There is no doubt that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has become a major international force in economic and diplomatic terms. While many analysts have taken to evaluating whether or not this is a good development, others balk at such a question, arguing that it has clear racist undertones and willfully ignores the brutal history of Western terror.
Andre Vltchek is certainly one such vocal critic of negative Western perceptions of China and its remarkable growth. A novelist, filmmaker, and tireless investigative journalist, Andre moves about the world, experiencing its worst slums and hearing first-hand accounts of life in the forgotten corners. He also meets with influential leaders, academics, and analysts and his work was recently the subject of a two-day seminar at Tsinghua University. He uses his keen analysis to understand how humanity has come to this tragic point, where billions of humans are stripped of their dignity, culture, and history. His critically acclaimed political revolutionary novel Point of No Return is based on his experiences as a war correspondent and his time moving through, and living in, Latin America. He has also written extensively on the South Pacific1, Indonesia2, and many other regions and nations. He has most recently finished a documentary called Rwanda Gambit about the history of Rwanda and the brutal war and plunder in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and is publishing a lengthy debate with Noam Chomsky about the state of the world later this year.
When I heard that Andre was coming to Latin America to visit Cuba and Venezuela, I understood this would be a rare opportunity to discuss the issue of China’s international presence with someone who is unapologetically hailing China as a great hope for the world. I corresponded with Andre while he was en route from Nairobi, Kenya to Havana, Cuba.
Adam Chimienti: China’s growth, post-1978, is arguably the greatest economic achievement in history, lifting hundreds of millions from poverty and providing them access to some of the most modern infrastructure systems and cutting-edge technology, doing so in a largely peaceful manner as its supporters are quick to point out. However, many remained in poverty, while pollution and inequality have become major problems. As the state is intricately involved in this remarkable transformation, what do you hope to see from the Chinese government on a domestic level over the next decade?
Andre Vltchek: As you pointed out, it is not just economic growth that matters. Lifting hundreds of millions from poverty is what makes China a truly successful socialist country. And it is true about the economic growth; it is only comparable to the growth in the Soviet Union between the world wars.
The more successful China is, the more vicious and vitriolic Western propaganda against it becomes. Its main goal is very clear: to put into the minds of the people around the world that if China is successful, then it is because it is not truly socialist anymore. And if it is socialist, then it fails on many fronts. A successful socialist nation is the worst scenario for the manufacturers of global Western hegemony. Western propagandists prefer to highlight inequality and pollution in China to discredit it.
Only three decades ago, China was very poor; poor and largely egalitarian. Then it embarked on breakneck growth and the entire nation has benefited greatly: East and West, cities and rural areas. Some areas benefited more than others, and faster, but everybody benefited to some substantial extent. China moved to a mixed-economy, allowing some individuals to become rich through trade and other activities. This does not mean, of course, that it ceased to be socialist. Its development is centrally planned. All key industries are in state hands, as well as education and defense.
Regarding pollution, it is another farce. Even the former vice-President of the United States, Al Gore clearly admitted in his book An Inconvenient Truth that China pollutes to a smaller extent than the Western nations and that it has much tougher laws. But Western propaganda calculates in absolute numbers, not on a per-capita basis. The per-capita metric is the only honest way to calculate, and by this standard, any EU country, not to mention the United States, pollutes more than China!
It is also very useful to compare the environmental efforts of China with other countries with a similar development level, like Indonesia or the Philippines. While the turbo-capitalist darling of the West, Jakarta [Indonesia], is choking with no public transportation and almost no green areas, major Chinese cities including Beijing are building dozens of ecological and super modern subway lines, parks, and free exercise places for their citizens. China has the most efficient, fastest and longest net of high-speed rail networks in the world; the most ecological mode of inter-urban transportation. It bans all inefficient modes of transportation like scooters, builds bicycle lanes and enormous sidewalks for people to walk and leave their cars at home.
If you go to the countryside, even the most remote villages have solar panels and all basic infrastructure otherwise seen only in much richer nations.
But Western propaganda is not interested in facts. It rests mainly on one pillar: ignorance. Those who visit China periodically (unless they are paid not to see and not to comment) see how the reality of the PRC differs from Western mass media propaganda.
AC: Many Western scholars dismiss Chinese rhetoric about balance, harmony and mutual benefits and regard China’s growth as rife with corruption, and expansionist aims. Furthermore, Joseph S. Nye recently commented that China’s soft power is not effective (at least not outside of Africa and Latin America) because it relies on state control and propaganda, rather than unleashing the power of its civil society. How do you think the most influential Chinese leaders regard these judgments?
AV: Many Western scholars are trained and paid to dismiss the truth about China, as they were paid to twist the truth about the Soviet Union. Eduardo Galeano once described these people to me: “One doesn’t know who pays them, and they won’t tell”.
Remember that ‘civil society’, in China, Ukraine, Russia, Southeast Asia and many other places including Venezuela and Cuba, is just a cover for the pro-Western interest groups, often directly paid to destroy rebellious countries and bring them into the orbit of the Western regime. NGOs are often synonymous with destructive and fully Western-funded organizations, designed to divide and break the country. And not only NGOs of course. Just do some basic research on people like Dalai Lama or Ai Weiwei—who pays them, whom are they serving? But you don’t have to go too far, just look at the many NGOs and ‘civil societies’ in Venezuela or Bolivia.
Corruption actually culminated with Western colonialism and imperialism. Entire nations and its elites were forced to collaborate with the colonialists. As one Professor in Cuzco, Peru, once told me: “Before the Spaniards arrived and robbed us of everything, we had no idea what theft, murder and corruption really was.” Corruption is something that the West supports and even implants. Just read John Perkins, how he and his buddies were trained by the US State Department to get countries like Ecuador and Indonesia into horrible unserviceable debt, using ‘money, sex and alcohol’, to corrupting those governments.
In the past, China was forced open, plundered, raped and humiliated by Western powers. Corruption was implanted. It is now fighting to finish with those foreign habits. Let’s be really serious and read history. (The Chinese actually call the period from 1839 to 1949 the Century of Humiliation, referring to the vicious treatment China suffered under Japanese and Western colonial powers.) Do we really want to let some Berlin-based organization to tell us what corruption is and how prominent it is in different countries? If you let them, they will tell you that Communist Vietnam is more corrupt than fascist Indonesia—thoroughly uninformed idiocy! It is about time that the world uses its own concepts, criteria, outside of those dictated by the West. It’s time to decolonize our mind!
To prove how malicious and selective Western propaganda is, we only read about corruption in China, but hardly ever about the truly awful corruption in the countries the West considers its allies, such as the Philippines, India, Indonesia, etc.
And what about the moral corruption in the West itself? What about neo-colonialism, its plunder all over the world, performed by the US and European nations? As I argue in my recent book/conversation with Noam Chomsky, the West murdered some 55 to 65 million people since the end of the WWII, since Hiroshima. Murdered directly, while hundreds of millions were slaughtered indirectly. All of that terror was accompanied by overthrowing a great number of progressive governments, covertly ruining independent economies, and paying the most outrageous gangsters to kill decent people. Is that not the highest grade of corruption? I want to talk about it. I want the world to talk about whether those countries responsible for such horrors should even be allowed to be members of the international community, unless they repent and fully reform, swearing transparency! This is what we should be discussing now, not some corruption in China!
The propaganda is almost laughable. Western propaganda is much more effective and advanced; it is based on centuries of brutal control of the world; it is part of colonialism. After living on every continent, I believe that the West is the least informed geographic and cultural area. It is full of self-congratulation and pomposity, but thoroughly ignorant of the planet it has been ruining and looting for centuries. In its dogmatism and self-righteousness, it is a bit like the Taliban, its former ally.
Chinese people know much more about Western culture, different economic systems, and ways of life than those who rely on Western mass media know about China. Aside from the negative insulting lies about China, people in Europe and even in Latin America (as they still rely on Western sources for information) know close to nothing about China. Just run a small and concrete test: how many people do you know with a university degree in Berlin, Rome, Caracas or Quito who could name at least one great Chinese music composer, Chinese opera actor, or contemporary poet. And remember, you are talking about arguably the greatest culture on earth! All they know is Ai Weiwei, that darling of Western propaganda, as well as various Western-sponsored religious lunatics. It is so sad!
AC: Can you compare this perception held by Western elites to a lack of any genuine introspection by US leaders and elite on their own country’s role in the world, a la the global battlefield doctrine, a complete failure to lead on environmental issues and clean economies, an increasingly corporate-controlled government via official interpretations of corporations as people, banks that take enormous risks and act with impunity guaranteed by the US and other Western countries, etc.?
AV: Of course, this is so obvious. But first of all, it is not only about the United States, which is nothing more than a vulgar version of the awful European colonial culture that murdered hundreds of millions of people.
The West is choking the rest of the world economically, ideologically, and culturally. The more nihilism it injects, the more hands it ties, the more people it manages to brainwash, the more it is trying to destroy and humiliate and discredit those great and proud countries that are resisting its fascism, including Cuba, Venezuela and China.
It is a true mafia-like approach; it’s banditry. You come, you rape, murder, plunder one entire village, an entire town… and then you start preaching about human rights and pollution.
AC: Xi Jinping has, in his first 100 days, made diplomacy a central focus of his leadership. His first trip was to Russia and he has been traveling a lot since. He has also expressed his high regard for the BRICS partnership, promoting cooperation on bigger projects. Is Chinese promotion of a multipolar world a genuine goal in your opinion?
AV: Yes, it is very genuine and very important. China is very interested in forging alliances within Latin America, with Russia and lately even with India.
This is, of course, fully discredited in the West.
Take India, for instance. Actually, the first country visited by Premier Li Keqiang in his new position this year was India. It could be taken as an extended hand to the second most populous nation on earth. While many leading intellectual figures in India embraced this gesture, some of the pro-Western mass media immediately began bombarding the public with titles like “Can We Trust China?” It was clearly in sync with the BBC and other Western propaganda crusaders, who are periodically running outrageously racist programs with titles like “Should China Be Respected?”
Actually, on May 18, 2013, the Economic & Political Weekly in India published a brilliant and revealing commentary by Atul Bhardwaj, “The China-India Relationship”, which summarizes this issue we are discussing:
India has got itself trapped into an anti-Chinese matrix set in place by the United States. This has led to a situation where the military is increasing its say in foreign and domestic policy and pushing aggressive postures on to the civilian government. Unless India abandons its aspirations to attain great power status and, instead, pursues a foreign policy that builds on Asian cooperation and strengths, it will continue to become cannon fodder for Western strategic aims.
But the only angle permitted by the corporate (mass) media all over the world is ‘Whether China should be trusted?’, as, of course, it is strictly forbidden to ask whether any sane being with awareness could really trust the West and its allies. (Should the UK be respected, after ravishing half of the globe as an empire and continuously terrorizing the world under the command of its dear leader across the Atlantic?)
A multi polar world is essential for the survival of humankind and China knows this; it understands. Those who do not understand this are those who are part of the West, as well as those that the West has managed to indoctrinate.
The alliance between China and Russia is essential as it defends the weak and defenseless at the United Nations and elsewhere. The alliance between China and Latin America is absolutely vital for any positive change in the world. These are two of the greatest parts of the world that are resisting Western hegemony, two parts of the world that are proudly choosing their own path. In the past, both were ravished and looted; both were destroyed for the centuries. Both have a wonderful and peaceful essence today. They have to know more about each other and they have to collaborate more to defend each other’s interests. Our survival now depends on this very cooperation.
My friend and colleague from China, Andy Hu (editor-in-chief of the progressive April Media and former deputy editor of China Daily‘s cover story unit) also wanted to comment on this point:
I know of no figure in Beijing’s leadership who even vaguely believes in the concept of expansionism. In terms of diplomacy, China has been fighting to safeguard what it calls “development opportunities” since the wake of 1989. In effect, all its diplomatic efforts have reflected and are reflecting this agenda. In much the same way as domestic stability is important to further progress, regional stability for China is essential for mutual development among nations in the Far East. For a country of 1.4 billion people that borders four nuclear states (Russia, India, Pakistan, the DPRK), a failed state (Afghanistan), a breakaway state (Mongolia) and a socialist neighbor it both fought with and against (Vietnam), partnership and cooperation are not just strategies, but also a practical necessity. In other words, it would be unthinkable for China to not foster good relations with other countries and support a multipolar world.
AC: The US “pivot” to Asia is often hyped as a sort of overarching new direction for the Obama administration’s foreign policy. It comes amidst a power struggle over sea lines and disputed island territories, and features, for example, an enhanced relationship between the Philippines and the US military. Does Beijing believe the conciliatory words offered by the Obama administration and Secretary of State John Kerry when he used the term “special relationship” expressed willingness to accommodate China’s great-power rise?
AV: The terror the West has been spreading throughout the world for centuries is unimaginable.
The malevolence with which the United States has been treating Asian people is only comparable to the spite it has showed for Latin Americans.
The Obama administration is as arrogant and brutal as any of the previous administrations. It is bringing Asia to the brink to enormous conflict, and some say to WWIII. It provokes and isolates China, treating it with disrespect, racism, and malice. Washington openly provokes conflicts over the Spratly Islands, as I illustrated in my reports from Manila. Leading academics there explained to me that the conflict is unnatural and implanted from abroad.
There is only one goal for the West in general, and for the United States in particular, in Asia. It is the same goal they have had for the past few long centuries: to control the region, to exploit it, to make it subservient.
China is hated mainly because it is the only truly socialist Asian power. Sometimes I feel that it is hated even by many Western ‘leftists’, because they failed in their countries, and they can’t accept that the largest Asian nation is actually capable of building its own socialist model, much more successful than they could ever dream about. Don’t believe that there is no mighty dose of racism in all this. A foreign, Western intellectual living in Venezuela, who is fully supporting El Processo, [the Venezuelan Bolivarian socialist model] once told me: “I hate China.” I asked: ‘Why? Have you ever been there?’ The answer was: “No, and I never want to go there! I just hate it.” This person is now quite influential, and so I will keep his name concealed to avoid any embarrassment.
The old British ‘divide and rule’ approach is fully implemented, as ancient rivalries like those between India and China, Vietnam and China, and Japan and China and North Korea, are exploited and nourished. New and ridiculous rivalries like those between the Philippines and China are manufactured.
Latin Americans know very well how brutal colonialism and neo-colonialism are. But even the most painful memories of 20th century Yankee imperialism can never compete with the horror that the Asian continent had to endure and the acts of pure terror coming from the West.
Those millions burned alive by the carpet-bombing of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Those civilians killed in the tunnels of North Korea. The 2-3 million Indonesians (including those belonging to the Chinese minority) killed with full support of the West in 1965, only because the country wanted to follow its own path, not dissimilar to that of Chile before 1973. And that genocide, that mass murder, was actually a prelude for what was later implemented in Chile and elsewhere. Indonesia continues to be one tremendous laboratory; an experiment on human beings, who are fully-stripped of culture, public places, in fact, anything ‘public’.
In Asia, the West was supporting the most horrific dictatorships, from the Khmer Rouge to the fascist dictatorships in South Korea, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, etc.
Does Beijing believe conciliatory words? As the United States and UK are mingling in China’s internal affairs, financing and training Chinese ‘opposition’, brainwashing and indoctrinating Chinese people through the most venomous propaganda, as they are attempting to break the socialist path of China and as they are pushing the entire region toward war?
AC: Two very significant developments in the 21st century are: 1) the rise and integration of Latin American countries, with several countries in the region experiencing significant growth and doing so under left-leaning, socially conscientious governments; and 2) an increasingly confident and economically dynamic China asserting itself in the international community of nations. China’s role in Latin America and Africa is difficult to grasp in its scope and academics and journalists often misinterpret these regions and China itself as monolithic entities. They are clearly not. How do you interpret the speed and breadth of China’s influence in these regions as a whole?
AV: This is clearly the worst nightmare scenario for the Western regime. And the best that can happen to both parts of the world that you mentioned.
China is a very old culture, and very peaceful in its essence.
While Africa was being plundered for centuries by European colonizers, while despots like Belgian’s King Leopold were massacring tens of millions of Africans, while the British were building the first concentration camps on earth there, and both the French and British were enslaving millions, turning human beings into commodities, reserving their rights, in Africa and in the Middle East “to bomb niggers” in the words of David Lloyd George, Prime Minister of England (1916-1922). Meanwhile, the Germans and others were committing genocide.
In the past, the much more advanced power—China—came to Africa with ships full of gifts and scientists. They landed on several occasions on the coast of what is now Kenya; they exchanged gifts, and documented life on the coast, then they sailed home. They came to visit and to learn! This approach is unimaginable for greedy and despotic Western powers.
AC: More specifically, China is regarded as a dangerous threat, not only to whatever remains of US hegemony, but also to former colonies that have been plagued by the resource curse. Is this view consistent with your understanding?
AV: I don’t agree. Threat to Western hegemony, yes, definitely. Not to just US hegemony, as Europeans, Australians and others are often even more brutal than North Americans, especially in Africa.
But to ‘former colonies’, definitely not!
At this moment, there are two horrific genocides taking place, over natural resources. One is in the DR Congo over coltan, diamonds, uranium and gold. Rwanda and Uganda are plundering Congo on behalf of Western companies and governments. Between 6 and 10 million people have already died. It is the most intense bloodletting since the US terror in Southeast Asia. It is a purely Western affair! I worked 4 years on the topic and my film Rwandan Gambit (Ardid Ruanda, in Spanish), has just been finished. So I know about this issue well.
As an expert on Indonesia, I also know what is happening in Papua. There, the West fully supports Indonesian occupation, mass slaughter of the local population, and, of course, terrible plunder. Again, these are Western companies and Western interests that are involved.
Curse or no curse, what you defined as ‘former colonies’, need income from their natural resources. But they need a good deal; an honest and fair deal.
From what I saw in Africa and elsewhere, they definitely get this from China. It includes new infrastructure, schools, medical posts, etc.
AC: Many environmental and indigenous groups in South American countries such as Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia regard Chinese involvement as a potentially devastating development. They fear that China’s role as a major partner in trade and development of infrastructure will necessarily ensure corruption at the local and national level. Yet, Chinese companies are showing the ability to, at the least, take local concerns into consideration. As someone who has spent significant time covering Latin America and its most marginalized populations, what do you think of these fears and of China’s attempts to maintain a “win-win” relationship?
AV: Yes, it is always ‘potential’. All those fears about China are never based on anything rational, documented, or founded however. It is brilliant how Western propaganda manages to demonize the most populous country on earth merely through speculation.
I wrote about it earlier this year. I see the fear of China as irrational and often openly racist.
In Latin America, I often see that the only reason why there is fear is because of what is said in the media and the media is often financed and controlled by the West. There simply must be that fear about China, because China is an Asian nation and despite the fact that Latin America has been raped, plundered, and massacred by Europe and the United States, there are, shockingly, those who still see Europe and US as morally fit to rule the world.
I saw China in action in Oceania, in Africa and elsewhere. I was always impressed. Chinese people have heart, brains and discipline.
Let me share with you one story in Africa. A Chinese state company (State-owned enterprise or SOE) was building a road between Nairobi and the coast. I drove there with my good friend, a local MP, and we spoke to the workers. They all loved China and said ‘they were treated for the first time like human beings, by foreigners.’ They were paid 3 times more than what they expected, but that was not it. They were not scolded or punished, rather they were explained things; they were trained. But then someone got to the local media and a usual barrage of attacks followed. Do you know what the Chinese engineers and workers were accused of, among other things? That they were avoiding the services of local prostitutes! There is simply nothing that China can do right, as far as Western propaganda and its local collaborators are concerned.
Just please read Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano and then compare this to the concrete actions of China. Are you still scared of Chinese people, or maybe the horror comes from a slightly different direction?
AC: Patrick Bond, South African professor and author of Politics of Climate Justice, wrote earlier this year, “the eco-destructive, consumerist-centric, over-financialised, climate-frying maldevelopment model throughout the BRICS works very well for corporate profits, but the model is generating crises for 99% of the people and for the planet.” He also wrote a piece with Khadija Sharife, a South African investigative journalist, that argued, “A genuinely counter-hegemonic financial strategy would have been for BRICS to instead support the late Hugo Chavez’s Bank of the South. The idea was spurned, as BRICS elites apparently want an institution without any residue of more progressive development ideals.” Your reaction to these charges?
AV: We would all want to live in an ideal world, would we not? But sometimes we have to take human nature into consideration.
BRICS is not one monolithic entity. India is a feudal, semi-fascist part of the world; it is merciless. China is a socialist country, no matter what Western propaganda says. Brazil is trying to be one, while appeasing its powerful elites. South Africa has been searching for its own direction and I believe it will find it, soon. Russia has a socialist heart but a capitalist economy.
I admired Hugo Chavez from the start. I support his approach on many fronts, including the Bank of the South. But I also support pragmatic Chinese socialism. I would like to combine both ideas, as I dream about China and Latin America becoming two great allies, eventually inspiring rest of the world.
AC: I am not sure how familiar you are with the Correa administration but there has been an impressive reduction in unemployment and the rate of poverty, a number of public works projects, significant investments in social programs, education and health. Mark Weisbrot, Vandana Shiva, and other leftist economists and commentators have been praising Correa’s leadership and his deft handling of the economy. Jayati Ghosh, an Indian economist, even asked in The Guardian, “Could Ecuador be the most radical and exciting place on earth?” However, the assessment on the ground amongst environmentalists, indigenous and leftist groups is quite different, with many here arguing that Correa has abandoned his promises and has effectively negated some of the most progressive aspects of the 2008 Constitution. While it seems there is always going to be this conflict between growth and the environment, do you think there is a way to balance these aims and provide the communities in areas of extraction with a seat at the table?
AV: I am aware of the dilemma. Correa is an extremely important international figure and an inspiration for many. On the one hand, I fully agree that communities in the areas of extraction should always be consulted, and their interests taken into consideration. Socialism is about the people. On the other hand, I also believe that there are moments when personal, and even regional interests, should be sacrificed for the common good—that of the country or the entire continent. To strike the balance is always very difficult.