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American exceptionalism won’t save the U.S. Empire from itself, or stop China’s rise

Originally published: Black Agenda Report on November 4, 2020 (more by Black Agenda Report)  |

China’s rise reflects a bourgeoning global movement away from U.S. imperialism and toward self-determination.

Much of the 2020 presidential election between Joe Biden and Donald Trump was spent bashing China. Trump repeatedly called Biden “soft” on China while Biden claimed the same about Trump. In the last debate before votes were cast, Biden stated that Trump “cozies up to thugs” such as China’s president Xi Jinping. Although U.S.-China relations have sunk to their lowest point since normalization under Trump, Biden has made no indication that he wants to reverse course. American exceptionalism will be the ruling ideology of the U.S. state and the preservation of U.S. dominance the primary goal of the ruling class no matter who is elected president in November.

American exceptionalism, however, cannot save the U.S. empire from itself. Hurling slander at China does not change the existing reality of U.S. imperial decline.  For one, neither Biden nor Trump can rescue the U.S.’ battered capitalist economy. Negative growth, mass unemployment, and the eventual expiration of moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures are likely to keep U.S. capitalism on a path of slow to no growth for years to come. China, on the other hand, has no such problem. After mobilizing for three months to contain COVID-19, China’s economy grew at a rate of nearly five percent from July to September despite the decrepit condition of its largest trading partner and the world economy at large.

Many economists have predicted that China will overtake the U.S. in economic scale by 2030 in GDP terms. The pandemic is likely to accelerate this trend. China has already closed the gap in many economic sectors and has surpassed the U.S. in others. Market analysts predict that China’s leadership in electric vehicle production and consumption will dominate the global market in the coming years. China is already a global leader in renewable energy production. Furthermore, in the much-heralded arena of 5G technology, China is also well ahead of the United States. China possesses twelve times more 5G base stations than the U.S. and the gap grows wider in sectors such as high-speed rail.

The key factor that separates the U.S. and China is austerity. China’s planned economy and socialist governance system allows for the subsidization of the needs of the people to exist simultaneously with investments in high-tech industries. Upgrades in telecommunications technology and e-commerce, for example, have played important roles in the rising incomes of rural families and therefore have contributed to the overall policy of poverty alleviation in China. Technology under late stage U.S. capitalism serves as a weapon against the broad masses of people by raising their rate of exploitation as contending tech corporations battle over which can dominate the market faster. Technological development receives no assistance from the state unless in the form of military contracts for the production of weapons, bases, and other installations of war.

U.S. attempts to isolate Chinese technology and trade across the world have failed time and time again, from Trump’s trade war midway through his first term to the more current policy of sanctions against corporations such as Huawei. The U.S. has thus needed to rely upon military aggression to enforce its containment policy toward China. Nearly half of all U.S. military assets and over sixty percent of naval forces reside in the Asia-Pacific. The U.S. is not satisfied with its influence in the region, however, and has attempted to create an “Asian NATO” comprised of India, Japan, and Australia. Enhanced military aggression fits with the larger U.S. military strategy of “Great Power Competition” which targets Russia and China as the primary threats to U.S. hegemony abroad.

American exceptionalism is the ideological framework for the United States’ anti-China policy. Donald Trump used his first term to increase hostilities with China on the basis that its biggest economic competitor was unfairly undercutting U.S. supremacy in all areas of international relations. China has been singled out as the principle threat to American “greatness” and “exceptionalism. The War on Terror utilized racist imagery of a white civilization under siege from Arab and Muslim savages. “Great Power Competition” depicts the United States as a white civilization under siege by a modern form of Yellow Peril.

However, American exceptionalism and the imperialist ambitions behind the ideology have been a staple of U.S. relations with China since the Chinese Revolution of 1949. U.S. diplomatic, military, and economic strangulation of the People’s Republic in the first two-plus following the Chinese Revolution was justified on the basis that China was a “lost” possession in need of recovery. As Qiao Collective noted, normalization did not necessarily change the U.S. attitude that China’s social system must be overthrown in favor of U.S.-style “democracy.” Debates over China’s Most Favored Nation (MFN) trade status within Congress and the White House consistently focused on utilizing the U.S. capitalist economy as an engine of privatization in China that would force its social system to adopt a Western-style model of government.

The case of China bursts asunder the illusion that the U.S. can force nations into political submission simply by exposing the people to the U.S. capitalist economy. China’s political and economic trajectory should be clear to anyone paying attention. Capitalist mechanisms in China act as a springboard for the achievement of poverty alleviation and an elevation of the standard of living of the Chinese people. China’s adherence to an international governance system based in the U.N. Charter is popular both with capitalist countries seeking to do business in China and Global South nations in need of breathing room from imperialist treachery. China’s economic and political development model is especially popular in China. The Chinese government sports an approval rating of 80-90 percent depending on the poll.

Too often Western and American eyes are fixated on their isolated hatred of non-white peoples to consider the global implications of China’s rise. China’s rise reflects a bourgeoning global movement away from U.S. imperialism and toward self-determination. The more that the U.S. attempts to impose its so-called exceptionalist values on the world, the more that the world’s nations harden their struggle for self-determination out of necessity and survival. The re-election of MAS in Bolivia, the continued struggle of the Syrian government against U.S. sanctions and war, and the DPRK’s commitment to the reunification and sovereignty of the Korean Peninsula despite constant U.S. threats all fall within a larger resistance movement to U.S. empire. And it should not surprise anyone that these countries also happen to be China’s closest allies in their respective regions.

U.S. imperialism is a social order coming apart at the seams. For nearly half of the 20th century, economic stability and growth allowed the U.S. political establishment to boast about the exceptionalism of its society even as it used every means at the disposal of the state to repress liberation movements at home and abroad. The War on Terror soiled the U.S.’ image in the world and further sent capitalism into a tailspin of decline. A New Cold War has been launched against China and its strongest ally, Russia, to reinvent the political terrain of 20th century U.S. dominance. It won’t work. American exceptionalism cannot save the U.S. empire from itself, nor can the ideology find sufficient traction to thwart China’s rise. What the U.S. empire will accomplish in the coming months and years is the further spread of mass death and economic misery all over the world. The Left’s task is not to fear or challenge China’s rise but to stop the U.S. empire from bringing the world to the precipice of a humanity-defeating World War in a ceaseless bid to preserve global hegemony.

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