Chinese President Xi Jinping has been busy in the shadows of the American budget crisis. In recent weeks, he has been on state visits to ASEAN member-states, giving ‘historic’ speeches, including one to the Indonesian parliamentary assembly. The focus has generally been on using and developing Sino-ASEAN economic relations to stabilize the situation in the South China Sea – namely the border disputes and political tension that have grown tight over the last few years. The liberals would argue that Mr Xi is attempting to strengthen the interdependence between China and other powers in the East and Southeast Asian regions, by improving and nurturing economic ties to render military conflict unjustifiable or irrational. In reality, the Chinese are attempting to grasp at a relatively unexplored market, and the cancellation of US President Barack Obama’s trip to Southeast Asia have only benefitted Mr Xi’s cause. In true historical materialist fashion, it can be discerned that China is well and truly on the way with its mission to achieve global economic domination. Some would argue that to oppose the US in this manner is irrational, as both actors are playing what Immanuel Wallerstein would term “the capitalists’ game”. They are in fact allies and not enemies.
Publications such as the South China Morning Post and the China Daily have been covering Mr Xi’s trip with interest. The SCMP has focused on the investment initiatives that China is offering to ASEAN members, claiming that they are aimed at ‘mending regional ties’ in the interest of peace and cooperation. This rhetoric is rather reminiscent of the Japanese ‘Asian Co-prosperity Sphere’, employed during the era of empire as a front for Japanese dominant of East and Southeast Asia. The ‘regional ties’ mentioned can be interpreted as a facade for economic relations structured in favour of the Chinese; any political security that comes with such relations will be a by-product. They are not the principle motive.
More co-prosperity rhetoric is apparent in the Xinhua News, where Mr Xi is described as building a ‘community of common destiny’. True, China is campaigning for economic development for all in East and Southeast Asia, and in turn political stabilisation. However, there is little of mention of the acceptance of China at the top of the pile, which is inevitable if economic relations are constructed in its favour. Xinhua also notes that China is providing ‘development opportunities not threats’, without any acknowledgement that these two concepts can in fact be one and the same.
Finally, the Beijing News documented that Mr Xi was keen for the involvement of external powers in the development of ASEAN economies, but that there was a warning to all that political matters, such as the disputes in the South China Sea, should be left the local states. In essence, China welcomes Western capital without the strings of political encroachment. In theoretical terms, this policy is fundamentally flawed. The historical materialist theory of imperialism determines that once economic relations between State A and State B have been solidified, political relations must follow to govern secure their economic counterparts. Hence, demanding economic involvement but refusing political presence to external forces is unlikely to form any distinct benefit to the Chinese.
China and the US
The SCMP reported that Obama’s absence from the Southeast Asian trip ‘unwittingly shows weakness’ in its contest with China for influence in the region. The Chinese media, however, need to reconsider their position. Both economies are attempting to maintain their footholds in the world economy – both are playing the “capitalists’ game”, even China, whose domestic socio-economic structures are questionable. Therefore, the Americans and the Chinese should be working together on the development of the ASEAN economies for the benefit of capitalism on a global scale. For once such development is in action, and despite the Chinese efforts to direct capital their way, a large proportion of business will inevitably travel westwards to the US and its allies. In this contemporary system, there is no means of avoiding capitalist ‘opponents’. At the end of the day, all capitalist entities are one and all – i.e. they are all enemies of communism, and all aim for the developing and increased accessibility of the global markets.
Of course, the debate here is whether or not to consider China a communist state. Mr Xi, and his predecessors’, behaviour suggests that it is not. ‘State capitalism’ as an economic model is generally accepted to have taken over the domestic Chinese system, and whilst not being particularly domestically liberal, it pushes China as an economic actor into the capitalist world economy; hence making it a capitalist state. Year on year, China’s economy strengthens. It will be fascinating to see whether a new and more complicated, perhaps inter-capitalist, Cold War emerges from a realist-centric bipolar rivalry. Perhaps it has already started in the race for influence over ASEAN development. The US budget deadline on Thursday 17th October may also tell us a lot about American priorities.
The Renminbi has also been challenging the US Dollar for the position of global base currency. See the following articles on currency swaps with Brazil (http://wp.me/p3g0mz-1a) and the UK (http://wp.me/p3g0mz-2E) for more detailed discussion.
BBC News, 4 October 2013. ‘China media: focus on ASEAN ties’