high tide against China – a brief intervention

current developments in China and some geo-political aspects, reflected in reporting of Western mass media

a personal intervention by Peter Herrmann

Obviously, it is difficult to assess from outside the situation of anti-Corvid policies in China[1] as it is equally difficult to develop an unbiased approach to the current polity and policy developments abroad. With this wording it should be already clear that one of the major problems is given by the fact of confusing different issues and establishing this way a melting pot that can only be regarded as anti-Chinese chivvy. In other words, in order to properly assess reports on China, it is important to distinguish clearly between the different issues. I propose that a distinction between at least the following elements is crucial:

  1. Fighting Corvid
  2. Maintaining public health in general
  3. A general shift in economic performance

– The following aims on objectively classifying what is going on, i.e. the background of the current media coverage; in other words: it is not seen from what is reported, but instead looking at the reasoning behind the reporting itself.

Ad 1: Fighting Corvid

It is probably fair enough to say that any decision taken and any action undertaken is at least in danger of being wrong – the problem is that decisions have to be taken in the light of uncertainty. While there are good reasons in favour of relaxation of strict policies of containment, the development in several countries give evidence of the fact that relaxation is also in danger of profound dysplasia: The reoccurrence of the virus, the danger of serious and life-threatening courses of the disease and the overstretching of capacities. While the Chinese strategy applies radical restrictions, the common presentation of a total lock-down is simply not true. Referring to some indeed heart-breaking examples and generalising them is surely misleading, as it is highly problematic to de-contextualise them. More interesting is a look at the concrete circumstances, e.g. when and why and how infected children are taken from their parents⁄mothers. The same is true when it comes to the fire in Xinjiang, killing 10 people[2]: While this is tragic, it is not certain if access of security staff and the fire brigade had been hindered by the Corvid policy.

Ad 2: Maintaining public health in general

Little is said about public health – and such silence is increasing. While in the beginning of the pandemics the Chinese policies had been frequently celebrated as success in respect of maintaining public health, this disappeared by now. One exception: Chinese health facilities facing now difficulties, supposedly due to the rejection of Western vaccines. While difficulties should not be denied, it is important to clearly define them, also putting them into the wider context: in China we are dealing with an – in principle – public system, whereas we are in the west dealing with a private system, i.e. financing, provision and perception by users being a matter of profitability. The problems, though in some instances possibly the same on the level of appearance, are essentially different. This is not only an economic problem; a different philosophical understanding of human beings and responsibility is also concerned. Blaming China for difficulties with reference to the non-acknowledgement of Western vaccines is at least a strange move (i) after China sent huge amounts of vaccines abroad and (ii) while Chinese vaccines are not recognised in the West. Is it completely absurd to assume that it may be a matter of economic interests by some pharmaceutical companies? However, it would be interesting to investigate the vaccination rate – according to reports it is not as high as one would expect after the high take-up rate in the beginning.

Ad 3: A general shift in economic orientation/performance and the meaning of socialism with Chinese characteristics

Latest with the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) for National Economic and Social Development we see the official commitment

to a people-centered approach. We must ensure the principal position of the people, and work towards common prosperity. We must insist that our development is for the people and depends on the people, and that its fruits are shared by the people. We must safeguard the fundamental interests of the people, stimulate their enthusiasm, initiative, and creativity, promote social equity, improve people’s wellbeing, and constantly help realize people’s aspiration for a better life.[3]

While it is generally, i.e. in many reflections on current mass protest movements, stated that they are an expression of unwillingness to accept further lock-down policies, some fine-tuning is required. Lock-down measures are certainly affecting people of all strands in life, probably in most serious ways workers; however, the protests are apparently originating from different strata:

People from different social backgrounds—university students, migrant labourers and wealthy city-dwellers[4]

Indeed, one of the problems arises actually from the shift of orienting production: from the orientation on export industries to the new orientation on producing for the old population. The paradoxes that the emerging middle class – something that did not exist as such in previous years – developed and further develops in a very brief a period of time, while the new structure is likely causing fundamental socio-psychological changes. In this light, the protests are indeed not so much about the corvid strategy as such; instead, it seems to be a bourgeois movement within a communist setting[5] and thus in several respects counterrevolutionary or conservative. Therefore, it is not by surprise that not least Western conservative forces are taking up reporting, suggesting that the groups in question claim democratic rights, opposing oppression. The wider discussion cannot be undertaken here. But something can and has to be done: rejecting the claim that such reports are unbiased.

On the contrary, the media are publishing reports on various topics, not without contradictions, overall aiming on questioning China’s integrity. Even in case we follow for the sake of the argument the thesis of a principal decline, it remains an analytical task to be clear about what is behind such suggested development. Indeed, it is again and again stated that (i) only a small number of – more middle-class – people is actively protesting and (ii) that they represent social strata that are in particular ways effected by the new economic policies: after having been more or less the predominant winners of the economic development after the reforms under Deng Xiaoping, they are now in danger of becoming relative losers, competing with the new middle class, and also loosing directly the privileges.

Whereas the protests are in multiple ways more complex than being just about discomfort with the Zero-Corvid strategy, and surely deserve “critical attention” in the sense of considering that they raise issues in need of being addressed, the reports in Western media are also …, well in fact they may be under-complex, a way of picking up on scattered pieces of information, welding them in an eclectic way together under a heading of anti-Chinese confrontation and defence of an idealised Western supremacy. In The Economist we read about

Xi’s ideology and motivations: a deep fear of subversion, hostility toward the United States, sympathy with Russia, a desire to unify mainland China and Taiwan, and, above all, confidence in the ultimate victory of communism over the capitalist West. The end state he is pursuing requires the remaking of global governance.[6]

Couldn’t we say – cum grano salis – something similar about the ideology of American presidents from Adams to Wilson – ALL having been convinced and outspoken about the greatness of America …; only few words are need of being changed while some corrections of historical perspectives need to be addressed.

One of the historical contortions is concerned with one of the suggested ways

to constrain and temper Xi’s aspirations now—through coordinated military deterrence and through strict limits on China’s access to technology, capital, and data controlled by the United States and its allies—rather than wait until he has taken fateful and irrevocable steps, such as attacking Taiwan, that would lead to a superpower conflict.

Doesn’t this show what the reporting is really about? Even without engaging in the “Taiwanese question” one has to ask why Chinese engagement in Taiwan would be reason for a “superpower conflict” while the world is asked to accept the US-occupation of part of Cuba (Guantanamo Bay) and the invasion in Iraq, although the UN-Security Council stood in opposition. Stating this is not about a Tit-for-Tat-view; rather, it is mentioned in order to show the actual background and direction of the reports – statements made in order to

sustain Chinese dependence on the rest of the industrialized world

as it is openly stated.

Reading then that

TikTok and other content apps based in China or owned by Chinese firms represent potentially powerful instruments for censorship and mass manipulation; Washington should ban their use,

one sees a surely serious problem addressed – mistakenly directed against Chinese firms while the actual challenge is about the private sector taking hold of media that are carriers of public opinion.

It is surely remarkable that the reports about movements in China – these are supposedly the main reference of the article in question – are answered by military threats:

The contest between democracies and China will increasingly turn on the balance of dependence; whichever side depends least on the other will have the advantage. Reducing Washington’s dependence, and increasing Beijing’s, can help constrain Xi’s appetite for risk. When coupled with U.S. cooperation with Australia, Japan, and Taiwan to field an unmistakably superior and well-coordinated military presence in the western Pacific, constrainment offers the best way to prevent the “stormy seas of a major test” that Xi seems tempted to undertake as he begins his second decade as China’s dictator.

Not least, all this must be seen against the background of another structural-cyclical crisis looming around the corner of Western economies.

Considering this as background, we may now start to think seriously about the movements and also some of the reports: • the changing scope of protests; • the problems (also problems of legitimacy) of a political leadership facing a catch-22-situation; • the not least psycho-social tension emerging from a private-market economy, interwoven with complex causal interrelations (as for instance the specific backlog after overcoming poverty, the emergence of a new middle-class …) and social(ist) principles and requirements; • the difficulties and tensions emerging from globalisation, not least including the hostility linked to the Western claim of supremacy, strengthened by the fact that China developed quickly from a “developing” country to a threshold country, moving quickly further to a “developed country”; • the difficulties stemming from the linkage of communism and capitalism.

[1] Leaving the fact aside that looking at a country of such seize and diversity must remain incomplete.

[2] Some reports speak of 9, others of ‘at least 10’, though it does not matter – of course, every lost life is one too much.

[3] Outline of the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) for National Economic and Social Development and Vision 2035 of the People’s Republic of China; http://www.fujian.gov.cn/english/news/202108/t20210809_5665713.htm; 01/12/22

[4] The protests in China may change the way Xi Jinping runs the country, says Minxin Pei; in: The Economist; https://www.economist.com/by-invitation/2022/11/30/the-protests-in-china-may-change-the-way-xi-jinping-runs-the-country-says-minxin-pei?utm_content=article-link-8&etear=nl_today_8&utm_campaign=a.the-economist-today&utm_medium=email.internal-newsletter.np&utm_source=salesforce-marketing-cloud&utm_term=11/30/2022&utm_id=1406016; 01/12/22

[5] Leaving here the understanding of bourgeois and communist aside

[6] Pottinger, Matt/Johnson, Matthew/Feith, David, November 2022: Xi Jinping in His Own Words What China’s Leader Wants—and How to Stop Him From Getting It; in: The Economist; https://www.foreignaffairs.com/china/xi-jinping-his-own-words; 04/12/22

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.