WeeklyWorker

30.04.2020
China was the source, but compares favourably with other countries

Demonisation of China

Attacks are driven not by pandemic concerns, writes Eddie Ford, but imperial pushback.

You must have heard it said at least a thousand times: things will never be the same again after Covid-19. A better world will emerge, with ordinary people valued and more international cooperation. A nice sentiment, of course, but we can surely see the potential for things to actually get worse.

Hence the increasingly anti-Chinese nature of the discourse about the crisis, given the origins of Covid-19. Now there are aggressive demands for an “international investigation” into China’s role in the pandemic, especially from the US and Australian governments - not dissimilar in tone to the over-hyped fears about Huawei 5G technology being a mortal security threat to the west, or Beijing’s claims to ocean areas and islands in the South China Sea.

Australia - though 32.7% of its exports go to China - has fallen in with Washington’s line. According to home affairs secretary Peter Dutton, it is “entirely reasonable and sensible” to call for an investigation, citing the “extraordinary” impact of the virus on the global economy and the more than 200,000 deaths worldwide. It is “incumbent” upon Beijing, he says, to provide answers, as people need “clarity” about what happened. Scott Morrison, the prime minister - after a “constructive” phone call with Donald Trump - has suggested recruiting so-called independent investigators akin to “weapons inspectors” to determine the source of major disease outbreaks. Exactly who would set it up or how it would operate remains undetailed. Beijing was not impressed by Morrison’s idea, saying that Australia was like “gum stuck to the bottom of China’s shoe” - with an editorial in the state-run Global Times accusing Canberra of “panda bashing” and “victim blaming”.

As for Donald Trump, we are all too familiar with his belligerent and provocative stance on the issue - he is still regularly referring to Covid-19 as the “Chinese virus”, even though the US has the highest number of deaths in the world by far, with nearly 60,000 fatalities and over a million confirmed cases. He has defunded the World Health Organisation for being “biased” towards China and openly mused recently at one of his White House briefings about whether coronavirus was a “mistake that got out of control” or - completely madly - if Beijing was “knowingly responsible” for the outbreak. Now Trump is talking about seeking damages, demanding Versailles-type reparations from Beijing to the sum of $165 billion for keeping the “world in the dark”, as it was “too proud and too nationalistic to tell the truth” - a classic case of the kettle calling the pot black.

Further fuelling the anti-Chinese narrative, if not hinting at a conspiracy, the White House trade advisor, Peter Navarro, denounced Beijing for “profiteering” from the pandemic by selling “fake tests and counterfeit tests” to the US - whilst a 57-page Republican Party memo advises candidates to aggressively target Beijing - after all, Covid-19 was a “hit and run, followed by a cover-up that cost thousands of lives”. This seems to indicate that the Republicans plan to make anti-China propaganda and the possibility of sanctions a centrepiece of the presidential election campaign (assuming it stills goes ahead). You see, the Democrats are too soft on Beijing, just like they are on immigration.

Closer to home and doing its bit to vilify China, we have the creation of the China Research Group – obviously modelled on the European Research Group, which should tell you everything. Chaired by Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, who also heads the foreign affairs select committee, it claims not to be anti-Chinese: rather, aims to promote “fresh thinking about issues raised by the rise of China”, as well as providing a “trustworthy source” of news. In the same way the ERG exists only to promote information about developments on the European continent. Giving the game away somewhat, however, Tugendhat told the BBC that Beijing “deliberately falsified the data” on the pandemic - the Communist Party of China was putting its own survival “ahead of that of the survival of people”.

Demonising China is one thing, but the plain truth is that the country’s declared death rate makes for an embarrassing comparison with that of America, Britain and much of Europe. China reported 22 new deaths on April 28 - rather enviable, you would think, given that the USA and most of Europe are still in lockdown and suffering significant levels of fatalities. The UK, for instance, has an official death toll of 26,097 as of April 29. China just 4,643 – with a population of well over a billion people. A lot of the barrage against China has more than a whiff of the politics of envy.

If Beijing’s statistics are simply fake, then fair enough: but that is unlikely. Yes, China did not act quickly enough at first - hardly news. But, when it did, the regime acted decisively and effectively - stopping the virus in its tracks. Again, in stark contrast to either the US or UK - which have totally bungled the whole thing right from the very beginning, making a series of often inexplicable policy decisions. Like Britain all but abandoning contact tracing in mid-March or completely failing to prepare for a pandemic following the “terrifying” results of the 2016 Exercise Cygnus. Will there be an “international investigation” into the conduct of the British, American or Australian governments? After all, when US deaths hit 22, Donald Trump breezily said everything was under control: “It’s going to disappear. One day - it’s like a miracle - it will disappear.” He clearly had not a clue how rapidly the virus can spread. Then there was Boris Johnson boasting about shaking hands with everyone he met on a hospital visit, or him and his partner, Carrie Symonds, attending the England versus Wales rugby match at Twickenham on March 7 in an apparent show of defiance against those calling for a lockdown.

We are the last people to whitewash the corrupt Beijing regime - stuffed as it is full of billionaire ‘communists’. Quite the opposite. But it is obvious that the current attacks on China are not motivated by genuine concerns about the pandemic, or the science - instead they are part of a much wider imperial pushback against China.

Hegemon?

From the other end of the telescope, it is worth briefly mentioning the comments made by comrade Daniel Lazare in last week’s Weekly Worker. He refers to the US as the “former hegemon”, believing that in the aftermath of the pandemic - just “as species rise and fall” - the political line-up will change: “some countries will advance, and others will fall behind” (April 23). Meaning that instead of the unipolar world we have all been used to since the fall of the Berlin Wall, we can expect “something more complex”, in which China, Russia, Germany, etc all jostle for control, as now “there is a hole where a superpower used to be” - the “volcanic eruption of American imperialism” that Trotsky foresaw in 1940 has apparently “played itself out”. We are witnessing a new world order coming into being.

It is certainly true that, when it comes to Covid-19, developing a vaccine, pioneering new forms of testing, unleashing the energies of big pharma, recruiting the best minds in medical science, and so on, the US is noticeable by its absence. We do not have Washington playing the same leadership role as it did during the financial crisis with George Bush Jr and Barack Obama - Trump having no interest in playing that game. But it does not therefore follow that the US is no longer the global hegemon. It is certainly very doubtful that Covid-19 is the moment when China replaces the US as the global hegemon. Not only is the US still the biggest economy, but, the dollar remains the global currency - not to mention America’s system of alliances with other imperial powers and overwhelming military might.

It is the US domination of the world finance which allows the US to enforce sanctions on target countries. That, even when those sanctions are widely opposed by allies. They have no choice but to comply. Predictably, the coronavirus pandemic saw a flight of capital … to the safety of the US.

Yes, the US is showing all the symptoms of decline - not least in terms of the man who happens to be president at the present time, who is sometimes reminiscent of Caligula in terms of his half-deranged and contradictory Tweets and statements.

eddie.ford@weeklyworker.co.uk