Australasian Spartacist No. 226

Winter 2015


U.S. Military Provocations in South China Sea

Defend China Against U.S./Australian Imperialism!

U.S. Bases Out Now!

The following article is slightly adapted from Workers Vanguard No. 1070 (12 June), newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S. The Liberal/National Coalition government of Tony Abbott fully backed the recent U.S. military provocations in the South China Sea, issuing a warning to Beijing about the danger of “miscalculation” and conflict if China continues to try to “change facts on the ground.” Soon after the U.S. provocations the Australian government belligerently declared that it was considering its own “freedom of navigation” exercises near Chinese land reclamation areas.

Just prior to the American provocations U.S. Assistant Defence Secretary, David Shear, caused an uproar when he stated that the U.S. would be “placing additional Air Force assets in Australia … including B-1 bombers and surveillance aircraft” (Australian Financial Review, 16-17 May). Although this was quickly disavowed by the U.S. and Australian governments it is well known that Australia and the U.S. are talking about increasing aircraft and ship visits to Australia. Alongside the thousands of U.S. marines now rotating through bases in the Northern Territory and U.S. spy bases, such as Pine Gap, these measures are all designed to tighten the military encirclement of China by the U.S. and its Australian junior partner.

At the same time, however, the Australian bourgeoisie is nervous about any military escalation in the South China Sea given that its main trading partner is China. As well as China, another two of Australia’s other top four trading partners—Japan and South Korea—are in northeast Asia and some 60 percent of Australia’s exports and 40 percent of its imports pass through the area. After Shear’s comments Abbott rushed to declare that Australia’s alliance with the U.S. was “not aimed at anyone.” While there are deep-going concerns about the growing tensions between the U.S. and China, there is no question that Australian imperialism would side with the U.S. in any military conflict. This was put diplomatically by Australian Defence Department secretary Dennis Richardson who, referring to tensions between the U.S. and China, declared Australia to be “friends of both, an ally of one.” Today the counterrevolutionary U.S./Australian alliance, forged during the first Cold War in the 1950s against the Soviet degenerated workers state, is every bit as committed to capitalist counterrevolution in China as it was to that in the Soviet Union. As proletarian internationalists who stand for the unconditional military defence of the Chinese and other deformed workers states against imperialist attack and internal capitalist counterrevolution we demand: U.S. bases, marines and military installations out of Australia now!

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U.S. imperialist military provocations against the Chinese bureaucratically deformed workers state have grown increasingly bellicose since January, when the U.S. began regular spy flights over Chinese land reclamation and construction projects in the South China Sea’s Spratly Islands. In mid May, the USS Fort Worth, one of the Navy’s most modern combat ships, capable of hunting submarines and supporting amphibious landings, spent a week patrolling around the Chinese construction sites. The next week, a P-8 Poseidon advanced surveillance and anti-submarine aircraft carried a CNN reporting crew on a military flight over Fiery Cross Reef, where China has built an airstrip. The plane was sent to assert U.S. “freedom of navigation” through Chinese-controlled territory as the Chinese Navy issued eight warnings to “please go away.”

Since the beginning of the year, Chinese dredging and construction have created 2,000 acres of new land, and are transforming seven shoals and reefs into islands with landing strips, an airport tower, a deepwater harbor and lighthouses. Developing reefs and islands in the South China Sea is an important defensive measure for China—the most powerful of the remaining countries where capitalism has been overthrown—against the U.S. and Japanese imperialists, who have been pursuing the military encirclement of China. As the Chinese Foreign Ministry has pointed out, these developments, located near a major shipping channel that is key for the Chinese economy, will improve navigational safety in the area and aid maritime search and rescue operations.

We defend China’s development in the Spratlys against the U.S. and Japanese imperialists and their local regional capitalist lackeys, such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, all of whom have their own claims in the Spratlys. We also oppose the treacherous role being played by the Vietnamese Stalinist bureaucracy, which has aligned itself with U.S. imperialism against China.

Behind the imperialists’ machinations is their drive to smash the Chinese deformed workers state and reimpose the unchecked capitalist exploitation and imperialist bondage that wracked the country before the 1949 Revolution. In 1949, a peasant-guerrilla army under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) overturned the rule of the capitalists and landlords and freed the country from foreign domination. The Revolution created a workers state with an economy centrally based on collectivized property forms. However, the workers state was deformed from its inception by the rule of a parasitic, nationalist Stalinist bureaucracy.

The establishment of the Chinese workers state was a historic gain for the working class internationally. We stand for the unconditional military defense of China and all the other deformed workers states—Vietnam, North Korea, Laos and Cuba. At the same time, we give no political support to the ruling Stalinist bureaucracies, which undermine the workers states by politically suppressing the proletariat and seeking to accommodate the imperialists.

Ominously, U.S. secretary of defense Ashton Carter insists that the U.S. will continue military operations in the Spratlys. In a consummate show of imperialist arrogance, on May 13 Carter declared: “We will remain the principal security power in the Asia-Pacific for decades to come.” Thus he opened his tour of Asia aimed at negotiating military pacts, arms sales and increased U.S. troop presence in the region. Responding to Carter’s spurious assertions about China’s threat to free navigation, CounterPunch contributor Mike Whitney observed: “China has never blocked shipping lanes or seized boats sailing in international waters. Never. The same cannot be said of the United States that just recently blocked an Iranian ship loaded with humanitarian relief—food, water and critical medical supplies—headed to starving refugees in Yemen” (29 May).

Contrary to the American propaganda barrage, the Chinese military has shown remarkable restraint while standing its ground. Imagine Washington’s response if Chinese planes were carrying out surveillance over California’s Santa Catalina Island! While increasing military pressure on China, U.S. imperialism is also bringing economic pressure to bear and promoting counterrevolutionary political forces like Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement.

The Japanese imperialists have aggressively joined the U.S.’s military provocations. The U.S. and Japanese ruling classes have their own distinct and competing interests, but they are united in their determination to bring capitalist counterrevolution to China. In April, the U.S. and Japan announced an agreement that will increase the involvement of the Japanese military in regional disputes. The U.S. has encouraged Japan to extend its naval patrols to the South China Sea, and in July, Japan will take part in the U.S. and Australian war games there.

What’s at Stake in the South China Sea?

The Spratly Islands lie along the shipping route that connects East Asia to the Indian subcontinent and, beyond that, to the Near East. Half of the world’s merchant tonnage passes along this route, including 80 percent of China’s crude oil imports. Moreover, the South China Sea has proven reserves of at least seven billion barrels of petroleum and an estimated 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, as well as rich fisheries that account for some 10 percent of the world’s catch. Although the Spratly archipelago consists of tiny specks of land, many of which are under water at high tide, and has no indigenous inhabitants, the islands are claimed by four capitalist countries as well as the Vietnamese and Chinese deformed workers states. Almost every one of these countries has carried out construction in the Spratlys.

Addressing disputes over the Spratlys and other islands in the South China Sea in the past, we wrongly stated: “We take no side in these territorial disputes and condemn in particular the criminal squabbling over fishing and exploration rights that have pitted the Stalinist regimes in Beijing and Hanoi against each other” (“U.S. Imperialism Tightens Military Vise on China,” WV No. 1005, 6 July 2012). This neutral position disregarded the islands’ military importance, undercutting our principled defense of China, and underplayed the growing rapprochement between Vietnam and the U.S.

The Spratly Islands form part of a strategic military perimeter called the “first island chain,” which runs from the Southeast Asian coast through the Spratlys and Philippines to Japan. Numerous military sources make clear that, in the event of a war with China, the U.S. plans to establish a naval blockade along this perimeter, closing off shipping lanes and blocking Chinese access to the Pacific Ocean. China aims to develop sufficient forces to maintain its own barrier along these same islands to keep shipping lanes open and prevent hostile forces from approaching its coast.

A particular danger recognized by China is the potential chokepoint for petroleum imports at the Strait of Malacca, a narrow channel between Indonesia and Malaysia where the South China Sea connects with the Indian Ocean. Chinese development of gas and oil resources in the South China Sea has the potential to go some way toward alleviating this concern. China is also developing “new silk road” overland trade routes and pipelines.

The Pentagon officials who are banging the drums for military maneuvers against China are also promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade pact with countries on the Pacific Rim including Vietnam. The TPP is designed to counteract Beijing’s growing economic clout and to secure markets for U.S. industry through the further subjugation of dependent and economically backward countries. There is a burning need for internationalist proletarian opposition to this pact, uniting the working masses in common class struggle. Instead the pro-capitalist AFL-CIO trade-union bureaucracy opposes the pact on the protectionist basis that it does not go far enough “to create the strategic advantage over China” and that it will cost American jobs by moving work to Vietnam (“The U.S.-China Economic Relationship: The TPP Is Not the Answer,”, undated). While bashing China, this chauvinism binds American workers to their class enemy, the U.S. capitalist exploiters, against the working people of other countries.

Vietnam: Don’t Be a Cat’s Paw for U.S. Imperialism!

Forty years ago, the U.S. imperialists were humiliated on the battlefield in Vietnam. The Vietnamese workers and peasants carried out a social revolution that expropriated the capitalists and landlords and drove U.S. forces and their Vietnamese puppet regime out of Saigon in April 1975 (see article this issue). The cost was high: almost three million Vietnamese were killed and many more maimed. Even today, 20 percent of the country is uninhabitable as a result of unexploded U.S. ordnance. The U.S.-imposed starvation embargo was lifted only in the late 1990s.

The victory of the Vietnamese Revolution was achieved despite the treacherous policies of the Stalinist bureaucracies in both the USSR and China, who repeatedly prevailed upon their Vietnamese counterparts to give back at the bargaining table what had been won militarily. Vietnamese nationalist hostility to China has been massively reinforced by such betrayals: in 1972, as U.S. bombs were raining down on revolutionary Vietnam, Mao sealed his own criminal alliance with the U.S. against the Soviet Union. In 1979, China had Washington’s encouragement when it invaded Vietnam—only to suffer a well-deserved, stinging defeat.

But in recent years, Vietnam has made its own pact with the devil. As part of growing ties between the two countries, U.S. warships have regularly visited Vietnamese ports. One factor driving this thaw is Vietnam’s appeals to the U.S. in its territorial conflicts with China. On June 1, Vietnamese defense minister Phung Quang Thanh and Ashton Carter jointly announced an expanded military agreement that allows for common combat operations. Carter promised $18 million in U.S. aid for vessels for Vietnam’s Coast Guard, which has a history of confrontation with Chinese forces in the South China Sea.

The fact is that the ruling bureaucracies in the Chinese and Vietnamese deformed workers states are cut from the same cloth. Their treacherous alliances with the U.S. imperialist mass murderers follow from their anti-Marxist perspective of building socialism in (only) one country. First put forward by Stalin in 1924 as an expression of the outlook of the consolidating conservative bureaucracy in the Soviet Union, this dogma represented the repudiation of the revolutionary, internationalist program that animated the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution—a program that was upheld by the Left Opposition under Leon Trotsky’s leadership and subsequently by the Trotskyist Fourth International. Stalinism meant seeking to placate the imperialist powers by showing the bureaucracy’s determination to head off any threat of workers revolution in the capitalist countries.

Capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union in 1991-92—a historic defeat prepared by decades of imperialist economic and military pressure as well as Stalinist misrule—removed what had been the most substantial counterweight to the U.S. in its aim of world domination and emboldened the U.S. imperialists to run roughshod over working people and the oppressed around the world. The CCP regime’s support to the anti-Soviet crusade helped create a world where China is now front and center, a strategic target of the U.S. bourgeoisie. If the forces of capitalist counterrevolution succeed in China, this would be an unmitigated disaster for the workers and peasants of China and a grave defeat for working people worldwide. It would pose an immediate threat to the survival of the Vietnamese workers state.

The task faced by the Chinese and Vietnamese working classes is the overthrow of the Stalinist bureaucracies through proletarian political revolutions, establishing regimes based on workers democracy and the perspective of international extension of the revolutions. If revolutionary workers and peasants governments were in power in Beijing and Hanoi, their territorial conflicts would be easily resolved, with both countries sharing technology and resources and cooperating in mutual defense against imperialism.

U.S. Imperialism: Enemy of Workers and the Oppressed

In 2010, the Obama administration announced that a “pivot toward Asia” would be a top priority. This “military rebalancing” has been constrained by the U.S.’s continued involvement in the slaughter in Afghanistan and in the Near East. Nonetheless, as the recent American aggression in the South China Sea makes clear, Washington’s strategic goal remains to destroy those countries where the capitalist system of exploitation has been overthrown. As part of the struggle to mobilize the U.S. working class against its capitalist rulers, we demand: All U.S. troops and bases out of Asia!

The “pivot toward Asia” has included a growing U.S. military presence in the Philippines. Seized in the Spanish-American War of 1898, the Philippines was one of the first colonies of the rising U.S. imperialist power. U.S. forces brutally suppressed anticolonial uprisings in the colony, slaughtering up to half a million Filipinos between 1899 and 1902. After gaining formal independence following World War II, the Philippines remained a semicolonial U.S. vassal, serving as a linchpin of its anti-Communist machinations in the region. The U.S. is pushing for an “enhanced defense cooperation” agreement that would allow even more U.S. troops, planes and ships to flood into Filipino military bases.

Workers from the U.S. to Japan to the Philippines must be won to the defense of the deformed workers states as part of the struggle to overthrow their own capitalist ruling classes. To smash the U.S. imperialist war machine will require an American workers revolution. The Spartacist League/U.S. is dedicated to building the party that can lead such a struggle as the American section of a reforged Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution. The victory of proletarian revolutions on a world scale will eliminate forever the drive for war inherent in the global capitalist system and, by eliminating the exploitation of man by man, lay the basis for unimagined material abundance to fulfill human needs.