Friday, 1 January 2010

The rise of capitalism's "Red Dragon"

Today, the Independent asks "the Big Question: How should we deal with the emergence of China as a superpower?" The reason that this question needs to be asked now, according to the writer, is China's display of defiance towards Britain;
This week, China executed a 53-year-old Briton, Akmal Shaikh, for bringing four kilos of heroin into the country in 2007. His family and supporters say he was mentally ill, suffering from bipolar disorder, and duped into carrying the drugs by the mafia in Tajikistan. Gordon Brown's Government called in Chinese ambassador Fu Ying, who many see as a future foreign minister for a "full and frank discussion", which is diplomats' speak for reading the riot act. The Prime Minister said he was appalled by the decision to execute Mr Shaikh without a medical test.

The Chinese said he received a fair trial and that there was no evidence pointing to his mental instability, and basically Beijing told the British Government to back off. Beijing's decision to brush off calls for clemency is the latest sign of China flexing its new diplomatic and political muscle, after the jailing for 11 years of top dissident Liu Xiaobo on Christmas Day and by its tough line on negotiations at the Copenhagen climate change talks, which some critics say had blocked a deal bringing deeper cuts in carbon dioxide emissions. Beijing is still furious about climate secretary Ed Miliband's accusations post-Copenhagen that China tried to hijack the UN climate summit and "hold the world to ransom" to prevent a deal.
There are many reasons why the execution of Akmal Shaikh is worthy of significant debate. However, issues of human rights in the country, drugs legalisation, and Shaikh's alleged mental illness do not enter the equation here. Instead we are told that "China flexing its new diplomatic and political muscle" is the real issue, and the concern is not for the life of a human being caught up in a brutal and extremely authoritarian legal system, but for the challenge to British and western power.

Such a "decision to fly in the face of British, but more broadly, Western opinion" simply cannot be tolerated, it seems. On the subject of China, this is the debate that we expected to engage in;
Are we right to fear China's new-found global status?

Yes...
* Not giving Britain any "face", an important principle in Asia, on Mr Shaikh's execution, is worrying
* There is a rising tide of nationalism in China, which bodes ill given that it is not a democracy
* China's military budget and trading influence is rising; other regional powers, such as Japan, are flagging

No...
* The boom of the last 10 years is owed to Chinese workers and we need China's industrial strength
* China is a powerful representative for the developing world, and a counterweight to American hegemony
* Chinese people kept their money safe rather than blow it on property. Although a bit of a bubble is looming
Though this is the summation of one newspaper, it does pretty much represent the framework of mainstream discourse on the new superpower. Fears concerning challenges to western power are balanced by the idea that the industrial strength of the country (i.e. its utter disdain for workers' rights) will be beneficial to the global economy and crushing the growing insurrection against capitalism.

In the wake of US excesses in the past two decades and the failure to sell the threat of "terror" as effectively as the threat of "Communism" before it, it may be more of a boon than a burden to elites. Especially since the emeging bipolar order is one in which there are no borders for global capital. Unlike the state-capitalism of the former USSR, the state-capitalism of China is closer to neo-liberalism in that it indulges corporate power rather than making the state itself the primary proprietor and employer.

For those most affected by Chinese authoritarianism, there is one positive in that the increased prominence of China on the world stage has led to increased attention for their plight. The excellent Aufheben article, Class conflicts in the transformation of China, details how "the immense economic transformation of China has resulted in widespread, and at times quite intense, resistance from both workers and peasants." The use of homicide as a weapon of the weak is just one potent example of this intense rebellion, whilst protests against pollution and strikes by diverse groups such as coal miners and taxi drivers, show that as the peasantry of China adapts to the conditions of an industrial working class, the potential of their resistance only increases.

As the Red Dragon rises to international prominence, we must show our solidarity with the workers and peasants rising up in rebellion against it. That China could rival the military and economic hegemony of the West is a matter for those tied to power to fret over. For those involved in workers' struggles worldwide, the primary issue should be opposition to repression, authoritarianism, and economic imperialism, whatever its source. But with China not having even the basic and limited democratic accountability of the US, UK, and Europe, the success of workers' struggles there have everything resting upon them.