U.S. Spy Plane Provocation

Defend China!

Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 756, 13 April 2001.

APRIL 10—Whatever happened in the skies above China’s Hainan Island last week—and Beijing’s account is a lot more plausible than Washington’s—the U.S. spy plane provocation was no accident. It was part of a deliberate, calculated escalation of U.S. military pressure against the People’s Republic of China, aimed at furthering the capitalists’ goal of smashing the 1949 Chinese Revolution and reimposing the yoke of imperialist exploitation on China’s working masses. As proletarian internationalists in the heartland of world imperialism, the Spartacist League/U.S. declares its class solidarity with the Chinese proletariat and the Chinese workers state, however bureaucratically deformed. We salute Wang Wei, the pilot who is presumed dead after defending his country against imperialist espionage and provocation.

With all the arrogance that comes of being the self-proclaimed “world’s only superpower,” U.S. imperialism thought it could dictate terms of submission to China. President Bush imperiously demanded the immediate return of the EP-3E plane and its crew, while the chauvinist American media smeared the downed Chinese pilot as a “cowboy” who didn’t know what he was doing and got what was coming. But unlike the small, defenseless countries over which America’s rulers regularly ride roughshod, China does not fall into the category of a “rogue state”—because it has nuclear weapons.

When Beijing refused to simply kowtow to the diktat of “Xiao Bushi” (Little Bush) and his power-crazed foreign policy wonks, Washington changed its tune, expressing “regret” for the downing of the Chinese pilot and seeking to negotiate an end to the crisis. The U.S. has acquiesced to the fact that the Chinese military has been carefully examining the EP-3E, the most advanced spy plane in the Navy’s arsenal. This is an intelligence bonanza for China, which it should share with the Vietnamese, North Korean and Cuban deformed workers states.

Invoking “international law,” Washington initially thundered that the EP-3E sitting on a Hainan runway was sovereign U.S. territory off-limits to Chinese military personnel and proclaimed its inalienable “right” to carry out intrusive military/espionage missions right off China’s coastline. Puncturing this imperialist hypocrisy, Chinese ambassador Yang Jiechi said on the PBS-TV Lehrer News Hour (4 April): “If America had witnessed such kinds of reconnaissance flights up and down its coast, so close to its airspace...if you lose your airman, and you lose your aircraft, I think the response would be very different.” “International law” notwithstanding, when the U.S. got hold of a Soviet MIG-25 in 1976, it picked the plane apart and sent it back two months later in shipping crates.

The backdrop to the spy plane provocation is a shift in U.S. policy toward “an era of direct confrontation with China,” as outlined in a policy review by Bush defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld. China has now been declared Enemy No. 1. Reporting on the Pentagon review, which has been virtually covered up in the American press, the London Guardian (24 March) wrote of “Washington’s decision to turn more of its guns and missiles towards China,” now deemed to be “the principal threat to American global dominance.” In the last years of the Clinton administration, the U.S. began a significant shift of its military forces to the Asia-Pacific region.

Immediately before the U.S. provocation over the South China Sea, a Pentagon team visited Taiwan to put together a list of weaponry for this U.S.-sponsored capitalist state, including advanced Aegis-equipped destroyers which could take out Chinese missile systems. Taiwan has been a dagger aimed at the People’s Republic from the time Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist forces fled there in 1949.

The U.S. has over 100,000 military personnel in the Asia-Pacific region, including 47,000 troops in Japan and 37,000 in South Korea. The U.S. has increased spy flights against China and North Korea. U.S. plans for a “theater missile defense” system in Asia are aimed squarely against China’s missile capacity and target North Korea as well. Last year, the U.S. conducted more than 50 joint military exercises with Japan, Australia, South Korea, the Philippines and others, a number unequaled since the fall of the Soviet Union. The U.S. recently sealed a deal with Singapore for use of a deep-draft navy pier, the second such facility open to U.S. aircraft carriers in South-East Asia since the close of the American naval base at Subic Bay in the Philippines in 1992. The new pier is located at the mouth of the strategically important Malacca Strait, through which Persian Gulf oil shipments pass to Japan.

A domestic reflection of increased American belligerence toward China was the racist frame-up of Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee. As we wrote in “‘Chinese Spy’ Hysteria Whips Up Anti-Asian Racism” (WV No. 719, 17 September 1999):

“Even if Lee had, with purpose or not, given military secrets to the People’s Republic of China, this is no crime from the standpoint of the international working class.... Our unconditional military defense of China and the other remaining deformed workers states—Vietnam, Cuba and North Korea—against imperialism and internal counterrevolution necessarily includes defense of the right of these states to amass and test nuclear weapons and to obtain them by whatever means necessary.”

China last month announced an increase of 18 percent in military expenditures for this year, although its military budget is still only a fraction of the Pentagon’s. China has purchased from Russia four Sovremenny guided missile destroyers, four Kilo-class submarines which are reputed to be as quiet as the most modern U.S. subs, SU-27 fighters and advanced missiles. The purpose of the EP-3E spy flight was to monitor the Sovremenny destroyers and subs and to test Chinese air defenses.

In a 1987 exercise, a U.S. guided missile cruiser sailed right into Soviet territorial waters near a top-secret naval base on the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Soviet Far East. Such “games,” dubbed “Chicken of the Sea,” were intended to trigger defensive actions and communications to be observed and analyzed. In 1983, U.S. intelligence had the civilian Korean Air Lines Flight 007 fly over Kamchatka while P-3 spy planes (the forerunner of the EP-3E) monitored Soviet defenses. This imperialist provocation cost the lives of more than 200 innocent passengers, as KAL 007 was shot down by Soviet forces who mistook it for a U.S. military incursion into Soviet airspace. With their finger on the nuclear trigger, the leaders of U.S. imperialism constantly threatened the world with incineration in pursuit of their war drive aimed at the destruction of the Soviet degenerated workers state.

Imperialist Rivalries Increase

In a front-page column in the Milano daily Corriere della Sera last week, Italy’s former ambassador to the U.S. described Bush as “a young president who rules the world, but is only truly knowledgeable about Texas.” The Bush administration is a truly scary gang, so packed with Christian fundamentalists and right-wing militarists that Secretary of State Colin Powell, architect of the massacre of tens of thousands of Iraqis in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, comes across as a “voice of moderation.” Many are veterans of the Reagan administration’s Contragate schemes and bloody terror operations against leftist insurgents in Latin America. While taking aim at China, they are also increasingly provocative toward North Korea, capitalist Russia and even their European allies. This was exemplified by the recent wholesale expulsion of 50 Russian diplomats and the ultimatum to South Korea’s Kim Dae Jung to halt negotiations with the North. Speaking for the virulent China-bashing wing of the Democratic Party, New Jersey Senator Robert Torricelli is now mooting the recall of the U.S. ambassador to China as long as the EP-3E crew is held there.

Arguing that the U.S. should be trying to play Russia, China and North Korea off against each other, conservative strategist Edward Luttwak pointed to the recent American provocations against all three in a Los Angeles Times (28 March) column titled “Foreign Policy Crew Is Smashing the Crockery.” Luttwak continued, “What cannot be explained in the context of a rational foreign policy is that all three things were done at once.” A front-page article in the Wall Street Journal (4 April), one of the most hawkish bourgeois mouthpieces, took aim against “Beijing-bashing hard-liners” on behalf of the “pro-business camp” in the administration, noting that “China is a lucrative market and manufacturing site.”

While the former Reaganites who advise Bush Jr. may revel in memories of Reagan’s crusade against the Soviet “evil empire,” the world is not the same as it was in the 1980s. The destruction of the Soviet Union and East European deformed workers states removed the glue that kept the major capitalist powers united under U.S. leadership. Seizing on Bush’s rebuff to North Korea, the European Union (EU) has moved to set up diplomatic relations with the North. The chilling of Washington’s relations with Moscow has prompted the EU to announce a “strategic partnership” with Putin’s Russia. Washington has bluntly opposed creation of a European “rapid reaction” force outside of U.S.-dominated NATO. On the eve of German chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s visit, Bush provocatively announced that the U.S. was rejecting the Kyoto environmental accord favored by the Europeans, leading to a storm of criticism from the EU.

Growing tensions between the U.S. and Japan were underscored in February with the reckless sinking of a Japanese fishing vessel by an American submarine near Hawaii, touching off a furor in Japan intensified by the callous U.S. reaction. Recently, the U.S. flouted a 40-year-old agreement by sailing a nuclear aircraft carrier into a Japanese port without bothering to ask permission. This has all touched off renewed opposition to American military bases in Japan, particularly in Okinawa with its concentration of American troops, as well as demands long pushed by right-wing nationalist forces to bolster Japan’s military.

The mounting tensions between the U.S. and its imperialist rivals highlight the inherent competition for control of the world’s markets, sources of raw materials and cheap labor among the imperialist powers. These tensions will only be accentuated as the world economic recession deepens. As was demonstrated in World Wars I and II, such competition can ultimately only be resolved through war, in this case one that would threaten the nuclear annihilation of humanity. In the interim, the capitalist rulers use such tensions to foster national chauvinism and to divert the attention of the workers from growing unemployment and immiseration.

Recapturing China for capitalist exploitation is currently the big “prize” for the competing imperialist powers. This would be a historic defeat for the workers and all oppressed peoples of the world, and would trigger an even more furious scramble among the major capitalist powers to carve up the spoils. It was largely over the “right” to exploit China that the 1941-45 Pacific War between the U.S. and Japan was fought.

Beijing Bureaucracy on a Tightrope

While the regime of Chinese president Jiang Zemin has scrambled to strike a deal with the U.S., the arrogance of America’s imperialist rulers provoked outrage among broad sectors of the Chinese populace. “Of course, they will have to apologise in full,” said one Beijing resident quoted in the London Financial Times (7 April) who continued, “If we let them push us around once, it will happen the whole time just like when China was weak.” The article noted that this was “an almost ubiquitous sentiment.”

The Beijing regime has banned any public protest on the mainland against the U.S. provocation, rejecting permission for demonstrations requested by more than 50 university and college groups. This is in good part because the regime does not want to upset the trade deals that are integral to its program of “market reforms.” Above all, the bureaucracy fears that any protest against the imperialist provocation could draw in the combative and disgruntled working class. Even when the regime allowed protests against the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during the 1999 NATO war against Serbia, it reportedly banned factory contingents from joining them. The bureaucracy lives in dread of the spectre of the 1989 Tiananmen upheaval, when the entry of the working class into the student protests marked an incipient political revolution.

On April 5, police in Beijing arrested four men attempting to protest outside the U.S. embassy. One of the placards they carried read: “We Don’t Want U.S. Dollars, We Want Dignity.” But the Jiang regime does want U.S. dollars, and German D-marks and Japanese yen. “As the spyplane standoff has unfolded,” observed the Financial Times, “national outrage has grown, and criticism of national leaders for being ‘too soft’ on the US has become a common refrain.” There are increasing strains inside the bureaucracy itself between pro-Western elements and those, particularly in the military, who want to maintain a harder line against U.S. aggression.

“Great Power” Chinese nationalism cannot repulse the drive for imperialist subjugation, but would serve only to bind the Chinese proletariat to the bourgeoisie that was driven out of the country in 1949. We explained in “China on the Brink: Workers Political Revolution or Capitalist Enslavement?” (Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 53, Summer 1997):

“As an ideology emanating from capitalism’s emergence from feudal society, nationalism is a false consciousness for the Chinese proletariat. It is, however, the proper ideology of the Hong Kong capitalists and nascent mainland Chinese bourgeoisie. Nationalism was a major political force in the counterrevolutionary wave that swept over the former USSR and East Europe—both the nationalism of the minority peoples, fostered for decades by the U.S. State Department and CIA, and the chauvinism of the ruling caste, which helped spin off elements who looked to capitalist rule as the road to great-power status.... Nationalism is already playing a similar role in China.”

This is crystal clear in the bureaucracy’s offer to the bourgeoisie in Taiwan to reunite on the basis of “one country, two systems.” We call for revolutionary reunification, through socialist revolution in Taiwan and proletarian political revolution on the mainland.

The Chinese population is deeply conscious of its history of oppression by Western and Japanese imperialism, and of the long record of U.S. military belligerence against the 1949 Revolution. Ending the era of imperialist subjugation exemplified by the Opium Wars and the carving up of China by the colonial powers took the overthrow of the corrupt comprador bourgeoisie by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and People’s Liberation Army in 1949, creating a bureaucratically deformed workers state. The defense of this workers state can only be carried forward on the basis of proletarian internationalism—against both imperialist aggression and internal counterrevolution—seeking to mobilize the working people of South Korea, Japan, the U.S. and the rest of the capitalist world for socialist revolution.

What Leon Trotsky, co-leader with V.I. Lenin of the Russian October Revolution of 1917, wrote about the Soviet Union in the “Manifesto of the Fourth International on the Imperialist War and the Proletarian World Revolution” in May 1940 applies with full acuteness to the Chinese deformed workers state today:

“The Fourth International can defend the USSR only by the methods of revolutionary class struggle....

“We flatly reject the theory of socialism in one country, that brain child of ignorant and reactionary Stalinism. Only the world revolution can save the USSR for socialism. But the world revolution carries with it the inescapable blotting out of the Kremlin oligarchy.”

Mao’s Alliance with U.S. Imperialism

Reflecting widespread sentiment against the current Beijing regime for conciliating U.S. imperialism, one Internet posting in China read: “We miss Chairman Mao” and was signed, “New Force of Laid-Off Workers.” But it was Mao who consummated the criminal alliance with the U.S. imperialists directed against the Soviet Union, signaled by Nixon’s 1972 visit to Beijing while American bombs were raining on Vietnam. The anti-Soviet alliance sealed by Mao was deepened under Deng Xiaoping, from China’s failed 1979 invasion of Vietnam to its aid to the CIA-backed mujahedin terrorists in Afghanistan and its setting up of CIA listening posts on its border with the USSR. In aiding and abetting the destruction of the Soviet Union, the Beijing bureaucracy helped place the Chinese deformed workers state itself directly in the cross hairs of imperialism. We warned in “Deng’s China and Political Revolution” (Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 41-42, Winter 1987-88) that the Mao/Deng course of anti-Sovietism and nationalism would “ultimately threaten China with disaster, bloody counterrevolution and a new colonization subjugating the country to the yoke of imperialism.”

While much of the harking back to Mao is couched in the language of Chinese nationalism, there is also a yearning for the relative egalitarianism of the Mao years as against the current regime’s “market reforms” which have led to rampant corruption, increasing economic disparity, joblessness and loss of previously guaranteed benefits. But the policies of the Mao regime, which were premised on the anti-revolutionary Stalinist dogma of “building socialism in one country,” were marked by economic autarky and insane economic adventurism, such as the 1950s “Great Leap Forward.” At the same time, through its appeasement of imperialism in the name of “peaceful coexistence,” the Mao regime laid the basis for the policies pursued by the current bureaucracy.

Mao’s heirs have increasingly opened the country to imperialist penetration. This has been met with massive proletarian resistance, with tens of thousands of strikes and workers’ protests every year. Reflecting the brittle and contradictory nature of the bureaucracy, Chinese premier Zhu Rongji, who has spearheaded the deepening of “market reforms,” announced last week a campaign against corruption and other forms of “commercial excess.” In addition, the Financial Times (5 April) reports, “The official People’s Daily newspaper carried an opinion piece last month excoriating capitalism and globalisation for the wealth imbalances that it promotes. Such sentiments have rarely, if ever, received such a prominent airing over the past three years.”

The Stalinist bureaucracy is not a possessing class but a parasitic caste. Resting on proletarian property forms, the bureaucracy simultaneously acts as a transmission belt for the pressures of the capitalist world market on the deformed workers state. But the bureaucracy also has to tread warily as it pushes pro-capitalist economic measures, out of fear of a working-class explosion. As we wrote in the first part of “Whither China? ‘Market Socialism’ and the Legacy of Mao” (WV No. 743, 6 October 2000):

“As it pursues ‘market reforms’ and opens the door to exploitation by Western and Japanese imperialists and the overseas Chinese bourgeoisie, the Beijing regime is paving the way for capitalist restoration. It is simultaneously preparing the ground for a new revolutionary proletarian explosion—not a social revolution which would overturn the economic foundations of society as in 1949 but a political revolution to oust the ruling bureaucracy and to place political power in the hands of workers, soldiers and peasants councils (soviets). Such a political revolution is premised on unconditional defense of the planned, collectivized economy which is the social foundation of the (bureaucratically deformed) workers state.”

The urgent task is to build a Trotskyist party in order to provide leadership to the combative proletariat and to link its fight for political revolution to the struggle for socialist revolution in the imperialist centers.

For Proletarian Internationalism

A revolutionary China of workers and peasants councils issuing out of a proletarian political revolution would face virulent imperialist reaction. While doing what it could to aid the fight for socialist revolution internationally, not least in the U.S., a revolutionary workers and peasants government would have to undertake necessary economic and military measures in its own defense. This would require the reconsolidation of central economic planning based on state-owned industry. Under a government based on workers democracy and led by a Leninist-Trotskyist party, a centrally planned economy would optimize economic growth while eradicating the extremes of rich and poor so evident in China today. The state monopoly of foreign trade should be utilized to promote imports and exports on the world market, taking full advantage of the international division of labor. We oppose the opening of China to the World Trade Organization (WTO) not because we favor Maoist economic autarky but because it would further undermine the monopoly of foreign trade and the collectivized economy.

Competition between the imperialists for markets would provide such a revolutionary regime a certain room for maneuver. The Soviet workers state under Lenin and Trotsky, erected through the October Revolution of 1917, took advantage of such rivalries to strike trade and military deals with Germany and other capitalist countries. But for the revolutionary-internationalist Bolsheviks, the aim was to buy time until the victory of proletarian revolution in the advanced capitalist countries, which they worked to prepare by building the Third (Communist) International. The Stalinist bureaucracy which usurped power in a political counterrevolution in 1923-24 put forward the anti-Marxist dogma of “socialism in one country,” transforming the foreign Communist parties into bargaining chips in an illusory search for “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism. That program led to the destruction of the Soviet degenerated workers state through capitalist counterrevolution in 1991-92.

The all-sided misery pervasive throughout the former Soviet Union today—the wholesale devastation of industry and social services, the massive unemployment, the shocking fall in life expectancy—starkly illustrates the superiority of a planned economy over capitalist chaos. This is a lesson not only for the proletariat of China but for the working class and minorities in the U.S. and other capitalist countries, who are already facing massive layoffs before a recession has even taken hold, on top of years of wage cuts, givebacks and the eradication of social benefits.

In the United States, the AFL-CIO labor bureaucracy has simultaneously presided over the destruction of hard-won union jobs and benefits and promoted U.S. imperialism’s attacks on the working class internationally. The AFL-CIO tops are in the vanguard of anti-Communist China-bashing. This is most virulently expressed by Teamsters president James Hoffa Jr., who issued an April 3 statement following the landing of the U.S. spy plane at Hainan ranting that “Communist China continues to violate international law at each turn.” Railing against “slave labor” in China, the labor tops promote the virtues of the free market. But it won’t be so easy to sell capitalist “democracy” to workers in China, many of whom have already experienced the miseries of free-market exploitation in the “Special Economic Zones” and other areas of capitalist penetration created by Beijing’s “market reforms.” Joining in the anti-China campaign is “progressive” AFL-CIO president Sweeney, who was in the forefront of the protectionist drive against China’s entry into the WTO, a campaign that united right-wing Republicans with liberal Democrats.

It is in the direct and immediate interest of working people in the U.S. to defend the Chinese deformed workers state against the American capitalist rulers. Just as happened in the wake of the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union, capitalist restoration in China would embolden the U.S. bourgeoisie, and the imperialists internationally, to ratchet up their assault on the working class and minorities at home. It would also make the world an even more dangerous place. The International Communist League fights to reforge Trotsky’s Fourth International, the world party of socialist revolution, as the indispensable instrument to lead the proletariat in the struggle for new October Revolutions around the world.

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