What the spy-plane incident showed
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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