Against the anti-Chinese trade, diplomatic, political, ideological and military campaign
Thirty years after the celebration of the end of the Cold War and the beginning of a new American century, are we in the midst of a new Cold War? Yes and no, in that it could also become a hot war …
The climate of international relations has already been shaped for several years by the growing confrontation between the USA and China, by which American imperialism is trying to contain and block the rise of the Chinese power with economic, diplomatic and military weapons.
We denounce the initiatives of economic warfare carried out by the various Western imperialism against China, whether they are aimed at hitting the Chinese economy, and its trade or at preventing access to the most advanced technologies, and the outright military provocations by the United States and its allies, which are not just threats but military preparations for a possible war against China.
In particular, in the European countries allied with the USA in NATO, there is an ongoing debate on the attitude to take towards China, in a difficult and often impossible balancing act between their economic interests in trading with and investing in China, a huge market, and the direct rivalry between the old European imperialist powers and rampant Chinese capitalism for influence over former colonial areas, and the strong US pressure, especially through NATO, to align European countries to the policy of “confrontation” towards China (and Russia).
Our opposition to anti-China imperialist policies does not mean support for the Chinese state, which represents large, state owned and privately owned industrial and financial groups rapidly expanding on a global scale, and is therefore increasingly the bearer of imperialist interests; it is a state that oppresses the Chinese working class, denying it the freedom to organise and fight on both the economic and political fronts, and punishing those who have dared to strike against the Chinese capitalists with harsh imprisonment. Our opposition to the anti-Chinese policies and campaigns by the USA, the EU and Italy (government, parties, mass media) is a necessary step to fight the nationalist (including in the pro-European version) and imperialist positions that are propagated in the Italian workers’ movement, in order to promote the internationalist union between workers all over the world – with the Chinese proletarians representing their largest section.
The ‘Cold War’ fought by the US against the USSR has been a forty-year dispute between the two military superpowers over the political partition of the world. However, the USSR did not have an economic base remotely comparable to that of the US, nor the capital to compete on the world market, and its effort to maintain a mammoth military apparatus led the USSR’s state-capitalist economy and society to collapse.
With China, it is a different story. One year after the victory of Mao’s peasant and national revolution, which redistributed land to the peasants and freed China from Japan and the interference of the other imperialist powers, Chinese troops pushed MacArthur’s troops in Korea back across the 38th parallel at the cost of hundreds of thousands of casualties. But in 1972, three years after the exchange of gunfire between China and the USSR across the Ussuri river, Nixon opened the door to Mao’s China in order to pressure the USSR; the U.S. later favoured Deng Xiaoping’s economic liberalisation. Today we are in a different era. In the thirty years since the new capitalist China was baptised in the blood of the workers and students of Tiananmen Square (1989), through an impressive accumulation at the rate of 40% of GDP reinvested every year, China has multiplied its production by 14 times, compared to America’s doubling. China’s GDP in current dollars has risen from one fifteenth to almost three quarters of America’s (according the IMF’s calculation at purchasing power parity, it has already exceeded it, with 18% of the world’s product compared to 16% for the USA). Of course, this amount is related to a population of 1.4 billion, more than four times as large as the United States’: China’s per capita GDP is a little over one fourth of the United States’, with an inequality between rich and poor that is about as sharp as in the U.S. But thirty years ago China’s GDP per capita was one-thirtieth of America’s, and now absolute poverty – hunger – has been eradicated.
In this period China has become the world’s leading industrial power, the world’s leading exporter, the leading trading partner of 110 countries in all continents; it now has the world’s top four banks by business volume, not by internationalisation of course; and in 2020 it has also been the leading capitalist power by foreign investment – although the stock of foreign capital in China still far exceeds Chinese investment abroad. With its modern infrastructure and its 4.7 million yearly science graduates compared to America’s 568,000, China is increasingly pushing ahead also in advanced technologies, even though it is still far from the heights of the old powers; in short, it is no longer a “card” that the US or others can play to their liking (if it ever was), it is the power that is vying with the US for ever larger areas of the world market, and that, in a not too distant future, could even vie with the US for the global economic, financial and political hegemony.
In its extremely rapid rise within global capitalism (nothing like socialism!), Xi Jin Ping’s China is following its own specific path, which, however, cannot and does not escape the iron laws of the general functioning of the capitalist mode of production, as is already clear in the tendency of its rate of growth to slow down, in the long-term fall in the rate of profit, and in the first signs of heavy financial turmoil (the Evergrande case is not the only one). But it is precisely this very rapid rise – and its continuation even during the pandemic crisis due to the ability of Chinese institutions to tackle the epidemic – that has become a nightmare for the United States and its allies.
This is why American and Western mass media and politicians in tow have shifted their discourse on China from the “economic miracle” and from China as the “engine” of the world economy that pulled the United States and the EU out of the 2008 crisis, to the threat of “Chinese expansionism” invading the world with its counterfeit and adulterated goods, stealing American jobs and patents, to the ‘totalitarianism’ of the CCP as opposed to the ‘democracy’ of which the West is supposed to be the standard bearer, to the denial of the ‘human rights’ of the Uighurs and other minorities, to the death sentences that are reportedly more than half the world total, to China’s guilt as the world’s leading polluter (forgetting that it produces for a number of Western multinationals), etc. But in the mouths of Western governments – which have in their wardrobes the skeletons of the massacre of millions of men, women and children in the colonies, the extermination of the ‘Indians’ and other indigenous peoples of the Americas, tens of millions of deaths in two world wars, and then again in the dozens of ‘post-war’ wars, including Iraq and Afghanistan, destroyed and starved, arms sales to the slaver regimes of the Gulf and the various Pinochets, butchers and torturers, the brutal deportation or forcing underground of millions of migrants – these words clearly sound like falsely ethical, ideological pretexts for mass mobilisation in a new war.
U.S. President Obama’s ‘pivot to Asia’ already marked the shift of the focus of US diplomatic and military action from Europe and the Middle East to confronting China. Trump put that strategy of U.S. imperialism into practice with the weapons of trade and technology warfare, maintained and strengthened by the Democrat Biden: heavy duties on Chinese exports, a ban on the transfer of advanced dual use technologies to Chinese companies, a ban on Chinese high-tech champions, especially Huawei’s 5G, which has outpaced its American and European competitors.
The U.S. trade war, so far not followed by other countries, does not seem to have seriously affected Chinese exports (after two years, the American trade deficit with China has not even shrunk). But if other countries, especially Europeans, were to join the US in the trade war (as happened in the 1930s), the whole world trade system regulated by the WTO would be disrupted, thus finally ending the cycle of free market openness that has been going on for decades and has produced the ‘globalisation’ of capitalist social relations, and starting a new protectionist phase. The one of 90 years ago was at one with the Great Depression and a prelude to war. The aim of the US anti-Chinese measures is not only to hit exports, but also to cut China off from the supply chains for American companies and their allies. If this were to succeed, the world would be divided into two ‘camps’, one with Western technology, the other with Chinese technology.
The tech war, motivated by ‘security’ concerns due to the closeness of Huawei – founded by a former military officer – to the Chinese government, has slowed the adoption of Huawei technology among the closest US allies. Although most European countries have not made a final decision, Germany, France and Italy, among others, have put in place legal instruments (related to ‘security’) that allow them to veto it, leaving the door ajar for now, while Japan has blocked it outright. In contrast, most of the developing countries that have joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) are keeping the door open to Huawei’s 5G (significantly also Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, allies of the US but for whom China is the largest oil customer). And it is not just a question of the Huawei “danger”, if it is true that in a very few years Xiaomi has also invaded the world market, becoming the fourth producer of mobile phones and consumer electronics, a field with links to the so-called “security”, i.e. with military, espionage and police apparatus.
In general, Europe remains in a strategic stalemate, torn between the interests and policies of the various economic groups and governments, caught between the alliance with the USA in NATO and the (so far) vain attempt to equip herself with a single foreign policy and army. Germany, which has made huge investments in China, especially in the automotive and chemical sectors, and where lies the main market for some large automotive groups, wants to avoid breakups that would be catastrophic for her economy. But neither can she break with the USA, where German companies have invested almost 400 billion euros over the decades, compared to 90 billion invested in China. In the USA 900,000 people work for German companies, in China 770,000. At the end of 2020 Germany pushed for the signature of the EU-China agreement on investments, after 7 years of negotiations, and before Biden took office, but its ratification is blocked in the European Parliament and in the national parliaments, under pressure from the USA, under the official reason of the violation of human rights.
In recent weeks, the US has reinforced another aspect of the tech war: the ban on investment by US entities into Chinese companies that have developed technologies for military use, especially in the field of intelligence: spying, reconnaissance, targeting, etc. The blacklist reportedly includes some 60 Chinese companies specialising in artificial intelligence, cloud computing, facial recognition, electronics, and biotechnology, including DJI Technology Co, the world’s largest drone manufacturer. Obviously, the pretext is that the products and technologies of these companies are used in the surveillance of the Uighurs in Xingjiang (the Yankees’ passionate love for the oppressed ‘Islamic’ masses is well known). Most of these enterprises of the Chinese military industrial complex have grown with the contribution of American capital, including through investment funds and venture capital, with holdings worth billions of dollars that they now have to dispose of. The Academy of Military Medical Sciences and its subsidiary research institutes have also been blacklisted, as they are allegedly working at ‘brain control’ (according to those who have made Guantanamo an experimental camp for physical and psychological torture…).
Another measure of the anti-China technological war is the governmental veto to Chinese takeovers of companies with advanced technologies. Not only in the US, but also in Europe. After the acquisition of the German robotics company Kuka in 2016 by the Chinese Midea company for €4.5 billion, which sparked controversy, Germany blocked the acquisition, by a Chinese company, of Aixtron, a German electronics company, which makes microprocessors used in Patriot missiles, upon intervention of the Obama Administration.
Italy too is now taking an active part in the ‘strategic confrontation’ with China, after years in which Chinese acquisitions of Italian companies were welcomed, as they brought capital and new markets. Between 2014 and 2016, a controlling stake in Pirelli was acquired by China National Chemical, for €7.3 billion, and China’s – and the world’s – largest state-owned electricity group, State Grid, acquired 35% in the Italian electricity grid holding company, Cdp Reti S.p.A., which controls Snam, Terna, Italgas. Shanghai Electric Corporation also bought 40% of Ansaldo Energia S.p.A.; shares in Eni, Tim, Enel and Prysmian are owned by the Chinese central bank; the Italian biomedical group Esaote was acquired by a consortium of Chinese industry groups in 2017, as was Candy (home appliances) by the Chinese giant Haier. This is not, however, a one-way flow, as Italian companies, albeit at several distances from the US, Germany, France and the UK, control companies in China with more than 150,000 employees, compared to around 40,000 estimated for Chinese holdings in Italy – numbers to keep in mind. The Conte I government had further opened up to China by joining the BRI – the only NATO country to join it – with planned Chinese investments in the ports of Trieste, Venice, Ravenna, Genoa and Palermo, which have so far remained on paper.
The Draghi government has changed course decisively, emphasising its ‘Atlantic loyalty’ and alignment with US policy, partly because Biden’s reopening to Europe makes American pressure more convincing. The Draghi government has blocked the acquisition of IVECO (industrial vehicles, FIAT group) by the Chinese automotive group FAW, and of an electronics company by another Chinese company; it has also launched investigations into the sale to a Chinese company of the Friuli-based drone company Alpi Aviation in 2018, on the grounds of violating the golden power rule (i.e. the government’s veto power) for the sale of military assets. This Italian toughening up towards China is accompanied by an increasingly vocal media campaign aimed at stirring up anti-Chinese sentiments, headed by La Repubblica, a newspaper which has joined the Agnelli-controlled GEDI group. The latest alert was launched on December 19 with this headline: ‘China Assaulting Italian Universities. Security Services on the Alert’.
Far be it from us to defend the Chinese government and capitalist groups, whether private or state-owned, which, not unlike Italian, American and other countries’ companies, aim at profit through the exploitation of their workforce, with methods that are no less despotic, and at the conquest of markets – we willingly leave this noble profession to “communists” of the rank of Marco Rizzo – already involved in the devastation of former Yugoslavia: never forget! – and to other illuminated people who manage to see in Xi Jinping the reincarnation of the Lenin of NEP. But just as we have denounced the anti-German and anti-French ‘sovereignism’ of the “Ital-Exit” advocates, so we denounce the nationalism that is being stirred up by the anti-Chinese campaign, pointing once again to an “external enemy” for the workers to fight against in order to induce them to side with Italian capital and imperialism and its economic and military alliances. The enemy of the Italian workers is the capital that exploits and oppresses them, it is the state that guarantees this oppression and promotes the interests of the bourgeoisie internationally, including by military means. The only allies of the Italian workers are the workers and the exploited in other countries, who have the same interest in shaking off the yoke of capital. In rejecting national unity against the external enemy, therefore, we extend our hands to the Chinese workers for a common struggle against capitalism and its imperialist projection, against our own governments that carry it out.
This is all the more important and urgent because the clash is no longer limited to blows on the economic terrain, but sees recurrent military provocations and increasing rearmament to prepare for new real wars. American and British warships regularly cross the South China Sea to fan the flames of the dispute between China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, and defy China by crossing the Taiwan Strait as a warning, while the US continues to arm the island. The US has also woven a series of military alliances aimed against China: Quad I with Japan, India and Australia for the Pacific, Quad II between the US, India, Israel and the United Arab Emirates, and AUKUS between the US, Britain and Australia to provide the latter with 12 nuclear-powered submarines to flank US fleets in the confrontation with China.
Whether or not this will come to war, for instance over the Taiwan issue, cannot be known, but it cannot be ruled out. In history, the rise of a new power capable of contending for regional or world hegemony has more often than not been met with war. The two world wars were fought to succeed the dominance of Britain, which was declining in the face of the rise of Germany, the US and Japan. American imperialism is aware that time is playing in China’s favour if her strengthening is not stopped – unless it succeeds in building around her an unlikely cordon sanitaire of all the powers that matter. And if it is not stopped by economic and diplomatic means, the United States will be increasingly tempted to use hard weapons, where American technological supremacy is still absolute. But what kind of war could the United States unleash against China? Certainly not an invasion. It would amount to 10, 100 Vietnams. American imperialism has waged war in Iraq and Afghanistan, without managing to dominate these two small countries, even with the help of allies including Italy. The “willing” alliances of Western imperialisms have destroyed Iraq and left Afghanistan poorer than it was 20 years ago. Neither the US nor its allies can think of dominating China. They can, however, think and plan to wreak enough destruction and death on her and set her decades back in the competition between capitalist powers on the world market.
These are the cynical, criminal calculations that are being made in Washington and in the capitals allied to Washington, even though, unlike in the two world wars, both the United States and the countries that support it in the assault on China may have to pay a price on their own territories. The rearmament underway in many countries, first and foremost Italy, which in three years (2019-22) has increased its military spending by 20%, is a choice of war preparation made also for this purpose, which must be exposed and opposed.
The anti-Chinese economic offensive and military provocations are in turn used in China to stir up a strong nationalist reaction among Chinese workers. And it is quite clear, and understandable, that when the leaders of the CCP and the Chinese state skilfully push the anti-colonialist button, they find attentive ears within the urban proletariat and among the exploited in the countryside – too close is the “century of humiliations”; too devastating was its impact on the entire Chinese people; too suffocating is the bite of western capital for millions of Chinese workers and proletarians to react any other way. The struggle against the imperialist exploiters of Chinese labour, their neo-colonial aims and their military provocations is one of the essential tasks of struggle of a working class capable of fighting independently in China for its liberation from the yoke of national and global capital. But this independence would be totally undermined if Chinese proletarians allowed themselves to be drawn into a “national front” at the tail end of their own capitalist class and state. It would be a misfortune not only for the Chinese proletarians, but for the proletarians of the whole world – as would be the alignment of the Western proletarians with the filthy anti-Chinese propaganda campaign now raging on both sides of the Atlantic, but even just their indifference, their apparent “neutrality”.
No indifference, no neutrality! It is essential to launch a militant denunciation, with no ifs and buts, of this campaign of Western imperialism, led by the Pentagon and Wall Street, and of the related anti-Chinese policies. As working class internationalism demands: starting with the opposition to the policies of “our” sly and manoeuvring imperialism, so well embodied in the Draghi government and its large parliamentary majority, with which the Brothers of Italy’s fake opposition compete in anti-Chinese hatred. This is the message the most conscious workers in Italy, Europe, and U.S. must send to the young Chinese working to prevent the proletarian masses of the West and China from being mobilised against one other.
Our reference to the Chinese proletariat is anything but ritual. Like China’s poor peasants, who were the protagonists of the greatest series of peasant wars in human history, China’s proletarians have a long history, starting with their first battles at the end of the 19th century and leading up to the historic workers’ uprisings in Canton and Shanghai in 1927. Even after the founding of the People’s Republic, their presence on the social and political scene was felt on several occasions. In the first period of reconstruction, they came out in force to demand an improvement in wages and working conditions consistent with the victory of the democratic revolution. In the 1957-58 crisis, when their unrest put on the agenda the inclusion of the right to strike in the Constitution, from which it was absent (it would be included only in 1975) and, with the Anshan steelworkers at their head, denounced the “two whips policy: one made of steel and one made of gold” (punishments and piecework) with which company management disciplined the workers, as veritable masters over slaves from whom obedience was demanded. In the first twenty years of the People’s Republic, workers’ spontaneity reached its political climax in the 1966-’67 struggles, when the dockers of Shanghai (“we are not the slaves of tonnage”) and huge numbers of industrial workers in the same city started an anti-capitalist movement of strikes and demonstrations that spread throughout China. This led to the short-lived but vibrant proclamation of the Shanghai Commune – from which Mao and his group clearly distanced themselves, starting the process of re-establishing order that paved the way for the rise of Dengism. But the ‘Deng turn’, which opened the doors of China to imperialist capital at the expense of the Chinese proletariat (with some self-protection measures only for Chinese capital and its political system), also received a massive workers’ response in the spring of 1989. The student uprising movement, a majority of which was liberal-democratic, suddenly became a very serious threat to the established order (not only in China) with the mobilisation in 341 cities of working class masses capable of creating a host of their own struggle organisations and, for the first time since 1949, independent trade unions, with the will to assert their demands for self-defence against the dismantling of state industries, the establishment of the new special economic zones, the insecurity of employment, the uselessness of state unions, the corruption of company managers and party cadres, and their claim of power to the workers, with references to Marx and Lenin. This powerful workers’ surge was crushed by the tanks at Tiananmen and the extremely harsh anti-worker repression implemented by Deng & Co. in the interests of global capitalism: ‘if China is unstable, the world will be unstable; if civil war [i.e. war between capitalists and proletarians/exploited masses] breaks out in China, nobody will have the means to stop it’. The defeat of 1989 was very heavy and disorganising. But in spite of the start of thirty years of spectacular economic development, a decade later a molecular activity of workers’ unrest started again against the super-exploitation by foreign multinationals left free (by the ‘socialist’ power) to impose old colonialism wage conditions and working hours. Step by step, this incremental workers’ resistance brought to the forefront, from 1997 to 2015, female and male workers, the Wal-Mart, Honda, Yue Yuen, Adidas, Nike, Nokia, Foxconn, etc. employees, putting an end to the “era of cheap labour”. In all these conflicts, the government and the party, especially at the central level, have had a relatively good game in playing the part of the ‘benevolent Leviathan’, the enlightened sovereign who also sets ‘fair’ rules to protect workers against foreign companies – always ready, however, to stop any potentially most dangerous outbursts by any means. The introduction, in 2008, of a detailed regulation on labour contracts has embodied precisely this plan of the CCP and the government to channel, and tone down, the conflicts between capital and labour within the regulatory perspective of “harmonious labour relations”, with limited recognition of the rights of individual workers, while all the obstacles to their collective protection have remained in place. However, the double crisis of 2008 and 2020 has been eroding day by day the real possibilities of a “harmonious” settlement of class conflicts.
Protest actions have exploded in the past decade, with hundreds of strikes, roadblocks, demonstrations, sit-ins (and even threats to jump in desperation in cases of non-payment of arrears) mainly in Chinese private enterprises, with frequent police interventions. After a decline in strikes to a low in 2020, there has been a rebound in 2021, especially in home delivery and internet-based transport, and in construction and the retail sector. But while up until 2018 the motivations for strike actions frequently included demands for wage increases, in recent years they have been almost entirely defensive in nature, mainly for payment of wage arrears – a sign of the crisis in many companies in these sectors.
It is no coincidence that last year, in the midst of the pandemic, Mr. Xi, the chief strategist of the Great Harmony, gave the green light to a counter-reform with a dengist flavour, initiated by the Guangdong provincial government and Shenzhen, to protect small and medium-sized enterprises with largely Chinese capital. This ‘reform’ of the labour law cuts overtime bonuses, limits the increase in minimum wages, and institutionalises the possibility of delaying the payment of wages, thus encouraging capitalists’ demands to bring ‘back to reason’ a workforce that has become too expensive. There is thus a growing gap between the official rhetoric of harmony and China’s ‘moderate prosperity society’ and the intensification of labour exploitation imposed by the chaotic sequence of crises in the global capitalist system. This growing distance is highlighted by the drivers’ unrest, which for now is scattered and unconnected nationally, but in striking harmony with the widespread international protests of these proletarians enslaved to the algorithms of capital. Will an increasingly competitive labour market, and – in the face of the provocations of the United States and the Western powers – a revival of the government’s anti-colonial rhetoric be enough to paralyse and remove the Chinese proletariat from the world stage of class struggle, reducing it to a simple mass of manoeuvre of its own “red” bourgeoisie? We are certain that this is not the case, although it is inevitable and necessary that their new massive entry into the field should include an autonomous denunciation of western imperialism.
Let us work, therefore, with decision and confidence to create a common working class, anti-capitalist, internationalist front with the proletarians of Europe, China, America and every other country!
22 December, 2021 – Revolutionary Internationalist Tendency (Italy)