Summary of remarks by Duncan McFarland, United for Justice with Peace (Boston) at the April 19, 2014 conference in Cambridge (“Pivoting for Peace in Asia/Pacific”) on the US Pivot to Asia/Pacific and the Trans Pacific Partnership
Rising China Today
The rise of China is one of the most important factors in the changing world of the 21st century. China’s GDP is already second in the world and most economists predict it will surpass the US to become the world’s largest. China recently surpassed the US as the world’s largest trading nation, in terms of total value of imports and exports. China’s growing impacts on Asia and globally are of considerable significance for prospects of war and peace, yet the implications are not well understood by the peace movement. A major problem is the reliance on Western sources for information with little effort to study or understand the situation from the Chinese viewpoint. This presentation hopes to make a contribution toward that end.
History: China Looks at Itself
— The Chinese are very aware and proud of having created one of the world’s great civilizations – whether measured in culture, economy or scientific and technological achievements. Since the time of the Roman Empire, China has been generally as advanced if not more advanced than Western Civilization. Adam Smith, in the Wealth of Nations (1776), referred to China as the world’s wealthiest nation, with only England and the low countries on the same level.
— This changed however in the 19th century when China lost the Opium War to the British (1840s) and were defeated in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95). During the “century of humiliation,” China was repeatedly invaded by the colonial powers and had chunks of territory carved off as concessions. After World War I, China was betrayed in the Treaty of Versailles and subsequently fought a long and bitter war against Japanese invasion and occupation during World War Two. During this century, China also experienced two large scale civil wars. All the wars and invasions greatly impeded China’s development which is a key to understanding today’s emphasis on unity and stability.
— In 1949, China “stood up” as Mao said proclaiming the People’s Republic on Oct. 1, 1949. Since then, progress in most spheres has been remarkable. A poor, weak and largely illiterate country has lifted itself up. Around 2005 President Hu Jintao began talking of China’s “peaceful rise.” From the Chinese perspective, the country is in the middle of the process of again assuming its position in the top tier of the world’s great nations.
China’s self-assured return to economic prominence has in many ways already been completed. Establishing itself in the 1980s as a major trading partner of Japan, the US, and Europe, China since the 1990s has successfully penetrated markets in Africa and Latin America in a major way. China’s “no strings attached” approach to trade deals is very appealing in the developing world, ex-colonies used to being exploited by the advanced capitalist countries, and now subjected to pressure by the World Bank, IMF etc. promoting neoliberal ideology, privatization, structural adjustment. The Chinese advocate the creation of a new global trading currency to replace the US dollar as the standard for international commerce.
China advocates a multi-polar global system of win/win relationships for peace and development based on principles of equality and noninterference (reference: the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence developed with India in the early 1950s). China consistently supports the principle and role of the United Nations, while not always agreeing with specific actions. China is a member of G20, BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and seeks good a relationship with ASEAN.
China on the security council was prepared to veto the US invasion of Iraq; has joined with Russia to veto aggressive and military action against Syria; has indicated it will veto any military attack on Iran. China supports Iran’s right to a full nuclear energy program while also opposing the possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. In the Middle East, China advocates a “two-states” solution to the Palestine/Israel conflict based on the various United Nations resolutions. Regarding the Ukraine conflict, China has adopted a cautious “neutral” public stance while working with Russia to strengthen economic ties.
China is increasing military spending and modernizing its armed forces; its goal is to secure border regions and defend core national interests, historically subject to aggression. China opposes use of force or war to resolve international disputes, has no foreign bases and no troops overseas. China is not a member of any military alliance.
US rebalancing to Asia/Pacific
China is opposed to US military buildup in the region which it sees as an encirclement primarily aimed at containing China’s rise. However, the Chinese also recognize US interests and do not call for a unilateral US withdrawal. There is strong opposition to re-emergence of Japanese militarism, particularly since Japan has never apologized or made proper amends for the atrocities of World War II.
Korea – China calls for decreasing tension and military activity, no provocative joint exercises by US/South Korea and no North Korean nuclear weapons program. Sponsor for the six-party talks for increased dialogue.
Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands – China’s position is that these islands were annexed by Japan at the end of the Sino-Japanese War and that the Chinese have never agreed to Japanese sovereignty. Willing to negotiate issue, blames Japan for refusing to talk. This situation is dangerous as neither country will back down at this time.
South China/East Sea – China claims region was controlled by China since the 15th century Ming Dynasty and Chinese were pushed out only by British at time of Opium War. Willing to negotiate issues with other countries of the region.
Trans Pacific Partnership
My interpretation is that China would be willing to discuss participation in the economic aspects of TPP but objects in principle to non-trade provisions that are based on neoliberalism, privatization and privilege private capitalist corporations at the expense of national sovereignty.
This relationship is full of contradictions, both cooperation and competition. Xi Jinping proposes a new type of “win/win” great power relationship as China does not want conflict or war with US.
China looks at the future with optimism. There is confidence in renewal of Chinese civilization and the continued growth of the socialist system; progressive forces are increasing globally with reactionaries in decline.