Barack Obama’s hot date for Valentine’s Day this year was none other than Xi Jinping, the man set to take over as president of China at the end of this year. The White House celebrated his visit with a level of razzamatazz not usually accorded to anyone short of the rank of head of state, or so we read.
The warm welcome should surprise no-one. Much the embarrassment of the free market right and a sizeable chunk of leftist opinion alike, the alliance between US-based multinational capital and Chinese Stalinism constitutes the most important bilateral economic relationship in the world today.
Anyone seeking a contemporary illustration of the notion of a dialectical unity of opposites need look no further; the one model would simply cease to function without the other.
Whatever the antagonisms between Washington and Beijing – and they are ample points of contention in Asia-Pacific international relations – the two sides share a common interest in the super-exploitation of the Chinese working class.
Even as the 19-gun salute was taking place in Washington, technology giant Apple finally announced that it would allow independent inspections of the Chinese factories turning out the gizmos that have made it the most valuable company on the planet.
Months before he died last year, Apple boss Steve Jobs denied that the iPod and iPhone plants operated by its contractor Foxconn could properly be described as sweatshops.
One awaits the findings of the inspectors, of course. But I do note that some Foxconn workers are paid as little as 30p an hour, with only one permitted break per ten hour shift. Since 2009, at least 18 employees have killed themselves.
Numerous health and safety incidents have seen a further four die, and hundreds more injured. Meanwhile, many of Foxconn’s 70,000 workers live in company dormitories, with up to 20 crammed into three-room apartments.
The free market right doesn’t have a problem with this. However brutal such conditions look to us, they must be a step forward for those who flock in from the countryside take up such employment, right? Bad jobs are better than no jobs.
Meanwhile, progressive opinion is split between those who demand protectionist measures and those taken in by the rhetoric of ‘building socialism with Chinese characteristics’.
While the description of what goes on at Foxconn might remind many of the grim descriptions of 1840s Lancashire textile mills contained in volume one of capital, this is somehow excusable because a party calling itself communist is running the show.
The net result is that demands for free trade unionism, freedom of expression and assembly and multiparty democracy the sole preserve of a handful of brave Chinese dissidents and a smallish consistent minority of the western left. They deserve a far wider hearing.