The US drive to war with China and the battle of ideas

Jun 5, 2023
Three cogwheels on slate background with the flags of USA and the China and a question-mark in the middle.

Somewhere, somehow, China became the number one enemy of the world, or at least to the world that is run by the USA. For many the ‘reason’ has been the challenge that China poses to US economic hegemony, but might not America’s fear of China be based on ideological causes; a battle of ideas?

Why does a country that has never been incursionary suddenly become a threat? Why is a country that seeks to develop an economy that actually benefits its people considered to be a danger to the world? What is China doing that is wrong, or to invert the question, what is China doing that is right that has made it the enemy of the USA and its dwindling band of allies?

Governments and their propaganda machines do not encourage us to ask questions, but surely the big question is; why?

The world teeters on the edge of an appalling abyss. We face climate catastrophe, economic crisis, war and increasingly the threat of an unimaginable war. Such a war would threaten the survival of the planet and yet the drive to war goes on. The demonisation of China just gets worse. The propaganda machine makes sure that the people do not question that China is the enemy. Why?

Some ‘experts’ like Samuel Huntington wrote of a ‘clash of civilisations.’ Such a view sees a rising China as a threat that must be countered. It allows for the propagandist line that China is becoming too ‘assertive’ or that it is somehow intent on controlling the region and the world.

This view is a disturbing one and particularly so when there is no actual evidence to suggest that China is acting in a negative way. It is not militarily expansionist, does not have hundreds of military bases around the world, like the USA. It does not topple regimes or invade smaller states. The anti-China hysteria cannot be justified.

An accepted view is that China threatens US economic hegemony and must not be permitted to assume global economic primacy. This position sees China as a rising capitalist nation. The USA is therefore threatened and is reacting accordingly. It is an argument that sees the USA and its growing belligerence in a purely economic light. It is an undoubted fact that the USA is in a state of economic decline and will ensure, if at all possible and for as long as possible, that it will remain top dog, regardless of the cost.

The USA has a long a bloody history of subjugating other states. Sometimes this is done with the carrot and sometimes with the stick. Certainly, it is seeking to subjugate China, but is it simply because China is proving to be a rival capitalist nation? This view is superficially appealing, at least until the rest of the world is taken into consideration.

The world can be crudely broken into three major economic spheres of America, China and the European Union (EU). The size of their economies is roughly equal. The US still leads the pack with a GDP of $25 trillion. China follows with $18 trillion and the EU at close to $17 trillion. Twenty years ago, the biggest rival to the US for economic strength was the EU. The EU was not threatened by an aggressive US war machine. Economic rivalry existed but only a madman would have suggested that the USA and Europe might go to war to maintain economic power. Japan has maintained a prominent place among global capitalist economies but is not threatened by the USA.

The theory that the war drums are being beaten, simply on the grounds of relegation and diminution of American economic power in the face of a rising capitalist power, looks a little shaky.

There is a third theory and one that needs to be considered. That theory is that China, while not a socialist state, is intent upon establishing the economic basis from which to build a successful socialist state and economy. This is certainly what is being said in Beijing. Washington, it seems, might concur.

The USA as the epitome of capitalist ideology, both philosophical and economic, naturally finds the idea of socialism to be a threat. Socialism, for a capitalist state, is something of an existential threat. It hardly matters that Cuba remains a tiny, non-threatening country. It must be bullied and its economy squeezed by sanctions. Venezuela has had over 900 sanctions imposed by the USA. The world might remember the fate of Grenada which could never have posed a problem for its massive near neighbour and yet its sovereignty was crushed by a US military invasion in 1983. These experiments with socialism, along with that of the USSR were all conducted from a very low economic base. If China is seeking to build a socialist economy, then it becomes particularly fearful for the USA because it would be built on a foundation of a strong economic base.

This fear seems to be at the centre of America’s war drive. If socialism is to work then it must be quantifiably an advance on capitalism. It is at the core of Marx’s theory. Capitalism provided a better future than feudalism and so, if socialism is to follow capitalism, then it has to offer something that is not simply more attractive but essentially superior.

The Chinese have been pushing to develop their productive forces to match and potentially outstrip that of their capitalist rival. All evidence seems to point to this becoming a reality in the not-too-distant future. This is of a grave concern to Washington. The last few years have seen the private sector in China begin to shrink, while the state-sector has grown. Life for the people is improving. Real wages are growing, inflation is low and the social wage remains relatively high.

For the USA, as the bastion of neoliberal capitalist philosophy, all of this is anathema. America’s allies, who share this economic and philosophical world view are equally uneasy. The result, in real time, is a mounting demonisation of China and a dangerous rise in tension and the militarisation of the region.

For the people of the region and the world, it means insecurity. The propagandists do their work. China is the accepted enemy. Nobody tells us why. All possible theories, from a clash of civilisations, to an imagined incursionary and expansionist China, to an economic threat, to a refusal to abide by the ‘rules-based order’, up to and including a clash of ideology between capitalism and socialism are thrown into the mix.

The net result is that we live in a period of danger and to separate fact from fiction becomes all the more difficult.

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