Learning to hate China – how well have we learned the lessons

Oct 4, 2022
Charts of financial instruments including various type of indicator for technical analysis on the monitor of a computer, together with face of Mao Zedong on RMB (Yuan) 100 bill.
Image: iStock

Toward the end of 2019, an article titled Lessons in how to hate China was published in Pearls and Irritations. Those lessons have been learned and learned well. Three years is a short time but the collective memory is also short. China is now the accepted enemy and the likelihood of war is spoken of more openly.

Those three years have seen a change in the US presidency, and Australia has a new government. The coming to power of Joe Biden saw the US adopt an even more aggressive tone. The Albanese government is just as forthright in its anti-China rhetoric. Australian Defence Minister, Richard Marles, is perfectly in tune with his American counterpart, Lloyd Austin. The only changes have been for the worse.

A year before that article was published, the annual Lowy survey stated that 52 per cent of Australians had a degree of ‘trust’ in our relationship with China. One year later that had dropped to 32 per cent. Today just 12 per cent of Australians have any trust that China will behave ‘responsibly’ in the world. The figures are a tribute to the power of a media that can turn public opinion with supreme ease.

We might ask why it is that the media, so often vaunted as being free and open, has adopted such a blinkered approach and has acted so vigorously to promote distrust and fear. The answer is simple enough. The media, while ‘free’ is part of the state and the state has determined to pursue an anti-China, pro-US position regardless of economic cost, or potential devastation by war.

Our media pick up issues and drop them, but the drive to demonise China has remained a constant theme. It begs the question; why? Is China a threat and if so to whom? Does it warrant defence? Should we be fearful of China?

Before these questions can be answered, one simple fact must be recognised. China is a capitalist economy. There is no point in pretending otherwise and yet governments, and media around the world routinely insult our intelligence with references to China being socialist, or communist. China’s path to capitalism has been remarkably successful. Some of the richest people on the planet are Chinese capitalists. Some of the richest of these carry a party card in their wallets. It has 285 billionaires with a combined wealth of well over a trillion dollars and Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, one of the richest men in the world is a member of the Chinese Communist Party! And still the myth of a socialist China is promoted, as it was when the article was first published.

It seems that every time the word China is used, it must be prefaced with the word communist. This ‘communist’ regime has an economy that is very close to becoming the world’s largest. Those who set about to stir up ‘red’ or ‘yellow’ perils know this and know that China is about as ‘communist’ as the United States. The label, however, in creating an atmosphere of fear, is what is important.

The fear-mongering serves a purpose. Australia’s principal ally is the US and it is not about to give up world dominance. Major powers never do. This is why the world is being pushed to the very brink. This is why China has been officially proclaimed to be an actual danger. This is why Australia is playing such a dangerous game by risking all for the sake of its ally, the United States. It has nothing to do with ideology. If it were then it might make sense. But no, it is all about control of the global economy, about market share, about capitalist power.

In the years since Lessons in how to hate China was published, the alignment of western forces and alliances have been gathering strength. The QUAD, AUKUS, the moves by NATO to move into the Indo-Pacific and to effectively globalise western militarism have intensified. China, for its part, has not been sitting idly by. It has been re-arming and modernising its military capacities. Each Chinese reaction to threatening gestures from the USA and its allies has been propagandised to ‘prove’ China’s hostile intent.

What then to do about China? Do we need to go on learning the lesson of how best to hate it? Do we defend it? Can it be defended?

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has set the hands of the doomsday clock at 100 seconds to midnight. It has never been so close to oblivion. There are no more lessons that we can learn. Our teachers, in government and media, have done their work well. The potential for war is very real. The drive to war must be fought. But people need to be clear that the need to defend China against US war plans is not to be confused with defence of a regime that treats its workers so badly, has no regard for human rights and is just another capitalist power.

Ultimately, what needs to be remembered is that the drive to war is about who controls the markets of the world. The Chinese economy is set to outstrip that of the USA, despite its growth slowing dramatically. If the world can avoid war and survive climate catastrophe, and if capitalism survives, then the future will look only slightly different. Smaller capitalist states will work with whichever capitalist economy is the more powerful. Rivalry between great powers will continue. Workers will go to work and be exploited just as they are today. If war is not avoided then the cost in human life, and environmental devastation is almost incalculable.

When Lessons in how to hate China was published, in 2019, there was a threat of war, climate crisis and of a hegemonic shift from the US to China. It was an uncertain time and fear was being promoted. Those conditions still exist. The only difference is that the threat from the US and its allies has become more intense. We have learned to hate China and may well suffer from the education we have received.

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