A Rational Conversation about China

The U.S. is provoking a conflict due to its own anxieties about Beijing’s economic advances, writes Vijay Prashad. We should not let ourselves be drawn in.

Wang Bingxiu of the Shuanglang Farmer Painting Club, Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, China, untitled, 2018.

By Vijay Prashad
Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research

As the U.S. legislative leader Nancy Pelosi swept into Taipei, people around the world held their breath. Her visit was an act of provocation. In December 1978, the U.S. government — following a United Nations General Assembly decision in 1971 — recognised the People’s Republic of China, setting aside its previous treaty obligations to Taiwan.

Despite this, U.S. President Jimmy Carter signed the Taiwan Relations Act (1979), which allowed U.S. officials to maintain intimate contact with Taiwan, including through the sale of weapons. This decision is noteworthy as Taiwan was under martial law from 1949 to 1987, requiring a regular weapons supplier.

Pelosi’s journey to Taipei was part of the ongoing U.S. provocation of China. This campaign includes former President Barack Obama’s “pivot to Asia,” former President Donald Trump’s “trade war,” the creation of security partnerships — the Quad and AUKUS—and the gradual transformation of NATO into an instrument against China. This agenda continues with President Joe Biden’s assessment that China must be weakened since it is the “only competitor potentially capable of combining its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to mount a sustained challenge” to the U.S.-dominated world system.

China did not use its military power to prevent Pelosi and other U.S. congressional leaders from travelling to Taipei. But, when they left, the Chinese government announced that it would halt eight key areas of cooperation with the U.S., including cancelling military exchanges and suspending civil cooperation on a range of issues, such as climate change. That is what Pelosi’s trip accomplished: more confrontation, less cooperation.

Indeed, anyone who stands for greater cooperation with China is vilified in the Western media as well as in Western-allied media from the Global South as an “agent” of China or a promoter of “disinformation.” I responded to some of these allegations in South Africa’s The Sunday Times on Aug. 7. The article follows:

Ghazi Ahmet, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China, “Muqam,” 1984.

A new kind of madness is seeping into global political discourse, a poisonous fog that suffocates reason. This fog, which has long marinated in old, ugly ideas of white supremacy and Western superiority, is clouding our ideas of humanity. The general malady that ensues is a deep suspicion and hatred of China, not just of its current leadership or even the Chinese political system, but hatred of the entire country and of Chinese civilisation — hatred of just about anything to do with China.

This madness has made it impossible to have an adult conversation about China. Words and phrases such as “authoritarian” and “‘genocide” are thrown around with no care to ascertain facts. China is a country of 1.4 billion people, an ancient civilisation that suffered, as much of the Global South did, a century of humiliation, in this case from the British-inflicted Opium Wars (which began in 1839) until the 1949 Chinese Revolution, when leader Mao Zedong deliberately announced that the Chinese people had stood up.

Since then, Chinese society has been deeply transformed by utilising its social wealth to address the age-old problems of hunger, illiteracy, despondency and patriarchy.

As with all social experiments, there have been great problems, but these are to be expected from any collective human action. Rather than seeing China for both its successes and contradictions, this madness of our times seeks to reduce China to an Orientalist caricature — an authoritarian state with a genocidal agenda that seeks global domination.

This madness has a definite point of origin in the United States, whose ruling elites are greatly threatened by the advances of the Chinese people — particularly in robotics, telecommunications, high-speed rail and computer technology.

These advances pose an existential threat to the advantages long enjoyed by Western corporations, which have benefited from centuries of colonialism and the straitjacket of intellectual property laws. Fear of its own fragility and the integration of Europe into Eurasian economic developments has led the West to launch an information war against China.

This ideological tidal wave is overwhelming our ability to have serious, balanced conversations about China’s role in the world. Western countries with a long history of brutal colonialism in Africa, for instance, now regularly decry what they call Chinese colonialism in Africa without any acknowledgment of their own past or the entrenched French and U.S. military presence across the continent.

Accusations of “genocide”: are always directed at the darker peoples of the world – whether in Darfur or in Xinjiang – but never at the U.S., whose illegal war on Iraq alone resulted in the deaths of over a million people.

The International Criminal Court, steeped in Eurocentrism, indicts one African leader after another for crimes against humanity but has never indicted a Western leader for their endless wars of aggression.

Dedron, Tibet Autonomous Region, China, untitled, 2013.

The fog of this New Cold War is enveloping us today. Recently, in The Daily Maverick and the Mail & Guardian, I was accused of promoting “Chinese and Russian propaganda” and having close links to the Chinese party-state. What is the basis of these claims?

Firstly, elements in Western intelligence attempt to brand any dissent against the Western assault on China as disinformation and propaganda. For instance, my December 2021 report from Uganda debunked the false claim that a Chinese loan to the country sought to take over its only international airport as part of a malicious “debt trap project” – a narrative that has also been repeatedly debunked by leading U.S. scholars.

Through conversations with Ugandan government officials and public statements by Minister of Finance Matia Kasaija, I found, however, that the deal was poorly understood by the state, but that there was no question of the seizure of Entebbe International Airport.

Despite the fact that an entire Bloomberg story on this loan was built on a lie, they were not tarred with the slur of “carrying water for Washington.” That is the power of the information war.

Secondly, there is a claim about my alleged links to the Chinese Communist Party based on the simple fact that I engage with Chinese intellectuals and have an unpaid post at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University, a prominent think tank based in Beijing.

Yang Guangqi of the Shuanglang Farmer Painting Club, Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, China, Untitled, 2018.

Yet, many of the South African publications that have made these outrageous claims are principally funded by George Soros’ Open Society Foundations. Soros took the name of his foundation from Karl Popper’s book, The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945), in which Popper developed the principle of “unlimited tolerance.” Popper argued for maximum dialogue and that opinions against one’s own should be countered “by rational argument.”

Where are the rational arguments here, in a smear campaign that says dialogue with Chinese intellectuals is somehow off-limits but conversation with U.S. government officials is perfectly acceptable?

What level of civilisational apartheid is being produced here, where liberals in South Africa are promoting a “clash of civilisations” rather than a “dialogue between civilisations?”

Countries in the Global South can learn a great deal from China’s experiments with socialism. Its eradication of extreme poverty during the pandemic — an accomplishment celebrated by the United Nations — can teach us how to tackle similar obstinate facts in our own countries (which is why Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research produced a detailed study about the techniques that China employed to achieve this feat).

No country in the world is perfect and none is above criticism. But to develop a paranoid attitude towards one country and to attempt to isolate it is socially dangerous.

Walls need to be knocked down, not built up. The U.S. is provoking a conflict due to its own anxieties about China’s economic advances: we should not be drawn in as useful idiots. We need to have an adult conversation about China, not one imposed upon us by powerful interests that are not our own.

Vijay Prashad, an Indian historian, journalist and commentator, is the executive director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and the chief editor of Left Word Books.

This article is from Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

24 comments for “A Rational Conversation about China

  1. Eddie S
    August 14, 2022 at 12:48

    Good article! As a progressive person still employed in a supply-chain planning position in a US company, I was never in favor of the ‘off-shoring’ that began to take-off in the 1980’s and of-course took-off in the 1990’s with the passage of NAFTA / CAFTA / etc. It was obvious to myself and a few others that this was just driven by short-term profits and was deleterious to the long-term stability of this country (‘eating your seed-corn’ is a good agricultural analogy) , but too many of my fellow citizens were all ga-ga over saving a few bucks on consumer goods, even if it put their neighbor down the street out of a job (all those 50-60 year-old displaced blue-collar workers were going to be retrained as computer programmers, as I recall). Now that China has surpassed the US in GDP, many of these same people are now trying to foment a war with China (as well as Russia) at a time when the international supply-chain is already experiencing HUGE increases in lead-times, initially due to Covid problems. War is an inherently anti-humanitarian evil that nowadays could escalate into a nuclear conflict, possibly killing BILLIONS of people, if not virtually all of humanity, and yet the US I’m ashamed to say is under the control of neo-cons who are — for one reason or another — OK with that. I’m losing hope for the long-term survival of humanity with events like this looming in the future…

  2. RR
    August 14, 2022 at 03:18

    ‘Countries in the Global South can learn a great deal from China’s experiments with socialism.’

    Mao told a US diplomat in 1945: ‘China needs to build up light industries to supply her own market and raise the living standards of her own people. Eventually she can supply these goods to other countries in the Far East. To help pay for this foreign trade and investment, she has raw materials and agricultural products. America is not only the most suitable country to assist this economic development of China: she is also the only country fully able to participate. ‘ That wages have increased since Mao’s day is not in doubt.

    The 1% in China and the US, unlike the vast majority of us, are doing very nicely – even during the latest pandemic…China’s ten richest magnates have accumulated a net $167bn in wealth since the start of 2020 and ‘Since the onset of Covid-19 in early 2020, the combined wealth of the 650 American billionaires has increased by nearly $1 trillion’ (Alternet, 1 December 2020).

    Today capitalist hallmarks, such as class society, commodity production, profit motive, exploitation of wage labour, markets, etc., are found in China and throughout the world.

  3. Larry McGover
    August 13, 2022 at 12:08

    To hear and “adult conversation” about China, suggest going to Ray McGovern’s website (raymcgovern.com), where a recent post consists of a conversation with fellow Veteran For Peace member, Michael Wong. The first part of the conversation is mostly Ray talking about Russia/Ukraine, but starting around minute 45, Mr Wong provides some very interesting, intelligent observations about China.

    Full disclosure: Ray McGovern is my brother.

  4. Dr. Hujjathullah M.H.B. Sahib
    August 13, 2022 at 00:41

    “We should not be drawn in as useful idiots”; this is a great phrase that should be amplified right across not just the REST but also within the marginalized and dumbfounded WEST. Prasad is certainly one of the few highly responsible, truely intellectual and sane Indians out there, courageously going against the tide. Modern Indians are more famous for profitably milking the West and the “West” in the Rest playing the role of very reliably useful idiots ! Anyway, please spare Pelosi, the mulling grand old COW, from total blame and making her into a fly-in scapeGOAT for the entire ideologically obdurate American elites.

  5. Sherri Goulet
    August 12, 2022 at 23:08


  6. Jeff Harrison
    August 12, 2022 at 19:47

    Excellent commentary. It will all come down around our ears…

  7. Steve Naidamast
    August 12, 2022 at 18:31

    If US leadership is concerned about China’s development maybe they should consider rebuilding America’s once preeminent manufacturing capabilities while prohibiting the outsourcing of US jobs over there.

    It seems that US leadership wants to have its cake and it as well. Give up manufacturing and jobs for talented and skilled citizens but still expect to be preeminent economy in the world. Not very sane…

  8. H
    August 12, 2022 at 18:02

    American people involved in or connected to industry cannot/should not visit China or talk positively about China or study Chinese on their own.
    If you don’t believe me, try it and see what happens.
    The US has become extremely paranoid.

  9. Frank Lambert
    August 12, 2022 at 17:08

    The United States has become the “spoiled child” of the world which jumps up and down, pouting and shouting because it didn’t get it’s way or what it wants, blaming everyone else for it in the interim.

    Vijay, another astute and accurate article about Amerika’s quest to control the world.

    I think Karl Popper would be turning in his grave, knowing the diabolical “international banker” George Soros took the title of Popper’s book and used it in his very “unopened” society for overthrowing governments and incurring debt in the aftermath.

    China will succeed in the Silk & Belt Road plan and their “cooperation, not confrontation” philosophy embraced by more and more nations.

  10. renate
    August 12, 2022 at 16:07

    We don’t have rational conversations about anything. We believe we have a free press and now we notice we have a corporate-controlled media. Looking back we must admit, that at no point in our life did we have a really free, honest, and rational debate about Israel and Palestinians and scores of regime changes and assassinations, wars of aggression, and war crimes. The corporate MSM with a few exceptions always sold the corporate government narrative. Corporate media and government are in bed together. The pundits on TV and their guests turned lobbyists or board members for industries like defense, the majority have been or still are connected to government officials, retired generals and intelligence people former politicians, and party officials or are related. The revolving door for nepotism and corruption.
    At least in the past, they tried to cover it, but now they don’t do even that anymore. One morning I turned on the TV and saw the end of a section of the program, it was Mika, Jo and Mika’s brother, the ambassador to Poland, discussing Ukraine and Russia. It was only the last 60 seconds or so of the segment.

  11. August 12, 2022 at 13:37

    Asserting China’s “socialism,” Prashad denounces those who “seek to reduce China to an Orientalist caricature — an authoritarian state with a genocidal agenda that seeks global domination.” Stripped of Prashad’s straw-man phrases, the fact is that China is capitalist and an expansionist power. The U.S. is the established imperialist. You cannot achieve peace by denying the clash and choosing one or the other side here.

    Of course, Prashad has not a word about U.S. capital outsourcing jobs to China. Nor did he disclose here that the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies (!) at Renmin University of China lists Prashad on its staff as a non-resident senior fellow.

    • Charles
      August 12, 2022 at 18:52

      Let me correct a mistake I made: Prashad did disclose he has a post at the Chongyang Institute. He did not say whether he receives travel and other perks.

    • August 12, 2022 at 20:19

      Conversa de troll

    • Harry
      August 12, 2022 at 21:26

      These are not strawman phrases, but the impression that the western media seeks to create, and clearly it is succeeding. China is not a capitalist country in the traditional sense, it practices socialism with Chinese characteristics. It has pulled hundreds of millions out of poverty with its planned economy. The issue is not the perfection of China’s socialism, nor the fact that Prashad has ties to several Chinese organizations which he has never sought to hide, and in fact he listed the ties in an interview just today. The outsourcing of jobs is not China’s issue – it is the fault of American Capitalists trying to squeeze the most profit out of this planet. Everyone was happy when China was the world’s sweatshop, now that their economy is surpassing that of the hegemon, I am receiving Epoch Times newspapers for free in my mailbox.

    • WillD
      August 12, 2022 at 23:17

      It is comments like this one to which I am replying that characterise the thinking, or rather lack of, in the west. The behaviour is to attack, criticise and denigrate, without making clear points based on other than emotion or opinion. There is a noticeable lack of clarity, and the discourse seems to be deliberately muddled and obfuscated.

      As the article points out “A new kind of madness is seeping into global political discourse, a poisonous fog that suffocates reason”. Reason, logic, rational argument – none of these are present anymore, or if so hardly visible. Truth has been subverted, and facts distorted beyond recognition. Our politicians and leaders have become hysterical, driven by emotion and ideology to the extent of being unable to acknowledge the hard cold facts before them, trying desperately to justify their actions and then doubling-down on their failing policies.

    • Consortiumnews.com
      August 13, 2022 at 00:13

      Prashad did just that. One should read an article carefully before commenting:

      “Secondly, there is a claim about my alleged links to the Chinese Communist Party based on the simple fact that I engage with Chinese intellectuals and have an unpaid post at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University, a prominent think tank based in Beijing.”

    • rosemerry
      August 13, 2022 at 02:51

      Obviously (prince?) charles never reads the large number of books and articles generously provided to us all by Vijay Prashad over many years. Pathetic nitpicking leads nowhere. “Charles” can find plenty of his prejudices in nearly every Western media outlet. Hatred and envy are the West’s ways to ensure peace and cooperation are not possible. The USA and its minions are full of these two traits; China wants win-win in its relations with others and its success in these efforts are decried by those who cannot bear sovereignty and cooperation.

    • August 14, 2022 at 12:12

      A comment states, “Everyone was happy when China was the world’s sweatshop.” Except the millions of U.S. workers who lost their jobs thanks to the PRC selling workers at cheap wages to foreign capitalists. Prashad published an analysis of this outsourcing – and its use of the labor theory of value is a complete mess. See

  12. JonnyJames
    August 12, 2022 at 12:41

    The short-sighted greed, and imperial hubris of the US oligarchy facilitated China’s remarkable economic development. The US thought it could exploit China financially and economically and keep China in a subservient role.

    However, as prof. Michael Hudson , Pepe Escobar, Vijay Prasad and others have pointed out: China has rejected the IMF/IBRD model of debt dependence and development. They have not turned over economic and financial planning to private banks and oligarchy. Yes, they have allowed elements of capitalism into “socialism with Chinese characteristics” but: China is a mixed economy, and the state has maintained control of economic planning (where Wall St. does this in the USA).

    The success of this model has lifted millions and millions of people out of poverty, and a dramatic rise in living standards in China. Political and military power grew with economic power. In short, the US wants to “have her cake and eat it too”. In a desperate attempt to maintain global hegemony, a reckless US (and vassals) might just lead us into a nuclear war.

    The West is in decline and the East and Global South are reasserting their historical place in the world.

  13. Jorge E Macias Jaramillo
    August 12, 2022 at 12:27

    Estados Unidos está jugando contra China y Rusia, los está provocando, la guerra en Ucrania creada y armada por E. U. y la OTAN pude transformarse en un bumerán contra esta potencia que ha invadido y llevado la guerra a todos los continentes para obtener 3 beneficios: favorecer a su industria armamentista al vender armas a los Gobiernos, opositores, grupos rebeldes, de la delincuencia local e internacional, han desviando armas de EU. A OTAN en la ruta a Ucrania que van a parar a nronazis, mercenarios et. Con las invasiones y al tumbar gobiernos generalmente demócratas imponen dictaduras sanguinarias y gobernantes títeres que obedecer an la política exterior leoninas de E.U. Con estos gobernantes obedientes logrará apoderarse de los recursos naturales ya sean minerales, energéticos como el petróleo, coltan, litio, uranio al precio que se les antoja o los piratean como lo harán con Ucrania quien está muy endeudada por la gran cantidad de armas que envían a este último país.

  14. Em
    August 12, 2022 at 11:08

    Do the 1% who own and operate the American economy have a legitimate democratic right to be representatives abroad, of the total U.S. body politic, in international relations???
    They most definitely do NOT!!!
    Yet … their actions are totally without regard for the best interests of all of humanity.

  15. mgr
    August 12, 2022 at 10:09

    Traditionally, competition involved winning by doing better, offering more, holding up a higher ideal. This was touted as the “American way” that I grew up with.

    However, if you are inadequate and cannot, or do not wish to compete, rather than trying to do better yourself and holding up your accomplishments, you spend your time and effort in trying to undermine your competition. For American enterprises, and in US society and government, this has become the modus operandi.

    Some 20 years ago, China made the determination as a government and society to eliminate extreme poverty in their country of 1.4 billion. They have achieved that goal. During this same period, America has started wars around the world that have killed and displaced millions of ordinary people for no purpose other than trying to maintain a weakening US hegemony. All the while, the American people have sunk ever deeper into poverty and desperation.

    The banality of evil…

  16. August 12, 2022 at 06:16

    I like the article but it would have been better if it were written also for those who might not already agree with you. For example, the following paragraph has insufficient context, it sounds like you’re saying China did seize an airport. Without context there’s no rational argument here that you were right, it’s just an allusion to something nobody knows about, without information to understand it.

    “Through conversations with Ugandan government officials and public statements by Minister of Finance Matia Kasaija, I found, however, that the deal was poorly understood by the state, but that there was no question of the seizure of Entebbe International Airport.”

  17. Vesa Sainio
    August 12, 2022 at 04:01

    And the same applies to western illness of russophobia. The worldview of western liberals has become the most unliberal. This could be seen very comical unless its so dangerous and destructive.

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