Is the kidnapping of Meng Wanzhou (from Huawei) a turning point?

Is the kidnapping of Meng Wanzhou, a senior executive of Huawei, a turning point?

Let us leave aside the cowardly Canadians bending to the capricious will of a declining United States, or the increasingly ineffective sanctions that the USA slaps on all and sundry, and consider what I have elsewhere called China’s dialectical leap into the future.

Huawei’s technological breakthroughs are only one – albeit important – aspect of a much larger process. Having been the first to test successfully a 5G communication, Huawei has developed a whole process that enables it to roll out a complete network in countries keen to get hold of it. 5G will make wifi and national broadband networks obsolete. How has it been able to achieve this, along with superior technology all the way from smart phones to undersea cables? Of its 180,000 employees, more than half are involved in research and development. Has it done so through ‘intellectual property theft‘? Not at all, but through the active incentives of a communist party in China that knows such developments take place only with significant government support.

Yet, Huwaei is only one example of a whole range of technological breakthroughs that have been happening in China over the last few years. I will not go into the full range of these here, but will focus on wider social and political questions. This is because the dialectical leap is taking place not merely on a technological level.

Socially, the symbiosis – as many are now recognising – between traditional China culture and Marxism means that Chinese culture today means Marxist Chinese culture. The old Confucian four-character saying, ‘all under heaven is as common [tianxia wei gong]’ has been appropriated and reinterpreted in light of communism’s focus on the ‘common’. This has massive implications at all levels, from the share economy through a Chinese Marxist approach to human rights (in which economic wellbeing is the basic right) to core socialist values.

Politically, all of this is taking place precisely under the strong leadership of Xi Jinping. Call it what you will, but the reality is that a good dose of communist authoritarianism is precisely what China has needed in the last six years. The result: on average, 90 percent of people in China are confident of the direction in which the country is headed, and 84 percent of people at all levels have trust in the government and public institutions (as the Ipsos and Edelman poll agregates indicate). This entails confidence to innovate and take risks, with quite stunning results.

Back to the kidnapping of Meng Wanzhou: this is an extraordinarily clumsy move that will backfire in so many ways. Only time will tell, but this may well be the moment when countries like the United States, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (a small gaggle that once upon a time called the shots) really do begin to fall behind in a very noticeable way. By contrast, those keen to engage with and make use of Chinese breakthroughs may well begin to leap ahead as well. The candidates are many indeed, from Russia through Africa and Central Asia to Latin America. Now that would be a different world.

 

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Two (of three) articles on Chinese Marxist approaches to human rights

In the process of writing a series of three articles on Chinese Marxist human rights, two pre-publication versions have been posted on – of all things – the website of the Australian Academy of Humanities. I do not quite understand why they asked for them, given the other items, but there you go:

1. The State and Minority Nationalities in China

2. ‘We Have Freedom of Religion’: Understanding Chinese Marxist Approaches to Human Rights

3. Sovereignty and Human Rights: A Chinese Perspective (this one will be complete by January)

An effort to understand Australian Sinophobia

Since I spend my holidays in Australia, I find a need to understand the extraordinarily vicious Sinophobia thereabouts. In our time, perhaps New Zealand is the only country where it is worse, but that is not by much. Russophobia is part of the picture as well, but not as bad as in that very weird country, the United States.

So let me suggest the following:

1. The weakness of Australian governance, especially at a national level. No matter what party has been in power over the last decade or more, it has characteristically been weak and torn by inner strife. They spend most of their time turfing out one leader and finding another, so much that elections are a waste of time and money. When a government is weak, it likes to find an external threat.

2. There are two caveats here. To begin with, the general populace is largely positive with regard to China. Survey after survey indicates around 65 percent are positively disposed. Further, the political subclass is split, with significant portions across the limited political spectrum engaging with China. For now, the Sinophobic element is able to set the agenda, making use of a gaggle of rabid ‘commentators’ and ‘advisors’ who do not realise they are being used. Australia also has a compliant corporate and state-owned media (ABC and SBS) playing the same tune.

3. At a deeper level, the Sinophobic narrative – with its distortions and deliberate misinformation – taps into a vast storehouse of Australian racism from the past. This comes form a time when the population was less than 10 million and was largely descended from British immigrants. In this context, the ‘yellow peril’ was invoked, an obviously racist trope and part of the white Australia policy. This is really nasty material, which many of us thought had been left behind.

4. The Sinophobic propaganda is a signal of an ongoing identity crisis. Since 1972 and the end of the white Australia policy, Australia has seen British descendants become a minority. Western European descendants (like myself) will also soon be a minority. Most immigrants come from East Asia, the Subcontinent and Africa. For example, Chinese is the second most spoken language in Australia now. As this shift happens, with about 200,000 immigrants per year, the demographics and culture have been changing. In this context, the racist invocation has become more shrill as Australia makes the transition to a Eurasian nation. That it alienates a significant portion of the population should be obvious.

5. The rampant Sinophobia may also be seen as a symptom of the difficulty of figuring how to deal with a declining United States. That the USA is in decline is obvious to everyone. Asian countries have by and large figured this out and have been working to solve their own problems. But Australia is trapped. It gambled on alliance with the United States after the Second World War, but the governing bodies know full well that the USA today would neither want nor be able to lift a finger to help Australia. Further, for some time now, Australia’s number one economic partner has been China, which has enabled Australia to avoid a recession for 27 years. Australian policy setters, along with the woeful media, are unable to manage this situation. Either break with the United States or break with China. The latter option would have severe economic and social consequences, while the former would simply challenge the whole political culture of the last 70 or more years.

6. At the deepest level, this Sinophobia is part of the long-standing colonial and anti-colonial struggle. The anti-colonial project I have in mind is the one that came to the fore in the twentieth century. As the Soviet Union realised (in the 1930s) that the Russian Revolution was in part an anti-colonial revolution, and as it began to support at many levels the global anti-colonial struggle in the name of opposing capitalist imperialism, the century was determined at many levels by this struggle.

With its immense economic power and socialist political structures, China has now taken the lead in the anti-colonial project. We see this with the world-changing Belt and Road Initiative, Africa-China Cooperation, the Asia Infrastructure Bank and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. The latest element of this is the shift away from the US dollar in international transactions and reserves (for example, China plans in March to trade oil in Renminbi, the most significant shift from the last item that is still almost exclusively done in US dollars).

In response, a small number of countries – 15 at most – have made an effort to counter this anti-colonial project. Of course, they are former colonial powers, pushing a tired agenda that is too little, too late. The catch is that some of the former colonies have joined this new colonial bandwagon. These are not the countries that achieved independence in the twentieth century, but earlier. The United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia are the culprits. While we may think this is perverse, it is useful to recall that each of them has been a colonial power on their own. Australia, for example, was for long a colonial master of Papua New Guinea and still sees itself as a master. That China has now engaged with Papua New Guinea and is doing what Australia never did – improve the basic infrastructure in Papua New Guinea so that it may actually develop economically – is seen as an affront to Australia’s continuing colonial arrogance.

 

Political weakness, a storehouse of racism, an identity crisis, a declining and angry United States, and the anti-colonial project – these are the factors that seem to be important. There may be more, but none are particularly pleasant. No wonder, then, that in 2017 and 2018, Australia was voted the least friendly country by Chinese surveys.

Deng Xiaoping: Basic principles of international engagement

In the context of the 1978 launch the ‘four modernisations’ (agriculture, industry, science and technology, and national defence), Deng Xiaoping made the following remarks relating to China’s international engagement:

At present, we are still a relatively poor nation. It is impossible for us to undertake many international proletarian obligations, so our contributions remain small. However, once we have accomplished the four modernizations and the national economy has expanded, our contributions to mankind, and especially to the Third World, will be greater. As a socialist country, China shall always belong to the Third World and shall never seek hegemony. This idea is understandable because China is still quite poor, and is therefore a Third World country in the real sense of the term. The question is whether or not China will practise hegemony when it becomes more developed in the future. My friends, you are younger than I, so you will be able to see for yourselves what happens at that time. If it remains a socialist country, China will not practise hegemony and it will still belong to the Third World. Should China become arrogant, however, act like an overlord and give orders to the world, it would no longer be considered a Third World country. Indeed, it would cease to be a socialist country. I first addressed these points in a speech delivered at the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly in 1974. The current foreign policy, which was formulated by Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai, will be passed on to our descendants (Selected Works, vol. 2, p. 123).

Fast forward to 2017 and the official launch of the Belt and Road Initiative, where Xi Jinping reiterated the five core principles of peaceful coexistence, which date back to 1954:

China will enhance friendship and cooperation with all countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence. We are ready to share practices of development with other countries, but we have no intention to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs, export our own social system and model of development, or impose our own will on others. In pursuing the Belt and Road Initiative, we will not resort to outdated geopolitical maneuvering. What we hope to achieve is a new model of win-win cooperation.

In light of Deng Xiaoping’s comments, China is obviously still a socialist country, if not even more so today.

The Maopai (Maoist sectarians)

Agence France Presse asked me recently about at item making the rounds in some quarters. It concerns a small group of Maoist sectarians who had travelled south to take part in some worker protests. Coming from a few universities in Beijing, some were put under house arrest upon return. I am told that Cornell University in the United States terminated a cooperative program with Renmin University of China over the issue.

Of course, all of this gains its inevitable spin and the full context is lost. The question is asked: why would a Marxist government seek to restrain a Marxist movement? Here is my response to AFP, although I am not sure they will do it justice:

These types of groups have been in existence for quite some time. One could, for example, outline earlier forms such as the ‘Utopia’ movement of more than a decade ago, which championed the corrupt mayor of Chongqing, Bo Xilai. There are also loose connections with what has been called China’s ‘New Left’, although the latter keep clear of these groups. Today one could perhaps say they are within the broad spectrum of Marxism in China, but they are really quite minor and on the fringe in relation to the vast reality of Chinese Marxism.

A brief outline of their main positions may be useful. Rather than simply calling them ‘Marxists’, they should really be seen as Maopai, Maoist sectarians. The phenomemon is in fact common in the history of Marxism and communist movements. A sectarian group typically assumes it is the bearer of truth, while other groups are heretics or betrayers.

The Maoist sectarians are no different. They believe that they witness to the truth of the last real expression of communism in China with Mao Zedong, especially during the Cultural Revolution. As any careful study of Mao’s extensive writings and acts indicates, their reading is quite selective, suiting their own agenda. For example, they stress a ‘break’ between Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, suggesting that the latter ‘betrayed’ Mao and took China on the road to capitalism. However, if one studies Deng Xiaoping, it soon becomes clear that the continuities are equally strong, if not stronger. Further, their perception of the Cultural Revolution is rather idealistic and starry-eyed, instead of seeing it as the complex and traumatic reality that it was: a trauma that still runs deep in Chinese society.

Their focus on some workers also indicates a difficulty in dealing with Mao’s emphasis on peasants as the core of the communist movement at the time. Here they disagree among themselves: some recognize the importance of peasants/farmers, while others dismiss them and assert that ‘true’ communism focuses on workers. It is also worth noting on this matter that when workers do strike in China (as happened more in the past but less so today), it is normally in relation to bosses breaking the law. Workers typically invoke communist slogans in their protests, which is a point where the Maoist sectarians can make a connection.

More significantly, their approach runs into severe problems when examined further. They hold to a rather stunning conspiracy theory, which has been running for the 40 years of the reform and opening up. Thus, they see the CPC now as ‘fake’, as using deceptive speech when stressing Marxism, and so on. They also dismiss 40 years of very sophisticated Marxist developments.

They are also rather astute in feeding into a particular form of Western European Marxism, which has – especially after 1989 – felt that no authentic form of socialism could develop elsewhere in the world, especially in China. Thus, they position themselves as the ‘authentic’ voice of Marxism in China. For example, the French Marxist philosopher, Alain Badiou, has been promoting this perspective and is used by some of these Maoist sectarians in their work in China. The problem with Badiou is that he seriously misunderstands Marxism in China today. He has to my knowledge never been in China where he would see a strong communist party, with Marxism promoted everywhere, even to the point where it is becoming part of Chinese culture.

Why have such groups stepped up their activities of late, becoming more open? Xi Jinping is the key here. Everyone in China has known for quite some time that Xi Jinping is very serious about Marxism, directing the development of China’s economy, reforming the communist party (it was in relatively bad shape some years ago), shaping academic developments, art and literature, and so on. Only this year – since the CPC’s 19th congress in late 2017 and Xi Jinping’s major speech in May 2018 commemorating 200 years since Marx’s birth – has the rest of the world begun to notice. These events are beginning to lead to significant reassessment in other parts of the world. In the process, Xi Jinping has successfully claimed Mao’s mantle – as the majority of common people (laobaixing) clearly sense. But this development is quite disconcerting for the Maoist sectarians, for it seriously risks undermining their approach and indeed their conspiracy theory.

A specific event can also be connected to this activity. On 29 October, 2018, Xi Jinping gave a major speech to new trade union leaders on the relationship between workers, trade unions and the communist party. Again, this was a very Marxist speech with a clear articulation of how workers and unions function in building a new China under socialism in power. The challenge to the Maoist narrative should be obvious.

Lenin would have called them ‘left-wing communism, an infantile disorder’. However, one usually grows up and gains some wisdom. I have witnessed a number of people do precisely that: entertain a sectarian perspective for a while but then realise there is a greater and richer Marxist reality reality with which to engage constructively.

Xi Jinping’s important speech on trade unions and workers

It is at times difficult to keep up with these position papers by Xi Jinping. A couple of weeks ago he directly addressed workers at a meeting (29 October 2018) of new trade union leaders. I have yet to find an English translation, since not all are translated immediately, so here is a summary from the State Council website that was widely circulated in Chinese news services. Obviously, with socialism in power, the relationship between the communist party, trade unions and workers moves in new directions.

BEIJING — Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, called for mobilizing the country’s hundreds of millions of workers to make accomplishments in the new era and break new ground in the cause of the workers’ movement and trade unions’ work.

Xi, also president and chairman of the Central Military Commission, made the remarks during a talk with the new leadership of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) on Oct 29.

The Workers’ movement is an important part of the cause of the Party, while trade unions’ work is a regular and fundamental job for the Party’s governance, Xi said.

He urged upholding Party leadership over trade unions’ work, mobilizing hundreds of millions of workers to make accomplishments in the new era, strengthening ideological and political guidance for employees, and advancing reforms and innovations in trade unions’ work.

He told the ACFTU leadership to be brave to shoulder responsibilities, be enterprising and active, and make solid efforts to break new ground in the cause of workers’ movement and trade unions’ work in the new era.

Wang Huning, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and a member of the Secretariat of the CPC Central Committee, joined the talk.

Xi, on behalf of the CPC Central Committee, congratulated the new leadership on the success of the 17th National Congress of the ACFTU and greeted workers, model workers and trade union workers of all ethnic groups.

Commenting on the work of the ACFTU and trade unions at all levels in the past five years, Xi said they made a lot of productive efforts in strengthening political guidance for workers, organizing employees’ work, protecting workers’ rights and interests, keeping the team of employees stable, deepening trade union reforms and innovations, and advancing Party building in the trade union system.

Trade unions should be loyal to the Party’s cause and put the principle of upholding Party leadership and the Chinese socialist system into the practice of workers, Xi said.

He stressed upholding the authority and centralized, unified leadership of the CPC Central Committee, and closely following political stance, direction, principle and path of the committee.

Trade unions should improve their ability to apply the Marxist stance, viewpoint and method to analyze and solve problems, he said.

They should align the firm implementation of the Party’s will with effective efforts to serve the workers, he said.

Xi said the working class should be fully utilized as the main force to accomplish the targets proposed at the 19th CPC National Congress.

He encouraged the country’s workers to devote themselves to their jobs, strive for excellence, and make unremitting efforts to create a happy life and a bright future.

Various competitions should be held with the theme of fostering new development philosophy, promoting high-quality development and building a modernized economy, he said. Faster work should be done to build a team of knowledgeable, skillful and innovative industrial workers, he said.

He also demanded efforts to cultivate more model and highly-skilled workers.

It is the political responsibility of trade unions to guide employees and the people in following the Party, and consolidate the class foundation and public support for the Party’s governance, Xi said. Although the times have changed, the work method of coming from the people and going to the people should not be changed, he said.

Trade unions should adapt to new situations and new tasks, he said. They should improve and strengthen ideological and political work for workers, and make more efforts to inspire the country’s workers to embrace shared ideals, convictions, values and moral standards, Xi said.

Rural workers should be included in trade unions to the largest extent to make them a new staunch and reliable force behind the working class, he said.

Online work should be taken as an important platform for trade unions to link and serve the workers and to raise their penetration, guidance and influence, he said.

Trade unions should adhere to the employee-centered working approach; focus on the most pressing, most immediate issues that concern the employees the most; and fulfill the obligation of safeguarding workers’ rights and interests and sincerely serving workers and the people, Xi said.

Work should also be done to help urban employees in difficulties out of trouble and offer timely assistance to employees who returned to poverty for different reasons, he said.

As the reform of trade unions is an important component of deepening overall reform, trade unions should meet the new requirements on reforming people’s organizations and create a working system of extensive connection to serve the workers, Xi said.

More strength and resources should be put into the community level to unite all workers around the Party, he said.

Meanwhile, the country will reinforce the education, management and supervision of trade union cadres, and improve the mechanism of linking the Party with workers and the people, he said.

Party committees and governments at all levels must implement the Party’s principle of wholeheartedly relying on the working class, and ensure the status of the working class as the master, Xi said.

The country should also improve and strengthen the Party’s leadership on the work of trade unions, move to resolve major problems in the work of those unions, build a quality and professional team of trade union cadres, and support the creative work of trade unions in accordance with laws and regulations, he added.