective, the Ukraine crisis can be seen as the first phase in the US’s last-ditch battle to retain its world supremacy, a battle pitting ‘democracies against autocracies’ in which NATO is to serve as the armed vanguard against the so-called Russia-China alliance.
The world before NATO was to be a new world of the UN Charter which, in the coordination of the wartime allies – the US, UK, Soviet Union and China – and in its commitment to national sovereignty, held the promise of a multipolar world.
It was this new world of the equality of nations that the US set out to smash in driving the first Cold War.
From Cold War to thaw back to Cold War in the Asia Pacific
The Cold War in the Pacific divided China and Korea and involved two hot wars – in Korea and Indochina – at the cost of countless lives and countless war crimes.
The US sought to set up an Asian NATO – however Australia lacked trust in Japan after WW2; Japan’s military was constrained under Article 9 of its constitution; and many South East Asian states, having fought to gain independence, chose non-alignment over subordination in a military alliance.
SEATO – Southeast Asia Treaty Organization – was set up in 1955 to block the ‘communist domino effect’ but it lacked unity and folded in 1977. The US instead relied on bilateral alliances and a spread of some 400 military bases to encircle China.
The Cold War never ended in the Pacific – China and Korea remain divided. Nevertheless, a degree of thaw in the 1990s allowed China to improve its relations in the region whilst ASEAN extended membership to the three communist-aligned Indochinese nations along with Myanmar. Regional economic growth entered a new phase.
But then, sending things into reverse, Obama embarked on his Asian pivot launching the freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea. Following this, Trump declared China a strategic competitor, initiating the Quad to draw India into a new network with Australia, Japan and the US.
2020 saw the counter-hegemonic trend gather momentum with agreement on RCEP – the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, embracing large parts of East Asia and Oceania; the EU was also about to sign a major investment deal with China – these two developments recalling the coalition of Germany all the way across to China which Brzezinski foresaw in 1997, claiming this would be hostile to the US.
The US then prepared to strike back, launching the New Cold War, followed in September 2021 by AUKUS – a mini–Asian NATO, an intervention by the outside Anglosphere which started to sow disunity within the region, undermining its resolve for Asians to deal with Asian affairs.
NATO in the Pacific
NATO itself has been expanding into Asia since 2012 with its Partnerships for Peace programme drawing in Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Pakistan, and the Philippines.
By 2014, an equation was already being drawn between Russia and the Ukraine and China in the South China Sea.
At the 2019 NATO summit, Pompeo raised the issue of the China threat and, in 2021, the NATO 2030 document widened its focus to include the ‘IndoPacific’, making very clear a strategy of: Russia first then China.
Biden has advanced on Trump’s anti-China approach in two key ways, elevating the Quad and bringing the Taiwan issue more into view. But the Quad lacks military muscle – hence the announcement of AUKUS.
The US and UK are to equip Australia with nuclear-powered submarines, not only violating the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty but also subverting the nuclear weapons free zones of South East Asia and the South Pacific – both important advances of regional independence in the 1980s. These submarines will extend Australia’s naval reach much further into the South and East China Seas.
Australia is to be transformed into a forward base for the US military, providing the core of a regional ‘hybrid warfare’ network, with looser links bringing nations into various regional networks under US direction, covering diplomacy, intelligence sharing, media narratives, supply chains and so on.
The pact also represents a new level of cooperation in military technologies – in quantum computing and digital technologies – as exemplified in the recent announcement on the development of hypersonic weaponry.
Accompanying the promotion of arms sales and the implementation of sanctions, AUKUS then is designed to secure US dominance over East Asia’s future growth in its support of US competition at the cutting edge of new technologies.
The impact of the Ukraine crisis
Amidst the Ukraine crisis, fears have been raised of a Chinese military takeover of Taiwan – in a completely false parallel between Ukraine, a sovereign state and Taiwan, recognised by the UN as a part of China.
As in Europe, militarisation in East Asia is accelerating: Japan has just increased its military budget by $50bn; Australia has estimated the cost of AUKUS at an eye-watering $250bn. With the newly elected conservative president in South Korea, a North East Asian arc with Japan and the US, comes into view, and with both Japan and South Korea strengthening military links with Australia, there are possible ties here into AUKUS in the South.
AUKUS only received a lukewarm reception amongst regional powers with Indonesia and Malaysia most openly expressing their reservations. Again, as in Europe, pressure is being brought to bear to erode the long held stabilising positions of Japan’s peace clause and ASEAN’s non-aligned inclinations, using the threat of sanctions to splinter and subordinate the organisation so as to clear the obstacles to militarisation.
Rather than Ukraine-Taiwan, Ukraine-the South China Sea may offer a better parallel: whilst Russia insists on Ukraine’s neutrality, China has been seeking the neutrality of the South China Sea in negotiations on a code of conduct which limits permission for outside powers to set up naval bases.
The marker of the Cold War battle line of ‘democracies versus autocracies’ is being drawn by the US around the so-called democratic right of nations to choose their allies. This is also the meaning behind the ‘free and open IndoPacific’ – that is freedom to join in the making of an Asian NATO.
Why is it that the US is blocking peace negotiations on Ukraine’s neutrality? Why can’t it accept the legitimacy of Russia’s security concerns? Not least, because this would set a precedent for China over Taiwan and the South China Sea. And it is China that is seen as the real, comprehensive challenger.
Amidst false allegations that China is supplying arms to Russia and propping Russia up, NATO is strengthening its links with the Pacific 4 – Australia, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand. The upcoming summit this June will set the stage for an attempt to legitimise NATO’s increasing penetration into the IndoPacific region as the necessary opposition to the so-called ‘Russia-China alliance’.
NATO expansion is the root cause of the war in Europe; through its links into the Asia Pacific, it is equally intent to divide and destabilise a region now forecast to overtake Europe as the centre of the world economy by 2030.
Russia first, China next, NATO is bringing on a new world order – it’s called the jungle.
If China has not criticised Russia, at least one reason is because it looks to the long term – to a new security plan not just for Europe but one which restores its Eurasian orientation, a new Eurasian Security Order
China, in taking its stand on the indivisibility of security, on security for all – not of one at the expense of another – is keeping alive the spirit of the UN Charter.
We are pleased to publish this original analysis by Dirk Nimmegeers, co-editor of ChinaSquare.be and China Vandaag (Belgium) and Friends of Socialist China advisory group member, on the issue of Taiwan.
Taiwanese and Western politicians and journalists are spotlighting alleged similarities between the war in Ukraine and Mainland China-Taiwan relations. Ignoring or concealing real differences and turning reality upside down undermines the one-China principle.
Chinese top diplomats such as Foreign Minister Wang Yi, director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC Central Committee Yang Jiechi, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Hua Chunying react sharply to this, and rightly so.
‘Taiwan is not Ukraine’
On February 23, a reporter from Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV asked Hua Chunying, Deputy Minister and Foreign Affairs spokesperson, what she thought of ‘the Taiwanese leaders’ comparing the Ukraine problem to the Taiwan question, and expressing the hope that the international community will continue to provide Taiwan with weapons so that China’s mainland dare not invade Taiwan by force’.
Hua Chunying replied: ‘Taiwan for sure is not Ukraine. Taiwan has always been an inalienable part of China’s territory. This is an indisputable historical and legal fact’. On March 7, a Bloomberg reporter asked Secretary Wang Yi, ‘What similarities are there between the current situation in Ukraine and the question of Taiwan? How likely would you say conflict in the Taiwan Strait is at the moment?’ Wang Yi’s reply began as follows: ‘Let me first make it clear that the Taiwan question and the Ukraine issue are different in nature and are not comparable at all. Most fundamentally, Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory, and the Taiwan question is entirely China’s internal affair’.
The comparisons that you now see popping up in our media for a specific purpose revolve around the themes of independence, political-economic systems and violence.
Taiwan is not an independent state, Ukraine is.
Russia has reattached a part of independent Ukraine, Crimea (which had been transferred from Russia to Ukraine in 1954), and might plan to annex more regions. China wants to eventually, and peacefully reintegrate Taiwan, which is de facto autonomous, back into the motherland. The resemblance is only there for those who drag it in purposefully. Taiwan is not an independent country and China will never recognize it diplomatically. China has indeed recognized Ukraine and has good relations with that country, of which it is the main trading partner. Moreover, as Benjamin Ho observes: ‘Kyiv joined the Belt and Road Initiative in 2017, Chinese companies have been upgrading the country’s ports and subways. In 2020, Ukraine also signed a memorandum of understanding with China’s Huawei.’
We are pleased to publish this paper by Han Qingxiang, from the Party School of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, who is also a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). Han presents a detailed outline and explanation of the CPC’s understanding of the new phase of China’s socialist modernisation, highlighting both the new aspects since the first phase of China’s reform and opening up, as well as the continuities, along with its antecedents in Marxist theory, specifically work by Marx and Engels in the 1840s and 1850s. The paper was delivered at the Cloud International Workshop on “New Forms of Human Civilization from a World Perspective,” held by the School of Marxism, Dalian University of Technology (DUT), 29-31 October 2021. We are grateful to the DUT Translation Team for their work, as well as to Professor Roland Boer for his meticulous sub-editing and cooperation.
General Secretary Xi Jinping’s speech at the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China (referred to as the “7.1” speech) pointed out:
Following our own road – this is the firm foothold of all the theories and practices of our Party. More than that, it is the historical conclusion our Party has drawn from its struggles over the past century. Socialism with Chinese characteristics is a fundamental achievement of the Party and the people, forged through untold hardships and great sacrifices, and it is the correct path for us to achieve the great rejuvenation of China. By upholding and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics and promoting the coordinated development of material, political, spiritual, social and ecological civilisations, we have created a new Chinese-style path of modernisation and a new form of human civilisation.
Here, from “following our own road” to “the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics” and then to “the new road of Chinese-style modernisation” provides a comprehensive exposition of the Chinese road’s formative and developmental logic, essential characteristics, important position, and comprehensive elaboration of global significance, all of which has rich political and scientific value.
The following article, written by independent researcher and Friends of Socialist China advisory group member Stefania Fusero, explores China’s system of socialist democracy, providing a valuable corrective to the lazy stereotypes so widely spread in the West that China is “authoritarian” and “undemocratic.”
On December 4, 2021, the State Council of China published a white paper on the Chinese political system entitled Democracy that Works. It opens like this:
Peace, development, fairness, justice, democracy, and freedom are common values of humanity. Democracy is not a prerogative of a certain country or a group of countries, but a universal right of all peoples. It can be realized in multiple ways, and no model can fit all countries… Ultimately, it relies on the support of the people and will be proven by its contribution to human progress.
Therefore, a basic criterion of democracy should be about the people, i.e. whether the people have the right to govern their country, whether their needs are met, and whether they have a sense of fulfilment and happiness. If the people are only awakened when casting their votes and sent back to hibernation when voting is over, if they are served with sweet-sounding slogans in campaigns but have no say after the election, if they are wooed during canvassing but left out in the cold after that, this is not a genuine democracy.”
The following article, written by Danny Haiphong and Carlos Martinez, has been accepted for publication in the journal International Critical Thought, where it will appear in early 2022. We have permission to publish the draft on this website, since the subject matter is particularly pertinent to current debates on the question of democracy.
The word democracy is connected to a large and diverse body of meaning. In the broadest sense, it simply refers to the exercise of power – directly or indirectly – by the people. However, in the leading capitalist countries, its meaning is much more specific: it has become synonymous with the system of ‘liberal democracy’, characterized by a multi-party parliament, universal suffrage, the separation of powers, and a strong emphasis on the protection of private property.
This narrow definition is widely considered in the West as a universal and absolute truth. Indeed, in the dominant Western narrative, adherence to the principles of liberal democracy constitutes the fundamental dividing line in global politics. On one side there is a group of ‘democracies’ (including the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, most of Europe, Japan, India and South Korea) and on the other side a group of ‘non-democracies’ or ‘authoritarian regimes’ (including the People’s Republic of China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cuba, Iran, Russia, Venezuela, and most of the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America).
We are very pleased to publish this original article by Stefania Fusero, analysing the extraordinary successes of China’s targeted poverty alleviation program. The Italian version of the article will be published in two parts in La Città Futura.
In May 2020, PBS, a US public broadcaster, aired “China’s War on Poverty”, a documentary film co-produced with CGTN (Chinese State Television). A few days later, Daily Caller, a right-wing news website, accused the documentary of being “pro-Beijing”. After Fox News followed suit, PBS removed the film from its network.
According to Robert L. Kuhn, the producer of the film, the eradication of poverty in China ought to be understood by everybody, owing to the relevance it bears for the entire planet.
It is undoubtedly the story of a huge success of China’s, therefore it is no surprise that the western media and political establishment does not want it to be known and autonomously evaluated across our “free” world, whose citizens are kept carefully sheltered from any positive news about China.
The film can still be watched on CGTN YouTube channel at this link.
Here we will try to illustrate how the PRC managed to eradicate extreme poverty ten years ahead of the schedule set out in the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
In 2000, all UN member states committed to achieve eight development goals by the year 2015, the so-called Millennium Development Goals, the first of which was to halve the number of people living in poverty. Whereas China managed to achieve the goal by 2015, other countries did not. Thus in 2015 the commitments were reaffirmed in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity announcing seventeen Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030, the first and foremost of which was “to end poverty”.
On the eve of the COP26 Conference in Glasgow, we are very pleased to publish this timely article contributed by Dee Knight, member of the Anti-War Subcommittee of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) International Committee, showing how the two vital struggles, against climate catastrophe and imperialist war, are inextricably linked and relating this to US imperialism’s many decades of implacable hostility to the Chinese revolution in particular as well as to socialism and national liberation in Asia generally.
In the buildup to the World Climate Change summit, slated for Halloween and the first week of November in Glasgow, a NY Times report said “China must pivot away from coal immediately” to avoid climate disaster. The article says “attention is riveted on China and whether it will do more to cut emissions.” It quoted a British member of Parliament saying “China is responsible for almost a quarter of all global emissions right now.”
The Times article acknowledges that China leads the world in hydroelectric, solar and wind power. While admitting the United States has released more human-generated carbon dioxide over the past century than any other country, the article says “China is the biggest current emitter now by a wide margin,”. But on a per capita basis, China’s emissions are less than half the U.S. total. And China is converting to renewables much faster than the U.S.
We are very pleased to publish this original article by Michael Dunford, Professor Emeritus of Sussex University and currently Professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Professor Dunford provides a detailed theoretical, empirical and historical treatment of the key Chinese political concept of common prosperity, outlining its evolution and interpretation through the various phases of the history of the People’s Republic since 1953. Its publication is particularly timely. On 16 October, Qiushi, the main theoretical organ of the Communist Party of China, released the full text of an important speech by President Xi Jinping, delivered in mid-August to the party’s Central Committee for Financial and Economic Affairs, in which the Chinese leader forcefully outlined that now is the time to boldly advance the common prosperity agenda.
In China the idea of common prosperity dates back to 1953. After 1979 China chose to let some people and places get rich first to accelerate economic development, with Deng Xiaoping arguing that public property could prevent social polarization. The result was extraordinary sustained economic growth but at the expense of large increases in urban-rural, regional and social inequalities in income and wealth themselves associated with the growth of private capital. In 1999 the Communist Party of China started to address urban-rural and regional disparities in the name of common prosperity, while under the leadership of Xi Jinping the emphasis on common prosperity has increased markedly alongside domestic goals relating to innovation, improved governance and ecological and spiritual civilization. Starting in 2020 this course has seen strong government action against the disorderly expansion of private capital, monopolies, speculation and the costs of privately provided education, housing and potentially health as well as the establishment of a demonstration zone in Zhejiang province to explore ways to address uneven development and reshape the primary, secondary and tertiary distributions of income.
1 The meaning of common prosperity
On 17th August 2021 in a meeting of the Central Committee for Financial and Economic Affairs ( 中央财经委员会) Chinese President Xi Jinping called on China to promote common prosperity (material, ecological and cultural) in a context of high quality development (在高质量发展中促进共同富裕- zài gāo zhìliàng fāzhǎn zhōng cùjìn gòngtóng fùyù). In circumstances in which indigenous innovation is desired, a new industrial revolution is on the horizon and ecological civilization construction is designed to address environmental challenges, high quality development of the productive forces remains and will remain of vital importance, alone enabling China to advance from an upper middle to a high-income country. However the combination of high quality development with a quest for common prosperity and the increasingly frequent use of this term in defining China’s development direction are particularly significant and increasingly seen as mapping a new phase in China’s path to socialism.
The phrase ‘common prosperity’ first appeared in an article in the People’s Daily on 25th September 1953. On 12th December 1953 it appeared in the headline of a People’s Daily article entitled ‘The Path of Socialism is the Path to Common Prosperity’ (社会主义的路是农民共同富裕的路). Advanced as a step in the path to rural mutual aid, cooperatives and collectivization, collective prosperity was associated with the holding of resources in common. Just four days later the Communist Party of China (CPC) released its ‘Resolution on the Development of Agricultural Production Cooperatives’ (关于发展农业生产合作社的决议). Drafted under the chairmanship of Mao Zedong, it invoked ‘common prosperity’ as a goal of China’s socialist construction.
In the late 1970s the term was often used by Deng Xiaoping to characterize socialism (Deng, 1999, 2014 ). Also in the 1980s it was frequently used in his insistence that common prosperity (entailing the avoidance of polarization) and the predominance of public ownership are fundamental socialist principles.
At the end of the 1970s, however, an earlier association between common prosperity and egalitarianism (平均主义 平均主义 – píngjūn zhǔyì) was rejected. On 15th April 1979 the People’s Daily carried an article entitled: ‘A Few Getting Rich First and Common Prosperity (一部分先富裕和共同富裕). Increasingly, it was argued that to speed up the development of the productive forces, achieve the four modernizations and accelerate the arrival of common prosperity, some people and some places should be allowed to get rich first, with others getting rich later. Deng Xiaoping’s words repeated on a number of occasions are particularly important:
In short, predominance of public ownership and common prosperity are the two fundamental socialist principles that we must adhere to. The aim of socialism is to make all our people prosperous, not to create polarization. If our policies led to polarization, it would mean that we had failed; if a new bourgeoisie emerged, it would mean that we had strayed from the right path. In encouraging some regions to become prosperous first, we intend that they should inspire others to follow their example and that all of them should help economically backward regions to develop. The same holds good for some individuals (Deng, 2014 -b).
In the capitalist mode of production, the means of production and exchange are privately owned. In societies in which the capitalist mode of production predominates, private ownership derives from multiple (often corrupt) processes of accumulation by dispossession, and the concentration and centralization of assets and wealth in the hands of a small share of the population. This concentration of property in the hands of a class of private owners is the root cause of the gap between the rich and the poor. Although these mechanisms can lead in the direction of monopolies, the concentration and centralization of capital derive from market competition which gives rise to unending turbulence. Measures preventing and addressing the emergence of monopoly power do help. However anti-monopoly measures do not prevent the polarization of wealth and income (in the sense of a large and widening gap between rich and poor), as the accumulation of capital in competitive conditions (especially where returns to scale are increasing) is self-reinforcing.
Capital-centred societies have created considerable material wealth, and the material living standards of working people have increased significantly, especially in the post-war Golden Age when the income of low-income groups grew faster than those of high income groups. This outcome was however a result of an economic and political compromise, deriving from the struggles of working class people and their social movements and political parties at home, and the challenge of Communism. In that era trades union wage bargaining saw real wages increase steadily with productivity growth, while welfare states/social security co-existed with the capitalist mode of production (combined in many cases with significant state capital). Welfare funded principally out or taxation paid by the wage earning classes provided citizens with significant minimum rights and life guarantees. This era was however exceptional, and since the 1970s the competitive accumulation of private capital along with governments that principally serve capitalist interests are the main reasons for polarization and the expanded reproduction of income and wealth gaps in capitalist countries. As wealth and income accumulate at one end of the spectrum, non-owners, comprising the great majority of the population, are denied similar rights due to extreme self-reinforcing disparities in the ownership of private assets.
After the 1970s western capitalist societies moved in the direction of marketization, privatization and internationalization and also in the direction of financialization. Alongside the profits of capitalist enterprises, the owners of marketized land, natural resources and natural monopolies acquire economic rents. These rents are associated with monopoly positions, scarcity and differential advantages that cause the market values of the goods and services involving their use (land uses) to exceed their prices of production. In capitalist economies rents accrue to real estate capital and are also financialized: assets are pledged as collateral for financial sector loans, owners incur debts, and revenues on rent yielding assets are transformed into compound interest payments. Credit drives asset price inflation, while debtors unable to repay are expropriated, leading to a greater concentration of wealth in the hands of the financial sector. A relative increase in rentier and financial incomes and asset values diverts income away from real production and consumption, while in the absence of effective regulation capital market liberalization permits capital flight, tax evasion and money laundering. In financialized economies debt grows faster than the real production of goods and services, and financial and real estate interests seek leverage over money, credit creation and quantitative easing. In these conditions inequality increased dramatically.
The aim of socialism is people-centred rather than capital-centred development. The principal goal is to orient economic and social activities towards the production of goods and services that are socially useful, increase social well-being and enable all human beings to realize their potential and live happy and fulfilling lives (common prosperity). Although the material conditions for common prosperity (which itself involves an evolving and not a fixed standard) include development of the productive forces (although not the one-sided pursuit of GDP growth) the avoidance of polarization requires the development and improvement of socialist public ownership which also contributes to the development of the productive forces and national strength. Deng Xiaoping made this clear on repeated occasions. ‘As long as public ownership occupies the main position in our economy, polarization can be avoided,’ he said (Deng, 2014 -a, p. 149). In the public-owned socialist economy in the primitive stage of socialism, distribution should also depend on labour contributions, itself a way of avoiding social polarization. Contributions however vary. As a result incomes will vary but the differences should not be large. At the same time public ownership limits the possibilities of securing very high incomes as a result of personal possession/ownership of means of production and the exploitation of labour by capital (Wei, 2019) as well as of real estate and financial assets.
The implication is that the eventual liberation of the working classes, realization of realm of freedom and comprehensive human development require the replacement of private by collective ownership of economic assets and shared rights to and enjoyment of the fruits of their use in a communist society. The path to communism involves however a series of steps. These steps include a socialist stage (of to each according to his/her contribution) itself evolving from primitive to successively higher levels.
At present however common prosperity is not equality. Not only are people’s living needs differentiated requiring multi-channel supply systems. At the socialist stage (even after the elimination of private ownership of the means of production and exchange) the development of the productive forces remains limited. In the case of China it needs to advance socialist modernization, upgrade, innovate and escape the model of the recent past in which it imported high-end goods and exported low end assembled products. In this situation investment in skills and in indigenous science, technology and innovation are essential and will be associated with a distribution of rewards according to the quantity and quality of labour contributions. At present differences that are justified are moreover widely accepted. Differences that are not are widely condemned. Differences need not be large. In this new stage however the view that one ‘should give priority to efficiency with due consideration to fairness’ (Jiang Zemin, 2002) is decisively giving way to a concept of shared development in which what is produced contributes to material, ecological and cultural needs, excessive primary income and wealth gaps are closed, distribution is reasonable and all develop, building on China’s success in eliminating extreme poverty
The realization of common prosperity echoes the construction of a community of shared future for mankind: the establishment of an international division of labour has created a world in which developed countries with their relatively advanced industrial and military technologies and their financial power extract value from developing countries reproducing a global divide between the rich and the poor. Common prosperity as a national ambition has a counterpart in a global demand for shared development and common prosperity.
2 China’s path
The identification of a new path of common prosperity is a new step in the evolution of the new China. In 1949 China was virtually the poorest country in the world. In the next 30 years it grew at an average rate of 6.3% per year. China remained a low income country, but according to The World Bank (1981, p. 101), 1979 life expectancy of 64 was higher than the average of 51 for low income countries and 61 for middle-income countries, adult literacy stood at 66% compared with 39% in low income countries and 72% in middle income, while net primary school enrollment (93%) was just short of that for industrialized countries (94%). China’s population had nearly doubled. In the words of a glowing 1983 World Bank Report ‘China’s most remarkable achievement during the past three decades’ was to have made ‘low-income groups far better off in terms of basic needs than their counterparts in most other poor countries’ due to priorities attached to food, education and health. The authors of the report concluded that with the right policies China’s ‘immense wealth of human talent, effort and discipline’ would enable it ‘within a generation or so, to achieve a tremendous increase in the living standards of its people’ (The World Bank, 1983).
In the early 1970s after the visit of US President Richard Nixon to China a US embargo ended and China started to acquire western technologies. In 1979 it embarked on reform and opening up leading to historically unprecedented economic growth. As industrialization, urbanization and informatization advanced, China grew on average at 9.3% per year. By 2020 China was an upper middle income country with an average Gross National Income per head of US$ 10,610. At present it is expected to join the ranks of high-income economies during the country’s 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) period.
China’s extraordinary growth transformed it into the second largest economy in the world, the world’s largest exporter, the second largest exporter of capital, the holder of huge foreign currency reserves (US$ 3.20 trillion in January 2021, down from a peak of 3.8 trillion in 2014), the owner of a currency that is increasingly used to settle international payments, the owner of a vast, increasingly affluent and highly coveted domestic market where permanent urban residents account for 60% of the population, a country with (as a result of painful reforms) a powerful core set of state and collectively owned enterprises and a country that has led recent world economic growth.
As a result of the prioritization of GDP, growth occurred however at the cost of serious environmental damage, growing inequalities in income and wealth, growing rural-urban and regional disparities and a rapid increase (from 10,000 in 1994 and more quickly from 1997 to reach 87,000 in 2005 according to official Public Security Bureau figures) in mass incidents (involving in the new millennium at least 100 and up to 10,000 people and often involving petitions to central government relating to employment, land acquisition, demolitions, pollution and official conduct).
As already mentioned, after the restoration of national sovereignty and the establishment of a basic industrial system and minimum life guarantees, overall priority was given from 1979 to the development of the productive forces allowing, some people and places to get rich first. This phase lasted until 1999.with a more decisive change of course with the arrival of China’s new leadership group in 2013. Commencing at first in a limited way in 1999 common prosperity came to mark a new phase of development in which everyone should get rich together and wealth is conceived in political, cultural and ecological as well as in material terms (Ge, 2021). More specifically, in 1998 the Third Plenary Session of the 15th Central Committee of the CPC (CCCPC) addressed the question of agriculture and the sān nóng wèntí (three rural problems of agriculture, farmers and the countryside). This discussion opened the way to a succession of reforms to grant farmers secure rights to contracted land and use rights transfer, improve infrastructure and public services, to establish a new socialist countryside by 2010 and from 2003 to introduce a New Rural Co-operative Medical System and minimum life guarantees.
In 1999 western development was set in motion. The aims were to expand domestic demand and drive economic growth in the aftermath of the Asian Financial Crisis and to contribute to ‘common prosperity’.These measures were followed by measures to support Northeast and Central China. In 2000 to 2007, central government financial transfers reaching nearly 1.5 trillion yuan and national debt, budgetary and departmental construction funds in excess of 730 billion yuan were allocated to the West. In subsequent years regional gaps (with the exception of Northeast China) started to close (Figure 1).
In 2013-15 China’s new leadership adopted a new eight-year targeted poverty alleviation campaign to identify poverty households and lift them out of poverty. This campaign enabled the CPC to meet its first centenary target of ending extreme poverty by 2020. In the 5th Plenary of 18th CCCPC in 2015 a strong emphasis was placed on shared development and common prosperity.  At the opening of the 19th National Congress of the CPC President Xi Jinping announced that the principal contradiction was no longer ‘the ever-growing material and cultural needs of the people versus backward social production’ identified in 1981 but ‘the contradiction between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life’. And in January 2021 at a seminar for provincial and ministerial level officials on the guiding principles of the Fifth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee, Xi Jinping said:
At the Fifth Plenary Session, I underscored five characteristics in particular. China’s modernization must cover a massive population, lead to common prosperity, deliver both material and cultural-ethical progress, promote harmony between humanity and nature, and proceed along a path of peaceful development. … ‘Realizing common prosperity is more than an economic goal. It is a major political issue that bears on our Party’s governance foundation. We cannot allow the gap between the rich and the poor to continue growing—for the poor to keep getting poorer while the rich continue growing richer. We cannot permit the wealth gap to become an unbridgeable gulf. Of course, common prosperity should be realized in a gradual way that gives full consideration to what is necessary and what is possible and adheres to the laws governing social and economic development. At the same time, however, we cannot afford to just sit around and wait. We must be proactive about narrowing the gaps between regions, between urban and rural areas, and between rich and poor people. We should promote all-around social progress and well-rounded personal development, and advocate social fairness and justice, so that our people enjoy the fruits of development in a fairer way.’ (Xi Jinping, 2021).
3 The growth in inequalities
As already mentioned, in 2019 China’s GNI per capita (Atlas method) reached US$ 10,390, making it an upper middle-income country. In Japan and the US it reached US$ 41,580 and US$ 65,910, respectively (World Development Indicators | DataBank (worldbank.org). China’s growth was fast, but growth rates and starting points varied, generating excessive disparities in wealth and income. These disparities increased from the start of reform and opening up in 1979 until well into the new millennium.
Inter-provincial and rural-urban inequalities declined in the early 1980s, but subsequently increased especially from the early 1990s until the western financial crisis when they started to decline (Figure 1) although they remained high. At present, China’s middle-income groups account for about 30% of the total population. The proportion of low-income groups is still large. In May 2020, Premier Li Keqiang caused shockwaves when he announced that 600 million people were making less than 1,000 yuan per month (US$153), although the country’s average disposable income per capita stood at 30,000 yuan. The income Gini coefficient increased from under 0.3 in the early 1980s to 0.49 in 2008 after which it declined slowly (Ravallion & Chen, 2007; Sicular, 2020). In 2019 it stood at 0.465 (Figure 2). World Bank estimates are lower, its estimate of 0.385 in 2016 (o.462 according to the National Bureau of Statistics) compared with 0.414 in the United States in 2018 and 0.329 in Japan in 2013. In the case of wealth China’s Gini coefficient increased very strongly from 0.450 in 1995 to 0.720 in 2013 (according to the Peking University China Family Panel Studies). In 2020 it stood at 0.704 compared with 0.850 in the US and 0.644 in Japan. (Credit Suisse, 2022), while recent evidence points to a large increase in wealth inequality since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although almost all real incomes have increased overall since 1979 (but not in all sub-periods), common prosperity seems far off and presents an arduous and complicated task that will be promoted in a gradual and progressive manner.
The rich are predominantly private entrepreneurs whose wealth derives from privatization and the development of private industry, property development and finance. The rest are mainly superstars in the realm of media and entertainment. Generally speaking the richer they are the more likely they are to make money.
As already mentioned , the incomes of low income groups have increased overall and the size of low-income groups has declined. The income and wealth gaps between low income groups and the rich are however very large and have increased. These gaps are therefore relative. But relative differences matter a great deal for several reasons. On the one hand, an increase in real wages as a result of an increase in the stock of society’s wealth may involve a relative decline in wages as a share of society’s total wealth. On the other, as Marx pointed out in Wage Labour and Capital
‘An appreciable rise in wages presupposes a rapid growth of productive capital. Rapid growth of productive capital calls forth just as rapid a growth of wealth, of luxury, of social needs and social pleasures. Therefore, although the pleasures of the labourer have increased, the social gratification which they afford has fallen in comparison with the increased pleasures of the capitalist, … in comparison with the stage of development of society in general. Our wants and pleasures have their origin in society; we therefore measure them in relation to society; we do not measure them in relation to the objects which serve for their gratification. Since they are of a social nature, they are of a relative nature.’ (Marx, 1891 , p. 16).
To address this issue and move in the direction of common prosperity China plans to make major efforts to increase the share of household income in total national income, increase the share of the compensation of labour in the primary distribution of income, increase the income of low income groups, expand the share of middle income earners, and address excessively high incomes, reversing the excessive widening of income and wealth gaps as quickly as possible. More attention will also be paid to secondary and tertiary redistribution and decommodification with measures relating to taxation, health insurance, social security, affordable housing, Hukou (household registration) reform, poverty alleviation, rural vitalization and charity. Other measures will address the structure of the economy dealing with monopolies and externalities, orienting investment towards real productive sectors, expanding consumer demand and improving people’s livelihoods.
4 Causes and measures
Addressing the wealth and income gaps and promoting common prosperity involves identifying causes and reforms that deal effectively with these causes. As already explained, the main driver of polarization is the development of the private sector where substantial private wealth accumulates at one pole and many workers are subject to insecure employment and wages and inadequate public service access at the other. In the private sector wages and social protection are usually far lower than in the state and collective sector: in 2015 the average wage was 65% higher in SOEs than in private enterprises. In the private sector the average wage was one-third less than the average disposable income of an employee in an urban household (Qi & Kotz, 2020, p. 10).
The distribution and ownership of material and financial conditions of production and exchange (mode of production) is the main determinant of the primary distribution of income. To argue that the initial distribution should reflect efficiency and not equity and that subsequent redistribution should address equity separates production from distribution and sanctions large inequalities as inequalities are fundamentally determined by an unequal, unfair and inequitable distribution of assets. As a result addressing the ownership of assets and limiting the marketization of assets are vital. The significance of this issue was highlighted by an estimate mentioned in 2020 by Ning Jixuan, Deputy Director of the National Development and Reform Commission when he announced at a State Council press conference that China’s state assets accumulated as a result of massive infrastructure investment stood at 1300 trillion Yuan.
In this respect an important suggestion was recently made by Cheng Enfu (2021), namely that China conduct experiments with the implementation of a national dividend deriving from the surplus operating income earned on state-owned assets. Macao has already conducted an operation of this kind paying a ‘red envelope’ of 9,000 Yuan to each permanent resident and 5,400 to non-permanent residents in 2014, having started to make payments in 2008.  A dividend would provide a new income stream that reflects the ownership of collective and state assets by all of the population and is subject to the same market attributes and governance rules as other economic subjects.
Alongside ownership relations, corruption, monopolies, superstar phenomena and markets have been identified as causes of inequality. These factors are not however the root cause of social polarization. In the case of celebrity phenomena incomes are excessive but these incomes are not a cause of the existence of large numbers of low income people.
In the case of corruption President Xi Jinping China has launched a major anti-corruption campaign. In 2018 the governmnet organized a three-year campaign to ‘Combat organized crime and root out local Mafia’ [打击有组织犯罪, 铲除当地黑手党 – dǎjī yǒu zǔzhī fànzuì, chǎnchú dāngdì hēishǒudǎng]. The aim was to address rent-seeking relationships between government and business and it resulted in the eradication of 3,644 organizations and disrupted interest consolidation mechanisms. Addressing the corruption of government officials plays a vital role in establishing public trust in government. Although some people did secretly enrich themselves, corruption is however not the root cause of wealth and income divides: it does not adequately explain the wealth of the rich, nor does it explain the large size and limited wealth of low income groups (Wei, 2019).
Official corruption did play an indirect role: in some cases officials and managers acted corruptly in enabling economic initiatives and permitted the misappropriation of state assets through for example questionable management buyouts and restructuring of state-owned and collective enterprises. These privatizations made some people very rich almost overnight and saw many workers laid off (Wei, 2019). In each year from 1982 until 1992 state assets worth 50 billion Yuan were transferred to the private sector. In the 1990s this figure stood at 500 billion Yuan. According to a 2007 survey at least one-third of the private capital stock of 7 trillion Yuan was transferred from the state and collective sector (Wei, 2019) with significant layoffs and changes in employment conditions for their workers. These layoffs contributed directly to the existence of large numbers of people in low income groups.
At the end of the 1990s and In the new millennium opposition to privatization intensified. As a result from 2004 management buyouts of large State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) came to an end with much stricter rules applied to acquisitions of smaller SOEs. In 2005 a draft property law was deferred for revision (Blanchette, 2019 chapter 2).
In social terms these reforms were extremely painful. As already mentioned, they led to the layoff and reduced social protection of millions of workers. The outcome was however the establishment of a smaller but highly competitive set of collective and state-owned enterprises that in 2020 accounted for more than one-third of capital investment (not far short of the private sector). Indeed since 2003 China’s Central SOES have experienced a significant rise and expansion under the leadership of the State Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC) and in the context of employing market competition as an instrument of a developmental state strategy (Chen, 2017).
The existence of monopolies can also affect the distribution of income. Monopolies are however not the root cause of income and wealth gaps. In 2012 90% of state and collective enterprises were in competitive sectors. In the case of natural monopolies SOEs pay high taxes and use profits to fund investment. In each case the main shareholders are public. In the private sector the quest for increased private wealth has led to the appearance of a series of problems of which some involve monopolistic practices, but it is ownership rather than monopoly market positions that explains increasing inequality.
In 2012 one China’s leading neoliberal economists, Zhang Weiying, claimed that in the new millennium market-oriented reform had been reversed on the grounds that ‘the state owned sector advances but the private sector retreats’ (Xiang, 2020). In the following year the World Bank and the Development Research Centre of the State Council published a report calling for a set of neoliberal economic reforms: redefinition of the role of government, a restructuring of state enterprises and banks, development of the private sector and reforms of land, labour and financial markets.
In 2012, however, in dealing with the need for structural economic reform, the 18th CPC National Congress called for consolidating and developing the public sector of the economy. Although the state sector has contracted in the reform era, China still has a large SOE sector and has ruled out further privatization. In addition it has a state-owned banking system, and the public ownership of land is written into the Constitution (although land is leased and subsequent increases in value are not captured by the state but by private actors). In 2017 China had more than 150,000 SOEs (Lin, Lu, Zhang, & Zheng, 2020). In 2015 SOEs accounted for 30.9% of tax income. In industrial sector SOEs account for 38.8% of revenue (Qi & Kotz, 2020, p. 1). In the last few years SOEs and collective enterprises accounted for more than 35% of aggregate fixed asset investment with the private sector accounting for a similar share. SOEs occupy commanding heights of the economy, create economy wide externalities, invest in essential capital intensive industries, adopt a high road approach to employment, absorb labour to maintain social stability, undertake countercyclical investments and serve to limit foreign control. At the same time its existence limits the accumulation of private assets and provides opportunities to reduce social polarization and contribute to common prosperity.
5 Common prosperity in the new era
On August 29, 2021, Li Guangman’s Ice Point Commentary entitled ‘Everyone can feel a critical change is taking place’ was republished across Chinese state-owned media outlets. In it he declared ‘The capital market will no longer become a paradise for capitalists to get rich overnight. … The cultural market will no longer be a paradise for sissy (effeminate) stars, and news and public opinion will no longer be in a position worshiping Western culture.’
In the last few years the Chinese government has pursued the common prosperity agenda with a series of striking reforms. These reforms amount to a major crackdown on tech, platform economy and other monopolies (online food delivery, car and truck hailing, recruitment), on real estate (red lines controlling debt and associated risks) and financial capital (shadow banking), on owners seeking to get rich by going public on foreign stock markets and on wealthy elites. Housing and education were other targets with the latter said to have been ‘hijacked’ by capital. As a result of liberalization, private initiatives and serious regulatory deficiencies or oversights the costs of housing, education and health have exploded, creating three mountains whose rising costs and declining affordability crowd out other household expenditure and limit the domestic side of dual circulation. A consequence of the large increase in the cost of living is an increase also in the cost of raising children which acts as a serious disincentive to couples giving birth to the three children the government hopes to see them raise. Measures were directed at property development and management, at private finance and speculation not only to reduce costs but also to reduce the risks of real estate and financial market crises. Other measures placed limits on increases in market rents and steps may be taken to deal with unoccupied housing. In May 2021 the Chinese internet finance, banking and payment clearance associations banned the use of crypto currencies (not the official digital yuan) about which it has been concerned since 2013. In June 2021 it finally shuttered crypto-mining operations that were present in energy-rich provinces. In addition some state-linked or very large corporations are allowed to teeter towards default.
In December 2020, at the Central Economic Work Conference, Xi Jinping tasked government agencies with curbing the ‘disorderly expansion of capital’ along with other important economic tasks including strengthening technological innovation, increasing domestic demand and moving in the direction of carbon neutrality and ecological civilization. In his words ‘lucid waters and lush mountains are as precious as mountains of silver and gold’.
To ‘prevent the disorderly expansion of capital’ China started to address the power of tech companies with a storm of regulation. This regulation was clearly already in preparation when in October 2020 Alibaba Group Holding founder Jack Ma criticized the Chinese government for excessive regulation and condemned the capital requirements imposed on financial institutions. Ma’s Ant Group initial public offering (IPO) on the Shanghai and Hong Kong stock markets was halted by the government authorities. A part of the Alibaba multinational e-commerce Group Ant Group uses mobile internet, big data and cloud computing to discover and provide highly leveraged micro financial services at high interest rates to vulnerable people creating a growing mountain of debt. Alibaba Group accounted for less than 2% of the funds Ant Group lends. All in all Alibaba poses risks that are too large (Tsui, He, & Yan, 2021). Alibaba, Tencent Holdings and Baidu have all been fined for anti-competitive practices (exclusivity arrangements, for example). New draft rules for overseeing Big Tech have been published, including for regulations concerning antitrust and personal data protection (a Personal Information Protection Law) and national data security (a Data Security Law). New video gaming rules that limit playing time for people under 18 years of age to just three hours per week will adversely affect the video games sector. These measures are a repudiation of the imported individualistic cultural values and addictions of western society and are designed to encourage science, technology, innovation and education, win the next technological race and alter the profile of the economy in favour of strategically important and socially useful industries. In the specific case of these industries measures are designed to address the threat their dominance poses to competition, privacy and through their fintech empires to financial stability. These measures also deal with their non-compliance with regulation. For example companies did not report acquisitions, while the use of Variable Interest Equity (VIE) that allowed largely unsupervised overseas Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) was questioned. VIE is a structure in which Chinese companies raise massive amounts of capital through offshore share issues which involve the sale of a majority of shares (in shell companies registered in tax havens) yet maintain a controlling interest. These companies can then invest in China circumventing restrictions on the entry of foreign capital.
On 30th June Didi Global, a Chinese ride-hailing company, raised $4.4 billion on its debut on the New York Stock Exchange. On 2nd July 2021, it was accused by the Cyberspace Administration of China of illegally collecting users’ personal data and not adequately ensuring data security. Its app was removed from phones in mainland China and it will incur a large fine. In less than one month it lost about $29 billion in market value. In principle because of its VIE structure, DiDi, which is incorporated in the Cayman Islands, did not need Chinese government approval to list in New York. However, the cyber security administration was concerned about the sensitivity of its data and suggested DiDi postpone the floatation. DiDi ignored the warning.
On July 24, 2021, the General Office of the CCCPC and the General Office of the State Council jointly released the Guidelines for Further Easing the Burden of Excessive Homework and Off-campus Tutoring for Students at the Stage of Compulsory Education. The guidelines included some thirty measures to stop after school, weekend, national holiday and school vacation courses that were expected to earn private companies US$183 billion per year by 2023. After declaring that education had been hijacked by capital, it decided to stop licensing new tutorial centres and course providers for elementary and high school students, while existing ones will face stricter reviews and be regulated as not-for-profit entities whose programmes must be approved by the government. No foreign capital can invest in them (as had happened as a result of the speculative capitalization of Chinese education companies on the US stock market via VIE arrangements). These reforms follow a new education law that limits private sector involvement in core education and disallows the use of foreign education materials.
These measures will reduce the enormous pressures on young people in a highly competitive education system oriented towards performance in the gaokao examinations which drive entry to China’s top universities and career prospects. The aims are to improve the school-life balance for children and their families, level a playing field on which the children of low-income and rural households were seriously disadvantaged, reduce financial pressures on parents faced with exorbitant fees for private lessons (US$60-220 per hour in Beijing) which absorb a very large share of their incomes and restrict ‘encroachment’ on public education including the poaching of teachers as part-time private sector tutors. The new measures will put an end to the extraordinary profitability of a $180 billion industry and decimated stock values. When the news of the measures leaked out, shares in New Oriental Education & Technology Group Inc plunged by a record 47% in Hong Kong, while those of Koolearn Technology Holding Ltd. tumbled 33% and China Maple Leaf Educational Systems Ltd by 10%. These losses spilled into other technology, healthcare and property sectors where regulation was expected to tighten. All in all these events erased $769 billion in value from US-listed Chinese stocks in just five months.
On 26th July China’s State Administration for Market Regulation announced that food delivery firms will be required to guarantee the couriers their platforms employ a minimum income that is in excess of the minimum salary, relax delivery deadlines, strengthen traffic safety education and ensure that couriers join social insurance programmes. After this announcement the shares in Meituan, a food delivery giant, declined by 26%.
At the end of August 2021 China’s Supreme People’s Court and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security issued a lengthy condemnation of ‘996’, the practice of working from 9 in the morning until 9 in the evening six days per week (described in 2019 as a ‘huge blessing’ by Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma). This practice is said to be common among the country’s technology companies, startups and other private businesses. The document stated that ‘adhering to the national working hour system is the legal obligation of employers’. In January 2021 e-commerce giant, Pinduoduo was accused of over-working its employees after two died unexpectedly.
In July and August 2021 the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural development pledged to stabilize property prices, and started to cap housing rents in cities, saying that they should not rise by more than 5% per year. In 2017 at the 19th Party Congress Xi Jinping announced that ‘houses are for living in and not for speculation’. In subsequent years steps have been taken to control house prices and increase government-subsidized rental housing. Other measures may address the existence of non-occupied homes. Credit availability along with a limited supply of new residential land has kept up the price of urban land. The initial sale of leases is a major source of local government revenue, but subsequent increases in land values are not captured, while low-cost construction land is provided to companies to drive local economic development. The government has also required local authorities to scrutinize closely all the activities of developers from the arrangement of finance to the transfer of ownership titles.
In early September 2021 the National Radio and Television Administration (NRTA) issued a document calling for strengthening of the management of cultural and entertainment programmes and personnel and giving specific guidance on what the entertainment industry can and cannot do. This step followed a series of celebrity tax and other scandals and the removal of TV shows and programmes featuring celebrities caught up in them.
Centred on continuing steady increases in income and high quality development, common prosperity aims to increase the size of middle income groups, raise the earnings of low income groups and reduce excessive incomes in a three-stage income distribution and tax system. The first stage involves an increase in primary incomes. The goals included an increase in the wage share (seen as the main component of income), increased property income (equity transfer and dividends) from rural homesteads, contracted land, rural assets and collective land used for construction, enriched capital market income, an improved environment for urban self-employed whose incomes are predominantly low and whose work situation is unstable and employee stock ownership.
The second is the tax and social security system. New taxes will be imposed on property, inheritance and capital gains and on high-income groups. Excessive incomes will be reduced, illicit incomes prohibited and monopoly rents reduced. The capping of SOE executives’ salaries will be refined. As for social security the aim is equitable access to improved public services (with significant increases in the quantity, quality and accessibility of public provision of elderly care, health, pre-school and school education making use of information technologies. Universal social protection (while dependent on high employment rates) will narrow gaps in the primary distribution and share the fruits of growth, while a decline in savings rates will increase expenditure, reinforcing domestic circulation.
The third is an improvement of mechanisms and preferential policies that will encourage high-income groups and enterprises to give back some of what they have gained from society in the shape of voluntary gifts and charitable donations. Government documents have referred to tertiary distribution since at least the 1990s but the importance attached to it has increased with an emphasis on government-recognized charity and social assistance organizations and government projects (to help elderly, lonely, sick, disabled and poverty-afflicted people) has increased as has the attention paid to it.
Zhejiang demonstration zone for Common Prosperity
In June 2021 the State Council issued an Opinion of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China on supporting high quality development and construction of a common prosperity demonstration zone in Zhejiang (The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China, 2021). This document drew on aspects of the ‘Eight-Eight strategy’ (eight advantages and eight initiatives) identified by Xi Jinping in 2003 when he was provincial Party Secretary. One month earlier in 2021 the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural affairs and Zhejiang provincial government announced a series of rural vitalization demonstration zone measures.
The choice of Zhejiang as a demonstration zone was striking as in that province the state sector accounts for just 35% of GDP compared with 40% nationally. Although this choice reflects a comparatively high regional income per capita (1.63 times the national average with about one-half earning 100,000 to 500,000 per year) in rural and urban areas and a relatively small rural-urban income gap (1.96), it is probably designed to demonstrate that while the province’s dominant private companies have an important role to play the CPC rules.
The Opinions identified six aspects and twenty-eight measures. The first aspect concerned the guiding ideology, adherence to overall party leadership and the goals of high quality development, a high quality of life, ecological and spiritual civilization rooted in socialist ideals and Chinese civilization. As an experimental area for the reform of the income distribution system, the Opinions called for adherence to the principle that distribution depends mainly on work and protection of the compensation of labour which coexists alongside other sources of income where improved policies are required, continuous increases in urban and rural incomes and a narrowing of the income gap. Also development goals were set for 2025 and 2035 by when Zhejiang’ GDP per capita is expected to equal that of economically advanced countries.
The second point was that the quality and efficiency of development are to lay the material foundations for common prosperity. The Opinions called for vigorous improvements in independent innovation, scientific and technological self-reliance and self-improvement, the establishment with strategic support of new competitive advantages and the consolidation and expansion of the real economy, increased economic efficiency, and increased vitality of market actors giving ‘full play to the strategic supporting role of the state owned economy and preventing the ‘disorderly expansion of capital’.
The third aspect was deepening reform of the income distribution system and increasing the income of rural and urban residents through multiple channels. The document specified fuller and higher quality employment, life-long education and training, collective wage bargaining and an increase in labour compensation, continuous improvements in incomes, expansion of middle income groups, an improved distribution system and encouraging the return to society of wealth and income (tertiary distribution).
The fourth point concerned the narrowing of the development gap between urban and rural areas and realizing the sharing of high-quality public services. The measures identified include equalization of the provision of basic social services, integrated development of urban and rural areas, improved living conditions in the city and countryside including new urbanization, adhering to the position that houses are for living and not for speculation, development of affordable housing and rural revitalization with an ecological, rational, collectively owned and cooperative rural economy, a strong social security system and improved assistance of less advanced by more advanced areas including stronger east (coast) west (mountain) counterpart assistance.
The fifth concerned development of a ‘cultural highland in the new era’ and an enrichment of people’s spiritual and cultural life. Involved are socialist ideology and core socialist values and support for traditional Chinese culture, revolutionary culture and advanced socialist culture.
The sixth aspect involved the practical application of the idea that ‘lucid waters and green mountains are as precious as mountains of silver and gold’ and the creation of a beautiful and livable living environment. Stronger land use planning and control, improved spatial organization, ecological protection, protection of arable land, reduced carbon emissions, green finance and recycling and a circular economy are all involved.
The seventh aspect refers to the Fengqiao experience [枫桥经验- fēngqiáo jīngyàn] considered a model of rural governance that involves ‘relying on the masses to resolve contradictions locally’. The aim is to improve governance capacity and efficiency with digital reform and establish a grassroots governance system which integrates autonomy, the rule of law, the rule of virtue and the rule of intelligence and improves democratic consultation. More generally the construction of a Zhejiang under the rule of law and a safe Zhejiang.
The eighth aspect concerns a series of safeguards: upholding and strengthening the overall leadership of the CPC, strengthening a system involving central government guidance and overall planning, provincial responsibility and implementation by cities and counties, improving approval and supervision mechanisms and establishing an evaluation system.
The next steps involved the fleshing out of a plan by the provincial government, a leadership group and individual departments and local government. In July 2021, Zhejiang Province launched a road map aiming amongst other things to increase provincial residents’ per capita disposable income to 75,000 yuan ($11,560) by 2025, raise the compensation of labour to more than 50% of GDP, increase higher education enrollment to more than 70% and reduce personal health expenditure below 26% of total expenditure. The first set of 28 pilot projects were announced, and municipal governments were asked to outline their three-year plans for achievements that could be replicated and promoted in other cities.
China’s development path is evolving. In a country accounting for nearly one-fifth of the world’s population the aim is to promote common prosperity, while making progress in material terms (indigenous innovation, industrial upgrading, and dual circulation articulating an expanding domestic market with international markets for exports and imports) and also in cultural, ethical and spiritual terms. At the same time it aims to promote harmony between humanity and nature (ecological civilization).
Strikingly western economic experts have claimed that China’s decision to crack down on finance, property and private tech is in growth terms suicidal. A system involving market-driven state and collective ownership, planning and investment with a wide range of co-existing enterprise types is considered incapable of performing as well as one centred on profit-driven private capital and free markets for resources and assets of all kinds. If one simply compares the past and current growth records of China (with China growing at some 6% per year and the US and EU at less than 1% recently with little prospect of reaching much more than 2% for a sustained period of time as well as the dubiousness of the measured contributions of real estate and finance to G7 growth), this claim is quite astonishing. Almost certainly it reflects the mistaken view that China’s growth was driven by its private sector and the extraordinary view that unregulated tech, finance and property sectors make major contributions to human prosperity. In China as in the G7 private sector profitability has declined explaining in part why speculation and unproductive investment increased. The growth of labour productivity and investment in the real economy, innovation, new infrastructure and socially useful public services are what China’s economy can deliver, whereas G7 economies as currently constituted cannot.
The socialist public-owned economy with state-owned economy as its core is the necessary institutional arrangement. The socialist public-owned economy is not only the necessary condition and foundation to eliminate polarization and realize common prosperity, but also the institutional guarantee of rapid development of productive forces as China’s investment share testifies: in western countries investment has stagnated due to a decline in private profitability. In order to realize fairness and justice and common prosperity, China will adhere to and improve its economic system which is led by a state-owned economy that exists alongside a variety of other types of property including foreign and private capital and widespread and strongly encouraged innovative micro entrepreneurship. In a situation in which disorderly capital accumulation, monopolies and speculation will be brought under control, the rich will be able to remain rich, but the poor will not continue to be poor.
Cáo Yǒngdòng (2021) 新思想对马克思主义共同富裕理论的丰富与拓展 xīn sīxiǎng duì mǎkèsīzhǔyì gòngtóng fùyù lǐlùn de fēngfù yú tuòzhǎn [New ideas enrich and expand the Marxist theory of common prosperity], guójiā zhìlǐ (National Governance), 8(342): 3-7. https://page.om.qq.com/page/OOYEHBm3MZoQUahSPPmh4SNA0.
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 The author would like to thank Qi Bing for providing some of the Chinese language material.
 In some cases it is claimed that China is an example of state capitalism. Without entering this controversy it is important to note as Lenin emphasized that state capitalism under capitalism and socialism differ and that the former is a ‘step towards socialism’ (Lenin, 1983 ) while Mao (and indeed Stalin) spoke of a need to ‘develop socialist commodity production and commodity exchange. The implication is that commodity production under socialism and capitalism differ (Coderre, 2019, 34).
 ‘in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic’ (Marx & Engels, 1968 ).
 We should give priority to efficiency with due consideration to fairness, earnestly implementing the distribution policy while advocating the spirit of devotion and guarding against an excessive disparity in income while opposing equalitarianism. In primary distribution, we should pay more attention to efficiency, bringing the market forces into play and encouraging part of the people to become rich first through honest labor and lawful operations. In redistribution, we should pay more attention to fairness and strengthen the function of the government in regulating income distribution to narrow the gap if it is too wide. We should standardize the order of income distribution, properly regulate the excessively high income of some monopoly industries and outlaw illegal gains. Bearing in mind the objective of common prosperity, we should try to raise the proportion of the middle-income group and increase the income of the low-income group’ (Jiang, 2002).
 In official documents reference is made to ‘the income distribution system with labour distribution as the main body and multiple coexisting distribution modes, focusing on protecting labour income and perfecting the mechanism of factor participation in distribution.’ Alongside wages, the rents, interest, profits and capital gains of landowners/possessors, capital owners and owners of financial wealth co-exist.
 澳门再发全民红包：居民9000元 非永久居民5400元 [àomén zàifā quánmín hóngbāo: jūmín 9000 yuán fēiyǒngjiǔjūmín 5400 yuán: Macao reissued a red packet for all people: 9,000 Yuan for residents and 5,400 Yuan for non-permanent residents. 澳门再发全民红包：居民9000元 非永久居民5400元_新闻_腾讯网 (qq.com)
 ‘The underlying issue we face in economic structural reform is how to strike a balance between the role of the government and that of the market, and we should follow more closely the rules of the market and better play the role of the government. We should unwaveringly consolidate and develop the public sector of the economy; allow public ownership to take diverse forms; deepen reform of state-owned enterprises; improve the mechanisms for managing all types of state assets; and invest more of state capital in major industries and key fields that comprise the lifeline of the economy and are vital to national security. We should thus steadily enhance the vitality of the state-owned sector of the economy and its capacity to leverage and influence the economy.’ 十八大报告全文英汉对照 [shíbā dà bàogào quánwén yīnghàn duìzhào – English Chinese comparison of the full text of the report of the 18th National Congress十八大报告全文英汉对照 (chinadaily.com.cn)http://language.chinadaily.com.cn/19thcpcnationalcongress/2017-10/16/content_32684880_5.htm In 2013 the Third Plenary of the 18th CCCPC decided that the market plays a decisive role in resource allocation but as President Xi Jinping explained the government also plays a role that it should improve (Cheng, 2020).
 A pilot affecting twelve large property developers subjects their debt to three red lines: a liability-to- presale -asset ratio of no more than 70%; a net debt-to-equity ratio of under 100%; and cash holdings at least equal to short-term debt,
 In sectors where China restricts or prohibits foreign participation Chinese companies set up shell companies in a tax haven such as the Cayman Islands with a similar name. The original company sets up agreements that give the shell company a claim on the profits and control over the assets of the original company. The shell company then registers on the New York Stock Exchange and sells shares to investors under the name of the Chinese company. Although these shares do not entail any company ownership claims, the Chinese company can raise international capital, and international investors secure a share of the Chinese company’s profits. The Chinese government would prefer that capital is raised on domestic capital markets where it can also ensure that it goes to industries it wants to see develop and avoids areas it deems a threat to the common good.
 In August 2021 tech giant Tencent Holdings donated US $7.7 billion towards ‘common prosperity’ to support low-income groups, rural revitalization, healthcare and education after having in April 2021 committed US $7.7 billion towards ‘sustainable innovations for social value’. Nasdaq-listed e-commerce website Pinduoduo announced that it would donate its second-quarter profit and all future earnings until the sum reached 10 billion Yuan ($1.5 billion) for China’s agricultural development.
 In G7 countries the rate of growth of productivity in real sectors has almost progressively declined. In liberal market economics it is argued that capital is allocated efficiently to activities according to the marginal efficiency of capital (Keynes) or marginal productivity (neoclassics). Yet the marginal efficiency of capital in which capitalists are interested has declined and with it real productivity increasing investment (see also Wei, 2019).
We are pleased to publish this original article by Roland Boer (Professor of Marxist Philosophy at Dalian University of Technology, China, and author of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics: A Guide for Foreigners (Springer, 2021)). The article provides the reader with a very valuable introduction to China’s socialist democratic system, a topic about which there is widespread ignorance in the West.
We need to talk more – much more – about China’s socialist democratic system. Why? There are many reasons, but the main reason is that we should not let the criticisms of China from the small number of “Western” countries set the agenda. So let me propose the following thesis: China’s socialist democratic system is already quite mature and superior to any other democratic system. Actually, this is not my proposition, but that of a host of Chinese specialists. They are very clear that China’s socialist democratic system is already showing its latent quality. Obviously, we need to know much more about how this system works and how it is constantly improving.