Workers Hammer No. 225
Imperialist hands off China!
The following article is adapted from Workers Vanguard no 1036, 13 December 2013, newspaper of the Spartacist League/US.
David Cameron’s high-profile trade mission to China in December 2013 took place against the backdrop of a growing military build-up by US and Japanese imperialism against the People’s Republic of China. The pretext for renewed imperialist aggression is China’s recent declaration of an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea, requiring any aircraft passing through airspace off its coast to identify itself. Despite the fact that the US, Japan and South Korea have their own ID zones, each of their governments was quick to denounce China’s declaration as an act of aggression.
The ADIZ is a basic measure of China’s defence. Japanese surveillance aircraft patrol these waters, while US spy planes fly close to the Chinese coast. To the south of the area covered by China’s ADIZ, on 5 December a US guided missile cruiser in the South China Sea nearly collided with a Chinese warship. The USS Cowpens was sailing dangerously close to a Chinese navy drill and was operating near China’s aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. As China’s Global Times (16 December) pointed out: “Using the excuse of cruising on international waters, the US navy has long been scouting around Chinese waters”, while the Cowpens “is a frequent visitor to the West Pacific and South China Sea” and has conducted joint military drills with the Japanese and Korean navies several times in this region.
It is the US and Japanese imperialists — and Washington’s South Korean underlings — who are dangerously escalating tensions in the region as they firm up their alliance against China, a bureaucratically deformed workers state. Shortly after Beijing’s declaration of the ADIZ, two US B-52 bombers flew through the zone without filing flight plans, radioing ahead or registering their radio frequencies. This provocation served to test China’s response and demonstrate US capacity for airborne attacks from Guam. According to Chinese defence ministry reports, ten Japanese early warning, reconnaissance and fighter planes as well as South Korean planes also made unannounced overflights.
While refusing to recognise the ADIZ, the US has advised commercial airlines to notify Chinese authorities of flight plans over the East China Sea “for safety reasons”. This posture should not blind anyone to the danger posed by the imperialists’ determination to “roll back Communism”. On 1 September 1983, the US sent more than 200 passengers on Korean Airlines Flight 007 to their deaths when it directed the aircraft to pass over sensitive Soviet military installations in order to trigger and then monitor the USSR’s air defences. After the pilots of the aircraft, which appeared to the Soviets to be a warplane, refused requests to identify themselves or to land, it was shot down.
Amid the British government’s hype about the “success” of Cameron’s visit to China, the bourgeois press complained that the delegation grovelled to the Chinese regime. A Guardian editorial (3 December) moaned that the British approach to China has “something mendicant, cap in hand, and unduly deferential” about it. Financial Times columnist Philip Stephens opined that Cameron “could scarcely have crouched any lower” during his visit, and that Britain “apparently has nothing to say” about China’s declaration of an ADIZ (Financial Times, 5 December).
To be sure, the prime minister and his delegation were on their best behaviour in China, having been frozen out by the Beijing regime for over a year following Cameron’s hosting of the Tibetan Dalai Lama, the imperialists’ poster-boy for counterrevolution in China. But the British charm offensive did not prevent Cameron & Co from indicating their support for Japanese imperialism in its military build-up against China. While Cameron was in China, purporting to offer the hand of friendship, the chief of staff of the Royal Navy, Admiral George Zambellas, was in Tokyo meeting with Japanese defence minister Itsunori Onodera. This was a declaration of Britain’s support to Japanese (and US) imperialism against China, in deeds if not in words. Moreover, just as the US and Japan seized on Typhoon Haiyan’s devastation of the Philippines to enhance their military presence in the South China Sea, Britain’s warship HMS Daring took the opportunity of its “humanitarian” mission to the Philippines to visit Tokyo on 1 December for a visit that was touted as “symbolic of this ongoing UK-Japan cooperation and partnership”. Apparently, arms dealing is a central component of the negotiations: in July, both countries signed an agreement for the “transfer of arms and military technologies”. In October, foreign secretary William Hague declared that “Japan is a vital ally for the UK, on regional and international security and development” (gov.uk, 16 October).
Britain’s two-faced approach to China did not go unnoticed in Beijing. The Global Times article noted that Cameron’s visit “can hardly be the end of the conflict between China and the UK” and dismissed the decrepit former colonial power, saying: “The UK is not a big power in the eyes of the Chinese. It is just an old European country apt for travel and study” (Global Times, 3 December).
Britain’s capitalist rulers are shameless about begging the Chinese government to fund the refurbishment of the country’s infrastructure that they have starved of investment. The Guardian editorial found it particularly galling that Britain is now scrounging for Chinese help to finance Britain’s first high-speed rail link between London and the West Midlands, when “China’s first stretch of railway track was built by a British firm in 1876” (Guardian, 3 December). There is a reason for the reversal of fortunes. In the period following World War II, British capitalism lost its empire and was forced to cede its former role as the dominant world power to the US. By contrast, in 1949 semicolonial China underwent a social revolution that overthrew capitalist rule and created a workers state.
Today, although the rulers of US, Japanese and British imperialism all have their own distinct interests, they share a common goal of destroying the workers state that emerged out of the 1949 Chinese Revolution. Despite its deformation by the rule of a parasitic bureaucracy, that state provides an obstacle to imperialist domination, shielding the country from the full impact of the capitalist world market and allowing for explosive though uneven industrial development. The Chinese workers state must be defended against the imperialists, who aim to return the country to its prerevolutionary status as the supine victim of their depredations, and against the domestic counterrevolutionary forces they promote and support.
In order to gain access to foreign capital, resources and markets, the Beijing Stalinist bureaucracy has acted as labour brokers for capitalists around the world, offering up Chinese workers for exploitation in designated sectors of the economy. The “socialist market economy” has also fostered a nascent capitalist class and other counterrevolutionary forces within the country, with yawning social inequality as well as a sharp rise in workers struggles accompanying economic growth.
Despite these inroads, China today is not capitalist. It continues to be ruled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) apparatus that emerged from the peasant-based 1949 Revolution, which smashed bourgeois rule. Heavy industry, the land and the core of the financial system continue to be held as collectivised state property. Capitalist counterrevolution would be an enormous defeat not only for the Chinese workers and peasants but for working people around the world, who would be confronted by a strengthened and emboldened imperialist class enemy.
However, the CCP regime from Mao Zedong’s time to today has been defined by the narrow nationalism inherent in the Stalinist dogma of “building socialism in one country” — a grotesque perversion of the communist programme of world proletarian revolution. The CCP foments nationalist opposition to Japan, and in so doing drives a wedge between the Chinese workers and peasants and their potential allies in the Japanese, South Korean and other working classes of the region. The bureaucracy’s nationalism also obliterates the class divide between the People’s Republic of China and capitalist Taiwan, whose bourgeois rulers have been courted by Beijing in the effort to catapult China to the status of a world power.
Another criminal expression of Stalinist nationalism is the wrangling between the Chinese and Vietnamese workers states over fishing and mineral exploration rights in the South China Sea. Outright military clashes between the two erupted in 1988 and 2011, in addition to smaller police actions, as when the Chinese Navy shot and killed nine Vietnamese fishermen in the Gulf of Tonkin in 2005. Hostilities between the Chinese and Vietnamese regimes provide an opening for imperialist manoeuvres and pose a direct danger to both workers states, particularly with the US seizing on the rivalry to secure Vietnam as an ally against China (see “Stirring Up the South China Sea — US Imperialism Tightens Military Vise on China”, Workers Vanguard no 1005, 6 July 2012).
US imperialism has dominated the Pacific since its defeat of Japan in World War II, a conquest sealed with the incineration of 200,000 Japanese civilians in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That atrocity was intended to send a message to the Soviet Union about who ran the world. The destruction of the USSR by capitalist counterrevolution in 1991-92 — a historic defeat prepared by decades of imperialist economic and military pressure as well as internal Stalinist misrule — removed what had been the US’s supreme military target and the most substantial counterweight to its aim of world domination.
The US-Japanese military alliance, hatched after World War II as a key part of the anti-Soviet Cold War, remains crucial to American interests in Asia. China, the most powerful country remaining where capitalist rule was overthrown, then became the central target of the imperialists’ counterrevolutionary machinations. Since 2010, the US has been moving battleships and aircraft carriers to the Far East, signing military pacts and carrying out joint exercises in the name of the “pivot toward Asia”, a top priority of the Obama administration. Among other things, the pivot poses a challenge to China’s access to the Pacific Ocean. In the service of this shift, the White House has eased some of the punishing economic sanctions against Iran in return for an agreement by that country’s new regime to freeze its nuclear development programme.
Over the past two decades, there has been a loosening of some of the restraints on the overseas deployment of Japanese military forces that are codified in Article Nine of the country’s Constitution. As our comrades of the Spartacist Group Japan noted: “With memories of the slaughter of tens of millions by Japan’s imperial army during the Pacific War still very much alive, it is only through its alliance with Washington that Japanese imperialism has been able to deploy its already highly advanced military overseas” (“Down With Japanese Provocations Against China, North Korea!” Workers Vanguard no 842, 18 February 2005).
Under the hawkish government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the Japanese imperialists are accelerating their rearmament drive, recently announcing plans to deploy more F-15s, radar planes and a new helicopter carrier and to build a new army base on an island in the East China Sea by 2016. With China already deploying drones, Japan is also considering buying American drones to patrol the area. As reported in the Guardian (17 December), Japan plans to “significantly increase its defence spending over the next five years to acquire surveillance drones, fighter jets, naval destroyers and amphibious vehicles” and to create a new amphibious unit modelled on the US marines, “which would be called on to retake islands captured by an enemy”. This is a clear indication that Tokyo views the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands as a pretext for military aggression against China.
China’s ADIZ includes airspace over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, a chain of rocky, uninhabited outcrops claimed by both Japan and China and an underwater reef — called Ieodo in Korean and Suyan Rock in Chinese — on which South Korea has built a research station and a heliport. While the US claims to have no position on Senkaku/Diaoyu sovereignty, American spokesmen have made clear that the pact with Japan covers any military clashes over the territory. It is crucial for the international proletariat — particularly in the imperialist countries — to oppose imperialist provocations over this territory and to stand for defence of the Chinese workers state. As Trotskyists, our defence of China in the military sense is not conditional on whatever policies the CCP bureaucracy may pursue.
Japan’s ADIZ was established by the US when it occupied the country after WWII. Similarly, South Korea’s ADIZ was declared by the US in 1951, during the Korean War against the North Korean Communist regime and Mao’s China. Both these zones overlap with the one China recently declared, with Japan’s running less than 150 kilometres (95 miles) from the Chinese coast in some places. And now South Korea has expanded its ADIZ further over the East China Sea, also jutting into the zone declared by Japan, Korea’s former colonial overlord.
Japan’s claim of ownership of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands dates back to its military victory over China in 1895, when as a rising imperialist power it seized Taiwan (Formosa) and extracted other concessions from the moribund Manchu dynasty. In the dispute over the islands, the CCP has been able to tap the deep popular reservoir of anti-Japanese feeling in China, which is fed mainly by memories of the horrors of Japanese imperialist occupation beginning in the 1930s. It took the 1949 social revolution to break the chains of Western and Japanese imperialism.
British crocodile tears over Hong Kong
An article in the Global Times (3 December) noted drily that “the British government has been making carping comments on Hong Kong implementing universal suffrage”. Such carping is indeed rich from the imperialist power which seized Hong Kong in 1841. During the first Opium War against China’s Qing dynasty, British imperialism forced China to allow the importation and sale of opium by British traders. The British ran the Hong Kong colony, subjecting the Chinese working people to brutal police-state conditions, until they were forced to hand over the capitalist enclave to China in 1997. At the time we wrote: “Trotskyists can only cheer as the rotted British Empire loses its last major colonial holding with the lowering of the bloody Union Jack and the raising of the five-starred red flag of the People’s Republic on July 1.” As opposed to the Beijing Stalinist bureaucracy’s schema of “one country, two systems”, we called for “one country, one system — under workers rule!” Our article noted:
“The point of Beijing’s ‘One China, two systems’ policy is not so much Hong Kong as it is Taiwan. By defending capitalist property in Hong Kong, the Stalinists hope to show the Guomindang bourgeoisie — whose forces massacred thousands of Taiwanese in 1947 to solidify its brutal rule over the island — that their property rights will be reliably protected in the event of reunification with the mainland.”
— “Hong Kong: colonialists out, capitalism remains”, Workers Hammer no 157, July-August 1997
We call for revolutionary reunification of Taiwan and the mainland through proletarian political revolution on the mainland to oust the CCP bureaucracy and for social revolution on the island.
For Marxists, the increased development of Chinese military capacity, including nuclear capacity, is a welcome development. This has been achieved in part while US (and British) forces were bogged down in the bloody occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Although the September 11 terror attacks diverted the US’s attention to Afghanistan and Iraq, the concocted “war on terror” also served to strengthen the imperialists’ military arc around China, with military bases placed in Central Asia and military agreements struck with neighbouring countries. China’s Stalinist leaders undercut defence of the workers state by endorsing the “anti-terror” campaign.
As one of the largest holders of US government debt, Beijing has also helped to finance the arms build-up directed against China. While this financial relationship induces a certain delicacy in Washington’s posture towards the Chinese leadership, the flare-ups over the East and South China Seas show that it by no means secures the workers state from imperialist manoeuvring and military aggression. The Beijing Stalinists’ perspective of offsetting imperialist hostility through diplomatic appeasement and greater trade ties is premised on the illusion that China can steadily develop economically and militarily within the framework of a world dominated by imperialism. In that effort, Chinese president Xi Jinping discussed with US vice president Joe Biden continuing economic sanctions and military pressure to halt North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme. The result of such betrayal would be both the further weakening of that deformed workers state and the tightening of the imperialist squeeze on China.
To counteract Beijing’s growing economic and diplomatic clout, the US has been pursuing trade deals in the region to exclude China and secure markets for its own industries. With the global market dominated by the advanced capitalist powers, there is no way for China or the other deformed workers states to develop socialism or to secure lasting peace. Achieving socialism is contingent on material abundance. This goal requires the revolutionary seizure of power by the proletariat on an international scale, crucially within advanced capitalist countries such as the US and Japan. Such a perspective guided the Bolsheviks, who led the October 1917 Russian Revolution.
In The Revolution Betrayed (1936), his classic analysis of the degeneration of the Soviet Union under Stalin, Trotsky noted both the advantages of a collectivised economy in mobilising industry for military defence and the limitations that sprang from the isolation of the workers state. He wrote:
“Who shall prevail — not only as a military, but still more as an economic question — confronts the Soviet Union on a world scale. Military intervention is a danger. The intervention of cheap commodities in the baggage trains of capitalist armies would be incomparably more dangerous.”
Ultimately, either the combative Chinese proletariat will overthrow the bureaucracy and establish a regime based on revolutionary internationalism and workers democracy, or the bureaucracy will open the way for the destruction of the workers state, as it did in the former Soviet Union. Counterrevolution in the USSR brought nothing but disaster for working people: life expectancy plummeted as millions were thrown into dire poverty and previously guaranteed jobs and services disappeared. Meanwhile, Russia became the land of a few mega-rich oligarchs who plundered the country’s formerly collectivised economy.
Key to defending and extending the gains of the Chinese Revolution is the fight against the imperialist rulers in their own homelands. Together with our comrades in Japan, the Spartacist League/US stands for smashing the counterrevolutionary alliance between Japanese and US imperialism through workers revolution on both sides of the Pacific. The Spartacist League/Britain is dedicated to workers revolution against British imperialism. Victory for the working people in these struggles requires the forging of Leninist-Trotskyist parties as sections of a revolutionary international.