On October 9, the Friends of Socialist China sponsored a zoom event on the Propaganda War against China. The event was co-sponsored by Morning Star, the Grayzone, Pivot to Peace, the Geopolitical Economy Research Group, the International Manifesto Group, and the Qiao Collective.
By Charles McKelvey
Published on the author’s Substack Column, Oct 12, 2021
The event was moderated by Radhika Desei, Professor of Political Studies, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada; and Director of the Geopolitical Economy Research Group. In her introduction to the panel, she noted that propaganda is dehumanizing, in that it portrays peoples and nations in ways that deny their humanity. Propaganda is always based on lies, and the biggest lie about China is the denial of the fundamental fact that China has been developing with continuity its socialist project for seven decades. The anti-China propaganda disseminates the false claim that, with the Reform and Opening that was initiated in 1978, China abandoned socialism for capitalism.
In the period 1990 to 2010, Desei observes, the U.S. elite assumed that, with U.S. economic and diplomatic engagement of China, the Communist Party of China would turn to social democracy and would convert its economy into unproductive neoliberal capitalism; it assumed that China would fulfill the role of a low-cost producer of export goods, consistent with the function of peripheral economies in the capitalist world-economy. However, it is now clear that such assumptions were false. Under state regulation and with the guidance of the Party, China has been increasing its productive capacity and has been developing non-imperialist, mutually-beneficial trade with the nations of the world.
With these observations, Desei reiterates what I take to be an important insight in her work, namely, that capitalism has entered a phase of unproductive financial speculation, in which the development of the productive forces is deemphasized. Meanwhile, the state-directed socialist economies are turning to the development of their productive forces, which has included expanding, with limits and controls, the market and private enterprise. In turning to this strategy, the nations constructing socialism are driven by the need to improve the standard of living of their peoples, who have inherited conditions of underdevelopment and poverty from the pre-socialist period of colonialism and capitalism. The entry of capitalism to a phase of parasitic decadence, simultaneously with the turn of socialism to the expansion of productivity (oriented to human needs), implies that capitalism no longer is socially useful; and that socialism is now the only viable option for humanity, far better than the U.S.-directed global military dictatorship that is emerging from the decadence of capitalism.
Desei maintains that the intention of the USA may be to turn the new Cold War against China into a hot war. But even if it does not, a Cold War with China diverts resources away from the common problems that humanity confronts, such as the pandemic and environmental problems.
Danny Haiphong, Co-Editor of the Friends of Socialist China, explains that the Friends of Socialist China platform was developed to counteract misinformation about China, which also has included demonization of the socialist mode of production. He noted the platform’s founders consciously included “socialist” in its name, in order to show respect and appreciation for China’s socialist project that has been developing for seven decades. He observed that many progressives live in countries where anti-Chinese propaganda is at its height, so many of them have been influenced by the Cold War misinformation. This is especially true in the United States.
Haiphong illustrated the phenomenon with reference to recent articles by George Soros, in which Soros maintained that the Chinese state under Xi Jinping has become authoritarian. Soros wrote that the current Chinese leadership does not understand the free market, and thus it is a threat to humanity. Haiphong maintained that China is a threat because it refuses to accommodate to foreign corporations. He asserted that capitalist investors have never forgiven China for its socialist road. They want to own the Chinese market; they desire the subordination of China to foreign capital.
Haiphong further maintains that the USA is guilty of the crimes of which it accuses China. The USA falsely accuses China of genocide in Xinjiang, when it was the United States that committed genocide against the indigenous population of North America. The USA falsely accuses China of forced labor in Xinjiang, when slavery in the United States was central to its economic development. The USA falsely accuses China of military aggression, when it is the United States that has the largest military budget in the world by far. The USA falsely accuses China of having a repressive dictatorship, when it is the United States that increasingly utilizes dictatorial and repressive measures.
The United States, Haiphong maintains, increasingly turns to a militarist foreign policy in order to compensate for its productive and commercial inadequacies and for the unattractiveness of U.S. capitalism in the eyes of the governments and peoples of the world. Haiphong concludes that the imperialist, racist fabrications of the United States keep us ignorant of the achievements of Chinese socialism, including its victory over extreme poverty.
Li Jingling grew up in China and studied journalism in the UK. She is a reporter for the China Global Television Network. She has traveled throughout China, and she has become known internationally for her English-language reporting from a Chinese perspective.
Li maintains that when Chinese journalists defend the Chinese government, the Western media thinks that they have been brainwashed, that they are a mouthpiece for the Chinese government. The Western media does not appreciate that Chinese journalists have arrived to conclusions independently, on the basis of life experiences. This is because the Western media does not appreciate the great changes in China since 1949, such as advances in the modernization of the economy.
When Western media report on China, they select negative elements of Chinese reality, overlooking the achievements, thus presenting a biased report. The Western media bias, Li maintains, is illustrated by a recent report on Xinjiang, which recorded a street video system and security measures in front of a school, trying to create an image of a repressive state, when in reality, these measures were nothing more than normal security measures for the protection of citizens and school children from criminal behavior. The report did not include children playing happily in the schoolyard, safe with the protective security measures, which are made necessary by the recent history of jihadist terrorism in the territory, ignored by the Western media. She noted the abuse to which Uyghur women have been subjected because of their style of dress, and the intimidation of the Uyghur people for their music. This is a form a cultural genocide, she said, being carried out by informal jihadist groups, and not by the government of the autonomous territory of Xinjiang. She declared that the Western media makes ridiculous claims with respect to Xinjiang, full of inconsistencies.
Li’s observations with respect to Xinjiang are substantiated by a September 21 article in the Qiao Collective platform, an organization of the Chinese Diaspora dedicated to the defense of socialist China. The Qiao Collective maintains that Western governments have levied false allegations of genocide and slavery in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region; it is another front in the U.S.-led hybrid war on China.
The Qiao Collective article reviews the terrorist acts in the region that have been carried out from 1990 to 2016. An organization in the territory, now known as the Turkistan Islamic Party, was registered as a terrorist organization in 2002 by the United Nations at the request of the governments of Afghanistan, China, Kyrgyzstan, and the United States. In the period 2009-2016, a wave of more intense violence and unrest broke out. The period was initiated with the Urumqi Riots of July 5, 2009, in which 197 persons were killed and 1,700 were wounded. Chinese investigations concluded that the riots were incited by foreign entities, such as the World Uyghur Congress, which had been established in Germany in 1996. Subsequently, a terrorist attack on October 28, 2013 in Tiananmen killed 5 and wounded 40; an attack on March 1, 2014 at Kunming Train Station killed 31 and wounded 141; and an attack on May 22, 2014 in Urumqi killed 39 and injured 94. On July 30, 2014, Juma Tahir was assassinated at the Id Kah Mosque following morning prayers. Juna Tahir was the imam of China’s largest mosque; he also was a deputy in the National People’s Congress of China and vice-president of the China Islamic Association. He had called for peace and stability in the face of the rising violence in the region.
The article notes that in 2014, the government of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region announced an anti-terrorist policy; and in 2015, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China approved an anti-terrorist law. These policies and laws focused on “de-radicalization” through vocational training and psychological counseling. Similar de-radicalization programs were developed in France, Denmark, and the United Kingdom. As a dimension of this effort, the World Bank granted a loan to China for the “Xinjiang Technical and Vocational Education and Training Project,” in which 113,880 students, including 40,413 women and 65,015 minorities, were enrolled in schools.
Beginning in 2017, extremist violence waned in Xinjiang. China reported in 2019 that there had been no terrorist incidents in Xinjiang in the three years since the start of the education and training program.
However, the Qiao Collective article observes, the decline of terrorist violence coincided with an escalation of U.S. hostility toward China, and the focus of the war against China shifted to the governments’ anti-terrorist program and policies. The World Uyghur Congress, mentioned above for its role in inciting the 2009 riots, began to write of “internment camps.” Similar allegations were made by Human Rights Watch, Radio Free Asia, and Newsweek Japan. A narrative began to emerge in which vocational training centers are presented as concentration camps or forced labor. In 2018, on the basis of eight anonymous interviews, Chinese Human Rights Defenders published a report on massive incarcerations of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in forced re-education programs. Early in 2019, a report issued by investigators affiliated with the Center for Strategic and International Studies observed that there was a “a significant risk that in many cases the detainees and rural poor are not participating by choice,” without anything to back up that assertion. During the course of the year, no clear evidence of forced labor in Xinjiang emerged, in spite of numerous visits by international delegations. Nonetheless, during that year, the portrayal of vocational centers as concentration camps or forced labor entered into wide public discourse, as media outlets, including The New York Times and the Washington Post, picked up the false story; and continued to run with it in 2020. This distorted reporting by mainstream media outlets was supplemented by social media photos with fake captions and videos taken out of context.
In her presentation, Li Jingling maintained that the principle of freedom of speech is ignored in the USA when there is disagreement with the prevailing line in the Western media. Journalists and commentators have been attacked for reporting on what they have observed in China. They are accused of receiving money from the government, and they are threatened.
The Qiao Collective article notes that many delegations visited Xinjiang, with access to vocational centers. By the end of 2019, nearly 1,000 diplomatic, media, and academic personnel had been invited to visit Xinjiang. In addition, 200,000 million tourists had visited Xinjiang in 2019, up from 150 million the previous year.
By July 2019, the Qiao Collective observes, there had emerged a division in the UN Human Rights Council. Two joint letters taking opposing views were developed. Twenty-two nations signed the letter criticizing China, and they had a decidedly European stamp: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and United Kingdom. On the other hand, fifty nations, all pertaining to the Third World plus Russia, supported China: Algeria, Angola, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Comoros, Congo (Democratic Republic of), Congo (Republic of), Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Gabon, Iran, Iraq, Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of), Kuwait, Laos, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Togo, Turkmenistan, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Yemen, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. These nations have been elected to serve on the UN Human Rights Council by the UN General Assembly.
From 2019 to 2021, five additional votes were held in the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council. The results were similar to July 19, 2019 Human Rights Council vote, with a minority of nations criticizing China’s policies in Xinjiang and a majority supporting China, with a regional North-South division in the vote.
Chen Weihua is the EU bureau chief of the China Daily, the largest English portal in China. He has become known for his biting responses to the disinformation and propaganda with respect to China on Twitter. In response, cyber soldiers of the propaganda war against China have undertaken efforts to discredit him.
Chen maintained that the propaganda war against China has historic roots. China-bashing has been a favorite sport of U.S. politicians since the first Cold War.
He observed that beginning with the Trump administration, there has been a crackdown on Chinese media and technology, and on Chinese students in the United States. The reason is the economic rise of China, with anti-Asian racism also a factor. The media is willing to partner with the government in the propaganda war, demonstrating that it is partisan, participating in a united patriotic front with respect to international issues. There is no fact-checking on claims, and everything is seen in simplistic, black-white terms. In ignoring terrorism in Xinjiang, the media shows that it no longer values telling the truth.
Chen maintained that the people of the United States have a very limited understanding of international affairs, and the people do not have an opportunity to know China. He further maintained that there are many global problems that require international cooperation, but the propaganda war against China makes cooperation difficult.
Daniel Dumbrill is a Canadian who lives and owns a brewery in Shenzhen, China, and who has traveled extensively in China. He is most known for his political commentaries on YouTube about life in China; in many of his videos, he responds to allegations from Western media about human rights violations in China. He has been attacked online for doing so.
Dumbrill began his presentation with the observation that retiring President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s warning in 1960 concerning the growing influence of the military-industrial complex has been ignored. Today, the propaganda war against China is financed by the military-industrial complex, especially the private contractors that play an increasingly important role. The military-industrial complex funds think tanks that generate misstatements that are disseminated by the media.
Dumbrill maintained that the people have been lied to repeatedly. China’s rise has been peaceful. And unlike the United States, China does not interfere in the internal affairs of other nations, engage in military aggression, or impose economic sanctions.
Dumbrill noted that Article 20 of the 1966 International Covenant of Social and Political Rights states that “any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law.” Although the United States has signed the Covenant, it has not enacted appropriate legislation to ensure its implementation. This is because war is necessary to maintain the established world-system; therefore, war propaganda is necessary for an imperialist power like the United States. The people of the United States, Dumbrill maintains, should call upon its government to enact legislation prohibiting war propaganda. It should be illegal for war contractors to influence public opinion.
Dr. Jenny Clegg is an activist and writer, and long-serving member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. She also is a member of the Stop the War Standing Committee. She is a former senior lecturer in international studies at the University of Central Lancashire, UK.
Clegg believes that Hollywood stereotypes of Chinese people laid the foundation for the current belief that China wants to take over the world. The Fu Manchu character of several Hollywood movies presented a negative stereotypical image of Chinese as secretive and deceitful, not quite human, given to cruelty, susceptible to opium addiction, and criminally and morally depraved. The character was conceived by a British writer in 1911, when the British empire was at its height, but confronted internal and external challenges, which continued through the 1920s and 1930s. The popularity of the films in the period functioned to sooth the anxieties that resulted from the moral contradictions of the nation. Clegg sees parallels with the United States today, and its fixation on a supposed threat from China.
Clegg notes that Asian stereotypes provided the basis for the Western construct of orientalism, and they reinforced a race-based white identity against Asia. They functioned to justify imperialism and to facilitatethe support of the people for imperialist policies. At the same time, we should clearly understand that racist stereotypes help to legitimate imperialist policies, but racism is not the principal cause of imperialism. Imperialist policies are driven by the economic and political interests of colonial and neocolonial powers with respect to peripheralized and colonized zones. Politicians of the colonial and neocolonial powers utilize racism and other ideological strategies to marshal the support of the people for imperialist policies.
Kenny Coyle is a journalist based in Hong Kong, Macau, and the Philippines, and a contributor to Morning Star, a British socialist daily newspaper. He maintains that propaganda is both psychological and ideological. When it makes accusations of genocide, it touches emotions of the peoples of our time, who have been psychologically impacted by the horrors of genocide. At the same time, Western propaganda has ideological dimensions, drawing upon conceptualizations that Westerners have been taught with respect to a leading role of the West in forging modernization and modern capitalism, a narrative that omits the role of conquest, colonialism, slavery, and imperialism in the development of the modern capitalist world-economy. Moreover, he notes, there is no longer a distinction between entertainment and propaganda, as the film industry cynically creates subtle propaganda.
Coyle maintained that, because of the psychological and ideological impact of propaganda against China, Western journalists do not understand China. Even Westerners who have lived and worked in China for many years can fail to understand China, if they do not have a personal and/or ideological motive to break free of the assumptions of Western propaganda. A journalist working in China for the Western media will have no incentive to break, if he or she wants to have a successful career in the media or academia in the West.
Coyle reviewed various articles in the Western media that reflect this entrenched misunderstanding of China. Examples include false claims of forced labor imposed on the Uyghur people; and they include reports on protests in Hong Kong that do not mention the support received from the USA by the protest leaders, who have traveled to Washington to lobby for sanctions on Hong Kong and China.
Michael Wong, of the US Veterans for Peace in San Francisco, also spoke of Hong Kong. He reviewed the history of Hong Kong, a Chinese territory that was a British colony from 1841 to 1997. As a condition for the return of the territory to China, the British insisted that a moderate form of democracy be established for a period of fifty years. This was the origin of one nation, two systems, in which Hong Kong is a special administrative region, not integrated into the political system developed by the Communist Party of China in the People’s Republic of China since 1949, which I discuss in my previous commentary.
Wong observed that in 2019-2020, protests broke-out, provoked by an extradition law to facilitate the extradition of an accused murderer to China. Many of the protesters were opposed to China. The protests became violent, but the police respond with restraint, and several months of protest did not result in the death of a single person. At the same time, there were huge demonstrations in support of the government of Hong Kong, not covered by the Western media.
The opposition protests, Wong noted, were funded directly by the USA, primarily the National Endowment for Democracy. NED spent $600,000 in Hong Kong in 2019; and $2 million dollars in 2020. The leaders of the protests met with U.S. politicians.
Wong noted that the protests were brought to an end through a new Hong Kong Security Law, which has characteristics similar to laws in the representative democracies. The great majority of the people of Hong Kong, Wong maintains, are not sympathetic with the protesters. They don’t want conflict. They want peace and prosperity.
Coyle’s and Wong’s observations with respect to Hong Kong are substantiated by an article in the Qiao Collective Website by Laura Ruggieri, a writer who was born in Milan and has been living Hong Kong since 1997. She writes that the question of national identity in post-handover Hong Kong remains unresolved. “Hong Kong didn’t experience anything like the people’s struggles for liberation from colonialist rule that led to the rejection of colonial identity in other countries.” As a result, “when British rule ended in 1997 it left behind a toxic legacy of colonial institutions, British-trained civil servants and a damaged collective psyche precariously held together by a false sense of superiority towards mainland China.” Today, Hong Kong “is teeming with educators, academics and cultural workers who are either foreigners, foreign-educated or share a neocolonial mindset.” Some of these opinion makers have a post-modern perspective that ridicules national identity as obsolete, a philosophy that is convenient for imperialist objectives.
Ruggieri reports that the National Endowment for Democracy has exploited this problematic political-cultural situation. NED has funded Hong Kong-based groups since 1994, including “human rights” organizations that actively recruit and groom academics to create a critical mass of China-haters in academic institutions; and which forge ties among community leaders, journalists, and NGOs through workshops. The U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong has played a prominent role.
Ben Norton is Assistant Editor of The Grayzone, an independent news website dedicated to original investigative journalism and analysis on politics and empire. He began his presentation by quoting Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State in the Trump Administration in 2017-2018. Tillerson praised the Monroe Doctrine and accused China of having imperialist ambitions and becoming a neocolonial power in Latin America. He apparently was unaware that invoking that the U.S. neocolonialist 1823 Monroe Doctrine is offensive to Latin Americans.
Similarly, Norton reported, an article in El País, a daily newspaper in Spain, accused China of colonizing Latin America. And the Latin American right has constructed a narrative that presents progressive governments in the region as puppets of China.
Such accusations, Norton maintains, have emerged in reaction to the threat to the neocolonial world order posed by the Latin American project of union and integration, which has been led by the progressive and socialist governments of the region. The progressive Latin American and Caribbean governments have seen the advantage of mutually beneficial trade among themselves, and they therefore have formed regional associations. In addition, they have sought to reduce their economic dependency on the United States and to develop bilateral relations with China as well as with Russia and Iran. BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) is a parallel and related initiative.
Accordingly, progressive and socialist Latin American nations have a discourse with respect to China that is entirely opposed to that of Tillerson. They have sought relations with China, and for this reason, trade with China has increased tenfold, and China has become the most important ally of Latin American governments in the region. Norton quoted various Latin American leaders to this effect, including Lula, Correa, Fidel, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. They all expressed appreciation to China for developing mutually respectful bilateral relations with Latin America.
Norton observed that intellectuals and activists of the North ought to listen to the anti-imperialist voices of Latin America.
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