In the Social Contract, Rousseau considers, amongst other things, the contrast between two types of Political freedom. Positive freedom is the belief that the Society is a collective with all citizens on the same side to enhance the combined whole. Negative freedom, on the other hand, is where citizens have the ability to do their own thing, so long as they do not break the law or injure another person.
Positive freedom is found quite often in totalitarian states whereby Society is a collective and citizens are all striving for the common good. On the right we saw it in Nazi Germany, Mussolini’s Italy and Spain’s Franco, all Fascist regimes. On the left, in Communist states in particular in Soviet Russia, modern day China and North Korea. Negative freedom, on the other hand, is best depicted by the liberal democratic states of the capitalist West and most especially the United States of America (US). Here each citizen is beavering away for themselves in the belief that they are free to do as they wish. Such freedom, particularly in the US, is circumscribed by fairly strict rules on behaviour. A sporting analogy would be seen as teamwork ie football, rugby as positive freedom and golf being individualist and representing negative freedom. As an aside, it is interesting to note the Ryder Cup. The American team mostly have the best players in the world and yet almost continually lose the matches which require teamwork. That may have something to do with the fact that they come from a society which boasts negative freedom. In fact, it is interesting to note the differences in reactions to the current Corona virus whereby European countries have generally furloughed people by paying them during lockdown in the hope that they will return to their jobs. The American way is to make 20 million workers redundant. Not a question of cost, since they will eventually pay such people unemployment benefit but a different mindset.
What has this to do with post Covid 19 relations between the two superpowers?
Since the days of Adam Smith and John Stewart Mill there has been a metaphysical umbilical cord between Capitalism and Liberalism. So much so, that it has been a general assumption that the two are joined together. On other words, you could not have one without the other. Now of course the Chinese in particular have driven a coach and horses through the belief in terms of State Capitalism. Capitalism without democracy? Foul the West replies.
The West, and especially the British, roamed the world for 150 years, pillaging, nay stripping, countries of their natural resources and doing it on the back of cheap wages. Even no wages before the abolition of slavery. Possibly the biggest insult has to be the import of Indian cotton to the mills of Lancashire where it was manufactured and sold back to the Indians from whence it came. I say sold back to the Indians; I should have said sold back to British agents who took their cut of the profits for distribution. On top of this, they ruled India with very few troops and made the Indians pay for the privilege. One could go on but you get the idea about exploitation.
The Americans took over from the British from 1945. Rather than rule a country directly they have carried out their exploitation of resources through dividing the world between Us and Them. You are therefore with them or against them. They, the Americans of course, decide which side you are on. We even witnessed Trump try to openly use this threat to countries on the United Nations Security Council
Possibly the best example is South America. In their back yard, easy to exploit and even easier to control the regimes. All went splendidly well until the election of two indigenous leaders ie Chavis in Venezuela in 1996 and Morales in Bolivia in 2006. The first with huge supplies of Oil, the second with Natural Gas. Suddenly in both cases the appalling low priced contracts that had been virtually stolen, were nationalised before their eyes and commercial rates were renegotiated. A further example is Iran. Supported/exploited under the regime of a corrupt Shah, now number one on the axis of evil register. Support instead for an incredibly frightening Wahhabi Regime in Saudi Arabia because of dependence on their oil. As well as support for Israel without any consideration of the Palestinians. Again, I could go on but you get my drift.
Now let us turn to the Outsourcing of goods and services from the US and other Western countries. It started in the early 1970’s in the northern States and Canada with the appreciation that rates of labour were lower the further South factories were moved. It got as far south as Mississippi and then went over the border into Mexico. From there it hit South-East Asia and, ultimately, China. What could be better, cheap products for the American middle and working classes as their incomes were able to buy more and more and more. All, that is, but the car makers of Detroit and the coal miners of West Virginia. The area became known as the rust belt as redundancies started to increase without alternative work. Arise Donald Trump and the Let’s Make America Great campaign of 2016. The problem for Trump was of course that even in Mississippi, the poorest State in the Union, wages were higher than they were in China and all the other places where outsourcing had taken place. And this outsourcing was not just of low skilled products but the highly technical sector to places like Bangalore in India. Added to which has been reinforced with the current crisis, it is now possible to tele-work all over the globe. The Manifest Destiny concept of Jefferson two centuries ago is coming to an end and the Americans need to acknowledge that fact.
Which brings us to China. The connection between Capitalism and Democracy made by the West almost 200 years ago, had no rivals and have had none. This has become so strong within its psyche that many find it impossible to comprehend how a totalitarian state, with a positive view of freedom, can possibly exist for long without the regime collapsing and a liberal democratic state taking its place. The answer is State Capitalism. Just as Putin’s Russia has spawned the Oligarchs, so China has spawned the Billionaires. But make no doubt about it, none of these people could exist if they did anything that was against the positive notions of the State. Khodorkovsky is a major example. One thing that the Americans endeavour to hide is the enormous financial debt they are in hoc to China for. This was particularly used for the war in Afghanistan. The latest count of how many countries the US is militarily active in is 135. Even the US with all its wealth cannot afford such debt especially with a falling GDP. And much of that military expenditure is spent encircling China around the South China Sea. Its turn away from Europe has not diminished its massive Military budget. What do they have to be afraid of? They have enough nuclear weapons to flatten the earth, and themselves, a hundred times over. The population has been so socialised to see an enemy around every corner which, sadly, has indoctrinated it citizens with hatred and suspicion even amongst themselves and friends. A current example is the race for a vaccination against Covid. At the moment their scientists are not in the lead. To which their response is that whoever is first in the discovery should wave patents and make it available for free to the world. Their response should they be the first to discover it, is that the vaccine is for Americans and only when they are all vaccinated would they make it available to the rest of the world.
Yes, it looks probable that the virus came from some sort of cross mutation in Wuhan. But that is for another day and makes no difference whatsoever to the situation the world finds itself in at this moment. The more interesting thing is to consider why it is that the US and UK have the worst records in the world in combatting the virus. The reality is that both leaders and governments were arrogant, as their cultures and histories have made them. Both are led by incompetent leaders, neither of whom is Jimmy Carter who used to read briefs. It is not that they are surrounded by an incompetent Civil Service but they are surrounded, with the exception of Dr Anthony Fauci in America and Dr Jenni Harries in the UK, by people who are afraid to tell them, and the public, the truth. It is interesting how at least that has been recognised and they are both considered, National Treasures. Both countries love to accuse both Russia and China of not telling the truth. The whole public messaging in the US and UK has been full of obfuscation and redacted reports.
Instead of working with China and the countries of South East Asia and even Germany, who have been the most successful at dealing with the virus by far, all the US and UK is to throw suspicion at others death figures. That is easy to discover. There are over 70000 deaths in the US and over 30000 in the UK. Primarily as a result of two leaders, one of whom preferred to concentrate on re-election and the other on congratulating himself over removing the country from the EU, taking their eye off the ball. And not collaborating with the EU in terms of procurement is a frightening prospect as to how we will manage alone.
So where are we in terms of Post Corvid 19 relations between China and the US? There is no need for China to become a liberal democracy as the West might prefer. China is an enormous country with huge problems, first and foremost on how to feed its population. Ever since Kublai Khan it has never invaded anyone. Its culture is quiescent. It has been invaded by the British, French and the Japanese and was greatly controlled during the Second World War and after by the corrupt regime of Chiang Kai Shek under the influence of the Americans. The Americans and British have had a great record over the past 20 years of invading countries, like Iraq for the oil, without any contingency plan as to how to move forward. And Afghanistan? Beaten three British invasions in the 19th century and a Russian one in the 1980’s. For what? And, lest we forget, the Americans refused to enter the Olympic Games of 1980, Alan Wells will be ever thankful, because the Russians had invaded the Country. Oh, ye of double standards and hypocrisy!
When the dust settles, I see a China growing in strength and confidence with not only the Eastern seaboard gaining in wealth but also the hinterland developing but it will take a long time. In terms of the world stage, it has been the Chinese over the last thirty years who have gradually gone around the world taking resources but in exchange for modernisation projects. This is the reason that the Americans have been stopped from dominance in South America. The Americans are slow to learn as far as their neighbours in the South are concerned. The Monroe Doctrine of 1819 giving them the right to interfere anywhere on the American Continent was not only illegal but also outrageous hypocrisy. Another example of this was the Clinton Doctrine which claimed to give the Americans the right to invade any part of the world where American interests are threatened. Who do these people think they are? They need to show a little more humility, otherwise they might find another Vietnam on their hands and we all know what happened there. Like the British in the 19th century, their arrogance knows no bounds and look what has happened to the British. Nothing lasts forever. Ask the Egyptians; the Persians; the Greeks and the Romans. Sadly, like British diplomats who depend completely on the BBC and The Times for their world view, the Americans depend on Fox News and we all know how objective these forms of media are.
In short therefore, I see a decline in American dominance and power and the continuing but slow rise of China. But what about the Russians?
Roger Lovell is author of Managing Change in the New Public Sector and Managing in the New Millennium
©️ 2020 Roger J Lovell