China is not imperialist power
Author: SEEbiz
29th June 2020
ANALYSIS - The idea that China is an imperialist power is a very useful ideological tool for the propagandists of the U.S. empire.

It morally justifies Washington’s attempts to continue dominating the world through invasions, coups, and economic warfare by presenting Beijing as an equivalent or worse imperialist oppressor. It also turns many American anti-imperialists away from supporting China by convincing them that this rising anti-U.S. power is just another empire.

Rebukes to the “China is imperialist” meme are usually met with incredulous dismissals, because the people who hold this position usually have deep-seated ideological reasons for treating China as imperialist. One can point to how China doesn’t carry out regime change or use its military to illegally occupy sovereign countries like the U.S. does, but this can be countered by (rightly) arguing this alone doesn’t prove China isn’t imperialist. One can point to how China has a pattern of forgiving foreign debt in contrast to Washington’s strategic manufacturing of debt, but this can be countered by pointing out the (unsurprising) fact that China’s loans are initially given out in similar ways similar to Western loans. The impulse among Western chauvinists and “anti-authoritarian” leftists is to view a rising non-U.S. aligned power like China as an unambiguous villain, so the debate goes in circles.

At least within the leftist circles that view China as imperialist, the core argument is that China’s inclusion of large corporations within its economy makes it dominated by monopolies, and that this makes it fit the kinds of criteria for imperialism which Lenin mentioned. But in terms of the country’s overall economic structure, it’s hard to argue that these corporations make up a decisive role. Nearly 70% of the 119 Chinese firms featured on the Fortune Global 500 list are state-owned, and the twelve biggest Chinese companies are government-owned. The state maintains control over heavy industry, energy, finance, transport, communications, and foreign trade, which are the most important aspects of the economy. Private production is encouraged by the state only because it spurs technological development, employment, and modernization.

China also can’t be considered a financial oligarchy. The Chinese government’s propensity for imprisoning and in many cases executing wealthy industrialists reflects the fact that despite its capitalistic market reforms, the PRC is still a workers’ state. The Communist Party of China is extraordinarily popular among the people it governs, because as mandated by China’s democratic process, the CPC primarily serves the interests of the people. Its vast social safety net has all but eliminated Chinese poverty, and China has become the global leader in environmental protection due to its socialist state intervention.

These facts about China’s internal governmental structure are relevant towards proving why China is not imperialist, because they show that its role in the world isn’t driven by a desire to serve bourgeois interests. This is apparent because China’s internal prioritization of public economic control is reflected by its external prioritization of state socialist loans. The vast majority of China’s foreign loans are not capitalist investments, but rather government funds that have in many cases been used to free countries from the grip of imperialism. In addition to China’s having provided Laos with the equivalent of $32 million in interest in free credits in 2013, which has helped Laos overcome its debt slavery to the International Monetary Fund, China has forgiven nearly $10 billion in debt. Cuba accounts for over half of this forgiven debt, a development which has made the country better equipped to overcome Washington’s economic embargo.

China utilizes a variety of instruments to advance its interest in ways that western nations can only envy. Most of China’s investments are through state-owned companies, whose individual investments do not have to be profitable if they serve overall Chinese objectives. Thus the representative of China’s state-owned construction company in Ethiopia could reveal that he was instructed by Beijing to bid low on various tenders, without regard for profit. China’s long term objective in Ethiopia is in access to future natural resource investments, not in construction business profits.

Despite recent claims that China has been using its companies to engage in neo-colonialism throughout Africa, the situation Lyman assessed has continued to be the case throughout the last fifteen years. As I’ve mentioned in past writings, China’s investments do not meet the definition of neo-colonialism; Chinese enterprises help the job markets abroad rather than only employing Chinese workers, China hasn’t been engaging in “land grabs” in Africa, and China isn’t working to trap African nations in debt. In accordance with China’s not engaging in regime change, China has also never favored any government for its form or ideology.

Charges of imperialism and neo-colonialism have been used to delegitimize numerous other facets of Chinese foreign policy. Anti-China commentators have claimed China is seeking imperialist domination over the South China Sea even though China has only been protecting its own commercial lifeline from U.S. imperialism; some pro-Western figures have accused China of “neo-colonialism” in Hong Kong even though essentially all that China has done to Hong Kong in the last several generations is free it from British colonialism; similar claims have been made about China’s efforts to influence Tibet and Taiwan even though China hasn’t suppressed the religious freedom of Tibetans, and even though Chinese socialism would be the perfect replacement for Taiwan’s bourgeois “democracy.”

Whatever criticisms of China’s foreign policy that can be made, they don’t amount to proof that China is imperialist. The fact that China makes efforts to ensure that its companies are profitable abroad doesn’t equate to a colonialist project, and certainly not to an imperialist one. The country doesn’t fit Lenin’s five criteria for imperialism, and the one that it arguably does perpetuate-which is the prioritization of exporting capital over exporting commodities-isn’t used by China to subjugate the countries which it gives funds to and invests in.

One of the key distinctions between China and America’s foreign economic involvement is that there’s no evidence of China wanting to secure resources for profit. The other key difference, as demonstrated by the former, is that China doesn’t artificially raise prices through monopolies to attain super-profits. This all makes apparent a line between the world’s imperialist powers in the U.S./NATO alliance, and between China and its ally Russia-which are both independent countries that are merely trying to trade and invest.

China may be a participant in the machine of global capitalism, but any truly nuanced view of it places it as an anti-imperialist presence. This is the Marxist analysis of China’s role in the world, as opposed to the opportunist one that treats China as an unambiguous menace. In 2020 more than ever, siding with China is the position that reflects knowledge of how material conditions shape the potential for socialist revolution.

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