The new Cold War on China

Behind the Cold War on China is available from

Behind the Cold War on China
By Dave Holmes, Chris Slee and Peter Boyle
Resistance Books, 2021
43pp, $10

I have visited China twice as a tourist, in 2000 and 2019. While that gives me no special status as an expert on the People's Republic, even the experience of these relatively short trips have emphasised one reality: China has clearly undergone one of the greatest economic transformations in world history.

In fact, it has been observed that the two most significant economic revolutions ever, over a relatively short historic period, were the British Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries, and the Chinese economic revolutions of the 20th and 21st centuries.

China has been transformed in the space of some 70 years since the Communist Party-led revolution in 1949 from one of the most archaic and backward societies — where foot-binding of women still existed, and the majority of the rural population lived in abject poverty and oppression, under a semi-feudal system — to the second largest economy on the planet after the United States. It is soon to become the largest.

The living standards of the majority of the population, estimated to be at least 600 million, have been dramatically raised — notwithstanding the severe inequalities that continue to exist — and may be rising in some respects. It is this reality, not just propaganda and repression, which underlies the undoubted support of the bulk of the Chinese people for the Chinese government's stand against imperialist threats.

Chinese President Xi Jinping told a huge crowd in Beijing on July 1 — the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP): "Chinese people will never allow any foreign force to bully, oppress or subjugate us. Anyone who would attempt to do so will find themselves on a collision course with the great wall of steel forged by over 1.4 billion Chinese people."

The huge applause this generated was not just for show: The Chinese people are absolutely determined to never again allow their country to be invaded and humiliated by foreign powers, as when Britain forced China to import opium from India, and joined with other European imperialist countries to seize parts of China during the 19th century.

Behind the Cold War on China, is an important and timely contribution to the current debate about China today. Perhaps it should be titled "The New Cold War on China" because we should never forget that China was a key target, along with the Soviet Union, of the original anti-Communist Cold War, launched by the US and its Western imperialist allies, in the post World War II era.

The new Cold War is a "campaign being waged by US imperialism and its allies aimed at isolating and weakening China," Dave Holmes writes in the first chapter. "This campaign goes back to the victory of the revolution in 1949, but has been driven to a new level by the obvious growing economic, technological and military power of China — especially relative to the United States, which is no less, clearly in decline."

Today, journalist and filmmaker John Pilger reports some 400 US bases encircle China — "rather like a noose", as a former Pentagon planner told him. The recent "hysteria about [China's island bases in] the South China Sea seems confected when we consider that the US has 800 bases and 160,000 troops in 130 countries; the UK has 145 bases in 42 countries."

Meanwhile, the Australian Coalition government has led the charge most recently in blaming China for the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, among other issues, provoking retaliation from China by imposing punitive tariffs on a range of Australian exports.

"In wiping out a large part of the country's exports to China, our biggest trading partner, the [Scott] Morrison government achieved a truly striking own goal," Holmes writes.

I am reminded of the Australian barley farmer interviewed on TV in the cabin of his giant combine harvester last year, who wryly observed, "I note the old Confucian proverb: The mouse should not pick a fight with the elephant."

Indeed, if China were now to find an alternative to imports of Australian iron ore, the Morrison government's much-vaunted economic recovery would collapse in a heap.

Regarding the ongoing accusations of Chinese domination of foreign investment in Australia, according to figures released by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in 2019, "The US accounted for 25.6% ... and the UK 17.8%. China (including Hong Kong) made up just 5.7%," Holmes explains.

In his chapter, Chris Slee notes, "Canberra also has a double standard on human rights issues: it rightly criticises China's oppression of the Uighurs and its repression of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, but there is no similar denunciation of the mass incarceration of Black people in the United States or the police murders that have prompted the Black Lives Matter movement.

"Australia's racist treatment of First Nations peoples and its cruelty towards people seeking asylum is more evidence of its hypocrisy,” writes Slee.

"These double standards are a result of Australia's relationship with the US. This alliance has led Australia to participate in wars including Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. Today, Australia has aligned itself with the US in its trade war with China."

Peter Boyle's chapter polemicises with commentators like Clive Hamilton, who have joined in the ideological campaign to demonise China. Hamilton’s article, "Why is the 'anti-racist left' siding with the persecutors?", criticises progressive defenders of China, such as Gerald Roche and David Brophy.

Boyle points out that previously, Australian politicians and business leaders "saw in China's industrialisation an opportunity to break out of their own economic malaise".

"It is only when China's economic development reached a point where it began to pose some competition for major Western corporate interests that the current campaign against China was started," Boyle stresses.

A resolution adopted in January by the Socialist Alliance in Australia, included in the pamphlet, “condemns Australia and its imperialist allies as the aggressors in the trade and political conflict with China and calls on the Australian government to break with its imperialist war alliance with the US, stop its attacks and reverse all measures that discriminate against China”. It also calls “for an end to Australia's support for the racist campaign to blame China for the COVID-19 pandemic" as a basis for "reversing the sharp deterioration of trade and diplomatic relations with China".

The final chapter is a very informative analysis of the modern history of China by Slee. It provides a useful summary of the process of the revolution initiated in 1949, the social gains won by the people, the setbacks and reversals suffered over its course, and the development of a bureaucratisation of the CCP leadership over time.

Slee also outlines the struggles of workers and peasants to defend their gains, and to oppose the process of privatisation that has led to the restoration of capitalism in China. He concludes that now "China combines imperialist and semi-colonial features".

This process is not concluded, and the class struggle continues. In my personal opinion, China can be reasonably described currently as "state capitalist".

While the term has a controversial history in the Western left, it seems now to accurately highlight the obvious difference between current China, which still retains a significant state-owned base in key sectors of industry, with the neoliberal "market capitalism" which characterises the US, Australia and the rest of the imperialist world.

Whatever the case, the key issue in the China-West conflict right now is to resolutely oppose the war drive by the Western powers against China, and to fight the campaign of hypocritical vilification, which is escalating from the current new Cold War in the direction of a potentially disastrous hot war with China.