North Korean propaganda poster - Look! This is what US imperialism looks like
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The geopolitical bloc held together by colonization that's sloppily labeled itself "The West" slips ever deeper into a state of obvious moral bankruptcy. This bloc is standing by Israel as it massacres Palestinian civilians. It's been behind the paramilitarism and capitalist state repression in Colombia, where protesters have been getting massacred nightly and government helicopters have been shooting at civilians in broad daylight. It's facilitating the privatization of the war in Afghanistan, the worsening of the wars in Syria and Yemen, and the continuation of sanctions designed to kill civilians within countries like Iran and Venezuela.
This bloc's central country the United States is overseeing a perpetual expansion of what are effectively concentration camps for the migrants fleeing U.S.-backed neo-colonial dictatorships, and a growing stash of army-grade U.S. police weapons that are being used to brutalize nonwhites especially. As these victims of colonialism are subjected to ever-escalating state violence, the U.S. lower classes more broadly continue to be deprived of healthcare, food, shelter, or relief from their massive debt in the midst of a still-worsening depression that was created by the U.S. government's neoliberal policies.
It's for all of these reasons that the defenders of colonialism, capitalism, and imperialism must point their fingers at the countries that oppose "The West," mainly China, and accuse them of all the crimes that the imperialist bloc is committing. As the French philosopher Alain Badiou has assessed, this is the way the imperialists have long justified their atrocities:
A brutal state of affairs, profoundly inegalitarian--where all existence is evaluated in terms of money alone--is presented to us as ideal. To justify their conservatism, the partisans of the established order cannot really call it ideal or wonderful. So instead, they have decided to say that all the rest is horrible. Sure, they say, we may not live in a condition of perfect Goodness. But we're lucky that we don't live in the condition of Evil. Our democracy is not perfect. But it's better than the bloody dictatorships. Capitalism is unjust. But it's not criminal like Stalinism. We let millions of Africans die of AIDS, but we don't make racist nationalist declarations like Milosevic. We kill Iraqis with our airplanes, but we don't cut their throats with machetes like they do in Rwanda, etc.
Such rationalizations are absurd even if you accept that all of these characterizations about imperialism's rivals are true. A different government being more evil wouldn't negate the evils that one's own government is committing. But this justification's weakness is doubled by how these supposed foreign evils the imperialists point to are almost always fabricated.
As Michael Parenti has written about the shoddily sourced and often thematically inconsistent demonizations of Milosevic, "Milosevic's real sin was that he resisted the dismemberment of Yugoslavia and opposed a U.S. imposed hegemony. He also attempted to spare Yugoslavia the worst of the merciless privatizations and rollbacks that have afflicted other former communist countries." And "Stalinism," assuming it can even be considered an actual ideology, was only "criminal" in that it defied the dictates of the imperialists. Stalin himself has been scapegoated for every problem related to Soviet history, real or imagined, to the effect that he's become an avatar for bourgeois propaganda's dark caricature of communism.
This is a caricature that shows the inhabitants of the imperialist bloc a perfect reflection of their own dystopian society, and insists that it's a picture of the communist bogeyman instead of the reality they live within. Socialist China has become the perfect target for this manipulation approach, because its rise on the global stage has allowed the U.S. to project onto it both imperialism's internal oppression and imperialism's external aggressions. By this I mean that the imperialists are at the same time using shoddily researched "independent" reports to accuse China of the types of concentration camps that the U.S. actually has, and are using similarly dubious claims to accuse China of the types of global tyranny the U.S. perpetrates.
As great-power competition heats up, the latter type of projection is extending not just to imperialist myths about China's supposedly "neo-colonial" role in Africa, but to narratives about Washington-esque military belligerence.
"China is already coercing Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Australia, and others without the benefit of owning Taiwan," the Australian neoconservative think tank The Lowy Institute wrote this month, notably not providing any source for this assertion despite the rest of the report being abundant with citations. The report is titled Countering Chinese Adventurism In Taiwan, yet the report observes that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would be detrimental and irrational, stating: "The PRC would likely suffer huge losses in the process and spend years pacifying Taiwan, militarily and politically; it would be depleted, not energised for further conquest." If such a decision would be so clearly counterproductive for China, why bring up the possibility of it happening and then implicate China in "adventurism" when it comes to Taiwan?
Because in the eyes of the imperialists, modern China's foreign policy represents the exact type of adventurist, unintentionally self-sabotaging military approach that the imperialist bloc has been engaging in since 9/11. Washington's reckless invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, which were initially expected by U.S. foreign policy elites and pundits to be wildly successful, have depleted U.S. resources through military quagmires and created great political blowback for the U.S. amid shrinking international respect for Washington. Within our generation, the U.S. has made blunders worse than the one China would make by invading Taiwan, to the effect that U.S. hegemony has entered a death spiral. But this reality about the state of U.S. geopolitical influence, which has been quietly worrying U.S. foreign-policy elites in recent years, must be superimposed onto China.
This projection was made more direct than ever in a Foreign Policy article from March of this year, titled China Is Losing Influence--and That Makes It Dangerous, which supports its claim of a declining China by saying:
China still has some down-at-the-heel allies, such as Pakistan and North Korea, but it is increasingly isolated from the developed countries that alone can facilitate its continued economic growth. For China, that means trouble. Its promises are no longer taken seriously, and its propaganda falls on deaf ears. Many of its Belt and Road Initiative projects have ground to a halt. Virtually no one supports its nine-dash line in the South China Sea, and Western countries have been lining up to offer immigration pathways to professionals fleeing Hong Kong after Beijing's takeover last year. Many countries have banned China's Huawei and ZTE from their telecommunications networks. And India, Vietnam, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan are all modernizing their armed forces in response to potential Chinese threats.
Such comforting words for the partisans of the established order that Badiou talked about. If history goes the way this article suggests it will, the PRC will ultimately collapse the same way the USSR did, the larger anti-U.S. alliance will fracture without a leader, and the Belt and Road Initiative's steps towards undoing the global wealth inequities created by Western neo-colonialism will be reversed. But this isn't the way things are actually heading.
After a slowdown for the Belt and Road Initiative (which the article's source says has happened because of the pandemic, not because of some rising Global South dislike for China), Hungary recently embraced the Initiative. This has prompted the Sinophobic Epoch Times to frantically pivot the propaganda narrative towards human rights by declaring: "Hungary Embraces China's Belt & Road, Undermining Efforts to Curtail Human Rights Abuses." The article's claim that "virtually no one" is supporting China's South China Sea maneuvers ignores how Cambodia and Laos support the nine-dash line, and how several other countries in the region like Thailand and Singapore have taken neutral positions (which serve to help the cause of the pro-nine-dash line countries) rather than joining in on Washington's campaign to undermine Chinese interests. The Hong Kong immigration pathways the imperialist powers have set up, which exist for cynical propaganda purposes, haven't stopped China from successfully suppressing the violent right-wing protests the imperialists recently whipped up in Hong Kong.
The Chinese telecommunications bans and anti-Chinese military buildup the article mentions have come too late to stop the ongoing decline of U.S. imperialism, which will soon manifest in a dollar crash that forces Washington to withdraw many of its troops worldwide. They also aren't able to stop the ongoing expansion of Sino-Russian influence in places like southwest Asia, where the U.S. is already being forced to privatize the Afghanistan war in a desperate attempt at retaining control there amidst looming American retreat. In reality, the U.S. is the one that's stuck in a downward spiral of declining global power and dangerous military reactions, and its geopolitical bloc is the one that's increasingly isolated.
As the contradictions of empire continue coming to a head, it will increasingly also be the case that Washington can't fulfill its promises, and that its propaganda narratives will fall on deaf ears.