Delivering Community Power CUPW 2022-2023

The rise of China and the decline of the West

The focal point of the world’s economy is shifting to Asia and Eurasia


Photo by David Dennis/Flickr

China’s place on the world stage advances year by year. It is arguably already the world’s largest economy. Its Belt and Road Initiative and its other international links like the BRICS have helped to magnify its economic but also political and cultural influence worldwide.

More and more countries in the Global South are benefiting from these connections and are looking to China for leadership on the basis of mutual benefit. There is every reason to believe these trends will continue. Moreover, we can see that the focal point of the world’s economy is shifting to Asia and Eurasia.

At the same time, geopolitically we are headed for a multipolar world with no country able to impose itself as hegemon. It is a notable that the Ukraine-Russia war is accelerating these changes.

All of this is becoming possible because of the growing importance of China. In my eyes the success of these policies is rooted in its economic system. The reemergence of China on the world stage has been made possible by the maturation of its distinctive brand of socialism.

As we know capitalism plays a big role in the Chinese economy and links it with the rest of the world. But in my view this has to be understood in terms of the overall dominance of the Chinese state over the economy and the direction of its development by the Chinese Communist Party.

I am sure that there are ongoing political and other problems with this mode of development. It is a work in progress. But up to now and looking ahead I think we are looking at a model which is brilliantly successful and notably is outpacing the West. Moreover there is reason to believe that its success is going to become more apparent in future years as China becomes still more important on the global stage.

For China this achievement is an enormous vindication. One can only imagine the meaning of these developments for the Chinese people especially in light of the 1949 revolution which liberated China from more than a century of humiliation at the hands of imperialism and has brought about the modernization of the country.

The immense Belt and Road Initiative, which is expected to cost more than $1 trillion, represents nothing less than a historic reversal of a Western current which began with the entry of the Portuguese Vasco de Gama into the Indian Ocean over 500 years ago.

Rather than emphasizing this astonishing turn of events I want to focus on the hostile reaction of the West to the reemergence of China and Eurasia on the world stage. This refusal is itself a fact of utmost political and historical significance fraught with danger as it is.

Led by the United States the reaction of the West is one of denial and rejection. The West so far has been unable or unwilling to accept these momentous transformations presently underway. Since the Obama administration we have seen this hostility reflected in terms of a rising crescendo of sanctions, military threats and media attacks against China’s supposed human rights record and interference in the political life of other states designed somehow to bring China back to heel under the West.

The centre of this campaign has been the reassertion of the idea of Taiwanese separatism—a pure relic of the Cold War. Taiwan is once more seen as the keystone of the American military containment of China.

Indeed, the posture of the United States conforms to the whole history of modern imperialism.

We know how bitterly the imperialist countries fought with one another for hegemonic control of the world. But in turn these powers, England, France but also Germany and Japan had to bow to American primacy by 1945. But American hegemony should be seen as heir to the legacy of overall Western domination of the world which began as early as the eighteenth century.

Intrinsic to this domination is a mindset which presumes the dominance of the West or even the white race over the rest of the world as intrinsic to the ‘rules-based’ and natural order of the world. Faced with the threat of China the West denounces the lack of democracy in China while refusing to acknowledge that its own representative democracy has transformed itself into oligarchy and a kind of liberal totalitarianism.

The ruling class in the United States and the other Western states are infected with these ideas. The reason for this is that it accords with the material interests of these classes. Faced with the emergence of China and the growing current to multipolarity their reaction has been a crude attempt to somehow intimidate China into accepting continued Western dominance.

The primary weapons they have for doing so are military, financial and media.

As a result we are seeing a global conflict initiated by the West against the rise of Eurasia the focal points being the South China Sea but also Ukraine. Russia is seen as itself the source of endless riches but also as the backdoor to China.

In a certain sense this conflict reflects a continuation of the imperialist struggles of the past. But the West’s hostility is not simply based on the threat of China as a new world power. It is China’s socialism which above all is seen as a menace.

The power of the ruling class in the West rests on the private accumulation of wealth through exploitation of people and resources. The idea of a state which ultimately bases itself on the predominance of workers and the primacy of use values over exchange values is anathema.

That China is that kind of state and that it is performing at a higher level than world capitalism is terrifying to them.

Given these circumstances China and the peoples of the world are faced with a complex and difficult situation.

The politics of the West is characterized by a sense of desperation and bravado strikingly reminiscent of the fascists during the Second World War. The logic of the so-called political realism it is pursuing is exposed as a deeply irrational form of Neitzschean will to power.

The potential for a war even more destructive than that last great world conflict is real. On the other hand, it should be emphasized that the peoples of the Global South are resisting attempts to continue to subordinate them to Western imperialism.

They realize that the conflict between the exploitive West and the rest of the world is a struggle over their own future.

Moreover, while they have been quiescent up to now, the working class in the West has yet to be heard from.

For how long will it put up with the deterioration in its economic circumstances, ecological irresponsibility and reckless pro-war policies pursued by the ruling classes? Furthermore, there is every sign that the capitalist system which this class controls is weakening or has entered a state of permanent crisis. The growing recklessness of their imperialism is a sign of this.

China with its strong state and party has the possibility of rationally responding and adjusting to this situation which is not true of the West. Time is on the side of China and the Global South.

It is impossible to say how far the crackpot realists in the West are prepared to go in defending their system. Hopefully they will bow to the force of circumstances which are not in their favour. But short of all out war we are looking at the emergence of new world system in which China has provided a key model of independent development for other states.

Henry Heller is a Professor of History at the University of Manitoba. He is the author of The Birth of Capitalism: A 21st Century Perspective (Pluto Press, 2011), The Cold War and the New Imperialism: A Global History, 1945-2005 (Monthly Review Press, 2006) and The Bourgeois Revolution in France (Berghahn Books, 2006).


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