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The Internationalist
April 2020

Defend China Against Imperialist Threats and Trade War!

U.S. Response to Coronavirus:
China-Bashing and War Moves

U.S. Navy expeditionary strike force accompanied by Australian Navy helicopter ship (in lead) provocatively trespasses in China’s territorial waters in the South China Sea, April 21.   (Photo: SLDinfo.com)

On April 21, two U.S. warships entered the South China Sea. This is a new step in the continual provocations in which the U.S. repeatedly trespasses into China’s territorial waters. The amphibious assault ship America and guided missile cruiser Bunker Hill “entered contested waters off Malaysia,” reported the New York Times (22 April), adding that the Pentagon had posted photos showing the presence of a destroyer, the Barry, as well. They were accompanied by an Australian frigate, the Parmatta, “as part of a previously planned operation,” according to “defense experts.” The “expeditionary strike group” was operating, so said the U.S. Navy, “in support of security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.” Of course, no one is supposed to take the war-planners’ claims seriously.

This incursion could presage aggressive moves against the several islands, shoals and reefs in this strategic waterway where China has established military and research facilities to ward off imperialist attack. While the U.S. claims it is there to “promote freedom of navigation,” the Times noted: “The Chinese government has countered that the United States is the country destabilizing the region. The appearance of the America and the Bunker Hill may do little to dispel that narrative.” It quoted an analyst from a Singapore think tank: “The optics for the U.S. Navy in the region don’t look so good…. China can say, ‘Look at our superior governance system, which has beaten back the epidemic. And then look at the U.S’.”

The military escalation is part of a campaign by the administration of Republican president Donald Trump to target China in order to divert attention from the U.S.’ disastrous handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and boost his reelection prospects. With over 50,000 lives lost in a little over a month and unemployment the highest since the 1930s Depression, “Republicans increasingly believe that elevating China as an archenemy culpable for the spread of the virus, and harnessing America’s growing animosity toward Beijing” could salvage the election, reported the Times (20 April). At the same time, presumptive Democratic candidate Joe Biden released a video attacking Trump for praising Chinese president Xi Jinping and not denouncing China’s handling of the coronavirus enough.

Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy patrolling the South China Sea in 2018.   (Photo: China Stringer Network/Reuters)

The latest U.S. warship moves are no surprise to China. After the Chinese Navy expelled the U.S. guided missile destroyer McCampbell that provocatively sailed near the Xisha (Paracel) Islands, Beijing-based naval analyst Li Jie told the Global Times (11 March): “The U.S. sees the South China Sea as the ‘main battlefield’ against China and is expected to increase actions even further in the future, because it has increasingly lost influence and control over the South China Sea.” In response to U.S. warships trespassing into the South China Sea three times within a week, Chinese military experts suggested use of non-lethal electromagnetic weapons “that can potentially jam electronic devices of target vessels and will not cause casualties.”

The fact that the Navy’s incursion is not merely “showing the flag” but part of a plan for stepped up U.S. military action against China was shown by the request earlier in the month by the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command for an additional $20.1 billion to fund the “Regain the Initiative” strategy of INDOPACOM commander, Admiral Phil Davidson. The request focuses on infrastructure to “spread the U.S. military around the region, breaking the longstanding network of large, centralized bases now seen as easy targets for China’s long-distance capabilities” (Defense News, 2 February). This includes prepositioning airfield runway rapid repair kits (“The US Air Force has unconventional plans to win a war in the Asia-Pacific,” Defense News, 10 February).

These military moves, as well as trade war targeting China, ultimately aim at destroying the People’s Republic of China, a bureaucratically deformed workers state. As supporters of the program of international socialist revolution of Bolshevik leaders V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky, the League for the Fourth International unconditionally defends China against military and economic aggression by the imperialists. We support China standing its ground in the South China Sea, including by land reclamation and development of strategic bases aimed at thwarting attack by U.S. imperialism along with its junior partner Australia, imperialist Japan, U.S.-armed capitalist Taiwan and their regional allies in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Bipartisan Anti-China War Drive

The current aggressive military posture against China did not start with Trump, but rather with Obama. In 2010, Obama announced a “pivot to Asia,” meaning military encirclement of China. The U.S. announced it was shifting over half of its naval assets to the Asian-Pacific “theater,” including most nuclear and high-tech naval vessels and at least six aircraft carriers. The Pentagon has also greatly expanded its bases in South Korea, opened a new base in Australia, and negotiated the use of bases in the Philippines. This “pivot” meant a pullback in the wars and conflicts it was mired in the Middle East. Thus Washington did not take command of the NATO assault on Libya in 2011, the first time that the U.S. did not directly lead a NATO operation.

Obama also ramped up economic aggression against China, the key piece of which was his Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The 12-country free trade agreement pointedly excluded China on the basis that state-owned companies constitute “unfair competition.” (Acting as a cat’s paw for U.S. imperialism, the Vietnamese deformed workers state shamefully participated in the TPP, and is a member of ASEAN, which from its inception was an anti-Communist alliance.)1 The TPP was primarily a means to contain China economically, establishing rules on “anti-competitive practices,” such as collective planning, and instituting a series of penalties against “offenders,” i.e., China. The stillborn agreement was junked by Trump when he took office.

As in many other areas, in relation to China Trump has mainly continued Obama’s policies. Instead of the TPP, Trump started a trade war in 2018, claiming that “trade wars are easy to win.” Instead, the tit-for-tat tariff war has mainly hurt capitalist industries, while the direct effects of it on China’s economy are limited. Beijing has stopped buying U.S. farm products altogether, instead massively importing soybeans and other products from Argentina and Brazil. But the limited trade war started by Trump could pave the way to a full-blown military and economic attack on China. Kevin Rudd, the former prime minister of Australia, asked, “Could Trade War Turn Into the Real Thing?” (Bloomberg Opinion, 20 August 2018).

While Trump has been on-again, off-again in his “transactional” relationship with Xi and the Beijing regime, the Democrats have positioned themselves as the consistently hardline Cold Warriors against China (and North Korea). When the White House announced a temporary truce with a limited trade accord in January, “The deal came under fire from top Democrats, including Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, who criticized the agreement for failing to address China’s state-owned enterprises and industrial subsidies” (New York Times, 16 January).

On the military front, Obama’s former vice president Biden made repeated sabre-rattling threats against China during the debates of Democratic presidential candidates:

  • To force North Korea to give up its nuclear deterrent, “the way we do that is, we make clear to China … we’re going to move up our defenses, we’re going to continue to make sure we increase our relationship with South Korea, and if they view that as a threat, it’s an easy thing to respond to.” (20 November 2019)
  • “What we started in our administration that Trump stopped, we should be moving 60 percent of our sea power to that area of the world to let, in fact, the Chinese understand that they’re not going to go any further…. We, in fact, need to have allies who understand that we’re going to stop the Chinese from their actions…. We have to make it clear, this is as far as you go, China.” (19 December 201
  • “I would make it clear to China. We are going to continue to move closer to make sure that we can in fact prevent China, prevent North Korea, from launching missiles, to take them down.” (25 February 2020)

Against the bipartisan imperialist warmongers, it is the duty of all class-conscious workers and opponents of imperialism to stand with China, North Korea and the other remaining deformed workers states, and uphold their right to nuclear and any other kind of weapons (and means to deliver them) to deter and defend against the very real threat of imperialist attack.

U.S. Navy spy plane over the South China Sea in 2018. (Photo: Adam Dean for The New York Times)

In the U.S. today, there is wall-to-wall China-bashing. Trump whips up racism referring to the “Chinese virus,” Democrats and Republicans compete with each other in the election labeling their opponents “soft on China,” the union bureaucracy lambastes China for “stealing American jobs” and the bourgeois media spews out a torrent of lies deriding China’s successes in containing the coronavirus. Bernie Sanders, the supposed “democratic socialist” who is now rounding up votes for Biden, declared: “we must work with the international community to deter foreign support for China’s military buildup.” Meanwhile, most of the left parrots imperialist lies, calling China capitalist – even imperialist – and refusing to defend it against the real imperialists.

For Genuine Communist Leadership – Smash Imperialism and Counterrevolution!

The U.S. imperialists have long recognized the crucial strategic importance of the South China Sea, through which roughly one third of global shipping flows. Their strategic goal has been to strangle and isolate China economically, working aggressively together with Japanese imperialism in joint maneuvers off North Korea and in the South China Sea (while keeping Japan’s oil supplies under control). Right-wing “China hawk” Steve Bannon declared in 2017, “We’re going to war in the South China Sea in 5 to 10 years … there’s no doubt about that.” But the same “war with China is inevitable” message is trumpeted by mainstream journalists like Richard Bernstein and Russ H. Munro in their book, The Coming Conflict with China (Vintage Books, 1997).

Yet the Beijing Stalinists seek in vain to maintain “harmonious” relations with Washington and with capitalist rulers around the world. An illusory “peaceful coexistence with imperialism” has always been the corollary of the Stalinists’ anti-Marxist dogma of “building socialism in one country.” The illusion that “peace” can be attained within the limits defined by the imperialist “world order” is the road to defeat for the working class and the crucial gains remaining from the 1949 Chinese Revolution. The imperialist rulers are determined to “take back China” (just as their assets want to “take back Hong Kong”), and have been ever since that revolution drove out Chiang Kai-shek in 1949, because the very existence of a Chinese workers state, even bureaucratically deformed, is a threat to their world domination.

The parasitic Stalinist bureaucracy threatens the collectivized economy, which – despite huge capitalist inroads – remains the basis of the Chinese workers state. Trotskyists fight for genuine communist leadership, to oust this petty-bourgeois layer with its nationalist policies through a political revolution that establishes the proletarian democracy of workers councils (soviets) on an internationalist program. The capitalists – imperialist, Taiwanese or domestic – dream of once again being able to exploit the masses of Chinese workers “freely” (that is, enslaving them and subjugating China) by restoring private property relations. Revolutionaries fighting for a communist world look to the power of the international working class to stop them.

The League for the Fourth International says: Workers worldwide must take a stand for the defeat of the U.S. imperialist drive for counterrevolution in China! All U.S. warships, bases and troops out of Asia now!

  1. 1. The Hanoi bureaucracy’s collaboration with the very U.S. imperialists that devastated their country – and that were defeated by the heroic Vietnamese workers and peasants – is yet another example of how Stalinism, with its nationalist dogma pitting one “socialism in one country” against another, undermines and threatens the very existence of all the workers states.