The first meeting of Hands off China to take place outside London was held in Bristol on 12 October at the Malcolm X Community Centre, St Pauls.
The meeting was introduced by Comrade Giles Shorter of the CPGB-ML, who welcomed the audience and gave an overview of what Hands off China aims to achieve in Bristol and elsewhere. He introduced the main speaker, Comrade Keith Bennett, an expert in Asian politics and longstanding supporter of the People’s Republic of China.
Comrade Keith began by highlighting the significance of the meeting being held in the Malcolm X Centre. Malcolm X made a significant contribution to the struggle against imperialism, and was highly supportive and appreciative of the role played by post-revolutionary China in that struggle.
Keith addressed the reasons for supporting China in the current climate, noting the extraordinary advances made by the Chinese people since the revolution in 1949. The achievements that China has made under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party have taken place in the face of ongoing attempts by imperialism to weaken the PRC, whether under the guise of ‘freeing’ Tibet or orchestrating a totally unsuccessful campaign to boycott the Bejing Olympics.
Comrade Keith reminded the audience that, only sixty years ago, China was poor, oppressed and despised. Now it is strong, united and dignified. It has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and massively raised social welfare through the hard work and sacrifices of successive generations.
Keith addressed the issue of China’s wider role in the world, commenting that China was focussed on building relations with developing countries on the basis of mutual assistance, fair trade and non-interference. China has had a hugely progressive role in Africa and South America, giving valuable support to enable the construction of schools, hospitals, roads and other infrastructure to countries seeking to break free from imperialist domination and build independent societies.
Commenting on Hugo Chavez’s recent visit to China where he declared himself a Maoist and voiced his support for ‘China’s strategy to end US domination of world affairs’, Comrade Keith continued to reiterate the significance of the support China lends peoples’ struggles across the globe. Without the PRC, the situation of other socialist, progressive and developing countries would be immeasurably more difficult.
Comrade Keith concluded his presentation by pointing out that the work of building the Hands off China campaign is not intended to replace solidarity work with other struggles across the globe, such as in Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, Nepal, Palestine or the Iraqi and Afghan resistance; rather it is done in order to strengthen the worldwide revolutionary front and widen the opposition to imperialism. Defence of the People’s Republic of China is a crucial issue for all the oppressed and progressive people of the world, because, if the PRC were to be defeated, it would be a world-historic setback for the masses everywhere.
Comrade Keith’s presentation was followed by a lively and fruitful discussion. Questions were asked about the state of China’s economy in light of the current global economic crisis and the amount of US currency held by China at the moment. It was indicated that, over the past three years, there has been a change in policy aimed at diversifying the currency held by China, in order to reduce the dependency on the US dollar. Nevertheless, this does not entirely alleviate the current situation, and the Chinese will no doubt be doing everything within their power to limit the impact of the international crisis on the Chinese population.
Extensive discussion took place on the question of Tibet, as a small number of people in the audience were calling for Tibetan independence and criticising the PRC’s supposed aggression against the Tibetan people.
The speakers, as well as members of the audience, pointed out that Tibet had been part of China for centuries and had made no claim for independence until a decade after the Chinese revolution (when the successful development of infrastructure under the PRC was undermining the feudal control of the Dalai Lama and his cohorts). Indeed, the very concept of ‘Tibetan independence’ was a creation of British imperialism.
The allegations that the violence in Lhasa earlier this year was the result of aggressive actions by the army were dispelled with reference to the riots that were instigated by a small number of buddhist monks against not only Han Chinese but also muslim and Tibetan peoples.
It was also pointed out during the discussion that the right of nations to self-determination is a very concrete question, not an abstract one. Not every community of people constitutes a nation and not every nation needs to or should exercise its right to self-determination by opting for secession. Consequently, the demand for self-determination of a given nation is not automatically progressive and worthy of our support â€“ the international balance of forces, among other factors, needs to be taken into consideration. Reference was made to Bolivia, where the minority of white landowners and bourgeoisie have been calling for autonomy of a number of regions in direct opposition to the progressive government of Evo Morales. In such a situation, no progressive would defend the right of this minority of exploiters to their self determination. Neither was support given to the idea peddled by the white apartheid regime before its final removal that each tribe within South Africa should be given its independent self determination, as it was clear this would have been done in order to divide and rule the peoples of South Africa as a whole.
In relation to Tibet, the same litmus test has to be applied. As part of the PRC, Tibet has benefited from investment in infrastructure, provision of schools, books, healthcare and the abolition of the barbaric feudal system under which the Tibetan people had suffered for centuries. Furthermore, Tibetan culture and language have been consistently supported and have thrived. If Tibet were to break from China, it would certainly not become any more independent. The Dalai Lama has already made clear his supportive relationship with Anglo-American imperialism, and a Tibet under the auspices of US imperialism is not going to be one that focuses on the rights and living standards of the average Tibetan people (human rights and living standards are largely ignored even within the borders of the US!) but simply a cat’s paw to be used against China.
The meeting was rounded up by Comrade Giles, who thanked all for attending and urged those who were not already involved to join the campaign and keep an eye out for future events that will be held by Hands off China in Bristol and nationally.