Tensions between the United States (as well as its allies, including neighboring Australia) and China are escalating to an alarming concern, although they are temporarily sidelined by the more public scuffle between the United States (and NATO) and Russia over Ukraine.
The language of the conflict with China begins to degenerate into a militaristic tone, but is framed in an artificial narrative of China’s alleged military build-up in the Pacific, Taiwan, and human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. It feels like setting the scene for an undeclared war.
However, this narrative does not include the significant military presence of the United States in the Pacific (including a nuclear arsenal on the Korean peninsula), and human rights both with regard to its own population and those authoritarian countries that they support militarily like Colombia. .
The United States accuses China of failing to abide by what it calls a “rules-based” international system. But it is not an international system. It’s an American system that he expects from his allies, friends and the rest of the world (where he thinks he can get away with it).
Nanaia Mahuta, New Zealand Foreign Minister, in bad shape
New Zealand is placed in a delicate position in this growing escalation. Officially, the country is not an ally but a “friend” of the United States. But military and economic ties are close. On the other hand, China is its largest trading partner.
Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta handled this awkwardness with some skill, but the pressure from the United States and its networks like Five Eyes is considerable.
The Taiwan Complication
Taiwan is an interesting complication. China regards Taiwan as its own and there is a historical argument to back it up. But Taiwan continues to officially call itself the Republic of China (ROC). The history of the ROC is that it was founded in 1912 in China. However, Taiwan was then under Japanese colonial rule (it was previously part of China).
In 1949, following the Communist Party-led Chinese Revolution and the formation of the People’s Republic of China, the defeated Republic of China government moved to Taiwan (Japan had lost control after its defeat during World War II). But the ROC continued to claim to be the government of all of China, including the mainland.
Taiwan’s claim to self-determination would be stronger if it abandoned the absurdity of calling itself the Republic of China. This would eliminate over-pretentiousness and build legitimacy.
What is really behind this story
But is this escalation really about human rights and the Chinese military? It started under President Obama, escalated under President Trump, and continues to escalate under President Biden. Some readers will find it almost sacrilegious to say this, but Trump has been the most honest of the three presidents on this issue.
Trump called a spade a spade; it was all about trade and so he launched a trade war against China. The pretext of human rights did not arouse any interest.
Donald Trump: It’s all about trade
In search of additional information, I came across a captivating article published last July in the American socialist magazine Monthly review. is China imperialist or semi-peripheral?
Written by Minqi Li, an economics professor at the University of Utah, it focuses on the question of whether China is an imperialist country or not. His article is much broader in scope than my specific interest but I recommend it as a very good read in its own right.
Chinese surplus value and economy
Minqi Li’s perspective begins with her observation of China’s economy describing it as the largest in the world when measured by purchasing power parity. Its rapid expansion is reshaping the global geopolitical map, leading Western mainstream media to begin defining China as a new imperialist power.
Understanding added value is important for its analysis. Basically, it is the surplus of socialized value produced by the work of workers over the remuneration paid. He adapts this to the context of a country in the international capitalist system.
Minqi Li acknowledges that China has developed an exploitative relationship with South Asia, Africa and other commodity exporters.
But, according to his assessment as an economist, China continues overall to transfer a greater quantity of surplus value to the central countries of the capitalist world system than it receives from the periphery.
World systems theory
Turning to world systems theory to explain, Minqi Li divides countries into three types: core, semi-periphery, and periphery. The “core countries” specialize in quasi-monopolistic and highly profitable production processes. This leaves “peripheral countries” to specialize in highly competitive, low-profit production processes.
The relationship between “central countries” and “peripheral countries” is illustrated by the added value. That is, surplus value is transferred from peripheral producers to core producers, resulting in unequal exchange and a concentration of global wealth in the core.
Where does that leave the semi-peripheral countries. According to Minqi Li, they have “a relatively seamless mix” of central and peripheral type production processes. They take surplus value from some parts of the world and give it to others.
This is where he puts China – mainly taking the surplus value from developed economies and giving it to developing economies.
If China were to become a central country in the capitalist world system, the existing central countries would have to give up most of the surplus value they currently extract from the periphery.
Great Wall Between China and the “Heartlands”‘
It is inconceivable that the core countries would remain economically and politically stable in such development unless they could develop new patterns of exploitation on such a massive scale to seriously risk either rebellion or collapse.
What about the “heart countries”, mainly in North America and Europe? They don’t want to roll back capitalism in China. They want to constrain it to ensure that, while continuing to be an attractive market for them, China does not destabilize them by becoming a “country of the heart”.
Ian Powell was executive director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, the professional union representing senior doctors and dentists in New Zealand, for over 30 years until December 2019. He is now a health systems commentator , labor market and political living in the small river estuary community of Otaihanga (the place by the tide). First published on Political Bytes