China in turmoil

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No 87 June 1989

China and the world have been shaken by the massive demonstrations in China. The death on 15 April of veteran Communist leader Hu Yaobang came close on the heels of the anniversary of the Tiananmen Incident of April 1976, a rally against the hated ‘Gang of Four’ which was suppressed with much bloodshed. It was closely followed by the 70th anniversary of the great anti-imperialist May 4 Movement of 1919, as well as 1 May, Labour Day, and the historic visit to China of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The coming together of these important events allowed the memorial rallies for Hu Yaobang to develop quickly into massive demonstrations, as hundreds of thousands of people poured onto the streets of Beijing and other cities calling for democracy, a proper legal system and press freedom, denouncing corruption and demanding the resignation of China’s top leaders. As we prepare for publication, columns of troops have been turned back by the millions of demonstrators occupying Beijing, leaving the streets out of government control. With the loyalty of the police, army and much of the Party and state apparatus in doubt, China’s leaders face a severe crisis. Deep splits in the Party, Government and armed forces seem to be on the cards. The developing events in China are of enormous importance for the communist movement internationally. FRFI opens a discussion and debate with this article by JONATHAN COHEN

China is a socialist country  ̶  but it is one which remains very backward in its development of democracy and legality.

It is a feature of our imperialist era that socialist revolutions are occurring not in the advanced capitalist countries where the proletariat  ̶  the working class   ̶  is most numerous, but in oppressed countries where capitalism is relatively undeveloped and the working class, the guarantor of socialist democracy, is relatively small in number.

 

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CHINA: on top of the world

Shanghai financial district

The US ruling class now views China as a threat to its global economic and political domination and is determined to contain that threat. China’s rise is challenged by a US trade war and the drumbeat of US military preparations in the Pacific and Indian Oceans and the South China Sea. Unlike the Soviet Union, which was the US’s main rival, China has become a significant part of the world capitalist economy and any rupture in US – China trade relations will have profound consequences. Could China supplant the US as the world’s dominant power? TREVOR RAYNE reports.

 

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Tibet: No struggle for freedom

The rioting that started in Tibet on 14 March was quickly seized on by the imperialist media as a stick with which to beat China. There followed widely-reported protests as the Olympic torch made its passage through Europe. However, claims that what was taking place was a struggle for national liberation are wide of the mark, as THOMAS VINCENT reports.

Before the revolution: the rule of brute force and superstition
The socialist revolution which started in 1951 was a historic advance for the mass of Tibetan people.* Prior to the revolution the majority of Tibetans were held in serf slavery to the religious and secular aristocracy, and below this around 5% of the population were ‘chattel slaves’, lacking even the right to grow crops for themselves and were often starved, beaten or worked to death. The religious and secular aristocracy and the government accounted for 2% of the population, with just 626 people out a population of two to three million owning 93% of all land and wealth and 70% of yaks. Serfs worked 16 to 18 hours a day, keeping only a quarter of the food they grew, whilst the ruling classes spent their time eating, gambling, memorising religious dogma and relaxing. Poor monks were subject to menial labour and beatings from the upper abbots. To be a woman was considered proof of sins in a past life. Women were forbidden from raising their eyes above a man’s knees and husbands were permitted to slice off the end of their wife’s nose as punishment for sleeping with another man. Freedom of religion was forbidden, and women were reportedly burnt to death for practising the pre-Buddhist traditional religion of Bon. Armed gangs were employed by the aristocracy to enforce their rule, combined with groups of monks known as the ‘Iron Bars’ after the metal rods they used to beat people. Whipping a person to the point of death and then leaving them to die elsewhere was considered consistent with the Buddhist conception of ‘non-violence’.

 

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China: no Shangri-la for capitalism

china communist party

The 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, held from 19-24 October 2017, presented China as confident in its future and cast the country as playing a leading role in shaping the world ahead. China’s economic achievements since the 1949 revolution are considerable; it has lifted over 500 million of its people out of poverty and it has grown to having the world’s second biggest economy after that of the US; giant multinational corporations and banks now queue up to do business in China. However, just as China has embraced the world capitalist system, so it has rendered itself vulnerable to the crisis gripping this system, and shows of confidence belie creeping anxiety that the Chinese success story cannot last. Trevor Rayne reports.

President Xi Jinping told the Congress: ‘We must be confident in our path, in our theory and in our system as well as our culture.’ He proceeded, saying: ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics has crossed the threshold into a new era. It offers a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development while preserving their independence.’ This alternative model is intended as a contrast to the US and neo-liberalism. The confidence indicates a willingness to engage more closely with imperialist finance, to open China up to international banks and more foreign investment and to expand China’s own investments and reach abroad. The term ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ was introduced by the Party in 1982. The state consciously used capitalist methods of development and this has inevitably taken China down the capitalist road to development.

 

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Imperialist encirclement and the South China Sea dispute

On 21 November, US President Barack Obama said at an ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) conference that countries in the region should cease the ‘reclamation, construction and militarisation of disputed areas’ in the South China Sea for the sake of ‘regional stability’. The dispute, which relates to the ownership of several island archipelagos in the area, has its roots in the aftermath of the Second World War but has intensified in recent years as a result oil exploration in the area and the crucial shipping lanes that run through the sea. Obama’s words were primarily directed at China’s building of military and civilian facilities in the Spratly Archipelago, a development which was challenged only the week before his speech by the over-flight of two armed B-52 bomber planes. China has laid claim to a large portion of the area as far south as the Malaysian coast, denoted by the ‘nine-dash line’ and based on its historical claims to many of the islands. However, these claims overlap with those made by other countries in the region, including Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and Brunei.

 

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China stumbles

By the end of the first week of September 2015 the Shanghai stock market had fallen 40% since June, wiping $5 trillion off share prices. This is a sum greater than the entire German economy; what happens in China reverberates around the world. There is hardly a multinational corporation that is not tied up with China. On 24 August, named as Black Monday, as Shanghai’s shares dropped, $44bn was lost in two hours of London’s FTSE100 trading and New York’s Dow suffered its largest ever fall in a single day. Imperialism is seeking to deepen its penetration of China and the City of London is keen to embrace China into imperialist financial circles. Sections of the US ruling class are more wary and fear its weight as a potential rival. However, the integration of China into international capitalism is subjecting it to capitalism’s tendency towards crisis. Will the Chinese government enforce political controls to defend the state and try to stabilise the economy or will it yield to market liberalisation and imperialism? The Financial Times remarked: ‘The next stage for China’s economy is a conundrum. Its resolution will shape the world’ (2 September 2015). Trevor Rayne reports.

In November 2013 the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) pledged to ‘let the market play the decisive role in allocating resources’ while also saying that it would maintain ‘the leading role of the state-owned sector’. These are contradictory commitments. China’s four biggest banks are state-owned, and state-owned enterprises (SOEs) constitute 40% of China’s gross domestic product. Foreign capital wants more access to China’s financial markets and privatisation of the SOEs. The Chinese government is seeking World Trade Organisation market economy status; such status would make it more difficult for other countries to impose protectionist import restrictions on Chinese-made goods. The Chinese government’s interventions to stop the Shanghai stock market falling and reservations about privatising SOEs are presented by those who fear it as evidence that China should not be given market economy status.

 

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China rides the tiger

China stocks

US$3 trillion was wiped off the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges in June and first week of July 2015. The Shanghai exchange had risen 135% in a year and fell 30%. The Shenzhen exchange rose 150% and fell 37%. 11% of China’s 443 million households are reckoned to hold shares. The Chinese government encouraged people to gamble their savings on the stock markets: ‘4,000 [points on the Shanghai Corporate index] was just the beginning’, said the Chinese Communist Party newspaper People’s Daily in April. Dreams of quick and effortless money crashed into bitter recriminations: ‘I have lost two-thirds of my money…I really want it back and when I get it, I will never invest in the stock market again.’ A pensions expert at the Shanghai Institute of Finance and Law explained, ‘Old people often don’t understand economics. They are easily duped.’ The stock market crash demonstrates that China is not immune from the crisis of international capitalism and the credibility of the Communist Party and the Chinese state is now threatened.  

 

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Anniversary of Tiananmen Square

4 June 2014 marked the 25th anniversary of the ending of the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing, China. Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! located the events in the context of China’s trajectory along the capitalist road and away from socialism. They signalled a crisis for the working class and the construction of socialism in China. We warned then that, ‘There is a very great danger that counter-revolution will flourish both within and without the CPC [Communist party of China] if past policies are continued.’ The reversal towards capitalism has continued in China.

 

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China and the credit crunch

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 235 October/November 2013

On 28 July China’s National Audit Office announced that it had been instructed by the government to count how much money was owed by all levels of government from the village up to the central authorities. A senior Chinese auditor told the Financial Times that local government debt was 'out of control and could spark a bigger financial crisis than the US housing market crash’ (29 July 2013). China’s economic growth is more dependent on the expansion of credit than at any time since the 1949 revolution. Debt has increased dramatically since the 2008 global financial crisis, it is growing faster than national income (Gross Domestic Product – GDP) and a day of reckoning draws close.

 

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China at a crossroads

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 232 April/May 2013

In March 2013 China’s National People’s Congress, the legislature, confirmed Xi Jinping as the country’s new President and Li Keqiang as its new Premier. Both officials talked of the need to reduce the gap between the incomes of the urban and rural populations and between China’s different regions, of combating corruption and keeping the Party close to the masses. There is one central question that the new leaders face: does the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have the will and the ability to recognise that it must return to socialism if China is not to be engulfed in the chaos that the capitalist path will bring? Wang Qishan, a senior CCP leader, has been recommending that Party members read Alexis de Tocqueville’s The Ancien Regime and the French Revolution which examines the causes of the downfall of the French monarchy. TREVOR RAYNE reports.

 

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Imperialism fans the flames in China–Japan islands dispute

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 232 April/May 2013

At a 22 February meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kashida, US Secretary of State John Kerry reaffirmed that the US supports Japanese ownership of the Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea. Kerry committed the US to military support for Japanese claims in the event of an attack, the latest salvo of hostile US policy aimed at containing China’s role in world affairs.

Following the Second World War the US took possession of the islands and in 1972 handed them to Japan, to Chinese anger; they had been Chinese since the 15th century. In 1978 China concluded a peace treaty with Japan which left the question of the islands’ sovereignty as an issue to be resolved in the future. This rapprochement did not last. The capitalist crisis in Japan has compelled ruling class politicians to assert themselves internationally to regain domestic political support and to find new sources of profit. The Diaoyu islands – strategically located next to major shipping lanes and above some 100bn barrels of oil – have served as a focus. Tensions were inflamed when former Japanese President Yoshihiko Noda ‘nationalised’ the three remaining privately-owned islands in September 2012 by purchasing them for $26m. Mass popular protests erupted in 125 Chinese cities, demanding a boycott of Japanese products, destroying Japanese-owned factories, shops and vehicles.

 

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China on US Human Rights

Every year, the United States releases reports on other countries’ human rights practices, giving glowing awards to its allies and stooges, while upbraiding those it regards as its enemies. In response China has released a report on human rights in the US, based on publicly available information: The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2011. It makes grim reading, demonstrating the double standards used by US imperialism.

 

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China: Rise, Fall and re-emergence as a Global Power – some lessons from the past

By James Petras

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! is publishing this along with a number of other articles by James Petras on our website because they have some serious political qualities even if there are aspects with which we do not necessarily agree.

Introduction

The study of world power has been blighted by Eurocentric historians who have distorted and ignored the dominant role China played in the world economy between 1100 and 1800. John Hobson’s1 brilliant historical survey of the world economy during this period provides an abundance of empirical data making the case for China’s economic and technological superiority over Western civilisation for the better part of a millennium, prior to its conquest and decline in the 19th century.

China’s re-emergence as a world economic power raises important questions about what we can learn from its previous rise and fall and about the external and internal threats confronting this emerging economic superpower for the immediate future.

 

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China: between a rock and a hard place

Bourgeois and left-wing analysts alike view China as either a potential saviour of the capitalist system or rival to US hegemony of the world or maybe both. Currently it will play neither of these roles. Despite China’s economic growth and increased military spending it cannot challenge the domin­ance of US and EU imperialism, except within its regional sphere of influence, and that may be intolerable to imperialism. TREVOR RAYNE reports.

The SWP’s Alex Callinicos and Socialist Register’s Panitch and Gindin have described China as a potential challenger to the US (see FRFI 193). That challenge may be for the future, but it is not imminent. The influential US academic Marxist Robert Brenner describes the underlying cause of the economic crisis as being an over-production of goods exacerbated by ‘the emergence of the Chinese leviathan’. (Interview 22 January 2009, Links: international journal for socialist renewal). Brenner says that China prefers US hegemony as a means of allowing its economy to expand and he denies the existence of inter-imperialist rivalry, saying that Europe also approves of US hegemony. He foresees China ‘still pouring as much money as it can into the US to try to keep the US economy going, so that China can keep developing the way it did’. This is wrong! The Chinese ruling class will assert its own interests in conflict with the US when it needs to and ‘the way it did’ can be no more.

 

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China myths and realities

The impressions are awesome: 70% of the world’s construction cranes will be operating in China over the next five years; in 2005 China consumed half the world’s cement and built as much as the whole of Europe will in three years. Investment bank Goldman Sachs announced that China’s economy will exceed that of the US by as early as 2041. China’s surging growth and emergence as a significant player in the world economy are undeniable but what this means for the global balance of forces and future of imperialism has still to be demonstrated. For some on the left the image of a rising China coming into conflict with the US eclipses the necessity of analysing inter-imperialist rivalries and the substance of China’s rise. TREVOR RAYNE reports.

TV poseur Niall Ferguson gives a dramatic depiction of the ‘triumph of the east’, wherein ‘a hundred years ago... the west could justly claim to rule the world. After a century in which one western empire after another has fallen, that can no longer be claimed.’ Now it is Asia, led by China, which is in the ascendant. (New Statesman, 26 June 2006)

 

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CHINA: from internationalism to chauvinism – the Sino-Soviet dispute

For all but the last two centuries of the past 2,000 years China has possessed the world’s biggest economy. The Mongol Khan’s once ruled an empire stretching from the Pacific to the Danube. Today, with a total population of 3.3 billion people, the countries of east and south Asia (excluding Japan) have more than three times as many people as the developed capitalist countries. With China as the world’s fastest growing economy, there are many who see the locus of world power shifting in the coming period from the US and Europe to China and Asia. Hence, Martin Jacques:

‘The growing conflict between an extant America and a rising China will become the dominant fault line of global politics’ (The Guardian, 18 June 2005).

To support his argument Jacques cites China’s economy, ‘immeasurably stronger than the Soviet Union’s ever was…economic strength is the key precondition for global power and influence’, and China’s integration into the global economy, unlike the Soviet Union. FRFI 188 examined China’s transition from the socialist to the capitalist road of development. Here Trevor Rayne explores the Sino-Soviet dispute and its consequences.

 

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CHINA along the capitalist road

‘Let China sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world.’ Napoleon

On 1 October 1949 Mao Zedong announced ‘China has stood up.’ A quarter of humanity, led by the Chinese Communist Party, had thrown off imperialism and its comprador bourgeoisie and begun dismantling semi-feudal land-ownership. They began constructing socialism: banks and industries were nationalised and land redistributed to the peasantry.

Fifty-five years later the Hong Kong based brokerage firm CLSA says that the private sector is now responsible for three-quarters of China’s output and employment, making the Communist Party government more dependent than ever on entrepreneurs to sustain high-speed economic growth. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports that private business generates nearly two-thirds of non-farm output. It says that the number of state controlled enterprises has halved to 150,000 since 1995. Private companies increased output by 400% and foreign companies 200% between 1998 and 2003 compared with the state sector increase of 70%. TREVOR RAYNE examines the routes China has taken since 1949.


A new police force is being established in Chinese cities, equipped with helicopters and armoured vehicles to combat ‘the threat of terrorism and the rising incidence of rioting and social unrest across the country’. The Public Security minister, Zhou Yongkang, said the authorities dealt with 74,000 protests and riots last year, involving 3.7 million people, compared with 10,000 incidents in 1994. Professor Xiaozheng of Renmin University doubted that the new force would have any impact on the causes of unrest: ‘The crux of the problem lies in an unbalanced society which lacks justice and equality. As the income gap widens, and officials become more and more corrupt, better equipped police will only be used to protect the rich people and residents of big cities.’ (Financial Times, 19 August 2005)

 

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China in the west wind

FRFI 162 August / September 2001

Declaring the victory of the Chinese revolution in October 1949 Mao Zedong said China had stood up. Since then China has achieved the quickest and most extensive rise out of poverty of any nation in history. China stood up out of feudalism and colonialism and began the task of constructing socialism. But, despite their terrific achievements the Chinese people’s future is not secure: imperialism dreams of destroying China’s walls, of reconquering China from within and without. TREVOR RAYNE reports.


The US/NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in May 1999; a US spy plane colliding with a Chinese fighter off the Chinese coast in April 2001; China joining the World Trade Organisation later this year and hosting the 2008 Olympics: China is a capitalist preoccupation. The incoming US Bush administration redefined China from ‘a strategic partner to a strategic competitor’. Whether weak or strong, capitalist or socialist, China is seen as a possible threat to US global dominance over the next 25 years. It is precisely China’s potential to challenge the balance of world forces but also provide a lifeline to a failing international capitalist system that makes the capitalist brain focus – sharply.

 

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