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Arguments in Defence of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Part I

A three-part series of arguments on the Chinese-led Belt and Road Initiative

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The following is a three-part series of criticisms received as VKontacte (VK) private messages from an anonymous Australian citizen heavily critical of China’s rising influence and Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The following article responds to the first criticism, arguing in favour of the BRI from a Marxist-Leninist perspective.

Criticism: Globalization is bad news. It can be seen as a new form of colonization or imperialism. It grows out of the greatly increased power of multinational corporations and leads to the declining influence of individual nation stated institutions, so there is a loss of national sovereignty. The economic power of multinationals has grown to the point where they can now rival many nation states. (Of the world’s one hundred largest economies, forty-two of them are corporations.) Another part of globalization is the the super/rich who run it designate different roles for different countries to fit into their world-wide pattern of trade. For example Australia is designated as a source for raw materials from mining and agriculture, so most of our manufacturing has been closed down in the last two decades. Such interdependence facilitates control by the people who run the whole system. If you don’t play ball with us, you can face an economic boycott – as with Syria, Iran, DPRK, etc.

Answer: Firstly, one can easily confuse globalisation with internationalism, which are theoretically different expressions of productive forces on a global scale. Globalisation creates dependence whilst internationalism fosters interdependence. Furthermore, globalisation applies primarily to bourgeois capital dominating foreign markets, whereas the internationalist Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) interconnects countries via infrastructure, boosting their productive capacities and facilitating trade.

Current productive forces do not facilitate a Marxian economy of use and exchange value; hence, the creation of the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, using money as a universal equivalent to “supply commodities with the material for the expression of their values, or to represent their values as magnitudes of the same denomination, qualitatively equal, and quantitatively comparable,” in Marx’s own words. This is essential for international pricing mechanisms for infrastructure projects, in contrast to extracting surplus value through capitalist competition.

In fact, the AIIB facilitates cooperation, not competition as in capitalist financial orders. It is not in Beijing’s interest to recreate Western and Japanese imperialism, and on the contrary, China and its partners already possess years of empirical knowledge on imperialist subjugation.

Due to this, the Chinese are merely recreating the prosperity of the ancient Silk Roads, which lasted over 1400 years and gave Asia its global prominence and diversity visible even today.

Conversely, the World Bank (WB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) were created to subjugate the developing world under Western bourgeois capital, not empower it. The BRI challenges this directly, using sovereign wealth to rapidly industrialise the developing world, using China’s world-class productive forces and millennia of expertise on government.

Unlike the IMF and WB, there are minimal ‘strings attached’ clauses to AIIB loans, and many use existing United Nations’ legislature such as Sustainable Development Goals created through the Addis Ababa Agenda for Sustainable Development. Quite the opposite, Western bourgeois media have heavily criticised China for providing ‘dictatorships’ with ‘no strings attached’ loans. However, these accusations are merely deflections from Western governments and their ceaseless support for undemocratic regimes worldwide.

Furthermore, China would not have achieved such prominence without commanding global productive forces and behaving as socialists. Even Mao Zedong praised the Soviet Union for building the Chinese nation, stating that, “we Chinese people most urgently need help from others. The Book of Odes says, ‘A bird sings out to draw a friend’s response’,” adding that “this aptly describes our present situation.” China, a Communist nation, is simply paying it forward as the Soviets before them did.

Chairman Mao specified that,

In order to turn China into an industrial country, we must learn conscientiously from the advanced experience of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union has been building socialism for forty years, and its experience is very valuable to us. Let us ask: Who designed and equipped so many important factories for us? Was it the United States? Or Britain? No, neither the one nor the other. Only the Soviet Union was willing to do so, because it is a socialist country and our ally.

This is the spirit of the BRI: Forty years after Deng Xiaopeng’s ‘Kaifang’ policy and developing Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, China is now ready to assert this tenant in the global order.

Conversely, Mao heavily criticised Khrushchev-era Communism, stating,

At the 22nd Congress of the CPSU, the revisionist Khrushchov clique developed their revisionism into a complete system not only by rounding off their anti-revolutionary theories of “peaceful coexistence” and “peaceful transition” but also by declaring that the dictatorship of the proletariat is no longer necessary in the Soviet Union and advancing the absurd theories of the “state of the whole people” and the “party of the entire people”.

The dictatorship of the proletariat fully exists in China and has actually strengthened under Xi Jinping’s tenure. Furthermore, the Chinese lead the AIIB through tenants outlined within the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, which Mao Zedong initiated in September 1949, not Deng Xiaopeng or subsequent governments. President Xi Jinping has reiterated these principles since 2013, after proposing the BRI at Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev University, and continues to do so.

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The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the PRC specified that, “[Under Mao Zedong] China was ready to establish diplomatic relations with all countries which are willing to observe the principles of equality, mutual benefit and mutual respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty,” adding that Chairman Mao initiated it at the proclamation ceremony commemorating the PRC’s founding.

Claiming that the Chinese will become ‘globalists’ belies the Chinese experience and very structure of the AIIB. Supporting this, we come to Karl Marx, who stated in 1882 that,

“An international movement of the proletariat is possible only among independent nations […] The little bit of republican internationalism between 1830 and 1848, was grouped around France [and] increased French chauvinism in such a way as to cause the world-liberating mission of France and with it France’s native right to be in the lead to get in our way every day even now.”

Arguments for the “sovereignty of the nation-state” are chauvinistic and do little to explain the nature of modern productive forces. The 1648 Treaty of Westphalia birthed the nation-state to resolve capitalist antagonisms between European empires but compounds contradictions under capitalist productive relations, proving that the nation-state is an antiquated stage of productive relations. The Chinese realise this and are attempting to raise and coordinate global productive forces under multipolarism, rather than unipolar bourgeois (American/ European) rule.

Furthermore, one must note the infrastructure projects the BRI has approved. Certainly, the Chinese cannot hold nations “hostage” with nuclear power plants, solar panels, and nefarious motorways, but will empower them and integrate them into global markets and raise their productive capabilities (BJP-ruled India is the largest recipient and critic of AIIB funding).

Looking deeper at each project, most are state-to-state, not private vs. public sector, and private capital plays a very small role, mostly in advisory and tech-developing capacities.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is a test of “national sovereignty” as Gwadar is set to become the next Dubai, according to analysts. Private companies are contributing fractional amounts of investment compared to the Chinese, who makes 30 percent of total AIIB contributions.

For example, Gwadar has received roughly $500 million in private investments, whilst China alone has contributed $4.8 billion. Together, they are building airports, 300-megawatt power plants, and upgrading ports—things of use-value that stimulate trade and economic activity between nations.

On the other hand, industry procures a strong proletariat class strata, whom arise from rapidly accelerating productive forces. Building infrastructure also builds the proletariat class strata, as opposed to lower agrarian-based productive relations. These proletarians, if not treated kindly by their ‘bourgeois’ employers. can always organise and revolt against them and crush projects under unions, killing two birds with one stone—certainly not a difficult feat for the Communist Chinese.

Marx continues on the importance of fostering productive forces to build socialism, citing Poland,

“So long as Poland is partitioned and subjugated, therefore, neither a strong socialist party can develop in the country itself, nor can there arise real international intercourse between the proletarian parties in Germany, etc, with other than émigré Poles. To remove [this barrier] is the basic condition of every healthy and free development [and in] order to be able to fight one needs first a soil to stand on, air, light and space. Otherwise all is idle chatter.”

As a criticism on such definitions of globalisation, the nations commanding the AIIB—China, Russia, India, Brazil, and South Africa—are already friends of the DPRK, are liberating Syria from Western-backed mercenaries, are bolstering Iran’s Pars 11 gas fields, are paving inroads for embattled Venezuela and a rising African continent. China and Russia are the world’s foremost champions of human rights, both in the developing world and the minute vestiges of the ‘developed’ one, and are the only ones qualified to lead the burgeoning multipolar world.

One must remember that all political organisation is based on man’s relationship to the means of production, who has what, through a historical materialist lens. Rather than “criticizing this and condemning that when [one has] only seen the surface of things or minor details,” as Mao once stated, we must investigate matters using dialectical materialism, not idealistic conjecture.

Otherwise, we as Marxists “are bound to make a mess of things, lose the confidence of the masses and prove incapable of solving any problem at all.”

History will absolve the Belt and Road Initiative in due course.

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