Kim Petersen: First since you have years of experience in China. Whopper question to begin, yes, but as a lead-in could you sum up the major change(s) you’ve seen and what this bodes for the future of China and the world.
Jeff J. Brown: So, Kim, here is your whopper answer. China has never stopped adapting to what it needs to move forward, going back to liberation in 1949. During what I call the Mao Era (1949-1978), many reforms and measures were routinely implemented to move the people forward and improve their lives, although this is often ignored or denied in the West. During the Deng Era (1978-2012), this similar notion of “continual improvement” for the people changed gears and capitalist methods were integrated into China’s economy to accumulate the wealth that the Communist Party of China (CPC) feels the country needs, to realize the Marxist transition from socialism to “rich” communism. Now we are in the Xi Era (2012-present) and the government, whom I affectionately call Baba Beijing, is taking steps to keep the Chinese constitution’s goal of achieving a communist society and economy.
With such lofty goals as these, it is not surprising that China and its 1.4 billion citizens are in a constant state of evolution. We lived here 1990-1997 and came back in 2010, after a five-year hiatus in France and nine years in the US. It was a jaw dropping and awe inspiring experience to see what had happened in just 14 years. Not just the infrastructure and overall development of the country, but the parallel growth and sophistication of the people was and continues to be, for me, the greatest fascination. The Chinese are an incredibly resilient and adaptable people, which is a key reason that they possess the longest, continuously existing civilization in human history.
Since 1949, China has brought one billion citizens out of poverty and created the largest and fastest growing middle class in the world, now over 300 million and adding 10,000 citizens to this category, every day. In purchasing power parities (PPP), China surpassed the US, to become the world’s #1 economy in 2014 and in PPP terms, will be 50% bigger than America’s in only a year from now. In classic exchange rate terms, China will leap frog the US before 2020.
China’s President Xi Jinping calls this the “new normal”. But in reality, it’s the “same old same old”. Until 1872, when a colonized and plundered China finally fell from grace as the world’s biggest economy, in the face of a rapacious, drug dealing, imperial United States and Western Europe, the Middle Kingdom was always the biggest country with the biggest economy, going back 5,000 years. How big? In 250 BC, the mighty Roman Empire had 4,000,000 subjects, while at the same time, the Chinese nation had 35,000,000, almost nine times as many.
Thanks to an anomalous, 500-year change of fortunes between the colonial, expansionist West and China, starting in the 15th century, until now, the European races can be forgiven if they think being masters of the world’s 85% dark skinned people’s and their natural resources has always been their divine right. But now, with China’s freedom and independence from Western tyranny, starting in 1949, they are going to have to wrap their heads around getting back to China’s “old normal”, of being humanity’s leader. As long as the CPC stays in power, and I think they will for 100 or more years, China will continue to claim economic supremacy on Planet Earth.
This is welcomed by the vast majority of humanity, since they are the ones who have been pillaged, raped and massacred by the West, for thousands of years, starting with Alexander the Great, in the 4th century BC. But China as the world’s “big dragon” is also very positive for citizens of Eurangloland. Western wealth, all its monuments, museums, skyscrapers and broad boulevards, was and is being stolen from underdeveloped countries. It is all built on the blood and bones of at least a billion souls, who have been and are continuing to be slaughtered and exterminated by Eurangloland and Israel. Our standard of living is thanks to ongoing racism, colonialism, imperialism and war across the planet.
Not at all true for China. The Chinese have never been hegemonic, colonial, nor imperial. For thousands of years, the Chinese expanded their nation out to their natural borders. They had many opportunities and were centuries ahead in the technology department, to be an Asian Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Andrew Jackson or King Leopold II. However, it’s just not in their cultural and political DNA to dominate and exploit other peoples – regardless of all the Western propaganda to the contrary.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that the West’s global empire of colonialism is starting to collapse. World War I and II were the clarion calls of decline and the hundreds of other wars and the violation, if not destruction of most of the planet’s countries and their governments, since then and ongoing, are the harbingers of doom.
KP: Next the question of the Chinese political-economic system. The People’s Republic of China is nominally Communist. There was no question of this while Chairman Mao Zedong set about modernizing the country. Leftist professor emeritus James Petras argues, however, that China has strayed from socialism and that a second revolution is under way in China that seeks to moralize capitalism. He cites Deng Xiaoping as stating to be rich is glorious. This is incorrect, and there is no record of Deng ever having said such. So the introduction to Petras’ thesis is off to an inauspicious start.
Petras in a later article writes,
“China’s capitalist development was based on a triple alliance of national, foreign and state capitalists, all of whom depended on the widespread, massive corruption of state-party officials.”
This was in 2015 when the tenure of current Chairman Xi Jinping was underway. One of his key planks is ridding the Chinese Communist Party of corruption. He sees the survival of the CCP as dependent on this. [See, e.g., Xi Jinping, The Governance of China (2014): location 352.] Xi has made clear that China is Marxist-Leninist in orientation but that it is in the earliest stages of socialism. Given that corruption has long existed and is not fully eradicated (if such is even possible), and given the growing number of Chinese billionaires, and given the high GINI coeffient what is your take on “socialism with Chinese characteristics”?
JB: There is a well-known stable of commercially successful “China experts”, who have not had the same experiences as I have had over 13 years here, and continue to do so. They see a China that they imagine, or onto which they project their mythical Western ideals. These notions are cultivated among fifth columnist locals, chambers of commerce types, sinophobic, communism-hating expats and red baiting people back home. On the other side of the spectrum, it is being in a bubble of like-minded educators and intelligentsia, who reject China’s adoption of capitalist tools to create the wealth that Marxism needs to evolve towards rich communism.
When they travel here, they move around in their five-star hotel bubbles and they get their information and ideas from this same colonial/imperial milieu, on the one hand, or communist idealists on the other. I should know, since I used to be a member of the first group, until returning to China in 2010. So, I can empathize. Coming back to China in 2010 was the beginning of a transformative journey, in the arc of my existence in this life.
Ninety-nine percent of Westerners cannot accept the fact that today, China is a communist country, economy and people. Until I researched and wrote 44 Days Backpacking in China: The Middle Kingdom in the 21st Century, with the United States, Europe and the Fate of the World in Its Looking Glass and then China Rising: Capitalist Roads, Socialist Destinations, I was among this huge majority. The experiences and knowledge I gained in China, since 2010, allowed me to deprogram the Western avalanche of Pavlovian propaganda about the evils of communism and socialism.
What I learned is that not much has changed since the beginning of Chinese civilization. China was communist long before Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels made it a household term. With the human weakness of projecting one’s self-inflated sense of superiority over Others (racism), Baba Beijing’s adoption of market style tools to create wealth for it citizens is conflated as “aping capitalists”. Every leader since Mao Zedong, up to Xi Jinping has been consistently clear about this. In accordance with Marxist theory,
We have to be rich before we can transition into pure, wealthy communism. We are not going to give up our hard fought socialist society to do so. Thus, we will use certain aspects of capitalism to get rich enough, so eventually, we can live in communist harmony. This is the definition of socialism with Chinese characteristics.
How many “China experts” have read China’s national constitution? Its latest version was guided by the West’s favorite “free marketeer”, Deng Xiaoping, in 1982. It is a defiant, principled, anti-capitalist, anti-colonial and anti-imperial manifesto, full of implied contempt for Eurangloland and everything it stands for.
The flag of the People’s Republic of China has five gold stars on a red background. The solid red stands for communism stretching across the entire nation. The big gold star represents the CPC. The four smaller gold stars in the CPC’s orbit stand for the working class, the agrarian class, the small business class and the big business class. During the Mao Era, workers and farmers were favored over the two entrepreneurial classes. After Mao, Deng and all subsequent leaders have promoted the last two classes back into China’s economy, along with heavy support for urban workers and rural folk, to create the wealth needed for rich communism. Last year, China dramatically streamlined the business license process and millions were issued. The CPC loves its citizens’ entrepreneurial spirit, with the employment and economic activity it generates for the masses.
On the ground here, every square centimeter of China is publicly owned. No one can own real estate, only private property. Every bank, insurance company, airline, railway, subway system, port, airport and all (toll) roads and highways belong to the people. All media, phone companies, water, gas, electricity and nuclear utilities are people-owned. Baba Beijing dominates over 100 key sectors of the economy, including chemicals, maritime shipping, agricultural commodities, precious metals, auto and truck manufacturing, steel, mining, construction, aerospace and avionics. The list goes on and on. Public real estate and massive state participation in key industries are what Marxists call “controlling the means of production”. Yes, some of these state-owned enterprises have been put on the stock market. But read the fine print. The maximum level of private stock ownership is only 30% and consolidated control of those shares is prevented.
While there are tens of thousands of village and county level SOEs that could be more “efficient”, from a Western capitalist’s standpoint, they are a bedrock of social and economic stability for the hundreds of millions of citizens who live outside the major metropolitan centers. Baba Beijing is no fool. They are staying on the books, with tweaks, reforms and consolidation, so that Chinese society stays harmonious and overall, prosperous for the masses, or the little guys.
But the bigger the SOEs get, the more profitable and well run they become. Few Westerners know that China has the world’s largest bank (ICBC) and three more in the Top Ten; two of the five biggest petroleum concerns, the largest railway corporation and some of the world’s biggest airlines, steel, mining, auto manufacturers and on and on. In 2015, the ten largest people-owned Chinese businesses made a whopping +$200 billion combined after tax profits. These “communist” corporations are loaded with cash and they are on a buying spree around the world, ironically turning private, Western companies into publicly owned “red” businesses. Some of the deals are sector changing. ChemChina is in the final stages of buying the world’s second biggest agriculture concern, Syngenta (after #1 Monsanto).
As you stated correctly, Kim, President Xi Jinping is making sure that Baba Beijing and the 1.4 billion citizens of this country live up to the spirit and vision of China’s very inspiring national constitution, as well as the constitution of the Communist Party of China. This, in spite of the adoption of capitalist tools to expand the wealth of the country. He is the Western empire’s worst nightmare and just what the doctor ordered, after a generation of sociocultural westernization.
As far as Mr. Petras’ fatuous claim of “widespread, massive corruption of state-party officials”, if this were true to the depth that he suggests, then how did China’s economy grow almost 7% per annum, 1949-1978 and nearly 10% per year, since then? If true, how has Baba Beijing lifted a billion people out of poverty, created the largest and fastest growing middle class on the planet, not to mention recently, a new billionaire every week? If so, then why is Baba Beijing, for the last 15 years and continues to do so, garnering +80% public satisfaction levels, in polls conducted by Western companies like Gallup and Pew? Hands down, it is the world’s most popular government among the world’s citizens.
The relentless foghorn in the Western media about China’s “massive” corruption is a classic propaganda strategy to deflect attention away from the fetid, venal swamps of personal, moral and financial turpitude that is oozing out of almost every corporation and political institution in Washington, New York, London, Paris, Brussels and, and, and…
Of course there is corruption here, as there is everywhere that sedentary civilization has existed for the last 8,000 years. In China, hundreds of thousands of government and business folk are being punished, from fines, to loss of jobs, to hard prison time and for the most felonious, executions. You don’t want to be a corporate or political crook in China. Better to pillage and rape society in Eurangloland, where at the worst, you only have to pay a modest fine and not even apologize, while waving at all the suckers and chumps from your private jet or yacht.
As far as attacking poverty, it went out of fashion in the West with the Reagan/Thatcher neoliberal revolution, which rapidly spread over much of the world, except in communist countries, like China, Cuba, North Korea and Eritrea, and later in Latin America’s ALBA group (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas). Every time President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang come back from a successful overseas diplomatic trip, both will invariably get on national TV, showing them visiting less developed areas of China and touting the socialist moral responsibility to redistribute the people’s wealth to bring the most unfortunate of the economy to an adequate level of respectability and productivity. There are no other leaders in the G-20 who are even talking about eliminating poverty. And it’s not just PR. Baba Beijing has earmarked ¥400 billion (about $65 billion) to make it happen, before 2020.
I have talked to a number of Chinese government officials and often the first thing they bring up is income inequality and the GINI index. They tell me that throughout the annals of history, no government can last long, if the wealth of a nation is not fairly shared by all. When China’s GINI index hit 0.45 in 2012 (it was about 0.15 during the Mao Era), Baba Beijing was apoplectic and immediately began significant changes, with more progressive taxes, social benefits (rolling out universal health care and guaranteed retirement income) and people oriented infrastructure (rest homes, community centers, clinics, hospitals, low income housing). It has now fallen to about 0.42 and the goal is to make sure it goes below 0.40 and stays there. If going measures do not get there, China’s formidable billionaire class can expect a big chunk to be taken out of the backsides. Xi Jinping even mentioned the GINI index in his keynote address for the G-20 summit September 4-5, warning that the current global level of 0.70 and climbing, bodes ill for the human race. Like poverty elimination, no other G-20 leaders ever mention the perils of a high GINI index, except Baba Beijing.
KP: One capitalist pitfall China has mostly avoided is neoliberalism. State-Owned-Enterprises remain a cornerstone of the Chinese economy (“… we must unswervingly consolidate and develop the public economy, persist in the leading role of public ownership, giving full play to the leading role of the state-owned economy, and incessantly increase its vitality, leveraging power and impact”: See Xi, loc 1274.). As you point out, big Chinese banks are mainly state-owned (China Rising, p 199.); hence, there was no bail-out of private banks and shareholders in China. When seen in comparison to foreclosures against homeowners and the bail-out of private institutions in the USA, what does this say to you?
JB: Westerners hear what they want to hear, when Baba Beijing talks about structural reforms and supply side economics. They are deluded that it means privatizing real estate and selling off all the SOEs to Goldman Sachs at fire sale prices. As long as the CPC is in power, this will never happen. Reforms and policy will stay within the communist framework. Period.
Every CEO, the boards of directors, VPs, department and division managers in China’s SOEs are fire breathing members of the CPC and if they hope to keep their jobs, they have to run a tight ship, while remaining loyal to the national and Party constitutions. The vast majority have spent decades coming up through the ranks, starting at village, then county, provincial, regional and finally national level business management. President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and the vast majority of China’s upper level politicians came up the same way, but on the government side, not business. Sorry Wall Street, but China’s managers are far and away superior, since their first goal is to help Baba Beijing maintain social stability and popular harmony. Profit is expected, but comes second. Western businesses don’t have those kinds of weighty socioeconomic responsibilities. Let’s be honest: their only goal is maximum profit and to hell with the human condition.
That’s why China’s banks are used to carrying more bad debt than in the West. Throwing someone on the street for being late in their mortgage payments is a desperate move. Struggling small and medium sized businesses aren’t sold at bank auction just because they hit a rough patch. China’s people-owned banks work with their clients to avoid, as long as possible, the social disruption of a foreclosed family home or small business. It happens all the time, but only as a last resort.
KP: A few weeks back, a Dane expressed her surprise to me at the number of homeless she encountered in Vancouver. My response was that capitalist Canada isn’t China where poverty elimination is a national goal for 2020. Down south, 47 million Americans find themselves mired below the poverty line. Why is poverty elimination not a national goal or program in the USA? And why isn’t the elimination of poverty in China greeted by banner headlines in the West — a rhetorical question given what we know about corporate media.
JB: There are no slums in China. There is a huge, 300 million floating population that moves from city to city for low level jobs, as construction, restaurant and sanitation workers. They lead a hard life on the road, living in temporary quarters, doing manual labor and not being settled. I have seen thousands of the them and talked to a few. They are gainfully employed, not starving, nor are they undernourished, like so many millions now in Eurangloland. There are a handful of beggars, mostly handicapped, but given the population of China’s cities, they are a zillionth of a percent. And then there are those now well-known 72 million Chinese who live in extreme poverty and who are targeted by Baba Beijing to be lifted out of their current fate by 2020.
Westerners don’t like to hear it, but once one pierces the veil and looks objectively at reality back home and in China, the answer is obvious: China does not have the many social and economic cancers and terrible inequality like the West, because it is communist. Or, if it’s easier for your readers to swallow, they can call it socialism with Chinese characteristics. This country is working furiously to eliminate poverty in the next four years because it is communist.
KP: From the western corporate-state media we often hear about the denial of Tibetan self-determination along with condemnations of China for human-rights abuses. Indeed, all nations must be censured for human-rights violations. However, do Canada, Australia, Aotearoa, and the USA have any moral high ground from which to denounce China on human rights when these western countries exist through the genocide and sustained dispossession of their Original Peoples?
JB: China has many centuries of relations and governance with Tibet. Richard Nixon came to China in 1972, to recognize the People’s Republic. Part of the agreement signed with Mao Zedong was that Tibet and Xinjiang are inalienable parts of the People’s Republic. This isn’t like Israelis, whose presence in Palestine was negligible-to-none for a thousand years, and then they invaded and stole Arab and Christian lands, via genocide and terrorism, under the collaborative, colonial eyes of Uncle Sam and Britain. China and Tibet have a common and often married history, going back a millennium or more. Texas, Corsica and Newfoundland, were nominally independent for brief periods in history, but came back to the national fold. The same is true of Tibet, Xinjiang and will be for Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao.
Western moral ground? This is a racist, rapacious, raping, plundering, pillaging, genocidal, war and slave mongering, environment destroying, expansionist, colonial, imperial and deeply criminal civilization. It has and continues to gleefully slaughter at least 1,000,000,000 human brothers and sisters since 1492, all in the name of God and luxurious lucre. One billion is conservative. Dharampal, the great Indian intellectual, carefully studied historical and census records in what used to be colonial India. He calculated that the British caused the premature death of at least 1.5 billion people in the Indian subcontinent alone. The worldwide figure is probably twice that. But even a billion murdered outshines by several magnitudes all of the premature deaths caused by Russia, China, the Americas, Asia and Africa combined. Try to find these truths in any Western text- or reference books. The pathological silence of censorship is deafening, alongside its unctuous mythology.
• Next: Media portrayals of China