The China Syndrome

Perhaps because it spends so much time wringing its hands over the “threat from Russia” (a second-tier power with a small, struggling economy and almost no international pretension) our beloved media presents a portrait of China that is superficial and distorted and increasingly dangerous.

It’s dangerous because it casts China as an existential military threat and, less obvious but equally clear, a land of inscrutable monsters when the only danger China represents is to the market hegemony of U.S. capitalism.

That contest is being won by China and that may be why our government is viewing it with such fear and acting so aggressively towards it. The problem is that capitalism is, by its very nature, competitive and you don’t start shooting wars over the sale of shoes or the price of loans. The other half of the problem is that the entire take towards China is among the most blatantly racist rants emanating from U.S. foreign policy.

The rhetoric has now begun to morph into action with changes in policy, hiking of trade restrictions, louder rants in public spaces and moronic, useless but potentially dangerous “military maneuvers”. You would think…well, what actually do you think?

Let’s do some truth about China. Economically and socially, it is one of the world’s most successful countries with an economy that has grown exponentially over the last 30 years, tripling the average citizen’s standard of living, modernizing many of its major cities, improving health in almost unimaginable ways (among the lowest infant mortality rates on Earth), quantum leaping education levels and taking world leadership in science. It’s always pretty good at sports if that matters to you.

It is among the world’s most powerful consumer goods producers. Want to do a check? Go around your house and look at the stuff in it. How much of it is made in China? In my house, it’s the majority and that’s reflective of much U.S. experience. Right…China makes the things the U.S. uses.

Many people in our country take all this for granted but remember that, 40 years ago, China was still isolated from the world. It wasn’t until Richard Nixon made his famous trip to China in the 70s that anyone even saw that place on television. It had virtually no international trade. No travel abroad. No foreign study. It was pretty isolated.

The progress is mind-boggling and what makes it even more impressive is the context in which it has unfolded. China is one of the world’s largest and most complicated countries.

In terms of land, it’s the third largest country on Earth (right before the U.S. and right after Canada). It’s the largest in terms of population with over 1.3 billion people living in the main territory. Lots of space and people to govern and what makes that even more complicated is that the Chinese are not, by any traditional definition, “one people”. “China” as a country was actually united in the 20th century and that unification was solidified by the Chinese revolution. Before that if was highly divided and mainly governed as a kind of feudal society.

The challenges that represented for this society are still reflected in the current situation.

Today, on China’s mainland, its citizens speak between 100 and 300 different languages (depending on the linguist counting) which can be divided into 7 or 9 language groups (depending on the statistician dividing). Yep…there’s an “official language” (or language group) called “Mandarin” made up of about five or six languages and people who speak those can usually talk to each other. Just about everybody in China has to speak Mandarin because, if not, you really can’t function in the society. It’s the government’s language.

Yet it’s one one language group and the complexity here is mind-boggling because, while Mandarin is required, most people who don’t speak it natively don’t use it daily. They use the language of their region or culture or ethnicity. Speakers of one language can usually understand speakers of other languages in that group and often can even understand speakers of languages in other groups. But not always in some heavy-duty ways.

Cantonese for example is a major language in China and was *the* major language of Chinese migrants to this country for a long time. Well, if you speak a Cantonese language you simply can’t understand someone speaking a Mandarin language. Example: you go to the Chinese restaurant and you hear a group of people who speak a Chinese language ordering from the waiter in English. Why? The waiter only speaks Mandarin.

Enough about language. You get the idea. You have a country with 300 languages. That means you have a country with 300 distinct cultures and histories and, well yeah, scores of nationalities. Chinese is not a nationality. How do you talk to all these different kinds of people? How do you govern such a country? How in the world do you actually move it forward to log the kind of progress we’ve seen from it?

China provides the answer. You plan it.

Despite the endless analysis about how China has actually “become a capitalist country”, it’s really not close to the capitalist countries we know, like France or the U.S. or Russia (for that matter). It certainly isn’t “socialist” according to the definition many Marxists make of that term, including me. But it is very very far from the kind of capitalist country that is the U.S.

Yes, there are billionaires in China, a few of them, and, yes, there are these huge corporations usually concentrating on one type of business (which is very different from what we see in the U.S.). But the great majority of businesses in China are either state-owned or related to the point of affiliation with one of the state agencies. In other words, must of China’s economy is run by its government.

That’s why you see the agenda of a Central Committee meeting in China loaded with items about economic management, control of prices, etc. Capitalism, by its very nature, cannot be planned but China comes as close as anyone to controlling it through some kind of planning policy.

That’s not traditional capitalism. It is not, at the same time, socialism because in China the primary relationship within production is between workers and bosses. Workers aren’t the bosses. Production isn’t democratically run. That’s not socialism in any commonly accepted sense.

It’s also a very repressive and almost comically controlled society. A very small group of people within the country’s Communist Party determine what truths will be published and circulated as well as what you can do publicly about them. Another small group within the state will make your life hell if you violate any of those policies. The place is not, in any sense of the word, “democratic” or “free”.

Yet, while it may be an existensial threat to its own citizens, this government is not a threat to your life or mine or our country or anyone’s

There is absolutely no reason to believe that China wants much more than to grow what it currently has: the position as the primary source of consumer goods in the world. It wants to become the world’s largest and most powerful economy. That’s it. There is no indication that it has any other aspirations that would affect the U.S.

So there’s no Chinese plan to invade us or to occupy a part of our hemisphere or to set off a nuclear bomb or to control much more than it already does or to do much of anything that is a danger to you. A society as complex as the one I’ve described above has more than enough problems to deal with within its borders; it doesn’t need to be looking for others outside. Which is why China doesn’t deploy troops outside its territory. The rare exceptions include a hand-slapping mini-war with Vietnam and a couple of border crossings. But no wars, no invasions, no participation in military alliances. Nothing. No war. China doesn’t do wars.

So what’s everyone freaked about? Well, while there may be no danger to you, one does exist. China’s huge footprint in the consumer goods stock of many large, capitalist countries makes it a major part of the structure of international capitalism and its growth in that role will continue to edge out U.S. manufacturers (including the all important technology and medical goods industries).

Because it does successful business, and borrows heavily to do it, it will play an ever-larger role in U.S. finance. For U.S. finance capitalism, the point is almost always to have social control over the borrower. That’s what most federal legislation is about. Sure, they do business without those controls but they purposely and fanatically minimize that percentage of investment — it’s risky. For the finance sector, which is battling for its very survival right now, to hinge your future on another larger, powerful country you can’t control politically or socially: that’s Nightmare on Wall Street.

China is the first major competition to U.S. capitalism in our life-time but, while that’s critically important to the world picture (and the ruling class’s bank accounts), it ain’t no threat to you. You already own a bunch of Chinese production. You consume what’s produced. The outcome of the war of survival and attrition taking place within world capitalism has no relationship to you except as the source of most of your problems.

In short, no matter who is making the products, you are going to keep needing and buying them if you have the money and whether you have the ability to acquire that stuff has nothing to do with where it’s made; it has to do with the system that makes it.

The surge and urge that we’re seeing in this “China threat” coverage is the outcome of bait and switch propaganda enabled by racism. When they tell you China is a threat to you, what do you see exactly? What does that threat look like? Or, put another way, is where the Corona Virus came from really all that important?

Are we being trained to see China as an enemy? Are we being conditioned for a more aggressive policy towards China? Are we being mobilized for some kind of major conflict?

Maybe the lesson in this “China Syndrome” we are suffering from intellectually is to know what your problem really is and who your enemies really are and avoid, like the plague, the attempt to recruit us into capitalism’s internal war.

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