Mao’s ‘contradiction analysis’ valid more than 60 years later: on the decline of the USA

Back in 1957, Mao gave a long speech called ‘On Correctly Handling Contradictions Among the People‘ (I am reading it at the moment as part of my Chinese language study). He was thinking about such matters more intensely at the time, since he had been revising part of his lectures on Dialectical Materialism, first given in Yan’an in 1937. That part would become ‘On Contradiction‘, the most important and influential writing on philosophy in China in the twentieth century.

‘On Correctly Handling Contradictions’, has many insights, including the development in a Chinese context of non-antagonistic contradictions’. But I am here interested in his deployment of contradiction analysis to understand developments in international relations.

At one point, he writes:

The United States now controls a majority in the United Nations and dominates many parts of the world – this state of affairs is temporary and will be changed one of these days. China’s position as a poor country denied its rights in international affairs will also be changed – the poor country will change into a rich one, the country denied its rights into one enjoying them – a transformation of things into their opposites. Here, the decisive conditions are the socialist system and the concerted efforts of a united people.

How true this is today, more than 60 years later.

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The so-called ‘hermit kingdom’

One of the standard phrases used when speaking of the DPRK (North Korea) is ‘hermit kingdom’. It is meant to portray a country entirely closed off from the world. You can neither enter nor leave, so the assumption goes, and no country or individual in their right mind would want to engage with the DPRK.

I am not quite sure of the source of this idea. To be sure, hostile countries find it impossible to spy on the DPRK, which is not a bad thing. But as for getting in and out of the country, this is quite easy to do. Any number of tour operators can get you there, and you can go to study, teach for a while, and so on.

International relations? Let’s take a sample of some of the latest activities:

In a report on congratulations to Xi Jinping’s election for a second term as president of China, who should be first on the list? Kim Jong Un. Others of course appear, all of them specifically important Asian partners – including Shinzo Abe from Japan.

The Pyongyang Times reports from Mongolia one of the many events – a photo exhibition – celebrating 70 years of diplomatic relations between Mongolia and the DPRK.

Then there is the ongoing relationship with Nepal, as also with Cuba, Syria, Iran, Mozambique, Nigeria, India, Egypt, Cambodia, Bulgaria, The Netherlands, Singapore, New Zealand  … Russia particularly has regular interaction with the DPRK, with a Russian delegation recently visiting. Of course, we find regular participation in international sporting events, such as football, wrestling, acrobatics and the Olympics.

But the connections with Sweden are perhaps the closest for any country that counts itself as part of Western Europe and the North Atlantic. Diplomatic relations began in 1973, with embassies opened in 1975. They have been close ever since, with the DPRK foreign minister heading for Sweden a couple of days ago to ‘exchange views on bilateral relations and issues of mutual concern’, as Rodong Sinmun puts it.

A ‘hermit kingdom’? Hardly.