Monday, April 20, 2020

Chinagate is the new Russiagate

Red Ogre and Blue Ogre, from the Legend of Momotarô

If you ever needed proof of the truth of the assertion by the great WEB DuBois, spoken in 1956, that:
I believe that democracy has so far disappeared in the United States that no “two evils” exist. There is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I can do or say. There is no third party.
… one need look no further than the utter sham that is Chinagate, and the current mania on the right for ‘holding China accountable’ for the abject failures of the American government to keep its people safe. The idea that China is somehow responsible for the spread of SARS-CoV-2 around the world on account of the ‘six days’ (itself a brazen lie – China warned the world about the human transmission of SARS-2 on the fifteenth of January, not the twentieth) and that this is somehow to blame for the United States government doing nothing for two full months after the WHO announcement is risible on its face. That has not stopped the new nationalist right from promoting this narrative with every single outlet they have available.

But that is not the most interesting thing about Chinagate. What is interesting about Chinagate is how exactly it parallels Russiagate. I note, grimly and without satisfaction, that I had already predicted this turn of events in 2018. Tucker Carlson is the Rachel Maddow of the new nationalist right. The anti-China narrative uses the same tropes about China’s ‘authoritarianism’ to blow up the non-story – literally, the fake news – of China’s putative unresponsiveness to the outbreak. It uses the same media spread. Cable news is the primary medium, which is of course natural since MSNBC is based on the Fox News model. There’s the same sort of emphasis on ‘holding [Russia / China] accountable’, the same propping up of an élite-run innuendo-heavy nothingburger ‘investigation’ [Mueller Report / Wuhan Institute of Virology] as an outlet for carefully-massaged popular anger. There’s the same trotting out of ‘intelligence’ community ‘experts’, whose job is literally to spread misinformation, to bolster the narrative [Russia / China]. There’s the same orchestrations of performative flag-waving.

Remember the Japanese legend of Momotarô. The red ogre and the blue ogre pretend to be enemies, but they really just want to kidnap the villagers and steal their food – in this case, the red ogre and the blue ogre both want to kidnap our votes and steal our livelihoods. And they both do so in this case by pointing to a horde of foreign devils and insinuating that the other ogre is in league with them. The scapegoating of China in 2020, like the scapegoating of Russia in 2016, is little more than a cynical ploy used by one wing or other of the Evil Party to manipulate voters into pulling the lever a particular way. And, of course, blue ogre Joe Biden – creepy old neoconservative dotard that he is – has jumped right on that train, attacking Trump from the right on China. The message is clear: we have always been at war with Eastasia.

The fact that this narrative of a generalised and overblown ‘authoritarian’ threat to the homeland from Asia has ‘sped up’ in recent years is no accident. The Asian continent has gotten a lot more integrated over the past decade, to the point where we are approaching something akin to a Eurasian power bloc. Strategically, this is a nightmare for the Atlanticists, who sought specifically to break up such a power bloc during the Cold War, and have sought to prevent it from recurring ever since. Little wonder that the chattering classes on both sides have begun hyperventilating.

Several things have contributed to solidify the current alliance-of-convenience between the powers of the Silk Road and the Tea Road. The most important contributing factor has been the overreach of the NATO alliance, going back to the accession of the Baltic states and the two wars with Yugoslavia. The wholesale betrayal and destruction of a democratic state which had somehow kept up friendly ties with Russia and friendlier ties with China caused a great deal of alarm in both countries, particularly after the ‘accidental’ NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999.

Successive acts of Atlanticist imperial overreach followed, which caused Russia and China – and later, Iran – to recognise and begin acting on their overlapping strategic interests: the war in Iraq in 2003; Saakashvili’s anti-Ossetian bombardment in Georgia in 2008; the war in Libya in 2011; the Syrian Civil War and NATO’s heavy involvement on one side; the continued support for the most extreme forms of political Zionism and hostility to the Palestinians on the part of the Atlanticist powers. Iran, China and Russia have been acting, with increasing degrees of coherence, as a bloc on all of these gæopolitical issues involving Asia. And their actions, at least in this theatre, have been entirely defensive!

This is not to say that real gæopolitical and ideological points of dissension do not exist between the three ‘poles’ of this new alliance. There is no such thing as a monolithic ‘authoritarianism’, still less ‘totalitarianism’, to which all three of these Asian powers ascribe. Real differences do exist, and thankfully the cooler and more realistic heads in all three countries continue to be mindful of them. What’s more: as a Marx-influenced left-Eurasianist I am very far from neutral on these differences. More on that in a blog post to come – watch this space. However, the fact that both the blue-ogre neoliberals and now the red-ogre new nationalist right have come to describe two poles of the alliance in a language which indelibly yokes them in the American imagination with the third speaks volumes indeed. And it says more than just that the American élite are simply incapable of thinking or acting strategically on the world stage.

We are now seeing the manifestations of a generalised hostility to Asia among the Washington donor caste. It’s generally ad hoc, but the primary raison d’être for this generalised hostility is to keep Americans afraid enough of the great external threat to control their electoral behaviour. However, some sectors among the Washington élite (notably former Trump appointees Bannon and McMaster, but also some, like Stoller, connected with the neoliberal Democrats) see the promotion of an anti-China grand narrative as the ‘big push’ necessary to lead a cultural, œconomic and financial renaissance.

Asian integration is still in its nascent stage. It’s also been mostly ad hoc, defensive and in response to aggressions by the Atlanticist powers in the Balkans and in the Near East. (Proactive œconomic organisations like the Eurasian Union and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation are the exceptions that prove the rule.) However, as Asian integration continues to deepen, we can expect to see the American government and its cable-news and legacy-media mouthpieces amplify the anti-Chinese, anti-Russian and anti-Iranian invective, which we can expect to become more violent and hateful. Hate crimes against Asian-Americans may be occasionally tutted over, but they will be ultimately considered as acceptable ‘collateral damage’ in the fight against the Great Enemy. In the meantime, it is incumbent on Americans that they don’t buy the propaganda. It’s not in our interest and never has been: the red ogre and the blue ogre aren’t actually as friendly as they pretend to be.

EDIT: If you want to see some actual investigative journalism on the Wuhan Institute of Virology and how that came to be a meme among the new nationalist right, here’s an excellent piece by The Grayzone’s Max Blumenthal and Ajit Singh. Also, Nature has a peer-reviewed journal article on how we know the SARS-CoV-2 virus to be naturally-occurring rather than lab-created.


  1. A little surprised to see Matt Stoller associated with Democrat neoliberalism. Doesn’t he spend most of his time as a media presence vilifying the Clinton-Obama establishment? The little piece by him you link to strikes me as a great deal less anti-China (if anti-China it is) than harsh toward U.S. interests given over to offshoring and finance-driven industrial policy.

  2. Hi Paul! Good to see you here!

    Perhaps I should clarify my language there somewhat. Stoller belongs to the wonk liberal-reformist clique that surrounded Elizabeth Warren, who believe that capitalism could be saved if only the rules could be made fair. Perhaps it wasn’t entirely fair of me to call him a neoliberal, but given how Stoller and the rest of the Warren clique lined up against Bernie before the SC primary and have now gotten on the Biden train, I’m not convinced it’s entirely unfair either.

    He has a reputation for attacking Big Tech and monopoly power, that’s true... and Warren did make that a big selling point in her 2020 presidential run. But he’s also known for being a big booster of American power abroad. One of the major weak points of Warren’s campaign vis-a-vis Bernie’s, in my humble opinion, was her inability to see truly global problems (like climate change or VNSA terrorism) as the basis for limited and contingent forms of global cooperation. Instead she focussed her efforts on securing American technological and political-hegemonic dominance.

    1. Thanks Matt, that’s helpful. Have to confess that it’s a little while since I was paying more regular attention to Stoller — and that’s mainly via his tweets, in any case, not through following his career or reading longer work.

      Here’s a recent thread that fits your characterization pretty well. Not sure I’m seeing him really on the Biden train — which I distinguish from belief (not my own) that there’s no political alternative to affirming Biden as legitimate contender against Trump — but I’ll be watching a little more acutely here I think.

      It’s true, though, isn’t it, that all of our anti-establishment ‘progressive wing’ figures actually functioning in the national political scene as elected officials or their collaborators represent a sort of neo-FDR-ism? (Maybe there’s a label for this with media currency that I’m still missing.) Bernie included, even if he is a whole lot more cautious about projecting power Superpower-style than someone like Warren is. All urge some variety of what you might call ‘sustainable capitalism’ validated by a recovered sense that America competes, globally. None really looks to a world beyond the era of the great contest of powers.

    2. I believe you are right, Paul. I was not too thrilled by Bernie’s overall foreign policy stance while it was still a relevant factor, though his reliance on Matt Duss did promise at least a partial reevaluation of our priorities in that sphere.

      But yes, Bernie is very much a within-the-system reformist, an FDR-style social liberal, as opposed to a real populist.

  3. I am not a political conservative in the least, but its ridiculous to call Tucker Carlson the Maddow of the left. He actually has had substantial journalistic integrity, with stories critical of Paul Singer, interviewing establishment hated figures like Tulsi and Glenn Greenwald, and so on. He is a right-nationalist, and I don't think he's right, but he's actually a journalist, not a propaganda mouthpiece (even if it's his political opinions that keep him employed by filth that is Fox).

    I do think you're right that there is a weaponizing of corona to push forward the "blue team" agenda. In a moment reminiscent of Iraq in 2002-03, there's finger pointing and flag-waving built upon a clearly geo-political strategic move, even as its substantiation is still murky. The Wuhan lab very well may be the origin of the virus, but using a murky claim to substantiate war drums is, even for critics of Xi and the CCP, something to be wary of.

    1. I am, all the same, deeply troubled by an anti-China perspective that seems to be pushed by people operating behind the scenes behind Tucker Carlson's back. If left to his own devices, I would hope he would understand how ludicrous some of the things he says about the Wuhan lab sound. But it strikes me that there's an irrational fear and hatred there, and that it's being manipulated by people who have something to gain by it (Mike Pompeo, Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon, for example).