A Debate on China: Competitor, Adversary or Enemy?

As noted frequently in these pages, China has gradually become the most prominent bete noire of American empire. As such it has displaced Russia which had successfully reprised that role for at least the previous four years.

China’s new status has raised the question for many: Is it truly an adversary of the U.S. — or even an enemy? Or is China simply America’s latest very challenging competitor?

Recently, Pulitzer Prize- winning journalist, Glen Greenwald attempted to answer those questions. He moderated a highly informative 90-minute debate on China between Matt Stoller and Kishore Madhubani.

Stoller presented a bill of particulars against China. He is a fellow at the Open Markets Institute and the author of Goliath: The Hundred Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy.

Madhubani, on the other hand, described China in more sanguine terms. Madhubani is a Singaporean academic and former President of UN Security Council (2001-2004). He also served as Singapore’s Permanent Representative to the U.N. (1984-’89, 1998-2004). He’s the author of Has China Won? The Chinese Challenge to American Primacy.

What follows is a quick-and-easy outline of the arguments presented first by Stoller and secondly by Madhubani.  I conclude briefly with my own perspective that takes issue with both debaters. Each of them along with Glen Greenwald, erroneously accept without question the categorization of China as a violator of human rights. In reality, I argue, China is more a human rights champion than the United States itself.

I

Matt Stoller: China is Not Merely A Competitor

A.    Though not exactly an enemy or adversary, China is a threatening bad actorB.    Witness China’s Growing Economic Power Globally:
         1.     In a very short time has transitioned from a severely   underdeveloped country to the 2nd most powerful economy in the world.
         2.     It’s now the #1 trading partner of more than 100 countries.
         3.     It is a firm ally of the world’s economic elite from Wall Street to Brussels.
         4.     Its low wages and lack of worker protection have led U.S. and other international corporations to relocate American jobs to China. 
 
C.     Witness China’s Repression:
         1.     It does not share West’s values of free speech, free press,    freedom of religion, and democratic voting.
         2.     Since the 1980s China has been “hiding its power and biding its time,” but is now openly demonstrating its intention to export its oppression as shown in China’s:
            a)     Increased military spending
            b)     Building of a new centrally controlled internet architecture
            c)     Export of sophisticated surveillance systems
            d)     Undermining of international institutions such as the WHO
            e)     Retribution against those who even mention its oppression of Muslim minorities or its coverup of the Coronavirus outbreak 
            f)     Treatment of Uyghurs in concentration camps
            g)     Police violence vs. those seeking greater freedom in Hong Kong
            h)     Long-standing military threats against Taiwan
            i)     Building of artificial islands in the South China Sea beyond internationally recognized maritime borders
            j)     Installation of military weapons there
            k)     Bullying of Philippine fishing vessels
            l)     Naval forays into the Indian Ocean ostensibly to combat piracy, but really to expand its capacity for military operations
            m)     Buying up of newspapers serving the Chinese diaspora in order to eventually coerce and control its members too
 
D.    Witness the statements of Xi Jinping who has stated that:
        1.     Socialism with Chinese characteristics is “blazing a new trail” for other countries seeking to modernize, while preserving their own sovereignty.
        2.     China is seeking a future where it will “win the initiative and have the dominant position.”
 
E.     What to Do about the China Threat?
        1.     Re-appropriate the values we say we honor, viz. freedom of press, religion, speech, assembly
        2.     Break up the alliance between China and the international economic elite
        3.     Punish U.S. companies that offshore jobs
        4.     Diversify U.S. supply chains
        5.     Bring production back to the U.S. and to democratic countries
        6.      Work with China on collective problems such as climate change
        7.     Show by these reforms that our system is better than the Chinese alternative

II

Kishore Madhubani: China Is Neither Hostile nor A Bad Actor

A.    In General
      1.     Competitors are not enemies.
      2.     One should not insult competitors or even adversaries.
      3.     There is no reason to regard China as a hostile country or as a   threat to the United States.
      4.     China has 0% chance of conquering the United States which has 6000 nuclear weapons, while China has 300. The U.S. spends five times more on its military than China does.
      5.     The U.S. has 300 military bases throughout the world (some very close to China’s borders); China has no foreign bases and (unlike America) fights no wars outside its boundaries.
      6.      The post-WWII world order characterized by U.S. hegemony was highly artificial given the location and comparative size of the U.S. population.
      7.     China and India with their huge populations and ancient cultures are now assuming their normal, rightful places in the world.
      8.     Before WWII, both China and India had been prevented from adopting those positions chiefly by colonialism.
      9.      The Chinese government enjoys the support of the majority of its people. (Without that approval it would be impossible to control 1.4 billion people.)
      10.      In fact, 130 million Chinese leave China each year and then return home. There are no Chinese refugees.
 
B.    Chinese Ambitions:
      1.     Unlike the USSR under Khrushchev, China never boasts that its system will replace that of the U.S. or other countries.
      2.     Its leaders believe their system is good for China without claiming its aptitude for other contexts.
      3.     They just want China to be strong with its own population prospering in an external environment conducive to that end.
 
C.     What about Repression in Hong Kong?
      1.     It’s true that Chinese citizens do not have the same rights to free speech as Americans.
      2.     But they have more such freedom than previously.
      3.     Remember, that during 150 years of British colonialism, there was no democracy or freedom of speech in Hong Kong.
      4.     Chinese authorities are especially sensitive about Hong Kong because it’s a symbol of British oppression and of its having forced China to accept opium commerce centered there in 1842.
 
D.    What about Oppression of the Uyghurs?
      1.     Remember that the Muslim world is going through a major transformation – struggling to modernize and reinterpret relations between religion and politics.
      2.     Remember too that when the western countries came together in the UN to condemn the treatment of Muslims in China, not a single Muslim country supported the resolution, while a large number of those countries supported China.
      3.     Instead, Muslim countries agreed that the U.S. should:
          a)     Stop bombing Islamic countries (President Obama dropped 26,000 bombs on seven Muslim countries in one year).
          b)     Try to help the Chinese deradicalize and modernize the Uyghurs in China.
 
E.     What about Chinese threats to American labor?
      1.It’s true that China’s low wages, lack of labor protections, and absence of labor rights is attractive to American producers.
      2.However, it is a mistake to blame China for the loss of jobs.
      3.After all, China did not force U.S. manufacturers to move.
      4.China joined the WTO at the invitation of the United States.
      5.We must also remember that the relatively recent and sudden introduction of 200 million new workers into the system of globalized capitalism is only the latest expression of the “creative destruction” endemic to and celebrated by that system.
      6.Sweden and Germany saw the creative destruction coming. To prepare for it, they invested heavily in the retraining of their workforces to equip them for participation in the new economy. The U.S. did not.
 
F.     What the U.S. should do:
      1.Distinguish between defending America’s primacy and defending the American people; the two are quite different.
      2.Stop fighting wars in the Middle East and focus on the welfare of its own people.
      3.Remember that it is no paragon of respect for human rights. For instance, it is the 1st modern country to reintroduce torture.
      4.Keep in mind the figure “Six billion” – i.e. of the number of people who live outside both the United States & China. They’re much more sophisticated, well-informed, and nuanced in their understandings than previously. They don’t buy the American good guys/bad guys dichotomy.

III

Evaluation

My overall response to the Greenwald interview is one of deep appreciation. It brought together two very articulate, well-prepared, and authoritative proponents of comprehensive arguments most often advanced about the nature of China’s participation in the global community.

At the same time, I found myself disappointed that both Greenwald and Madhubani accepted right-wing framing of the position that China is a violator of human rights in contrast to westerners’ valuing free speech along with freedom of religion, press, assembly and the right to vote.

Certainly, there is no question about China’s repression in the areas of speech, religion, and press. But that does not deprive it of any possibility of claiming to be a champion of human rights.

The fact is that the UN Declaration of Human Rights as well as its other official statements present the world with a long list of such entitlements ranging from the ones just mentioned to the rights to jobs, food, shelter, clothing, health care, to children’s rights. 

Another fact is that no country in the world honors all human rights. Instead, all of them (according to whether they fancy themselves “capitalist” or “socialist”) prioritize human rights.

Capitalists accord first place to having commercial and legal contracts honored. They then list freedoms of speech, religion, press and the right to vote as their other preferences. However, if trade contracts are under threat, capitalists quickly dispense with all those other rights – as is demonstrated by their support of repressive regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Brazil and the Philippines.

As for the rights to food, shelter, and clothing (as enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights) the United States has never recognized any of them as such (having refused to sign the enacting protocols). According to all U.S. administrations such “rights” are merely “aspirations.”

Priorities in socialist countries such as China and Cuba are different. For them the rights to food, shelter, clothing, education, health care, and jobs hold primacy of place.  Freedom of press, speech, and religion, as well as voting rights are dispensable as long as those preferred rights remain under siege.

I only wish Greenwald and Madhubani had made those distinctions. It would have helped the audience understand that indeed China does not respect human rights, while the United States does.

But (even more importantly for purposes of critical thinking in this country) listeners would also have understood that China indeed respects human rights while the United States does not. 

It is therefore unseemly for westerners to beat China with the human rights club. Too bad that Greenwald and Madhubani didn’t recognize that impropriety.

(Sunday Homily) “Citizenfour”: Keeping God’s Law through Civil Disobedience

Citizenfour

Readings for 5th Sunday of Lent: JER 31: 31-34; PS 51: 3-4, 12-15; JN 12: 20-33 http://usccb.org/bible/readings/032215-fifth-sunday-lent.cfm

I saw “Citizenfour” today. You can see it too. For your own good, please do. The film is live-streamed free here:  https://thoughtmaybe.com/citizenfour/

“Citizenfour” won this year’s Academy Award for best documentary. Its director is Laura Poitras. The film is about whistleblower, Edward Snowden – the 31 year old CIA employee who two years ago leaked classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA).

The information revealed “America’s” massive world-wide spy system that Snowden saw as absolutely eviscerating U.S. constitutional protections against “unreasonable search and seizure.”

In case you’ve forgotten, the 4th Amendment of the Constitution reads as follows:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

In contradiction to those words, Snowden’s revelations show that indeed “Big Brother” is watching us at all times. We are under constant surveillance. None of our e-mails or phone calls is secure.  Telephones normally found in hotel rooms are routinely used as listening devices. All of our e-mail searches are monitored and recorded.

This means that citizens expressing disapproval of government policies are easily identified. So are our constitutionally protected efforts to organize against such policies. All of us are subject to blackmail and prosecution based on stories manufactured from “metadata” and texts gathered by our watchers.

Knowing full well that he would be hunted down and prosecuted (and possibly executed) for his leaks, Edward Snowden shared his information with Laura Poitras and with Guardian reporter, Glen Greenwald. Snowden fled to Russia where he was given temporary political asylum. “Citizenfour” is the upshot.

Of course, Snowden’s opponents say his revelations have endangered national security and that he is guilty of treasonous acts of espionage. In response, the former CIA contractor says the whole matter of government secrecy and surveillance needs full debate. So do extra-judicial killings in the world-wide drone assassination program. Security, Snowden implies, is less important than freedom, privacy, and the lives of innocents arbitrarily killed on mere suspicion of possibly one day harming U.S. citizens. Then there are those disturbing words in the Fourth Amendment. . . .

All of that made me think about today’s liturgy of the word. It’s all about obeying conscience rather than the written law. It’s all about another 30 something law-breaker who rejected absolute security in favor of opposing the authorities of his time.  Think about the readings one-by-one.

The first (from the prophet Jeremiah) reminds us that God’s law is not primarily found on tablets of stone. It is inscribed on our hearts. Without invoking “God,” that’s the law Edward Snowden claims to follow – a law much higher than the 1917 Espionage Act invoked against him.

According to today’s responsorial psalm, a heart shaped by God’s law is good and merciful; it is compassionate, forgiving, and guilt-free. Laura Poitras’ film shows Snowden exhibiting all of those qualities. There is not a trace of self-seeking in any of his actions or statements – only concern for others victimized by the state.

It is that heart sensitive to God’s internal law that Jesus manifested. But, like Ed Snowden, it took him great pain to get to that place. Today’s second reading specifically mentions Jesus’ “loud cries and tears,” his anguished prayers and supplications.

Finally, today’s selection from the Gospel of John reiterates the call to follow Jesus, even as Snowden has without any specific reference to Jesus.  Our reading has the Master say that “serving” him means walking the way of the cross. In other words, we must learn his same lessons about rejection that always follows hard upon adoption of Jesus’ counter-cultural “Way.”

A seed has to die before it can bear fruit, Jesus explains. That’s our Teacher’s metaphor about exchanging what the world calls “life,” for what John’s gospel calls “eternal life.”

As in contemporary “America,” the world’s utopian ideal enshrines perfect security – saving our lives at all costs, even if it means wholesale killing of others, even if it means surrendering the God-given freedom that makes us specifically human.

By contrast, Jesus’ Way enshrines compassion, service and forgiveness, even if it costs us our lives.

Ironically, Jesus explains, if we expend our resources on saving our lives, we will lose them. But if we reject security as our guiding principle, we’ll gain access to “eternal life” – access to God’s Kingdom, where God is King, not Caesar.

Mysteriously, today’s final reading instructs us against loving our lives. It actually says we should hate our life in this world. Edward Snowden shows what that injunction means. His courageous example calls us to oppose Big Brother, and to support Snowden’s own return to the United States – as a hero.

Be sure to see “Citizenfour.” It exemplifies today’s readings. It’s about opposing the values of “the world,” and about losing one’s life in favor of life’s fullness. It provides an example of a young man following the Law of God inscribed deep in our hearts. That’s our vocation.

(Sunday Homily) The Torture Report: Cheney Channels King David in the Struggle over Historical Narrative

Cheney

Readings for 4th Sunday of Advent: 2nd SAM 7:1-5, 8-12, 14A, 16; PS 89: 2-5, 27-29; ROM 16: 25-27; LK 1: 21-38 http://usccb.org/bible/readings/122114.cfm

Strange that according to a poll last week, more than half the “American” people think torture is permissible. I say “strange” because nearly 80% of Americans consider themselves “Christian.” And Jesus himself was a victim of torture. On the other hand, can you imagine Jesus torturing anyone?

You’d think the similarities between the Romans’ treatment of Jesus and the “Americans’” treatment of countless innocent victims would make devout Christians less accepting of torture.  Maybe they’d oppose torture on principle, as a matter of faith.

Or perhaps it’s that they just agree with ex-VP, Dick Cheney. After all, he wouldn’t consider “torture” what the Romans’ enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) did to  Jesus  – not the prolonged beating we all witnessed portrayed in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” not the crowning with thorns, not forcing a beaten man to carry his own instrument of execution, not driving nails into his hands and feet, not leaving him for hours struggling for breath on a cross whose chief agony was bringing the victim to the point of asphyxiation (like waterboarding) and beyond.

According to Mr. Cheney, that punishment would have crossed the line to torture only at the point when death proved imminent. Unfortunately, as with untold (literally) victims of U.S. enhanced interrogation, that line was crossed in the case of Jesus.

But in the end, as supporters of U.S. Empire, “American” Christians probably understand and forgive what the Romans did. After all, like its U.S. counterpart, the Roman Empire was under siege on all sides. And the Jews were particularly rebellious. And Jesus (in Roman eyes) gave every indication of leading a rebellion. An empire’s got to do what an empire’s got to do – even if it means killing the innocent like Jesus.

I think however that there’s something more than compassion failure at work here.  The “more” is the power of propaganda. That’s something addressed in today’s liturgy of the word. There the author of 2nd Samuel whitewashes the brutal King David and turns him from something like a mafia don into a national hero. In today’s gospel selection, even the evangelist, Luke buys the distortion. He makes Jesus the successor of David.

I’ll get to that in a moment. But let me first finish with the torture document. You see, (as Glen Greenwald has pointed out) it’s no wonder that “Americans” can’t identify with the tortured much less connect them with Jesus.

That’s because since the Report’s release on December 9th, the mainstream media (MSM) has treated us to an endless parade of torturers and torture enablers explaining away the conclusions of the Senate’s years-long study.  We haven’t heard a word from the victims of torture or from the families of those whose sons and daughters were killed at the hands of sadistic representatives of our government.

The result of this one-sided silencing of the victims has been to rob them of their humanity – of their very existence.  Given the deafening silence, why would we feel compassion for people who don’t even exist? Out of sight, out of mind.

Imagine how better informed we’d be if on “Meet the Press” or somewhere Mr. Cheney had to defend his policies against his victims – many of whom, Greenwald reminds us (because he has interviewed them) are incredibly articulate. Perhaps the victims might suggest waterboarding the ex-VP to see if he really believes that practice doesn’t sink to the level of torture.

According to University of Wisconsin –Madison Professor Alfred McCoy (the author of Torture and Impunity) this erasure of victims is all part of a five-stage policy on the question of torture. After the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in 2004, the first step was identifying the low level perpetrators with “bad apples.” The second stage kept rumors of more widespread torture at bay in the name of national security. Thirdly, President Obama adopted the “let’s look forward, not backward” approach. Fourthly came the move to exonerate all those guilty of torture or enabling the practice. Finally we’ve reached the stage which emerged last week: vindication before the bar of history of all those connected with U.S. torture.

Again, that’s where the battle has been joined today; we’re struggling over historical narrative. This is the stage all empires come to eventually as their crimes inevitably come to light. It’s what we witness in today’s liturgy of the word and the white-washing of Israel’s King David. The example is instructive. It suggests practical responses to the Torture Report at both the level of faith and political action.

You see, there are really two separate king David traditions in the Bible. One presents the good David, the other, the bad. The good David is the one largely presented in I Chronicles 10:14-29:30. He also appears in today’s first reading from 2nd Samuel and in the responsorial psalm.

This David is pious, and wants to build a temple for God. According to the story, God is pleased, and rewards him with everything a king could want: victory over his enemies, immortal fame, prosperity for his people, thriving descendants, and a dynasty that will last forever.

Then there’s the bad David who begins to appear in I Samuel, chapter 16. This David is a murderous tyrant. He rebels against Saul, Israel’s first king. He’s a womanizer, a murderer and an object of popular hate.  Far from lasting forever, his dynasty ends with the death of his successor, Solomon. He’s the David whose death-bed instructions are worthy of any Mafia godfather. To Solomon he says, “Take care of my friends, Sol – and my enemies too (wink, wink). You know what I mean?” (IKGS 2: 1-9)

Besides that, the bad David bastardizes the Mosaic Covenant and its protection of widows, orphans, and resident aliens and turns it into a tool of the ruling classes – from Moses’ “I will be your God and you will be my people,” into David’s “You are my son, the king of Israel, and your dynasty will last forever.”

Of course, the bad David has been swallowed up by popular memory of its competing tradition. David is uniformly remembered by the majority of believers as the man “after God’s own heart.” As I said, in today’s familiar gospel selection, Luke falls into that trap. He makes Jesus (through his foster father, Joseph, no less) the successor of David. And this even though Jesus as portrayed by Luke is no friend of the Temple or of kings and emperors. Rather he is the friend of the beneficiaries of the Mosaic Covenant – the widows, orphans, aliens, prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, Samaritans. His values do not include enemies (much less victory over them) or prosperity, fame, or everlasting dynasties.

Recognizing this struggle over which narrative will prevail sheds light on the Torture Report. It enables followers of the simple man from Nazareth to judge that the struggle even before the bar of biblical history has been won by the likes of Cheney and Bush. It has been won by the bad David.

Our conclusion: we must not allow that to happen as we fight over whose story should prevail concerning the latest revelations about the powerful organized crime syndicate known as the CIA.

So what should we do?  Our response should be at two levels.

At the level of faith believers should be exposed to the historical Jesus I’m attempting to present in these homilies. We neglect those powerful myths at our own peril. Even the uninformed can understand them.  This means that the Jesus’ story represents a powerful tool for raising consciousness about torture (and other issues of social justice).

It’s true that the MSM might not expose the story of the tortured to that 80% of “Americans” who claim to be Christian. However, if those with the responsibility for explaining the sacred texts assume that responsibility and do their homework, there’s no reason why those wishing to follow Jesus can’t understand that:

  • Jesus himself was a victim of torture at the hands of an empire very like the United States.
  • He taught universal love.
  • He was non-violent
  • He said he considers what’s done to the least of the human race as done to him.
  • He said we should love our enemies.

At the political level we should:

  • Urge outgoing senator Mark Udall (D Colorado) to use his senatorial privilege of unlimited free speech to release the entire unredacted torture document.
  • Pressure the media through phone calls and letters to the editor to present the other side of the torture story including interviews with torture victims and with the families of those whose sons and daughters, husbands and wives were killed under CIA torture.