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U.S.-China relations

What the spy-plane incident showed

By Fred Goldstein

The agreement whereby China has said it will release the 24 U.S. spies who caused the death of a Chinese pilot has left mixed feelings.

On the one hand, it is deeply satisfying to see the imperialist bullies in the White House and the Pentagon having to back off their arrogant, blustering, unconditional demand for the immediate release of their spies and spy plane. Those who are used to giving orders and commanding obedience were forced to say they were "very sorry" to the Chinese government and people.

On the other hand, there is anger that the Bush administration did not comply with China's entirely justified demands that it take full responsibility for this flagrant violation of China's sovereignty and territorial integrity and that the Pentagon has said nothing about ending its menacing and illegal spy flights.

But whatever the next phase of this ongoing struggle, the Bush administration and all U.S. personnel in China are fully aware that the seething anger there against Washington will not be easily put aside by any settlement and that this anger played a major role in pushing Bush back.

The New York Times put it bluntly on April 10 when it revealed that "President Bush's senior advisers have concluded that the most severe acts of retaliation they could threaten in the spy-plane stand off with China-selling advanced arms to Taiwan, restricting trade, derailing Beijing's bid for the Olympics-would not speed the release of the 24 American crew members and could harm longer-term interests in Asia."

In the same edition an article from China reported, "Zhang Yin, an elderly newsstand owner, recalled a song from the Korean War to explain his feelings about the current crisis with the United States: 'When friends come, we have good wine to entertain them; but if jackals and wolves come, we'll use hunting rifles to shoot them,' he sang, adding, 'I have good feelings for the American people, but China should have shot the plane down!'"

"The streets of Beijing," the article continued, "are filled with Mr. Zhangs," which explained why the negotiations with the Chinese to free the 24 crew members were "going so slowly."

And it is not just the older generation that is aroused. "In one opinion poll on the Chinese Internet," wrote the Times, "13,000 of 15,000 net surfers said the collision was the result of a 'deliberate provocation.' "

The U.S. government and the Pentagon have tried to pass off their spy mission as being in "international territory."

But an article in the People's Daily of April 10 reprinted from the People's Liberation Army publication explained that the U.S. plane had been in China's "exclusive economic zone." It showed that an "exclusive economic zone" was defined in the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea as neither "territorial waters" nor "the high seas." It has its own legal status, which makes "freedom of overflight" conditional upon respecting the rights, laws and security of the coastal countries.

The army daily pointed out that "as early as 1950, for its national defense security, the United States set up a so-called anti-aircraft identification zone outside its territorial airspace which extended several hundred nautical miles toward the Atlantic and Pacific oceans." Washington demanded that other countries, before sending their aircraft into the zones, "must inform the United States of the type and destination for purposes of identification, positioning and control.

"As the Chinese saying goes, 'The magistrates are free to burn down houses, while the common people are forbidden even to light lamps at night.' That is the 'juridical logic' of the United States."

Whatever the legality, the spy-plane incident is the result of a U.S. government provocation. The PRC has protested repeatedly about these incursions. According to Minxin Pei of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, speaking on PBS's "Newshour" on April 10, the U.S. flies over 200 such flights a year against China.

Bush's anti-China maneuvers

This unexpected incident has caught Washington by surprise in the midst of preparing to execute a coordinated series of hostile maneuvers aimed at the PRC. The Bush administration is preparing to give Taiwan new generations of modern weapons, including Patriot missiles, anti-submarine aircraft and submarines. And it is threatening to also give Taiwan the Aegis radar and battle-command system.

It is planning to sponsor an anti-China so-called "human rights" resolution at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva on April 18. It has also just permitted the Dalai Lama, the "god-king spiritual leader" of the former serf-owning clan aristocracy of Tibet, to travel to Taiwan to meet with the leaders of the Democratic Progressive Party. Their discussions would be about "independence" from China for Tibet and Taiwan.

The Dalai Lama does not speak for the Tibetan masses. He and his entourage of feudal monks were ousted from Tibet by the People's Liberation Army in 1950. The meeting in Taiwan is part of Washington's threat to dismember China.

Playing the Japan card

But most importantly, the Bush administration is moving to play the Japan card against China. Bush has let it be known, both during his presidential campaign and in office, that his administration is going to upgrade its relations with Japanese imperialism and downgrade its relations with China.

To be sure, the Clinton administration began this shift in 1999 when it signed the so-called defense cooperation guidelines to include Japanese support for U.S. military operations in the region.

As part of its strategic review of U.S. military policy and weaponry, the Bush administration has leaked plans to elevate its military relations with Japan, directed against China.

For several years there has been a debate within the U.S. ruling class over relations with Japan. During the 1980s and 1990s Washington directed most of its efforts to forcing Japan to open its markets for U.S. investment, autos, agricultural products, financial services, and so on. This relentless economic struggle against the Japanese capitalist class worked against military cooperation.

As China began to develop industrially, sections of the Pentagon became more and more critical, charging that Washington was subordinating its military preparations against China, and against any revolutionary development in Asia, to trade considerations.

Bush has given signals that he intends to move in the direction of an imperialist military alliance with Japan. According to Business Week of April 16, "Bush's military planners believe that U.S. defense strategy should focus primarily on Asia rather than Europe as the next potential Battle Theater. That means the White House wants Japan to shoulder more responsibility for regional defense." This means lifting the ban on expanding the Japanese military, joint training exercises and sharing of facilities.

Of course Washington will not go too far, for fear of strengthening Japanese imperialism too much. The Japanese monopolies have their own designs on Asia. The right-wing militarists in Japan are growing stronger.

Japanese imperialism is the former colonizer of China. It committed unspeakable atrocities against the Chinese masses, as well as the rest of the countries of Asia, during the 1930s and up until 1945. In fact, the Chinese government recently denounced a decision by the Japanese government that approved a right-wing military version of history in junior high school textbooks. The textbooks made no mention of the infamous Nanking Massacre of 1937 in which 200,000 Chinese were killed. The books described the Japanese invasion of China as a form of liberation from Europe and the U.S.

The fact that the Japanese government approved these textbooks is a measure of the political progress that the militarist and expansionist factions of the Japanese ruling class have made in the recent period.

Two very different apologies

It was not lost on the Chinese government that after the incident in which Japanese nationals were drowned when a Japanese fishing vessel was sunk by the U.S. submarine Greeneville this February, the U.S. government and the U.S. military profusely apologized to their imperialist allies in Tokyo and to the families of the dead.

This is in sharp contrast to Washington's stubborn refusal to apologize for the loss of the Chinese pilot and the destruction of a Chinese aircraft in the course of an illegal military intrusion.

It is only natural to view the present provocations as continuous with the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. In fact, the destruction of the independent Yugoslav government and the takeover by imperialist-supported candidates can be regarded as the final stage in the counter-revolution in Europe, which now frees the U.S. imperialists to turn their attention fully to the East. The bombing of China's embassy can be viewed as the first shot fired across the bow by the Pentagon.

Russia may have nuclear weapons, but it is wallowing in bourgeois corruption and decadence and in a state of decline. Its military is in a shambles. Its fleet is corroded. It has to take a millionaire on its space launch to earn a measly $20 million. It is in a state of financial dependency.

While the Pentagon will certainly not ignore Russia, the counter-revolution there is already accomplished. It has become a semi-colony. The imperialist strategists see their fundamental task now as fostering counter-revolution and recolonization in China.

Role of economic relations

One immediate reason the Bush administration modified its aggressive posture towards the PRC after the spy plane incident is that many of the Fortune 500 corporations have contracts in China and are in the midst of expanding projects and sales there. This crisis comes at a moment of economic downturn in the capitalist world in general--a downturn being led by the U.S. It is a most inopportune moment for the corporations to interrupt their economic relations with China.

Business Week of April 16, gives a good feel for these trepidations: " 'My one criticism of Bush so far is his inflexibility,' sighs one outside presidential adviser with strong business ties. 'Ultimately, the aim of policy is to let our stuff into China. Bush could apologize [for the death of the Chinese pilot], say this was no one's fault, and get on with it.' A no-fault exit from the crisis would obviously please U.S. multinationals."

Furthermore, negotiations with China for entry into the World Trade Organization are supposed to wrap up by the end of this month. And the multinationals, including agribusiness, are waiting to sweep in as Chinese tariffs are lowered and regulations dismantled. But these negotiations are dragging on and on. China is resisting many of the excessive U.S. demands. An escalation of the crisis could have led to a great setback for the U.S. multinationals had the WTO agreement collapsed.

But there is a much deeper reason for Bush to proceed with caution. Reaction in China to the Belgrade embassy bombing revealed the intense and widespread anti-imperialist sentiment that lies right under the surface among the masses. To be sure, they were encouraged to demonstrate by the government. But no government can produce the kind of anti-colonial rage that burst forth in 20 cities after the bombing. It was 150 years of foreign rule that gave the energy to those demonstrations. In the present crisis, this sentiment has resurfaced.

The Chinese leadership has pursued normal relations with the U.S. government in order to secure trade and technology for the purposes of national development. They have every right to do so. However, it was thought that trade and economic "interdependence" would neutralize or stay Washington's hostilities.

The present crisis and the anti-China military and political atmosphere surrounding it shows that no amount of trade, no economic ties can overcome the fundamental class antagonism between socialist China and the imperialist U.S. ruling class and its government.

China's market reforms have severely eroded the socialist foundation, created unemployment and a high degree of inequality. There is a growing bourgeoisie and economic penetration by the multinationals.

Nevertheless, the core of the socialist state, consisting of the Communist Party and the People's Liberation Army as well as significant state enterprises, remains in place.

Furthermore, the Chinese revolution and its traditions are easily revived among the masses. In the present crisis there are reports of a popular yearning for a leader like Mao Zedong. The possibility is there for a regeneration of the anti-imperialist struggle and the revival of the revolutionary class struggle along with a thorough-going reassessment of relations with the U.S. imperialists and the market reforms.

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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