The programme followed China’s economic expansion in Africa (episode one) and the Americas (episode two). Rowlatt claimed that China’s production of cheap goods was ‘raising standards of living for us all’. But while the programme's argument had a veneer of formal balance, its judgement on China was damning, especially as the documentary progressed. China, we were told, is devastating the African environment. China opposed the British sanctions against Zimbabwe. China has a ‘dubious’ human rights record. And as Rowlatt noted in the documentary’s final section, China is developing weapons whose capabilities exceed what is required for its defence (as Rowlatt’s interviewee, the US Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Michèle Flournoy, warned, China must abide by ‘international law’ and respect ‘the rules of the road’).
All of this, we might acknowledge, is more or less true; but some context is in order here: environmental destruction is endemic to capitalism, not just China; the sanctions against Zimbabwe have had appalling consequences for that country’s population; and as for China’s record on human rights and military aggression, the scale of the US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan make China’s domestic oppression and military adventures look tame by comparison. As the geographer Emma Mawdsley has recently written in an article in Political Geography, the West is 'a most unsatisfactory arbiter of what "responsible power" should look like'. Indeed, for much of the world, the question is not so much when are the Chinese coming, but when is the US leaving.
The one-sidedness of the programme’s argument is not accidental. The Chinese Are Coming! illustrates how the capitalist media are locked into a nationalist worldview that permits criticism of powerful competitor states, but which cannot acknowledge the fundamental inhumanity of the capitalist system itself.