This is the question of the age which is currently on the minds of university professors, politicians, industrialists, and citizens, especially in the third world.
The question is as follows: Is China an imperialist nation with a colonialist policy as was and remains the case with the Western powers, or will it be the salvation of the global south lifting all boats and giving us that thing we have so long sought for, namely independence? This is not a trifling question or some mere thought experiment, rather it is a serious question which, if not answered correctly could spell the end of hopes of development, lead to us being forced into one camp or another against our will or worse precipitate a global conflict. So we must look at the question with clear eyes and an open mind.
First, we must define imperialism and colonialism, words which are not mere abstractions but which have definitive meanings attached to specific actions. Imperialism can be described as a policy of extending a country’s power and influence through colonization, use of military force, or other means. Colonialism can be defined as the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically. Neither of these two definitions fit what China has been doing on the international stage. China is not extending its power through the coercive use of military force or practicing occupation or exerting full or partial control over other countries.
We can safely say, based on the definitions of the words, that China is not imperialist or colonialist so to label it as imperialist or colonialist is to misuse these words — words which, I repeat, have a specific meaning, and to misuse them in such a manner belies either ignorance or worse, ulterior motives and hidden agendas and must be avoided when discussing China as they do not reflect facts on the ground.
We then get to the second part of the question: Is China the salvation which the global south has been looking for? Will China lift our boats and lead us to collective development banishing this imperial nightmare we have been living under for centuries? The answer to this is yes and no, and rather than being a cop out I feel it shows us the nuances and complexities which arrive when we in the global south, state, aim, and move for real independence.
Fidel Castro had stated that China was and is the only hope for nations in the global south. This, however, does not mean that China will swoop in like ‘Capitan save a hoe’, or act like St George roaming around looking for dragons to slay uninvited and the like. The days of promoting the revolution without invitation, actively seeking out the weakest link and exploiting them to bring down global imperialism are gone. China no longer plays that game and we must adapt and accept that reality until China returns to a foreign policy similar to that preached by Mao.
China will do deals with nations; it will go in looking for the best interest of its people and it goes where it is welcomed, not barging doors down or sanctioning nations till they relent and open on Beijing’s terms. These deals are reciprocal — mineral access for infrastructure — and in all instances have given the receiving country more in return than they have ever got from their former imperial masters. That doesn’t mean, however, that they won’t deal with corrupt governments who do not look out for the interests of their people. We see this in Africa, Latin America, even Jamaica where our own People’s National Party (PNP) was caught up in a scandal. Yes, China is looking to build socialism in its country, and yes, as a result it means empowering other nations so global imperialism withers thus allowing China’s socialist project to flourish, but that does not necessarily translate to global south liberation for as was noted before, China will deal with corrupt nations where it has to.
If China is to fulfil its potential role, if China is to be the best and only hope for nations in the global south as stated by Castro, then it is up to global south nations and their people to shrug off the yoke of our comprador leaders — our leaders who are lackeys for imperialism — and implement governments which are of a left-wing bent, practicing nationalism and internationalism. The difference between a nation which is nationalist in its nature or left-wing and that interacts with China and nations which are trapped in the web of imperialism, that interact with China, are night and day and the examples are many.
Nations such as Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Cuba, Zimbabwe, and Iran have all shown us, each in their own individual way, that interaction with China can in fact be liberating if the people and government are all on the same page, willing to break collectively with models which would see them remain as producers of raw materials. China has rolled out 3 million houses in Venezuela, assisted Cuba in the field of medicine, constructed a canal in Nicaragua, provided farm equipment in Zimbabwe and teamed up with Bolivia to help see that country experience the largest and most consistent increase in wealth and standard of living in the region (until the 2019 coup against Morales).
We see the flip side too: Jamaica is the prime example and one which we know dearest. A government and opposition who have no time for or wish to break with Western hegemony, a group of parties which are neither nationalistic nor left-wing. Nay, they are simply the malleable play things of the imperial powers who they claim to have freed us from. Leaders such as ours have no qualms taking Chinese money in order to disperse amongst their cronies and accepting infrastructure being built in deals which see the bulk of the skilled labour being done by Chinese workers accompanied by little to no skill training and technology transfer.
China as a nation protecting its own self-interest will and continue to accept such lopsided deals in its favour which are blatantly corrupt because what goes on in that country is between the government of that country and her people. If they wish to renegotiate the deal they are more than welcome to.
This is in stark contrast to the US and other imperial powers which not only do corrupt one-sided deals, but refuse to renegotiate and insist on a full honouring of the corrupt bargain.
.China is neither imperialist nor colonialist, it is doing what all nations aspire to do freely and without force: make deals with other countries in the interest of China and her people. This level of independence is something we in the global south should be aspiring to. This is something which China can offer: it can indeed be the greatest hope of the global south as Fidel stated, but only if we in the global south grasp the opportunity and shake off the yoke of our compromised leadership class and embrace true nationalism and internationalism which would have us leave the corrupt camp of Western colonial imperialism and join a new world emerging, a world which is made up of free nations which deal with each other with a mutual respect.
Ridding ourselves of our corrupted and cowardly leaders would see us making deals which not only provide much needed roads, but telecommunications and more importantly training, industry and long-term jobs as technology transfer takes place. No one is obliged to save us. A major lesson from the USSR and China while Mao was alive was that revolution cannot be exported and must originate organically in a country to then be assisted by an already existing socialist base or anti-imperialist (read nationalist) base. At that stage China will become our best hope. Until then, until we get our house in order and have leaders who have the interests of the masses at their core and therefore by extension practicing anti-imperialist politics, China will remain as it is now, simply the best of a bad bunch.
We get roads, loans, and all manner of infrastructure in corrupt dealings — bad, but still a damn sight better than the deals with the US and UK which leave us with nothing to look at, use or touch while still enriching the same corrupt politicians and members of ‘civil society’.
China is Cuba’s best hope because Cuba is truly independent. China is Iran’s best hope because it, too, is truly independent. China is also the best hope for Russia, Venezuela and so many more simply because those countries actually independent and put the needs of their citizens before the needs of the countries of the imperial core and her citizens. Too many of us are okay with a leadership class which puts the needs of other countries ahead of the needs of their own people. We have been cowed into silence or mere porch gazing as our politicians and leaders have, since ‘independence’, kept us in an alliance that was always explicitly aimed at keeping us underdeveloped and exploited.
We have a choice; it doesn’t have to remain as is, we can break free and have the equality and growth which we deserve and have been deprived of.
China is not imperialist nor colonialist, ignore the noise and hype coming from the nations which literally still have us, the nations they purport to be so concerned about, as neo-colonies. Let us get our house in order. Organize, educate, mobilise and agitate until we have the leaders who put the nation and its people first, leaders who view the upliftment and betterment of the worker as the ultimate goal, then and only then will China become the best hope we in the global south and Jamaica in particular have.