Understanding China’s Foreign Policy 1949 to 2021

Brian Becker from The Socialist Program and the national coordinator of the ANSWER coalition hosts Kenneth Hammond, a Professor of East Asian and Global History at New Mexico State University and an activist with the organization Pivot to Peace.

This important discussion, covering every major development in the evolution of China’s foreign policy since the revolutionary victory in 1949, is a crucial resource, especially for young activists and opponents of war today.

As the U.S. and its allies, such as Australia, escalate political, economic and military aggression towards China they also attempt to portray China – a developing country many times poorer than the US or Australia – as the aggressor. So far, most working people around the world have fallen for this anti-China hostility.

The widespread anti-China views rely on the idea that China is an aggressor and a threat. To push back against the US-led war drive it is critical for activists and the left to have firm grasp of the real relationship between China and the rest of the world. This seven-part series by Brian Becker with Professor Ken Hammond provides a highly informative resource for anyone wanting to seriously grapple with today’s situation.

The conversational style of these highly informative commentators is accessible for those without any specialist knowledge of China or of the periods covered. It is greatly enriched, especially for younger listeners, by the fact that both Becker and Hammond are socialists who’s political life started in a previous generation – i.e. the generation active in the 1960s and 1970s. These radicals have seen ‘first-hand’ and considered the meaning of different phases of China’s foreign policy and its overall development.

Each of the seven episodes moves beyond simply documenting the various policy positions of China, the US, the USSR or the disputes and changes. Becker and Hammond’s real contribution – and why the series is so worthwhile to listen in full – is their ability to penetrate inside China. At every stage China’s policy is assessed by looking at why the Communist Party took different positions at different times. This is firmly set against the background of China’s precarious objective situation: an underdeveloped country attempting to navigate a path in a hostile imperialist world.

The entire series has been uploaded to YouTube as a complete series (see embedded video below) and also as separate parts (links are below).

The Socialist Program: China’s Foreign Policy, 1949 to Today (The Complete Series + Bonus Content)

Part 1, 1949-1959: Anti-colonialism and a complex alliance with the Soviet Union
In this section, Becker and Hammond discuss the early phase of foreign policy pursued by the People’s Republic of China, characterized by fervent anti-colonialism and a complex alliance with the Soviet Union.

Part 2, 1959-1965: The China-Soviet Split through to the Vietnam War
U.S. imperialist pressure on China and the Soviet Union lead to a breakdown in relations between the two socialist giants. The conversation spans the Soviet efforts at peaceful coexistence with the United States, the China-India war of 1962, the Soviet-U.S. 1963 nuclear test ban treaty, the U.S. invasion of Vietnam in 1964, and the CIA-organized anti-communist genocide in Indonesia.

Part 3, 1965-1975: When Enemies Become “Friends”
This section discusses how Chinese foreign policy shifted after the Cultural Revolution culminating with China and the U.S. under the Nixon administration forging a new alliance that reshaped global politics.

Part 4, 1975-1989: Reaping the Whirlwind
At a time when U.S. imperialism seemed to be in complete and utter decline following its defeat in Southeast Asia, and with revolution spreading from Africa to Iran to Nicaragua, the United States enters into a de-facto alliance with China and facilitates the integration of China into the world economy. Brian and Prof. Kenneth Hammond also discuss China’s invasion of Vietnam in 1979, Gorbachev taking power in the Soviet Union and introducing far reaching reforms, the arms race initiated by the U.S. that brings the world to the brink of nuclear war, the counter-revolutionary wave that sweeps the governments of Eastern Europe, and how China was confronted with the prospect of a counter-revolution in a 7-week long standoff in Tiananmen Square that ends with the suppression of that movement.

Part 5, 1989-1995: Navigating to Global Economic Integration after Tiananmen
In the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, China found itself internationally isolated and subjected to harsh new economic sanctions. Then in 1992, Deng Xiaoping launches the “Southern Tour”, culminating in the dramatic deepening of market reforms. This leads to a massive influx of foreign investment as China becomes deeply integrated into the global economy.

Part 6, 1995-2001: Hong Kong Returns to China and China Joins the WTO
In 1997, China achieves another milestone in its long struggle to unify the country and end foreign domination — the return of the city of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty. Meanwhile, China’s economic growth accelerates as the country plays a bigger and bigger role in the global economy. In 2001, this culminates with China’s entry into the World Trade Organization.

Part 7, 2011-2021: US “Pivots to Asia” and Xi Jinping Takes the Reins
During the Obama administration, US imperialism adopts the “Pivot to Asia” strategy and makes China its top target. At the same time, Xi Jinping becomes China’s president and navigates China’s rise.

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