Book Review: Washington Bullets - Vijay Prashad (2020). Reviewed By: Edward L. SmithRead Now
A common line of argument from the contemporary American left is that “socialism has never been tried.” It’s understandable that Western socialists would make this argument to members of the US proletariat, who have been deeply affected by years of red scare propaganda. This argument however, ignores the millions who have struggled and died in an effort to move beyond the contradictions of capitalism. It diminishes the herculean effort which was needed to transform Cuba from an agrarian society, managed by Western multinationals and their dictator Batista, into its current form, a Nation who recently sent an army of doctors all around the globe to fight Covid. Most importantly, this argument that socialism has never been tried, ignores the role played by Western imperialism in destroying, or attempting to destroy, any and all attempts at building an alternative economic system to capitalism. What Vijay Prashad does in Washington Bullets, is concisely detail just how the US and their allies go about crushing economic and political enemies. The book serves as a guide for a younger generation of socialists to understanding the tools and techniques of the imperialists, which have for years been used to maintain what US officials have called ‘Preponderant Power’, or in other words, economic, political, and military domination of the entire planet.
As Karl Marx wrote his theories on capitalism in the 19th century, he predicted that capitalism would take hold globally, the productive forces of Nations would increase, and eventually workers revolutions would sweep the old system aside, replacing it with communism. While Marx was not dogmatic in this view, and became more critical of colonialism and imperialism later in life, it is safe to say he did not predict the level of capitalist imperialism which would emerge, and be analyzed by Vladimir Lenin in the early 20th century. Rather than the productive forces of all nations increasing as capitalism developed, Lenin found that Imperialist Nations actively halt the development of productive forces in the country's they exploit. Take for example Venezuela, who for years saw their most abundant natural resource, oil, extracted by British Dutch Shell and Rockefeller Standard Oil. The profits from this oil flowed to Western Private interests, while Venezuela was left with underdeveloped industry, and an entirely oil dependent economy. It was in this context that Venezuela sought to build socialism through reclaiming their natural resources, while simultaneously facing an all out assault of sanctions and coup attempts from the US. The role imperialism plays in the present struggle for socialism is immense. Prahsad’s book analyzes both the impact of imperialism, as well as its changing forms, with the explicit goal of giving socialists a better idea of how to combat it.
In Part One of Three, Prashad talks of Imperialism’s change of form, which was seen after World War II. Following the war, national liberation movements swept across the global south, primarily in Africa and Southern Asia. The Japanese empire and European powers, weakened from the destruction of the Second World War, began losing their grip on their liberation minded colonies. Vietnam, Korea, Syria, Algeria and many more would declare independence following the war, with most only doing so after years of organized struggle. These national liberation movements created a shift from traditional colonialism, to what is usually called neocolonialism. Many nations did achieve their national independence and legal recognition as a nation, what Prashad calls ‘flag independence’. However, the economic and political systems of these nations remain largely under the control of Western private interests. The events of the war, and the National liberation movements, forced a change in form of Western Imperialism. The United States was now the dominant empire, and their primary goal was ‘preponderant power’. A phrase Prashad takes directly from State Department documents, which essentially means the US will seek to be the world’s sole superpower, and enforce their own preferred political and economic systems wherever is seen fit.
The United Nations was created following the war in 1945, with the publicly stated goal of maintaining world peace, and preventing any one nation from acting belligerently. However, in the founding charters of the UN, Prashad finds Western Nations had already crafted the legal framework to justify imperialist aggression. Article 41 allows for sanctions and economic disruption by UN member states, and Article 42 explicitly allows for the use of armed force against sovereign nations. Despite this, the UN security council, made up of France, UK, China, USSR, and the US, held the power to veto acts of unwarranted aggression by fellow member states. The first 56 vetoes were made by the USSR in an effort to protect liberation movements, which often had socialist tendencies, from Western aggression. Later in the book, Prashad describes how Saddam Huessein wondered why the USSR hadn’t come to his aid as the US bombed Iraq to a pre-industrial state in 1990. He was unaware that the USSR had already begun its collapse, and smaller nations like Iraq would no longer have a shield from Washington’s aggression.
Part Two of Washington Bullets begins with a nine point manual on how the US goes about enacting regime change against those who defy their interests. Prashad uses the events of the 1954 CIA backed coup of Jocobo Arbenz in Guatemala, and a myriad of other examples, to describe the repeated strategies used by the CIA, and other regime change arms of the US State Department. There are patterns of imperialism which play out again and again. Understanding these patterns is vital when analyzing what the State Department is currently looking to do to their enemies such as China, Venezuela, and Iran.
The first step in any US regime change effort is to manufacture public support for intervention. This involves a propaganda campaign not just at home, but also within the target Nation. Prior to the coup in Guatemala, journalists from NYT, Chicago Tribune, and TIME all received payments from the United Fruit, the multinational company which dominated Guatemala. In reality Arbenz was a popular leader who sought to enact minor land reforms. In the media he was portrayed as a dangerous communist, drunk with power. As the US corporate media fell in line, the CIA filled the streets of Guatemala with anti-Arbenz propaganda. This strategy of propagandizing both the American Public, and the people of whatever country the US is targeting, has been repeated again and again. Libya, Syria, and Venezuela have all seen money from the West used to bolster right wing media campaigns inside their borders. Control of public opinion has been one of the most vital components to US regime change efforts from the beginning.
Step four in Prashad’s manual of regime change is to “Make the Economy Scream.” A reference to directions given by Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon to the CIA in 1970, as the US looked to overthrow the Democratically elected Salvadore Allende in Chile. Here we see a vital component of what Prashad calls ‘hybrid war.’ Isolating from the world those Nations who seek to develop themselves, and reclaim their own natural resources. Sanctions and blockades are used to starve smaller nations of financing and trade, as corporate media outlets point and say “look. Don’t you see socialism clearly doesn’t work?” US sanctions recently led to many deaths in Venezuela and Iran during the Covid-19 pandemic, as the US has continued their murderous regime change efforts, with techniques they designed almost 70 years ago.
All these strategies of the empire, which Prashad lays in the manual for regime change, have the shared goal of destabilizing target nations. If the State Department thinks that starving Venezuelan civilians via sanctions will increase political unrest, they will not think twice about enacting those sanctions. There is no consideration given to human rights, democracy, or whatever it is that corporate media claims to be the goal of US foreign policy. The true goal is destabilization of the target Nation, and the replacement of their government, with one which will favor the interests of Western multinational corporations. Prashad uses the term ‘hybrid wars’ to describe the sustained regime change efforts enacted by the US around the world to achieve these goals.
In Part Three Professor Prashad gives a short history of imperialism’s change in form following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and some analysis of US regime change efforts since that time. Without the Soviet umbrella of protection, Prashad says “interventions from the west came like a tsunami.” He writes of the aforementioned bombing campaign against Iraq, which would have previously been strongly opposed by the USSR. Following their ruthless bombing of Iraq, the US went on to sanction the country for 13 years, before launching a full scale invasion, killing millions of people, before occupying the country where they remain today. The collapse of the Soviet Union increased the US capacity for achieving Preponderant Power. By the early 2000s Western Propagandists had coined the term “war on terror” which took the place of the “cold war” as the justification for invading a smaller country, and killing hundreds of their people.
In this section Prashad also covers the current global financial system, which was essentially hand crafted by the US, and Western private entities. Global financial organizations, such as the IMF and World Bank largely control which countries will receive financing. IMF financing to Chile was halted after Allende’s rise to power, only to be increased again when the despotic dictator Agusto Pinochet seized control of the country with a great deal of help from the CIA. In addition, the financial institutions have become notorious for their structural adjustment programs. Promising to finance only Nations who promise to cut social spending, and implement other neoliberal economic reforms. Countries who accept these deals often see the interest on their loans hiked to absurd levels, leaving them trapped in debt, and at the mercy of the Western dominated global financial system. This debt trapping technique is one of the many issues socialist leader Thomas Sankara railed against as President of Burkina Faso, prior to his being murdered by French backed forces in 1987.
Given the level of corporate dominance in the global economic and political systems, Western interests have developed more covert methods of regime change, which they employ when possible. Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have long played a role in regime change efforts, posing as unbiased observers, while doing all they can to destabilize target Nations and promote Western media narratives. Prashad focuses on Haiti, who have more NGOs than any country on Earth. When priest and socialist Jean Bertrand-Aristide became the first democratically elected Haitian leader in history, he was quickly ousted by what essentially amounted to a coup by NGO. After a struggle for power, and a second coup of Aristide in 2004, Haiti became a “republic of NGOs.” A country with no real state, essentially being directly governed by Western Interests. To this day Haiti remains one of the poorest countries in the world.
In addition to coup by NGO, Prashad touches on what he calls ‘lawfare’ or the use of the legal system to dismantle left wing movements. For US based socialists the FBI and Police crackdown on the Black Panther party should come to mind. Intellectual leaders such as Fred Hampton were murdered, while many others were sent to jail on trumped up charges. Prashad uses the example of Brazil, where the left wing Lula da Silva was put in jail on charges of corruption by a judge who would later be a member of the far right Bolsonaro Government, who took power in Lula’s absence. Under Bolsonaro’s Western backed leadership, multinationals have been given free reign to pillage the Amazon rainforest of resources.
Professor Vijay Prashad is one of the most well read Marxist intellectuals alive today. The fact that his books are published in english should be considered a gift to those of us living in the heart of the US empire. In a country where we find ourselves surrounded by imperialist and anti-communist propaganda, a book like Washington Bullets cuts directly through the bullshit. Prashad often says that he writes not to simply explain history, but to discover how it can be changed. This book is a concise history of US imperialism and regime change since the second world war, and paints a clear picture of how these things are carried out.
American socialists who read this book should keep in mind the recent actions of the State Department, and look for patterns in their actions. My upcoming essay on US imperialism in 2021 seeks to identify the current targets of regime change, and the specific strategies being used against them. To recognize the patterns of imperialism which we’ve seen time and time again. US State Department representatives now tell us Iran seeks to proliferate nuclear weapons, as they wrongfully accused Iraq of doing before launching a murderous invasion that costs trillions of dollars. Blurry satellite images of human rights abuses in China are being used to call for increased sanctions and military presence. How quickly we have forgotten the fake satellite images used to justify bombing Iraq to a pre-industrial state in 1990. Western backed NGOs in Venezuela cry fraudulent elections, and beg the US to restore Democracy, as the US crushes the country under embargo, and launches coup attempts through Colombia. Each of these situations echo the past regime change efforts carried out by the Western imperialist powers.
Washington Bullets is a book that every US socialist should read carefully. It is high time we recognize the lies of our ruling class, and refuse to send any more of our children to fight and die in their wars for profit. To do this we must understand the tools and tactics of the deceitful imperialists, so that we may know how to fight them. Vijay Prashad’s Washington Bullets is a wonderful tool for doing just that!
Edward is from Sauk City, Wisconsin and received his B.A. in Political Science from Loras College, where he was a former NCAA wrestling All-American, and an active wrestling coach. His main interest are in Geopolitics and the role of American imperialism with relation to socialist states, specifically China and Venezuela. He also worked for Bernie Sanders' campaign in 2020.
Today, Defense of the Revolution Rests with the Media. By: Steve Lalla & Saheli ChowdhuryRead Now
Veteran combatant of Cuba’s revolutionary struggles, Comandante Víctor Dreke, in 2017.
Photo: Le Soir/Dominique Duchesnes.
Víctor Dreke, legendary commander of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces, called for those defending the Revolution today to recognize that the battlefield of the 21st century is the media.
The comments were made at a conference held on Thursday, April 22, commemorating the 60-year anniversary of the Bay of Pigs—Playa Girón to the Spanish-speaking world. Comandante Dreke, now retired at age 84, spoke alongside author, historian, and journalist Tariq Ali; Cuba’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Bárbara Montalvo Álvarez; and National Secretary of Great Britain’s Cuba Solidarity Campaign, Bernard Regan.
“It is no longer about us, the over-80s,” said Dreke. “It is the next generation, those who are here, who are going to be even better than us. It will no longer be a case of combat… Right now, the media across the world has to defend the Cuban Revolution, and we and you have to be capable of accessing the media across the world to spread the truth about the Cuban Revolution. That is the battle we are waging today—to fight attempts to weaken the people, to soften the people, to try to take the country again. They have changed their tactics. We are ready, but we want to say to our friends in the Americas and around the world that Cuba, the Cuba of Fidel Castro, Raúl Castro, Juan Almeida, the Cuba of Che Guevara, will never fail, neither with us nor with the future generations.”
Dreke joined the 26 July Movement in 1954, fought under Che Guevara in the Cuban Revolutionary War and in Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1965, and commanded two companies in Cuba’s historic defeat of US imperialism at the Bay of Pigs. Dreke’s autobiography, From the Escambray to the Congo: In the Whirlwind of the Cuban Revolution, was published in 2002.
Cuba and Venezuela provide inspiration for Latin America and the world
Comandante Víctor Dreke drew a comparison between Cuba’s historic defense of the revolution and that of Venezuela, as both countries now face a common weapon in the arsenal of imperialism: the economic blockade.
“They block medicines for Cuba, they block aid for Cuba,” said Dreke. “They blockade the disposition of aid for Venezuela because of the principles of Venezuela, the principles of Chávez, the principles of Maduro, the principles of Díaz-Canel, the principles of this people, due to the historical continuity of this people.”
Regarding the failed 1961 US invasion of Cuba, Dreke remarked, “it was an example for Latin America that proved that the US was not invincible; that the US could be defeated with the morality and dignity of the people—because we did not have the weapons at that time that we later acquired. It had a meaning for Cuba, the Americas, and the dignified peoples of Latin America and around the world.”
Tariq Ali: we must see through ideological fabrications to defeat imperialism
Tariq Ali, esteemed author of more than 40 books, recalled the precursor of the US invasion of Cuba, the 1954 CIA coup in Guatemala in which President Jacobo Árbenz was overthrown and forced into exile. A young Ernesto Guevara was living in Guatemala at that time and bore witness to the multifaceted CIA operation PBSuccess, which included bombing campaigns with unmarked aircraft and a propaganda blitz of leaflets and radio broadcasts. Ali described the evolution of CIA tactics since then:
“Normally the way they choose is to occupy a tiny bit of territory, find a puppet president, and recognize the puppet president. They are doing that in the Arab world today, or have been trying to do it. They did it with Guaidó in Venezuela, except that the Venezuelan army would not play that game and it blew up in their face, their attempt to topple the Maduro regime. They are trying it in parts of Africa. The weaponry has changed, it is more sophisticated, but the actual method they use, ideologically, is the same. That’s why it always amazes me as to why so many people believe the rubbish they read when a war is taking place.”
Ali also weighed in with a forecast for US foreign policy under the Biden administration:
“We can be hopeful for surprises… But effectively, whoever becomes president of the United States, whether it is Obama, or Biden, or Trump, or Clinton, or Bush, they are presidents of an imperial country, an imperial state, and this imperial state is not run all the time by the Congress or the Senate or the Supreme Court. The military plays a very important role in the institutions of the state, and the National Security Council, the Pentagon, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the Central Intelligence Agency are in and out of the White House, so the president who decides to make a sharp shift—it can be done, I am not saying it cannot be done—would have to be very brave and courageous indeed.”
“Whoever from the Democrats gets elected—whatever their position—immediately comes under very heavy pressure,” Ali elaborated. “If you look at AOC [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez]… initially very radical, but now she is totally on board… I have never heard her say sanctions should be lifted, and she certainly supports even the old Trump line on Venezuela.”
Hybrid warfare in the information age
“Direct warfare in the past may have been marked by bombers and tanks, but if the pattern that the US has presently applied in Syria and Ukraine is any indication, then indirect warfare in the future will be marked by ‘protesters’ and insurgents,” detailed Andrew Korybko in the publication Hybrid Wars: The Indirect Adaptive Approach To Regime Change. “Fifth columns will be formed less by secret agents and covert saboteurs and more by non-state actors that publicly behave as civilians. Social media and similar technologies will come to replace precision-guided munitions as the ‘surgical strike’ capability of the aggressive party, and chat rooms and Facebook pages will become the new ‘militants’ den.’ Instead of directly confronting the targets on their home turf, proxy conflicts will be waged in their near vicinity in order to destabilize their periphery. Traditional occupations may give way to coups and indirect regime-change operations that are more cost effective and less politically sensitive.”
Hybrid warfare, waged today by the US and its political allies in conjunction with transnational corporations that wield powerful influence over mass media and political institutions, comprises the fields of economic warfare, lawfare, conventional armed warfare, and the information war. This last and most important—according to Commander Dreke—element in turn includes the manipulation of the press to serve capitalist and imperialist interests, the manufacture of fake news stories out of whole cloth, and targeted attacks on individuals, parties, or peoples who speak out against the failings of the present order. Moreover, hybrid warfare extends to interference in the political field and in electoral processes, the mounting of media campaigns to drive public attention into particular channels, and myriad assaults on our consciousness that attempt to turn us against each other, prevent us from seeing our common interests, and confuse us as we try to overcome defeatism and work to build a better world.
Steve Lalla is a journalist, researcher and analyst. His areas of interest include geopolitics, history, and current affairs. He has contributed to Counterpunch, Monthly Review, ANTICONQUISTA, Hampton Institute, Resumen LatinoAmericano English, Orinoco Tribune, and others.
Originally published by Orinoco Tribune
As rich nations stockpile COVID-19 vaccines, China is providing a lifeline to Global South nations spurned by Western pharmaceuticals and excluded by the West’s neocolonial vaccine nationalism. So why is China being smeared for its efforts?
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called it “the biggest moral test” facing the world today. World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom warned of a “catastrophic moral failure” whose price would be paid with the lives of those in the world’s poorest countries.
Such cautionings of inequitable global vaccine distribution have been shunted to the margins; instead, optimistic chatter of “returning to normal” is circulating once again as Global North citizens line up for their long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine. But normal, as ever, is relative: public health advocates warn that some countries may not be able to even begin their vaccination campaigns until 2024.
Vaccine apartheid is here, and it is revealing once more the ways our world continues to be structured by the geopolitical binaries of colonialism, capitalism, and racism. The People’s Vaccine Alliance reports that rich countries have bought enough doses to vaccinate their populations three times over. Canada alone has ordered enough vaccines to cover each Canadian five times over. Until March, the United States was hoarding tens of millions of AstraZeneca vaccines—not yet approved for domestic use—and refusing to share them with other countries (only under immense pressure did the Biden administration announce it would send doses to Mexico and Canada). Israeli officials, lauded for delivering a first dose to more than half of its citizens, have likened their responsibility to vaccinate Palestinians living under apartheid to Palestinians’ obligation to “take care of dolphins in the Mediterranean.” The European Union has extended controversial “ban options” which allow member states to block vaccine exports to non-EU nations. Meanwhile, countries like South Africa and Uganda are paying two to three times more for vaccines than the EU.
As of March 2021, China had shared 48% of domestically-manufactured vaccines with other countries through donations and exports. By contrast, the United States and United Kingdom had shared zero.
While the Global North hoards global vaccine stockpiles, China—alongside other much-maligned states such as Russia and Cuba—is modeling a very different practice of vaccine internationalism. As of April 5th, the Foreign Ministry reported that China had donated vaccines to more than 80 countries and exported vaccines to more than 40 countries. Science analytics firm Airfinity reported that as of March 2021, China had shared 48% of domestically-manufactured vaccines with other countries through donations and exports. By contrast, the United States and United Kingdom had shared zero. China has also partnered with more than 10 countries on vaccine research, development, and production, including a joint vaccine in collaboration with Cuba.
Crucially, China’s vaccine sharing has provided a lifeline to low-income Global South nations who have been out-bidded by rich nations racing to stockpile Western-made vaccines. Donations to African nations including Zimbabwe and Republic of Guinea, which both received 200,000 Sinopharm doses in February, have allowed those countries to begin vaccine rollouts for medical workers and the elderly rather than wait months or even years for access to vaccines through other channels. Just a week after Joe Biden ruled out sharing vaccines with Mexico in the short term, the country finalized an order for 22 million doses of China’s Sinovac vaccine to fill critical shortages.
Even more, Chinese vaccine aid has reached countries isolated from global markets by sanctions and embargoes enforced by the United States and its allies. In March, China donated 100,000 vaccines to Palestine, a move praised by the Palestinian health ministry for enabling the inoculation of 50,000 health workers and eldery in Gaza and the West Bank who have been cut off from accessing Israeli vaccine rollouts. Venezuela, with many of its overseas assets frozen by U.S. sanctions, received 500,000 vaccines donated by China in a gesture praised by Nicolás Maduro as a sign of the Chinese people’s “spirit of cooperation and solidarity.” China’s international vaccine policy follows the broad pattern of China’s early pandemic aid, which similarly equipped low-income and sanctions-starved nations with the tools to combat the pandemic at home.
From Venezuela to Palestine, Chinese vaccine aid has reached countries isolated from global markets by sanctions and embargoes enforced by the United States and its allies.
In the face of a global pandemic that the U.S. alliance has used as a political cudgel against China, China’s vaccine internationalism has been a natural outgrowth of its philosophy of mutual cooperation and solidarity. From rapidly sequencing the viral genome and making it immediately publicly accessible to world researchers, to sending medical delegations to dozens of nations around the world, China’s pandemic response has been guided by a simple axiom of global solidarity. Xi Jinping made China the first nation to commit to making a COVID-19 vaccine a global public good in May 2020, meaning any Chinese vaccine would be produced and distributed on a non-rivalrous, non-excludable basis. In a telling contrast, that commitment came just as President Donald Trump threatened to permanently freeze U.S. funding to the World Health Organization in an attempt to punish the organization for daring to work cooperatively with Chinese health officials. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has similarly emphasized vaccine solidarity, urging his colleagues at the United Nations Human Rights Council in February that “solidarity and cooperation is our only option.” Wang chastised countries that he noted are “obsessed with politicizing the virus and stigmatizing other nations” and implored that global vaccine distribution be made “accessible and affordable to developing countries.” China’s record to date shows it is working to follow through on the lofty rhetoric its officials have used to implore global solidarity to defeat the pandemic.
Workers unload a donated shipment of Chinese Sinopharm vaccines in the West Bank city of Nablus. [Photo by Ayman Nobani/Xinhua]
Because China’s vaccine internationalism models a form of multilateral cooperation beyond the scope of U.S. hegemony, it has been met with relentless media propaganda designed to cast China’s vaccination efforts as shady, manipulative, and unsafe. In November 2020, the Wall Street Journal gleefully announced that Brazil had suspended trials of the Sinovac vaccine following an “severe adverse event.” Jair Bolsonaro, the right-wing Brazilian president and Trump ally, declared it a “victory.” Casual observers would reasonably assume that there were serious safety issues with the Chinese vaccine; only closer reading would fill in the crucial context, that the cause of death of the participant was in fact suicide. A similar ruse was exploited in January, as headlines blasted that a Peruvian volunteer had died in the midst of a Sinopharm vaccine trial. Again, behind the salacious headlines was a crucial detail: the volunteer, who died of COVID-19 complications, had received the placebo rather than the vaccine.
Because China’s vaccine internationalism models a form of multilateral cooperation beyond the scope of U.S. hegemony, it has been met with relentless media propaganda designed to cast China’s vaccination efforts as shady, manipulative, and unsafe.
As study after study shows the efficacy of Chinese and Russian vaccines, the media has turned to painting vaccine aid and exports as a dangerous form of “vaccine diplomacy.” Human Rights Watch nonsensically described China’s vaccine aid as a “dangerous game,” citing conspiracies about the research development of Chinese-made vaccines. The New York Times wondered if China had “done too well” against COVID-19, claiming that the government was “over-exporting vaccines made in China in a bid to expand its influence internationally.” Headline after headline bemoaned that China was “winning” at vaccine diplomacy, making clear that Western pundits view the lives of Global South peoples as pawns in a zero-sum game valued only insofar as they further the interests of Western hegemony.
Some advocates say the bias against Chinese vaccines is based both on geopolitics and racist notions of scientific expertise. Achal Prabhala, coordinator of the AccessIBSA project, which coordinates medical access in India, Brazil and South Africa, said “the entire world—not just the West—is incredulous at the idea that you could have useful science in this pandemic come out of places not in the West.” Yet he emphasized the importance of Chinese and Indian vaccines as a “lifeline” to low and middle-income countries, both in addressing vaccine gaps in the developing world and as a “useful cudgel” for negotiations with Western pharmaceuticals.
Despite mainstream media tropes of Chinese “vaccine diplomacy,” it is the United States—not China—whose pharmaceutical companies are employing exploitative tactics to profit from vaccine sales. Pfizer, for instance, has been accused of “intimidating” Latin American governments in their vaccine sale negotiations, asking countries to put up embassy buildings and military bases as collateral to reimburse any future litigation costs—leading countries like Argentina and Brazil to reject the vaccine outright. One can only imagine the media hysteria which would ensue were Sinopharm to be caught demanding overseas military bases as collateral for its vaccine exports. But because it is a U.S. company, Pfizer’s medical neocolonialism has been absolved and flown under the radar.
Despite allegations of Chinese vaccine opportunism, it is the United States which has politicized its recent foray into vaccine exports. During his first meeting with leaders of the “Quad,” an anti-China alliance likened to NATO and consisting of the United States, Australia, India, and Japan, Joe Biden announced his intention to use the alliance to produce one billion vaccines for distribution in Asia in an explicit bid to “counter” China. It is telling that while China stresses global cooperation through channels such as COVAX (to which it has donated 10 million doses) the WHO, and the UN peacekeeper’s vaccination program, the United States is pursuing vaccine diplomacy through a highly-politicized military alliance designed to contain China. Likewise, despite the Biden administration’s lofty rhetoric about its leadership over a global “rules-based order,” it is the United States which has violated a UN Security Council resolution demanding a global military ceasefire to facilitate pandemic cooperation with recent airstrikes in Syria.
Perhaps most egregiously, the United States and other rich nations have blocked a proposed World Trade Organization waiver on intellectual property restrictions which would enable Global South countries to manufacture generic versions of COVID-19 vaccines. Proposed by South Africa and India with the backing of China, Russia, and the majority of Global South nations, Global North obstruction of vaccine IP waivers in the WTO makes clear that the status quo of vaccine apartheid is not an accident, but a product of deliberate policy by Western nations to put the profits of their pharmaceutical companies above the lives of the world’s poor.
Obstruction of vaccine IP waivers in the WTO makes clear that the status quo of vaccine apartheid is not an accident, but a product of deliberate policy by Western nations to put the profits of their pharmaceutical companies above the lives of the world’s poor.
With Global North nations stockpiling vaccines and experts warning that new rounds of vaccinations may be necessary to combat COVID-19 variants, critical vaccine shortages are here to stay. China’s manufacturing power and macroeconomic policy puts it in a position to continue to be the world leader in vaccine production. As of April, China’s Sinovac announced it had reached the capacity to produce a whopping 2 billion doses of CoronaVac per year, thanks in part to Beijing district government efforts to secure the company additional land for vaccine production. China’s vaccine production builds on the successful model of state intervention and coordination through which state-owned enterprises and private companies rallied to construct hospitals, manufacture PPE, and coordinate food supplies during China’s February 2020 outbreak.
The vaccine policies forwarded by China versus the U.S. and its allies serves as a microcosm for two very different worldviews: where China has insisted on global solidarity to defeat the pandemic, the Western world has refused to ease the pressures of its neocolonial regime. While China supports bids for vaccine equity in the WTO and UN, the Global North is bolstering vaccine apartheid for the sake of corporate profits. These differences alone ought to be enough to put to rest vacuous assertions that render U.S.-China conflict as a matter of “competing imperialisms.”
Xi Jinping stressed at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic a commitment to “protect people's lives and health at all costs.” Not when it is profitable, not when it is geopolitically expedient—at all costs. Western obstruction of efforts towards vaccine equity forwarded by China, Cuba, South Africa, and other Global South nations only reveals the very different calculus which governs the West’s continuing neocolonial regime.
Qiao Collective is a diaspora Chinese media collective challenging U.S. aggression on China.
This article was first published by Qiao Collective