Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump say that they disagree on a number of points related to foreign policy. Clinton remains hostile to Russia and wants to topple the Syrian government, while Trump has, at some points, indicated that he is open to working with Russia and the Syrian government to defeat ISIS. Clinton says she wants to continue promoting “human rights” around the world by arming and supporting dissidents who fight against governments she finds problematic, while Trump says his focus will be defeating international terrorism. These differences could merely be theatrics, as Trump has never served in government before, and Clinton has often shifted or reversed herself on global issues.
Though the two articulate different messages about foreign policy, on one point the two candidates absolutely agree. Both of them are hostile to the People’s Republic of China, and portray it is as a threat to the world.
Why do they hate China? Clinton says she dislikes China because it allegedly violates “human rights.” Trump says he dislikes China because it is undermining industrial jobs in the United States. However, the real reason that both candidates hate the most populous country in the world can be found when looking over the country’s economic history.
“The Sick Man of Asia”
In 1949, China was known as the “sick man of Asia.” It had a very low life expectancy, an agrarian economy, massive illiteracy, and massive malnutrition. Most of the population lived in the countryside as serfs, semi-slaves who were basically the property of a land-owning aristocracy.
In China’s urban centers, life wasn’t much better. China had no steel industry, and barely any domestic manufacturing. Impoverished Chinese women often worked as prostitutes in cities like Shanghai. Many of the best parks on the Chinese mainland were reserved for Europeans. Signs in these parks famously read “No Dogs or Chinese Allowed.” Addiction to opium was extremely common.
Often, in order to make them more sexually appealing, Chinese women who were raised to become prostitutes had their feet bound and crushed as infants, so that they would remain small and disfigured, an attribute that was considered sexually appealing. Despite the banning of “foot binding” in 1912, it was commonly done in many regions of the country until 1949.
Prior to Europe’s rise, China had been a center of global trade. They had built the Silk Road, and exported the world’s most desired fabrics. Along with their fabrics, China had exported gun-powder, noodles, advanced mathematics, astronomy, and other innovations.
However, by the 1800s China was no longer exporting. The relationship between the British Empire, the United States, and China prior to 1949 was quite simple. The Americans and the British produced commodities and developed strong domestic economies, and the Chinese population purchased from them, and remained in dire poverty.
Each time China attempted to assert its independence, the forces fighting against foreign domination were portrayed as heartless monsters in western media. British and American soldiers were then dispatched to fight them under the auspices of protecting the innocent. During this period, British writer Rudyard Kipling described military intervention around the world, supposedly to rescue third world peoples as “The White Man’s Burden.”
The British empire fought two “opium wars,” preventing China from erecting protective tariffs and stopping the flow of narcotics. In 1900, the US Marine Corps was sent to China in order to squash the Boxer Rebellion, an uprising led by Chinese nationalists who boycotted foreign businesses, lynched drug dealers, and promoted indigenous Chinese religions.
The American public was led to believe that the USA was sending its armies to China in order to protect Christians. The US press told exaggerated horror stories about the Chinese Nationalist Boxers attacking missionaries and argued that the US government had a duty to protect them.
US Marine Corp General Smedley Butler later revealed what he saw as the real reason that US troops had gone to China. He wrote: “In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.” As Butler saw it, at the point of gun, China was forced to continue importing oil from the Rockefellers.
67 Years of Reconstruction
However, China’s situation dramatically changed in 1949. Beginning after the creation of the People’s Republic, China received aid from the Soviet Union to begin industrializing. Between 1949 and 1961, China made huge advances. The feudal agrarian system was replaced by modern mechanized agriculture with tractors, which the rural people called “Iron Oxen.”
Venereal disease and prostitution was wiped out with a mass campaign, and Chinese women emerged with unbound feet, and took up key positions in the government. Drug addiction was also wiped out with a mass mobilization of the population that involved rehabilitation for millions of drug users and the execution of drug importers.
In 1961, aid from the Soviet Union was abruptly terminated. China attempted to continue to industrializing at the rapid pace, but faced extreme difficulties. In response to the hardships, a faction of the Chinese Communist Party that sought to restore capitalism emerged. In 1966, Mao Zedong and Lin Biao launched an uprising among the students called the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” and effectively drove the right-wing faction from power by 1969.
From 1969 to 1976 Chinese politics was dominated by a faction of extremists led by figures known as the “Gang of Four.” The Gang of Four restricted production and continuously purged the government in the name of preserving some kind of Marxist purity. After Mao Zedong’s death, the Chinese Communist Party thoroughly repudiated the Gang of Four, and denounced “Poverty Socialism.”
In 1978, China’s economy began to rapidly expand once again. Deng Xiaoping’s institution of “Socialism With Chinese Characteristics” resulted in the creation of free economic zones. As foreign corporations flooded China, hiring Chinese workers to manufacture their products, the government was keeping a close eye. Foreign corporations in China were heavily taxed and regulated. At the same time that foreign corporations invested in China, the country was slowly and carefully developing its own, state controlled industries. The gradual process of allowing controlled foreign investment as a mechanism to develop the domestic economy has culminated in a dramatic change in China’s relationship with the world.
Now, 95 years after the Chinese Communist Party was founded, 67 years after the revolution, and 38 years after Deng Xiaoping’s reforms, China has completely altered its global position.
The state-owned steel industry in China produces more than 50% of the world’s steel. Chinese corporations also produce over half of the world’s copper. The government controlled “collective,” known as Huawei, is the largest telecommunications manufacturer in the world. China is leading the world in developing eco-friendly products, and is home to the world’s top supercomputers, as well as the largest hydro-electrical power plant, known as the Three Gorges Dam. China is also leading the world is high-speed train technology.
China’s state owned manufacturers are highly efficient, and the world market is now adjusting to the fact that so much production is taking place on the Chinese mainland.
For Chinese people, the result has been a huge rise in the standard of living. The world tourism industry is re-orienting itself now that millions of Chinese people are going on international vacations for the first time. Between 2008 and 2012, the wages of Chinese industrial workers increased by 71%. Each week another Chinese person becomes a billionaire.
Beijing in Wall Street’s Crosshairs
China has put western corporations into a painful position. Firstly, China has increased the supply of many key commodities, driving prices down. Chinese state owned and controlled enterprises fit production into the state’s five year plans of development, and don’t function according to market logic. Chinese corporations and collectives are controlled by the Communist Party, and function based on what the party tells them to do, not what the market dictates. Due to their non-capitalist means of functioning, Chinese industries have the ability to keep producing and expanding, despite a glut in the global market. The price of steel, copper, Iron, Uranium and Gold has dramatically decreased. While western corporations are struggling, laying off workers and scrambling to keep in business, in China, these industries remain in motion, moving full speed ahead.
Secondly, many countries that once traded with the United States and western Europe almost exclusively now trade with China instead. Cooperating with its industries, the Chinese state rewards those who buy Chinese products by financing the construction of high speed trains, modern hospitals, power plants, and other public infrastructure. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund generally mandate the gutting of the public sector, and compliance with neoliberal economic policies. The result is the elimination of domestic enterprises and the dominance of foreign capital. However, when China trades with a country it generally invests heavily in the country’s public sector by building infrastructure, which has the effect of stimulating domestic enterprises.
The Council on Foreign Relations has recently bemoaned what they described as the fact that China’s economy has been effectively “weaponized.” Chinese industrial workers, the executives of Chinese corporations, Chinese small business owners, and Chinese politicians all seem to working together and coordinating their actions to achieve a common, long term vision. China does business around the world to advance its geopolitical interests and its entire national economy, not to make profits for the individual owners of capital in the short term.
China has effectively transitioned from being an impoverished, dependent, and colonized country, to being the second largest economy in the world. However, China’s economy has two key weaknesses: oil and natural gas. Approximately 57% of China’s oil is imported.
Though China has some oil and natural gas production, it is not nearly enough to fuel their massive industrial machine. China’s state-owned natural gas corporation has now leapt into action, hoping to multiply China’s domestic natural gas output by 5 times within the next few years.
China imports oil from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran. There is no oil pipeline connecting these countries to China, though talk of a pipeline through Central Asia was in the works prior to the NATO invasion of Afghanistan in 2002. A certain percentage of China’s oil imports can come via pipelines from Russia and Khazakstan, but most of the oil to fuel China’s huge apparatus of production comes on oil tankers by sea, namely the South China Sea.
The United States has military bases in the South China Sea, giving it the ability to shut down the Chinese economy at any time. If US ships were to begin blocking oil tankers bound for the Chinese mainland, the People’s Republic would face catastrophe. Despite so many advances, China remains vulnerable to an “oil veto” from the Pentagon.
For this reason, China is actively setting up its own military bases in the South China Sea, hoping to ensure that no one interfere with their ability to import oil from the Middle East. Meanwhile, China is working with Iran to stabilize Central Asia in the hopes of eventually opening up the possibility of a new pipeline.
Commodity prices are lower than ever, and the western corporations that once dominated the world market are losing billions of dollar every day. China now maintains a huge slice of the market that it has gained after 95 years of blood, sweat, and tears. China’s transition from the “Sick Man of Asia” to the world’s second-largest economy involved 25 years of guerrilla warfare, land redistribution, chaos and political terrorism, painful concessions of economic gains, compromises of revolutionary principles, and lots of other hardships.
However, 95 years after Mao Zedong and a handful of others met in the basement of women’s dormitory, China has completely changed. The world has changed along with it. The reason for China’s escalation of its military presence in the South China Sea is to protect what has been gained, and to keep the economy moving.
No matter who wins the election in November, the President elect will be assigned the task of intensifying the confrontation with China. China’s huge expansion of production, and its ability to keep plowing ahead despite the glut on the global markets, makes it a menace to the profits of western corporations.
The Trans Pacific Partnership, which both candidates now say they oppose, is an effort by the United States and its allies to prevent more countries from doing business with China. The TPP is accompanied by the “Asian Pivot” of US military forces to Asia. The United States has established the strike-enabling THAAD missile system in the southern part of the Korean Peninsula, threatening not just the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, but also China and Russia. China is expanding its military presence in the South China Sea in anticipation of US efforts to stop their economic expansion.
The reason western leaders constantly demonize China is because the most populous country in the world is no longer an impoverished semi-colony. Unlike most of the “third world,” China now stands before the world stronger than ever. The international bankers of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are watching as China ebbs their position of global dominance. They intend to take it back.
Caleb Maupin is a political analyst and activist based in New York. He studied political science at Baldwin-Wallace College and was inspired and involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.