Kevin Lin, Rosa Liu, Eli Friedman, Ashley Smith - 'China in Global Capitalism: Building International Solidarity Against Imperial Rivalry'

Kevin Lin, Rosa Liu, Eli Friedman, Ashley Smith - 'China in Global Capitalism: Building International Solidarity Against Imperial Rivalry'


The cover of 'China in Global Capitalism'.

This timely and up-to-date book not only covers how China has risen to power but where the country today stands on a number of different topics, ranging from nationalism, exceptionalism, gender, and feminism into international relations with the USA, Russia, and the problems involved with moving from communism to capitalism.

Speaking of which, the authors are opposed to capitalism as a sustainable system. From the start of the book:

In this short book, we lay out the global backdrop of inter-imperial rivalry in tandem with an account of Chinese people’s resistance in order to help the international left think about how to engage with movements fighting for progressive causes within China. Our position is fundamentally animated by the belief that working-class and socially marginalized people of all nations share a common interest in opposing the global capitalist system that is predicated on class exploitation, racial and gender oppression, and ecological destruction. This book details China’s social problems while contextualizing daily domestic and international political dramas within a broader historical and structural framework. Critically, we attempt to put forward ideas and strategies to advance an emancipatory and anti-capitalist political vision that can transcend rigidifying geopolitical boundaries. We draw out actually existing transnational connections and dynamics to demonstrate that international solidarity not only is possible, but that a radical reorganization of social and economic life globally is the only escape route from the very real possibility of war and ecological collapse.

The language of this book could do with a heap of editing, but apart from that, it’s a book that packs many a punch. While reading it, I got hit with many an a-ha! moment and learned things, especially about how China’s capitalistic current system works and doesn’t work in relation to, mainly, the USA.

They’re not wrong about this:

Capitalism is a system in which the owners of corporations exploit workers’ labor in competition with other corporations to make the most profit. Capital’s compulsion to accumulate takes precedence over meeting human needs, as the natural world is treated as an object to plunder regardless of consequences to the environment, while workers are forced into the market to purchase the goods they need to survive. The competitive drive for endless accumulation drives corporations into conflict with each other, forcing them to innovate, invest in research and development, squeeze higher productivity out of their workers, and make them work longer and harder for lower wages.

The authors argue for the necessity to end imperial ambitions for all parties involved, as they may lead to war (and the end of humanity, at least if nuclear arms are used):

Both the US and China have turned toward increasing state intervention into their economies with dueling industrial and protectionist policies. Absent direct military conflict, full economic decoupling is out of the question, but there has been immense pressure put on global supply chains that were predicated on the ideology of separating politics from economics. Even if Euro-American corporations continue to benefit from exploiting Chinese workers for many years, they are hedging their bets and increasingly sourcing from friendlier nations such as Mexico, Vietnam, and India. In essence, national security concerns are playing a much larger role in the organization of production within global capitalism. This process has been accelerated by the trade war’s tariffs as well as the US’s growing list of technologies subject to an export ban to China. Third, militarization of the Indo-Pacific region has advanced to a frightening extent in recent years. China has continued to build out bases in contested waters in the South China Sea, while its military technology and spending continue to expand. The Biden administration has fortified the Quad (Australia, India, Japan, US) while forming the new AUKUS military alliance (Australia, UK, US). Japan is in a process of remilitarization, South Korea has floated the idea of developing nuclear weapons, and the US has a new agreement to allow for troop rotations at several locations in the Philippines. Taiwan remains the most likely flashpoint. China launched an overwhelming display of military force across the strait following Nancy Pelosi’s visit in the summer of 2022, and has continued to employ stepped-up gray zone tactics around the island. All of these recent developments have further reinforced the need for a consistent anti-imperialist and internationalist response to the twenty-first century’s defining rivalry.

The historical facts in the book, especially regarding the dissolution of the ‘iron rice bowl’, the Maoist system of lifetime employment, are interesting, as capitalists move in and sweep away worker rights that have been respected for decades as though they were chalk on a board.

The Maoist system also contained issues, but compared with peoples’ struggles in current days, the book makes it plain that capitalism never benefits workers. In spite of overbearing and increasing oppression, workers fight for their collective rights. As an example, just read about the Foxconn workers, the people who ensure that iphones are made, in spite of working and living like slaves:

In the fall of 2022, it once again demonstrated its militancy in opposition to the government’s increasingly repressive pandemic controls. These had taken a huge toll on workers, millions of whom had been deprived of basic livelihood during long-term lockdowns in their homes. In other cases, companies imposed “closed-loop” work arrangements that forced workers to remain in their workplaces, denying them the right to go home. So, they worked, ate, and slept in their factories. These policies generated a wave of small-scale protests and riots over the spring and summer of 2022, including at Apple’s supplier Quanta and in numerous working-class neighborhoods throughout the country. In October 2022, this wave crested at Zhengzhou’s Foxconn factory complex, the world’s largest iPhone manufacturer, which accounts for three-quarters of global output of the iconic phone. To keep churning out products, Foxconn imposed closed-loop management, locking two hundred thousand workers inside its facility, denying them the right to leave even when the virus began to circulate among workers. The company failed to provide adequate food to workers, trapped the healthy and the sick together, and denied adequate care to those who contracted the illness. Fearful for their well-being, thousands of workers broke out of the complex, jumping over walls and rushing past security guards. With production paralyzed, Foxconn announced big bonuses to lure people back to work. Local officials in nearby villages helped with recruitment, going so far as to pressure military veterans to get production back up and running. Foxconn, however, reneged on their offer and announced they would not be paying returned workers and new recruits their expected bonuses for many months. Outraged, workers staged perhaps the largest revolt in a decade, with thousands engaging in fierce physical battles with security guards, “big white” pandemic control workers, and the police. In the aftermath, Foxconn promised to pay 10,000 yuan to workers to leave—a huge victory for the rioters. But of greater political significance, this revolt initiated a sequence of resistance that would soon spread nationwide. The “White Paper Revolution”—so named for the blank sheets of paper protesters held—was the most politically significant social mobilization in China since 1989, and it was a movement catalyzed by workers.

Apart from work, what about everyday life for workers?

Today, China is among the very few countries in the world where there is zero government expenditure on care services for children under three.

Public social spending as a share of GDP is shockingly low in China: in 2016 it was less than half that of the United States and Brazil, and less than one-third the levels of countries such as Germany or Norway. Unsurprisingly, the price of childcare and other privatized necessities like housing, medicine, and education have skyrocketed. This new market has created a vast number of paid domestic women workers that do reproductive labor. Today, it is estimated that there are thirty-five million of these workers in China, making up the world’s largest domestic service market.

Apart from how women are exploited, the capitalist system allows for oppression of groups of peoples, for example, the Uyghurs, the native Xinjiang population. The Uyghurs are mainly muslim by religion and are subject to hostile oppression from the Chinese government.

Over the next several years, the security apparatus unleashed an intense campaign to subjugate and collectively punish the PRC’s Muslim citizens. By 2017, the state had constructed massive camps, euphemistically referred to as “re-education centers,” where it jailed hundreds of thousands of Muslims. While the pretense was that these were merely job training sites, extensive leaks as well as publicly available government documents have revealed that the camps were intended to promote “de-radicalization” and a sense of “ethnic unity,” as well as submission to CCP rule. Myriad minor infractions could land someone in the camps, including excessive religiosity (as determined by the state), traveling internationally, maintaining contact with people outside of the country, or efforts to document, preserve, and disseminate Uyghur culture. Nearly every prominent Uyghur intellectual or artist that did not hew closely to the Party line ended up in the camps or faced charges of separatism. The latter charge was given even to those Uyghurs actively supporting Uyghur-Han dialogue and peaceful coexistence, such as prominent academic Ilham Tohti or former Xinjiang University president Tashpolat Tiyip.

The state’s attack on Uyghur culture has not been limited to the camps and the prisons. It has created a dystopian system of surveillance throughout Xinjiang that tightly controls all digital activities, and even tracks individuals’ movements through cities and towns with an encompassing system of security cameras linked to facial recognition software. In echoes of apartheid-era South Africa or the contemporary West Bank, Uyghurs cannot travel through their homeland without being constantly subjected to police searches and harassment, while Han residents are allowed to go about their business relatively unperturbed. The state has taken seemingly vindictive measures to erase, sanitize, or Sinicize sites of cultural significance. This has included the renovation or destruction of mosques and graveyards in multiple locations. Finally, Uyghur language education has come under immense pressure, as instruction in the language itself has come to be viewed as a threat to interethnic unity.

Even though Mao’s troops proactively attempted to subjugate and smash all types of critique against his empire, he did not command the Great Firewall of China, nor did he build their current credit system (which would have been impossible under a people-friendly flavour of communism, something which cannot be said about capitalism), not would it defer to ideology like capitalism, where profit is the only God and mainstay, the one thing to which all other factors must bow and obey.

This book blends far more concepts and conflicts, for example how China has acted and acts toward Tibet, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, close-proximity areas that are colonialised and ruled-over with an iron fist. There are many more risks involved when trying to stay isolated, compared with working together with the rest of the world. China consists of an extreme amount of people, all of whom are intelligent, just as with the rest of the world. We know that it’s better, for everyone, to include everyone’s thinking instead of keeping up a system that benefits the opulence of the minority from the majority, to paraphrase James Madison1. Here’s a quote from the book that I think works in conclusion:

The roots of the conflict are deeper than this or that leadership of either country. Instead, it is the product of the imperialist logic of global capitalism. Its competitive pressures drive corporations beyond national borders in search of resources, markets, and labor throughout the world. Each capitalist state develops its geopolitical and military power to buttress its corporations’ claims in the world economy. Thus, economic competition among capitals tends to produce imperial competition among states for the division and redivision of the world market. These rivalries trigger geopolitical conflict and even war among dominant states, new powers, and oppressed nations. The victors of these conflicts attempt to enforce a new hierarchy among the capitalist states. Some sit atop, others below them, and those at the bottom suffer national oppression, either directly, through colonial rule, or indirectly, through political and economic subjection to the dictates of the most powerful states. Such hierarchies are never permanent. Capitalism’s law of uneven and combined development constantly upsets the interstate order. Old powers atrophy, new capitalist powers rise, and they come into conflict as each tries to order the world economy to the advantage of its capitalist class.

  1. Madison, James. “Founders Online: Term of the Senate, [26 June] 1787.” Last modified June 26, 1787. Accessed June 10, 2024.