No Cold War Online launch, 16th June 2021
Text of Anna Chen’s speech
Tonight, I’m going to discuss the current build-up in hostility towards China in the context of the Opium Wars of the 19th century and the propaganda war leading us there once again.
At the start of the first Opium War in 1839, China was the most technologically advanced country in the world. It had already invented hydraulics, gunpowder in the 9th century, ships’ rudders, the stirrup, paper, moveable type printing and much more.
But it was their beautiful porcelain and silks, tea, lacquer (the first plastic) and furniture that drove the enthusiasm for chinoiserie in Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Because Britain had little to trade with China that they didn’t already have – rough woollens and clockwork toys being top of the list on offer — Britain’s treasury was being drained to satisfy the public’s appetite for all things Chinese.
Britain’s solution to the trade imbalance was to grow cheap, mass-produced opium in stolen Bengal and sell that to China. Up until then, opium had been an expensive habit only used by the wealthiest Chinese.
War being economics by other means, when the Chinese government objected to their country being flooded with narcotics, Britain forced these massive industrial quantities of opium onto them at gunpoint, turning an expensive aristocratic vice into a nationwide addiction.
Chinese were slaughtered, their land pillaged. Lord Elgin ordered the Summer Palace burnt to the ground by British soldiers, joined in by the French, as punishment for not being submissive enough. Notoriously unfair treaties were used to carve up China, which was divided between Western imperial powers, with Britain grabbing Hong Kong until the colony was finally returned in 1997.
Around the same period, the invention of the glass Wardian case enabled Robert Fortune to steal China’s tea plants and transport them to India where the British set up a rival tea industry in possibly the first case of industrial espionage — intellectual property rights meaning very little to the invaders.
Fast forward to the modern era — a couple of revolutions, two world wars, a vicious Korean war and a rapprochement with the United States — later.
Today, China is the factory of the world, specialising in making our stuff. iPhones, electronic kit, solar panels, cotton, everything from foodstuffs to 5G are the new porcelain, silks and tea of the 21st century.
It’s taken nearly fifty years into its modern era for China to drag itself out of the hellscape inflicted by the Western powers. It’s raised 850 million human beings out of absolute poverty, and created a growing middle-class 550 million strong, almost twice the size of the population of the US. And it’s established the Belt and Road Initiative that promises to do for poorer economies what China has done for its own.
China’s investing in Africa and building their infrastructure at much lower interest rates than the World Bank charges, so we no longer need Bono to front Drop the Debt campaigns.
As well as eradicating poverty while we implode, China is the world’s biggest investor in renewable energy, vital in the fight against climate change.
But some people in the West simply can’t bear the idea of Chinese excelling or being given credit for anything.
Just as the Chinese economy draws level with the US at this classic Thucydides Trap point, the declining superpower goes on the attack in a poisonous one-sided Case for the Prosecution with no judicially verifiable evidence or right of reply, involving a wall of hate and daily monstering of America’s upcoming rival.
America could have continued working together with China in a multi-polar world but instead throws huge resources at waging Opium Wars 2, dragging in some of the worst perpetrators who gained from the 19th century imperialist atrocity. Billions are spent on character-assassinating propaganda, economic war and actual weaponry to ensure the Chinese model doesn’t give the public any big ideas that there might be a better system that’s working for its own people.
The absurdity that caps all of this for me is that Brexiteers, from Boris Johnson to Nigel Farage, used the promise of yummy trade deals with China to persuade Brits to vote to leave the EU. And the minute Brexit’s sewn up, we send a warfleet to China’s back yard.
Taking back control has meant handing control to a waning America that’s tearing itself apart, and doing their bidding even when it hurts us – such as ripping out billions of pounds-worth of 5G infrastructure we badly need and spending our remaining treasure on whipping up a war with a nuclear power.
And now we prostrate ourselves as America’s Airstrip One. In the West’s rewrite of history, we have always been at war with Eastasia.
We’re halfway through 2021. This conflict has been building for years. John Pilger even made a film in 2016 warning about The Coming War on China. Trump fired the first salvo in his trade war shakedown in 2018. And we’re sending warships.
So, instead of maintaining its own steady course, Britain nails itself to the USS Titanic, and tries to sink our global lifeboat in what could end up as a horrific world-wide war. China is both a scapegoat and a cynical diversion from Brexit chaos, an enfeebled economy, and catastrophic Covid mishandling.
With another Opium War brewing, let’s hope it’s first time as tragedy, second time as farce. The sensible option would be not to go there at all.
— ends —
FURTHER READING AND VIEWING:
The Roots of the Clash between the United States and China: Anna Chen speaks at the Virtual Vigil for the Victims of the Atlanta Shootings organised by the Goldsmiths Anti-Imperialist Society — Sunday 2nd May 2021
How Racism has its Roots in Politics: Anna Chen speaks at
Standing up to Sinophobia: From Fu Manchu to Bat Soup Online event hosted by The Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU) 6th April 2021
The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters from the West’s Own Id: Anna Chen speaks at the the No Cold War online event, 13th January 2021
‘Let’s Blame China”: an infantile disorder when Covid-19 comes knocking: How the White House turned “China bought us time” into “China lied, people died” and put the world at risk – 23rd June 2020
Plague, protests and how the hybrid war on China is prolonging Covid-19 pain in the West – 14th June 2020
Covid-19 and the UK’s missing PPE – NHS health-workers you need this!
China: scapegoat and diversion from what ails western capitalism – 5th October 2019
Donald Trump’s hostile takeover of the Chinese economy continues: Eternity in a grain of sand, heaven in a wild flower … and revelation of character in a golf ball.
“People who cheat at golf also cheat at life.” – 11th May 2019
Happy New Year: Will Donald Trump’s tiny hand press the Big Red Button in 2019? – Anna Chen’s warning that war between the US and China is a possibility, 24th December 2018
What’s Donald Trump’s trade war with China REALLY about? History repeats itself: Trump’s fantasy trade-deficit is an excuse for carving up China – 13th November 2018
Who Should We Let In? Anna Chen joins Ian Hislop’s investigation of immigration hysteria in Britain: Anna Chen discusses Victorian and Edwardian-era Yellow Peril fears with Ian Hislop on Who Should We Let In? Thursday 22nd June, 9pm, BBC2 – 24th June 2017
Trump’s protectionism could be midwife to prosperous Asian region — if he doesn’t nuke it first: New Beijing-backed RCEP trade treaty offers hope to emerging markets in Asia – 19th November 2016
The Opium War by Julia Lovell book review: Smoke and mirrors. – 17th May 2012
2001 Foot and Mouth disease outbreak scapegoating Chinese Brits: Early signs of establishment sinophobia in the UK in 2001
The Opening to China Part I: the First Opium War, the United States, and the Treaty of Wangxia, 1839–1844
The 1844 Treaty of Wangxia replicated many of the key terms of the Treaty of Nanjing. Most importantly, it established five treaty ports as open for Chinese-Western trade (Guangzhou, Xiamen, Fuzhou, Ningbo, and Shanghai). These treaty ports became key crossroads for Western and Chinese culture, as they were the first locations where foreigners and foreign trading operations could own land in China.
Chatham House report: Debunking the Myth of ‘Debt-trap Diplomacy’: How Recipient Countries Shape China’s Belt and Road Initiative
Twitter: https://twitter.com/@NoColdWar and https://twitter.com/@NCWBritain