China is now the world's second power, economically though not yet militarily. It is striving for influence, hegemony, aggrandisement, in competition with the first power, the USA.
The longstanding US policy was to use US military and diplomatic power chiefly to sustain world-market rules assumed beneficial in the long term to US capital. Donald Trump has shifted to a cruder "American First" policy, undermining the World Trade Organisation, pursuing trade conflicts with Mexico and Canada and above all with China.
In the first cold war, between the USA and the USSR, the Trotskyists of our "third camp" tradition had the slogan "Neither Washington nor Moscow". They explained that "to support one side" in the conflict "will speed war at the same time that it buttresses the imperialist suppression of various peoples - Poles [under Stalin's rule], Greeks [with British and US intervention], etc."
"Socialism", they explained, "is the positive content of Neither Washington nor Moscow" (Labor Action, 29 March 1948).
Working-class activists should make a similar stand today: neither Washington nor Beijing, but international socialism!
For decades now left-wingers in Australia have opposed US imperialism, and the Australian alignment with the USA which sent Australian troops to support the USA in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
But some still think of China as a victim of imperialism, which it surely was from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century.
Things have changed. The Chinese state exerts imperialist oppression over the Uyghur people of Xinjiang, in north-west China, holding maybe a million or two million of them in concentration camps. It oppresses the Tibetan people.
It seeks to crush democracy and autonomy in Hong Kong. It aspires to conquer Taiwan. It has used its military and engineering clout to grab islands in the South China Sea which it claims in dispute with Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, or Vietnam.
It invaded Vietnam in 1979 in a dispute about influence in Cambodia.
Increasingly in recent years it has used economic clout. Its "Belt and Road Initiative" launched in 2013 involves large Chinese investments and projects in many countries which are then tied to China by chains of debt.
Since Xin Jinping came to the top in China, in 2012, that shift has gone with a clampdown within China, a drive to sharpen centralised government control and reverse the slight easing of previous decades.
China is certainly not "Communist". It never was under Mao: the workers had no rights to control the economy or even to form trade unions or to speak their minds. But now the Chinese workers suffer exploitation not just by the state bureaucracy but also by private capital. The private sector, including many foreign-owned enterprises, produces over 60% of China's GDP.
China's combination of extreme private profiteering and intense suppression of workers' and civil rights makes it functionally little different from, and in any case not better than, a fascist regime.
The regime is as imperialist as the USA's, in a way which is different but different in being cruder.
Gareth Evans, for example, a former Labor minister for foreign affairs and still a big figure in the Australian foreign-policy establishment, has warned about "Sinophobia" and "'hyper-anxiety' about Chinese influence in Australia".
That message has wide influence in the Labor Party, which under Hawke and Keating initiated a turn to China. And it has been taken up by some further to the left, for example Socialist Alternative, which slants its call to "Resist the new cold war" by adding "Stand against anti-Chinese racism".
China is now Australia's major trading partner, a big supplier of billionaire "high-rollers" to Australia's casino industry, and a big source of funds for Australia's universities. Education counts as Australia's third-biggest export commodity, bringing in $32 billion a year, and 38% of those high-fee-paying international students are Chinese.
That the Chinese state gains clout in Australia through these connections is not "racist" "hyper-anxiety" but straightforward deduction.
Some frothing-at-the-mouth right-wing politicians like Andrew Hastie hype up the "Chinese threat". But they are like the belligerently pro-US "cold warriors" in the US-USSR cold war - who were really just right-wing and very pro-US, not "anti-Russian racists".
We should indeed oppose anti-Chinese racism. But the Chinese students on Australian campuses who have been protesting in solidarity with the people of Hong Kong in recent months face thuggish reprisals from pro-Xi-Jinping Chinese students (openly endorsed by Chinese diplomats) rather than from far-right groups who dislike all Chinese, whether pro-Xi or pro-democracy.
Support Chinese students and Chinese communities in Australia against both pro-Xi thugs and anti-Chinese racists!
Self-determination for Hong Kong, for the Tibetans, for the Uyghurs, and for Taiwan!
Neither Washington nor Beijing, but international socialism!