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Eyes Left Imperialist hypocrisy reigns supreme

G7 nations accusing China of ‘economic coercion’ really takes the cake, writes ANDREW MURRAY

A BRAND new spectre is haunting the head honchos of the world economy — it is “economic coercion.”

Who is doing the coercing? The People’s Republic of China of course.

Having decided to convene, wildly inappropriately, in Hiroshima last month, it was perhaps inevitable that the leaders of the G7 states would devote some time to stoking up international conflict.

Today, that means above all finding fresh reasons to confront China. With Hong Kong now quiet, the Covid pandemic abating and the Dalai Lama asking young followers to suck his tongue, the world’s great capitalist powers have instead united around challenging China’s economic relations with the rest of the world.

Now to accuse imperialists of hypocrisy is akin to accusing the Pope of believing in the resurrection or Keir Starmer of believing in nothing much at all. It is not just a statement of the obvious, it is a key part of the job specification.

Nevertheless, for the US, Britain, France and the rest to accuse China — or anyone — of practicing “economic coercion” raises the tribute vice pays to virtue to extortionate levels.

Start with capitalism. The world being as it is, we must. It is a social system which would collapse within half an hour were it not for economic coercion.

It imposes wage labour, which leaves billions of workers with the daily alternatives of throwing their labour power into the vortex of value production or starvation, or at least penury.

Unlike feudalism, it does not mandate this through a legal hierarchy wherein the place in the relations of production is identical with the place in the political order.  

Capitalism separates the economic from the political and can decree formal equality in the latter sphere because the coercion is embedded in the former.

That is not to neglect the part played by more brazen coercion in getting capitalism going, not least its intimate connection with slavery and the slave trade, a prime mover of capital accumulation in both Britain and the US.

When wage labour becomes the norm, and nearly all possibilities of existing outside the commodity economy are excluded, behind the formal freedoms of exploitation remains the dull compulsion of necessity.

Next, colonialism. It was the enforced imposition of the capitalist market that left millions of Irish people to starve in the 1840s, or Indians in Bengal a century later. The free market did its worst, and the state ensured that the worst was allowed to prevail.

This is not just history. Here is a definition of economic coercion: “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist — McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the builder of the F-15.”

So said Thomas Friedman, celebrated geopolitical soothsayer of the New York Times in 1999. Since then the US military may well have dropped as many bombs as McDonald’s has sold Happy Meals, yet still the world is not safe for cheeseburger hegemony.

Call that coercion in an economic interest if hairs are to be split. Let’s move on to economic sanctions, the very definition of using economics to get one’s way.

At present, the US, sanctions Afghanistan, Belarus, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Russia, Sudan, Syria, Iran, Libya, Myanmar, North Korea, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Yemen, Zimbabwe and Palestine.

Almost none of these have United Nations approval. Using the commanding role of the dollar in world trade, the US seeks to punish any transgression of its rules-based order — the rule being that you must follow orders from Washington.

The US really loves its sanctions. Presently, China will not permit its Defence Minister, Li Shangfu, to meet his US counterpart because Li has been placed under unilateral sanctions by Washington from 2018.

The US apparently wants the meeting, but not to the point were it will consider scrapping the sanctions — entirely pointless ones, by the way — on Li.

Then there are the instruments of US financial domination — it’s not called the “Washington consensus” for nothing — like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Coercion is their business, generally in order to ensure the degradation of public services and the deregulation of the economy.

Up against this formidable range of instruments to enforce their economic interests, what is China’s sin?

It has been lending money to countries across the global South to help power their development and give them an option beyond dependence on London and Washington. China gets interest and other benefits, true.

It is also true that the borrowers sometimes get into difficulties, and not every loan worked out as intended. Yet the states concerned would rather renegotiate their finances with China than with the Western powers.

There is no Chinese McDonnell Douglas lurking in the small print of their deals. Beijing is not going to invade or bomb anyone, nor subvert a sovereign government.

The actual coercers are hiding in plain sight. This latest anti-Chinese hullabaloo from the G7 is surely not unrelated to the fact that the states gathered in Hiroshima now only represent 30 per cent of global output.

China on its own accounts for 19 per cent by the same metric. It is a more important economic partner than the G7 for a number of countries.  

That is one factor leading many governments to refuse to line up with Nato over the Ukraine war.

China may not necessarily be the good Samaritan of the world economy. But it cannot be condemned by the very robbers who have left the world as the biblical traveller was — stripped, beaten and half-dead. 

The G7 attacks on China are the sound of the departing masters of the universe raging against the passing of their power. A recent Financial Times article was headed “The G7 must accept it cannot run the world.”

That is just what Washington and London cannot accept. It explains why recent stand-offs between the Chinese and US militaries have occurred off the coast of China and not the coast of California.

There is the risk of wider war, and there are its instigators.


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