The relationship between US imperialism and People’s Republic Of China (PRC) has been marked by contradictions and antagonisms even during the periods of relatively positive relations. In recent years, however, the antagonisms have increased dramatically.
This has led the Chinese foreign ministry increasingly to criticise US government actions in public – and these criticisms have been mounting in frequency and severity as Nato’s provocation of the war in Ukraine and the USA’s ramping up of hybrid warfare actions against China have accelerated along with the deepening of the world economic crisis.
Frank condemnation of US aggression and hypocrisy
At a press conference in March, newly-elected Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang outlined his government’s views of the difficulties in continuing to pursue a mutually respectful and constructive relationship with the United States.
This followed the issuing two weeks earlier of a foreign ministry position paper that identified five key areas of global activity in which the USA abuses its dominant power:
- Political hegemony – throwing its weight around
- Military hegemony – wanton use of force
- Economic hegemony – looting and exploitation
- Technological hegemony – monopoly and suppression
- Cultural hegemony – spreading false narratives
The paper is well worth reading in full. Couched in eminently reasonable language, the charges it outlines are simply unarguable for anyone who prefers dealing in facts as opposed to partisan hyperbole. (US hegemony and its perils, Chinese foreign ministry, 21 February 2023)
The problem for US imperialism is that Chinese and Russian politicians and media have only to point out things the US has actually done, and which are established historical facts. They don’t need to invent anything or engage in psychological operations and disinformation – the ‘information warfare’ so beloved of our own ruling class; merely highlighting US imperialism’s well-known and very real crimes is enough.
The paper’s authors correctly point out, for example, that the USA was the key player in orchestrating a series of so-called ‘colour revolutions’ in former Soviet territories of Georgia (which has recently erupted again), Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine.
One point frequently made in the document – and one that has been made repeatedly by the Russian government – is that the USA violates every treaty it signs:
“The US exercises double standards on international rule. Placing its self-interest first, the United States has walked away from international treaties and organisations and put its domestic law above international law”.
An end to hopes of friendly cooperation
The paper marks a clear break from the determinedly optimistic tone that Chinese government bodies have stuck to in recent decades when referring to US-China relations, ditching euphemism and the previous conciliatory tone and replacing them with a new directness of language and purpose.
Shortly after he was first elected as general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and PRC president, Comrade Xi Jinping met with then US president Barack Obama and made a point of emphasising the building of positive relations:
“President Obama and I both maintain that China and the US should and can build a new model of relationship different from the historical clashes and confrontations between major powers, given the rapid economic globalisation and the need for all countries in the world to work together.” (Build a new model of major country relationship between China and the US, 7 June 2013)
President Xi had good reason to be optimistic at the time. Following the great recession of 2008, the Chinese purchased $173.1bn-worth of US treasury bonds in six months. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Chinese investment was crucial in preventing the 2008 mortgage sector collapse from being far worse than it was.
This reflected what appeared to be a shared interest in keeping the global economy afloat, with Chinese exports to the USA standing at over $300bn and the US being China’s largest trade partner. It would certainly not have been in the interests of the Chinese government at that stage to see the US economy collapse entirely.
US imperialism has benefited greatly from exporting capital to China, a country whose labour force has been (and continues to be) a huge source of superprofits for US corporations. Commodities produced in China at extremely low production costs have enabled the consumer economy in the USA to be maintained for far longer than would have been possible otherwise.
Given that there has been long-term wage stagnation in the USA since the early 1980s (something that even the bourgeois press has had to admit to) combined with deindustrialisation (the offshoring off production, aka export of capital) and steadily deteriorating conditions for the US working class, the continuing supply of cheap consumer goods has played a crucial role in enabling the US bourgeoisie to maintain the illusion of prosperity (and with it social peace) at home.
This is a trick that Karl Marx first observed in Capital Volume 1, when he detailed how the British capitalists were able to use their dominant position in the world market to force down food prices for British workers whilst actually cutting wages. The same is true today. The US imperialists have been using their dominant position in the world market to disguise endless attacks on the working class by keeping prices suppressed.
This integration between the Chinese and US economies, coming as it did in the period referred to as ‘globalisation’ (ie, the rampant extension of neocolonial exploitation after the fall of the USSR), seems to have led China’s leaders to hope that continuing on the path of economic integration would lead to the need for rational management of any conflicts that could only damage all sides.
The CPC government also hoped that its emphasis on internal development, and the fact that it clearly had no ambitions in the direction of global hegemony, would enable it to maintain positive relations with the USA. This was reflected in statements such as this one from President Xi:
“We should commit ourselves to growing an open global economy, share opportunities and interest through opening up, and achieve win-win outcomes. We should not just retreat to the harbour when encountering a storm for that will never get us to the other shore of the ocean.
“We must redouble our efforts to develop global connectivity to enable all countries to achieve interconnected growth and share prosperity. We must remain committed to developing global free trade and investment, promote trade and investment liberalisation and facilitation through opening up and say no to protectionism.” (Speech to the World Economic Forum, 17 January 2017)
Even in 2017, China’s leaders were expressing the hope that relations could be improved with the USA following the election of Donald Trump, although he had declared his intention of stepping up protectionist measures against Chinese companies.
US hostility unrelenting
What has actually occurred over the last five years, however, is a rapid escalation in US-sponsored destabilisation operations in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, together with increasingly provocative moves over Taiwan and regular attacks on engineers and others engaged in building Belt and Road infrastructure around the world.
Consistent with the line taken by every one of his predecessors, President Xi has made it abundantly clear that the reunification of lands seized from China by British, Portuguese and Japanese imperialism is non-negotiable. In 2014, for instance, Xi stated:
“For more than six decades now, although the two sides have yet to be reunited, we belong to one country and the same nation – a fact that has never changed, nor will ever change in the future. The blood of the Chinese nation flows in every one of us, and ours is forever the soul of the Chinese nation.” (Together fulfil the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation, 18 February 2014)
The US imperialists, meanwhile, have consistently sought to exploit internal issues within China in order to destabilise the country. This led Minister Qin to observe at his press conference in March:
“The United States claims that it seeks to ‘out-compete’ China, but does not seek conflict. Yet in reality, its so-called ‘competition’ means to contain and suppress China in all respects and get the two countries locked in a zero-sum game.”
This same agenda is also reflected in the sphere of technology, an area in which imperialist dominance is vital for the continued existence of the imperialist system. The recent ‘chip wars’ underline this point, with the USA doing everything it can to cut off China’s ability to access advanced microprocessor technologies.
The imperialists are increasing nervous at the steady undermining of their tech dominance by the ongoing and rapid development of high-value manufacturing in China. The model of ‘globalisation’ that the US imperialists favoured was one where China would continue to produce cheap consumer commodities for the US domestic market but the USA would retain its dominance in all the most important advanced technologies – the traditional imperialist dominance and dependence relationship, in fact.
Just as Soviet science pioneered human space exploration, China too has failed to comply with the destiny the imperialists allocated to it. By its recent advances in areas such as quantum computing, the country has shown that it has moved far beyond being a mere producer of cheap commodities. The US’s increasingly desperate measures to shore up its fading technological dominance led the authors of the position paper to state:
“The United States has fabricated a slew of excuses to clamp down on China’s high-tech enterprises with global competitiveness, and has put more than 1,000 Chinese enterprises on sanction lists. In addition, the United States has also imposed controls on biotechnology, artificial intelligence and other high-end technologies.”
As the Chinese have pointed out, this is hardly the first time the USA has tried to rig the system against an emerging rival (for ‘rival’, read ‘any power that is able to break the USA’s dominance’). It used similar protectionist measures in the late 1980s to force the Japanese government to sign a damaging agreement regarding the semiconductor industry. As a result, semiconductor production in Japan was drastically undermined, and the country’s global market share dropped from 50 to 10 percent. Meanwhile, US government support enabled its own companies to seize this market share.
The charges levelled against the USA by the Chinese government are entirely merited. The US imperialists preach about ‘rules’, but only rules they themselves have written – and which even so they make sure are never applied to themselves. They are prepared to walk away from any agreement at any time should the interests of US imperialism require them to do so. This has led both the Russians and Chinese to conclude (quite correctly) that the USA is ‘agreement incapable’.
Inescapable logic of imperialism
The question we have to ask ourselves is: why? Why does the US government violate every rule, rip up every agreement, threaten even its supposed allies, and work tirelessly to destroy a country (China) that is an enormously important trading partner?
The Chinese position paper concludes by stating: “The United States must conduct serious soul-searching. It must critically examine what it has done, let go of its arrogance and prejudice, and quit its hegemonic, domineering and bullying practices.”
Many in the Communist Party of China will know very well why no amount of ‘soul-searching’ will stop US imperialism behaving in the manner that it does. The foreign ministry’s paper states many things that are true regarding the actions of the USA, but what it does not provide is the answer as to why any of this happens.
To find that answer, we need look no further than the works of VI Lenin and Mao Zedong, both of whom clearly demonstrated not only why the imperialists behave in such a way but also why they cannot possibly change their behaviour.
The USA remains the predominant imperialist power in the world today, despite the reverses it has suffered in recent years. Lenin pointed out that the era of imperialism was characterised by the export of capital rather than of commodities from the imperialist to the dependent countries. In his seminal work, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, he pointed out:
“The need to export capital arises from the fact that in a few countries capitalism has become ‘overripe’ and … capital cannot find a field for ‘profitable’ investment.” (1916, chapter 4)
In the century since Lenin produced his groundbreaking analysis, the fundamental elements of global capitalist-imperialism have not changed. The USA exported $6.49tn dollars in capital during the financial year 2021-22, three times the amount of US commodity and service exports ($2.085tn).
This massive imbalance, together with the steady deindustrialisation of the USA, shows not only that Lenin’s analysis is still valid, but also that Karl Marx’s observation that the capitalists will always look for ways to cut out producing commodities themselves if they can also remains in force. (Capital, Volume 2, 1885)
Despite the boost to its bottom line of more than three decades of highly profitable trading, US imperialism is no longer able to stem the tide of the global overproduction crisis.
Since the banking collapse of 2008, US economic growth has remained below 3 percent. The imperialists are thus propelled by their need to secure new markets, grab new resources and hyperexploit new sources of labour – as well as by the need to destroy the resistance of any country that is not currently subservient to their control and looting.
This is why they organised the destruction of the Libyan government led by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. The case of Libya is instructive because if the social democrats and Trotskyites were correct, then Gaddafi became an imperialist lackey when he sought to normalise relations with the USA after 2003.
Libya’s rulers knew very well that their country was on the notorious list for invasion that was widely talked about by the Bush administration after 11 September 2001, and they tried hard to reach a diplomatic solution that would avoid a military confrontation. If the Trotskyites were right, then that should have been the end of that and there would have been no war on Libya.
But this was not the case.
Despite trying to secure better relations with the imperialists in the challenging period that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union and the launch of the US’s middle-eastern war drive, both Libya and Syria still retained their sovereignty and ability to set terms for the entry of foreign capital into their countries. They also retained significant state sectors in their economies, protecting vital aspects of their people’s living standards and of national sovereignty.
This the imperialists were not prepared to tolerate for long. As soon as an opportunity arose to push for the destruction of these governments and the total subordination of their countries so they could be comprehensively looted, they were ruthless in seizing it.
What is true for small countries such as Libya and Syria is also true for China and Russia. Despite all the profit that has been made by US capitalists in China, the imperialists know very well that they could be making far greater profits if they could replace the Communist Party of China with a stooge regime that would remove all limitations on the ability of the US to hyperexploit Chinese workers and loot the country’s vast natural resources.
This is what the US relentlessly seeks because it is compelled to. It needs to find new sources of profit, and the ability of the Chinese government to set the terms by which US capital enters China is a barrier that the imperialists are desperate to remove. That is the reason why the USA is trying to provoke a confrontation over Taiwan, to create dissent in Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang and anywhere else it can find an excuse or create a foothold.
What the imperialists hope to do is to destabilise the CPC to the point where comprador elements can seize control of the Chinese state – as they successfully did in Russia at the time of the Soviet counter-revolution.
The evolution in the thinking of the Chinese government must be welcome to communists and anti-imperialists everywhere. It is not clear to all who care to see that the brutal nature of imperialism and its need for conquest and subjugation remains an immovable force.
China’s leaders have come to a point where they simply have to oppose US imperialism if they wish to retain their independence, and the suffering mass of humanity can only be grateful for this turn of events, for it brings to our side a great and powerful ally in the struggle against imperialism and for socialism.
We are reminded of the words of the great leader of the Chinese revolution, Comrade Mao Zedong.
“Now US imperialism is quite powerful, but in reality it isn’t. It is very weak politically because it is divorced from the masses of the people and is disliked by everybody and by the American people too. In appearance it is very powerful but in reality it is nothing to be afraid of, it is a paper tiger. Outwardly a tiger, it is made of paper, unable to withstand the wind and the rain. I believe the United States is nothing but a paper tiger.” (US imperialism is a paper tiger, 14 July 1956)
Mao’s point about how US imperialism is divorced from the masses at home is particularly important. For all the appearance of power that is projected by the US state machinery, for all of its brutality, it remains vulnerable. The gap between the tiny number of bourgeois and their lackeys who run the US imperialist state and the great masses of ever-more impoverished workers in America is huge and growing.
As Mao also observed: “Only when imperialism is eliminated can peace prevail. The day will come when the paper tigers will be wiped out. But they won’t become extinct of their own accord, they need to be battered by the wind and the rain.” (US imperialism is a paper tiger)