On 16 June 2021 I attended the launch of the British section of the No Cold War campaign, jointly hosted by No Cold War and the Tricontinental Institute. If you want to watch the video you can watch it here on YouTube.
The speakers were Fiona Edwards, (Stop the War Coalition national officer and former student organiser for Socialist Action); Lowkey (anti-imperialist rapper and political activist); Jodie Evans (co-founder of women's anti-war activist group Code Pink); Anna Chen (writer, broadcaster, and poet); Martin Jacques (former Eurocommunist, now a Chinese government apologist academic); Li Jingjing (a journalist for CGTN, an CCP-run English-language news outfit, which serves a similar purpose as Russia Today does for Russia, or Press TV does for Iran); Kate Hudson (general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament); Andrew Murray (introduced as an "esteemed trade unionist", but better known as Corbyn's former advisor and 'ex'-CPB bigwig); and Ben Chacko (editor of the Morning Star).
Most of the speakers made a conspicuous effort to tone down their usual outspoken defence for the Chinese government, and there was a clear desire to present the view that this campaign would be non-partisan and open to all shades of opinion: crucially, you do not need to support the Chinese government in order to get involved, you just need to oppose a new cold war. Edwards touted Jeffrey Sachs as an example of someone who the campaign has worked with, despite his strong disagreement with many of China's policies (Sachs doesn't seem a particularly strong example of this, as his main project at the moment is to deny the Uighur genocide). Jodie Evans (who came to us from America in "the belly of the beast", in her words) made the point that they have been engaging with everyone who has a position of no war, which has made them some "strange bedfellows" - this is worth looking into, as the US anti-war movement has made 'strange bedfellows' with some pretty ghoulish figures in defence of Assad and Milosevic in the past. Andrew Murray, showing a serious lack of respect for his former employers, warned that "we do not need to go into the trenches, as many of us do, for the Soviet Union in the first cold war, to defend everything dot and comma that China does".
However, there was still a lot of apologism for the Chinese government on display. Excluding Li Jingjing for the moment, here are some examples:
- "Progressive forces in Latin America want to pursue win-win(?) relations with China. That's because China offers things like vaccines, trade, investment, and respect for sovereignty, and this is a welcome alternative to the US approach of dominating Latin America, including through coups and brutal sanctions." (Fiona Edwards)
- The Belt and Road initiative promises to do for poorer economies what China has done for its own; loans from China have much lower charges than World Bank loans' China is the world's biggest investor in renewable energy; "some people in the West simply can't bear the idea of Chinese excelling or China being given credit for anything" (Anna Chen)
- Whilst opposing a new cold war doesn't require defending the Chinese government, but we should be aware of the atrocity stories our governments use, just like how they lied about Iraq and Syria; the Morning Star and Grayzone have challenged these Western narratives on Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and how they ignore Chinese voices, for instance, you never hear from the HKTFU in Britain (Ben Chacko)
- Jodie Evans emphasised how Western powers have been working to stabilise Xinjiang for decades, and that US operatives are at work in Hong Kong - not exactly a defence of China per se, but still an attempt to delegitimise opposition to the Chinese government in East Turkestan (aka Xinjiang) and Hong Kong
Li Jingjing clearly hadn't got the memo about saying as little as possible about the Uighurs, and gave a strident defence of China's ethnicities policy. After telling us how much literacy and life expectancy in Tibet has improved under the PRC, Li went onto Xinjiang. Despite having a beautiful culture of different ethnic groups who have been living there for centuries, people used to live in constant fear of terrorist attacks, and women lived in patriarchal abusive Muslim relationships. However thanks to the CCP there are no more attacks, people women can pursue careers, and different faith leaders cooperate with each other. Despite the fact that the British media portrays secessionism in HJong Kong as if it was still their old colony and parrots western propaganda about Hong Kong and Xinjiang, "China has found a way to build a harmonious relationship between those people". Her contribution was a very welcome break from sad old tankies holding their tongue about China, and it livened up my evening to see one of the speakers go mask off. I wish the Zoom event had stayed in panel mode throughout, so I could have seen the embarrassment on the other panelists' faces when Li went off on one about anti-terrorism in Xinjiang.
Bizarrely, Lowkey's speech began with an extended list of inventions such as paper and gunpowder which we have China to thank for, and finished by listing China's achievements today including its really amazing drone technology which it sells to Kazakhstan and the UAE (!), and how it will overtake the US by 2027. Lowkey's, Anna Chen's, and Vijay Prashad's speeches mainly focused on the history of British imperialism in China and the Opium Wars, and didn't seem to link it very concretely to the present day, other than talking about how the current aggression against China is merely a continuation of that history, which seems very superficial and simplistic to me. By far the most interesting points were made by Martin Jacques, who detailed how he thinks this cold war will be different to the previous one between the US and the USSR. The US-USSR cold war was characterised by two mutually exclusive blocs, profound military competition, and a deep ideological schism, whereas he predicted that the tactics of the US this time would be much broader, and have a smaller emphasis on military competition. Additionally, China and the US are both deeply integrated into the global economy in a way that the USSR was not, so it wouldn't be feasible to just economically cut off China. He also made some good points about how European states are less likely to be unwaveringly pro-American in the face of China than they were during the cold war with Russia.
There was nothing too practical-minded in the meeting - the closest was Andrew Murray setting out arguments to take to the British public about why a cold war with China is against their best interests (it will cut us off from China's wealth as China has undergone "massive capital accumulation"; it will mean wasteful military spending that could be better spent elsewhere; it will stimulate anti-Asian racism in Britain and will damage our cash-strapped universities which get a lot of money from Chinese students; and we can't address global problems like climate change or the pandemic without collaboration with China, which has proven itself to be much better at pandemic management than Britain). Murray said we need to take these ideas out into social movements, trade unions, and the Labour Party, but throughout the meeting there were no specific calls for people to take motions to branches or ask for funding, and no examples of this having been done. All the organisers offered in terms of practical activity was following the campaign on social media to keep posted about what's going on, and bigging up how much coverage the campaign has had in China (a report of it had 100 million views) and Brazil (Dilma Rousseff spoke at their meeting).