Politics Opinion

Academic essay used as latest weapon against China

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Cai Xia's essay traces the history of U.S.-Chinese relations from the early '70s to present day (Image by Dan Jensen)

The centenary of the CCP has been met with a contradictory and hubristic attack that aims to clothe old-fashioned propaganda in intellectual dress, writes Dr William Briggs.

AN ESSAY PUBLISHED by the Hoover Institution and written by Chinese defector and academic Cai Xia to mark the Chinese Communist Party’s 100th anniversary entitled China-U.S. relations in the eyes of the Chinese Communist Party: an insider’s perspective has caught the imagination of many in the world media and is being used as yet another stick with which to beat China. The essay and its reception in the West deserves a moment’s reflection.

Among Cai’s basic arguments is that the Chinese manipulated the period of cooperative engagement with the U.S. The Chinese saw this, in Cai’s estimation, as nothing more than a temporary tactic to enable them to accumulate the strength to pursue regional and global dominance. A cunning plan, indeed. She also states that the regime is failing and has but a few years remaining before it crumbles, but what is a contradiction or two among friends?

The economic reforms that came into being from the 1970s were apparently just a ploy. Interestingly enough, 60% of GDP, 80% of urban employment and 90% of all new jobs in China are the product of the private sector. Private capitalists account for 70% of all investment and 90% of exports, not to mention 66% of all economic growth in the country. While this seems to be contradictory, the essay itself is an exercise in contradiction.

China’s policy of cooperation with the West is made to sound in the essay to be a one-sided affair. The USA and its allies simply fell into a well-laid Chinese trap. This is nonsense. The USA needed such a new economic arrangement in the 1970s. The simple fact of the matter was that the world economy shifted in the early 1970s. Economic crisis struck and profitability plummeted. The solution was in rapid globalisation and a move to cheaper wage regimes.

This was a happy coincidence for China which was launching a campaign to open to the West. China became the workshop of the world. It was a saviour of economies. Things began to change as China became successful. It became a boom economy. It learned from its teachers and learned well. It began to challenge America as an economic force.

Cai Xia and her sponsors at the Hoover Institution are playing a not insubstantial role in the demonisation of China. The role that the Hoover Institution has is an interesting one. It is influential. That same think tank is a conservative American public policy and research institution that proclaims the promotion of personal and economic liberty, free enterprise and limited government. It is hardly an objective observer of international relations and nor can it be expected to deal fairly with China.

The reason why China has been declared public enemy number one is clear for all to see. China represents a real and present danger to U.S. economic domination. When Mao Zedong came to power, the USA wasn’t particularly concerned — neither about Mao nor his rhetoric. There was no real concern about the “Great Leap Forward” or the cultural revolution. China was not considered a threat, even as the Cold War raged.

China became a threat, not because of ideology, not because of the force of arms, but because it was becoming better at capitalism than the USA. The United States firmly and sincerely believes that it can defy political and economic gravity, will rise and never fall. None of this should come as any great surprise and nor should it be a surprise that Cai’s essay has been received so warmly.

A recent opinion piece by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in London’s Daily Telegraph and re-published in Australia declares the essay to be:

‘...both an exposé of the incorrigible character of this totalitarian beast but also an indictment of Western wishful thinking over 40 years of failed strategic engagement.’

The essay claims that China is belligerent and unable to behave according to international rule and is seeking to dominate and control the world and that this has been a long-term strategy. Cai also argues that the CCP is on the point of disintegration and that the regime is as brittle as was the USSR when it collapsed. Cai acknowledges that she is not an expert in Sino-U.S. relations but her lack of knowledge of the Soviet experience is alarming. The Soviet Union had, by the 1980s, become an economic basket case. It simply imploded. China is set to outstrip the U.S. economy within a few short years.

Cai Xia asserts that the top priority for the CCP in its international relations activities is designed to strengthen its control in the country. This is presented as a damning piece of evidence. The United States, like Australia or any other nation, generally follows the dictum of Hans Morgenthau, the political theorist who gave an intellectual structure for much of what passes today as interstate relations.

As he famously said:

‘...remember always that it is not only a political necessity but also a moral duty for a nation to always follow in its dealings with other nations but one guiding star, one standard for thought, one rule for action: The National Interest.’

Cai’s other major claim is that China’s relationship with the U.S. can only be regarded as adversarial and certainly not competitive. Every utterance that has come from Washington since Obama’s time in the White House has been based on the perception that China must be contained, restrained and “rolled back”, economically or by military force.

The Daily Telegraph article that so loudly sang the praises of Cai Xia’s essay, spoke of ‘a dangerous few years of peak hubris’. Evans-Pritchard was repeating the thesis of the essay — that the CCP and the regime in China have only a few years left before collapse and regime change occurs. Hubris is an interesting word. Those who are despatching China to the graveyard of history are proving themselves to be masters of the hubristic approach to both journalism and to questions of political economy.

Dr William Briggs is a political economist. His special areas of interest lie in political theory and international political economy. His latest book, 'China, the USA and Capitalism’s Last Crusade' is due to be published by Zero Books in October.

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