Is China an Imperialist Country? Introduction to a New Four-Part Series

A new four-part series by Sam King published on Red Ant

China’s role in the world today is among the most hotly contested issues in international politics. How we view China and its relationships to other countries powerfully shapes how we view the future of the world — including the future of Australian society.

China is the largest country by population and has become a world production hub. If it were to become proportionately powerful, and if its external relations are relations of domination and aggression (like those of the USA and Australia are), it would be a fearsome danger to the existing rich countries.

But is China really an “imperialist” country? And what does “imperialist” even mean these days — precisely? What is the real character of the social system that has developed in China? What is China’s true status, power or ranking within the world economy? And how best to characterise its concrete role within the overall world division of labour? How can we understand its realistic future prospects? And what should socialists say and do in the face of the growing hostility to China by the USA, Australia and other rich countries?

These are all crucial questions that socialists active today need to be able to answer. After years of government and capitalist press hostility to China, there are now extreme levels of hysterical anti-Chinese sentiment and racism among working people across the world — not least of all in Australia.

Perhaps the most outrageous example was the racist attacks leading to the death of eight women of Asian origin at three day spas in Atlanta in March. However, even this has not caused the capitalist press or political parties to reconsider their racist propaganda.

The hypocrisy of mainstream liberal and conservative public opinion towards China is breath taking in both its unanimity and ferocity. On the Australian ABC’s Q+A TV show on April 15 a darling of the liberal left, Dr Norman Swan, on the same night as powerfully calling out the Morrison Government’s appalling failures on Corona virus vaccine role-out, likened the rise of China to the rise of Nazi Germany.

Those invited to speak on such TV shows and in other mainstream forums are apparently expected to forget or ignore the historical genocidal policies carried out by Australia, the US and imperialist allies in countries such as Iraq (where over one million people were killed as a result of two imperialist invasions and economic blockade), Yemen (where broad scale starvation unfolding right now is aided by United States military and acquiesced through imperialist diplomacy), Syria, Libya, East Timor, Indonesia and many more examples.

The central role of China in today’s world means that before working people can begin to make progress against capitalist power, the scourge of anti-Chinese ideas has to be tackled. Even to make headway on the most pressing and elementary problem of our time — climate change — will require close cooperation with China which is now the largest carbon emitter in the world, as it supplies or at least assembles many of the goods consumed globally. For this reason alone the current sustained capitalist campaign of China bashing is a perilous danger to humanity.

The whole history of racist nationalism in the rich countries like Australia means that tackling this scourge will not be quick or easy. It is not realistic to think, for example, that the widespread anti-Chinese sentiments among Australian workers can be wound back by a few articles. Widespread racist ideas can only be overcome when their social basis is overcome — in this case imperialism and the global divide between rich and poor countries.

However, what socialists can do today is begin to prepare for that fight. What is feasible at this stage is challenging and defeating anti-China ideas among the socialist left, or sections of it, and among the most progressive minded workers and intellectuals. By doing this much, we can at least establish a pole or international solidarity that stands against the barrage or China Bashing that is served up daily by Biden, Morrison, the ABC, Newscorp and across the board of mainstream media and politics.

Today such a core is almost totally lacking. Even avowed anti-racists – people who rightly support refugees, indigenous struggles and the Black Lives Matter movement – tend to swallow whole much of the mainstream narrative about China’s supposed rising threat to the USA, Australia and the world. Profound ignorance about the real character of Chinese capitalism and its relationships to the rich countries seems to have made many people susceptible to even the most ludicrous propaganda – such as the idea that China can pose a military threat to the USA or Australia, or that its supposed technological prowess threatens to overwhelm them.

The fight-back against imperialist attacks on China, therefore, needs to begin by combating the pervasive ignorance that surrounds the issue. To be capable of arguing that China is not a threat to working people in Australia, socialists need to have a very clear understanding of why that is the case. To contribute to what needs to be an ongoing discussion, Red Ant is publishing a series of four articles on the topic “Is China an Imperialist Country?”

The focus on “imperialism” focuses the discussion on the crucial question of the relationship between China and the rich countries like Australia, the US, Japan and Western Europe. This needs to be understood in a concrete way, not, as is conventional, by simply looking at statistics. By understanding China’s specific roles in the world-economy we can reveal the power dynamic as it actually exists between China and the various rich countries that are all now piling on to declare China a threat, rogue, bully and so on.


  1. Hi Walter. Happy that you are interested. We’ve not scheduled a zoom event at this stage and will be prioritising written discussion. Hope you can contribute to that here on our site, on our Facebook page or elsewhere. And have a good sleep!

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