On Imperialist rivalries in Asia: Report to ICC Pan-Asian Conference

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1.     In May 2009, the 18th Congress of the ICC adopted a report on global imperialist tensions. This report looked at the imperialist rivalries and confrontations raging thoughout the world today. But it did not limit itself to the study of only the present state of relations between different imperialist powers. More, this report carried out a profound study of the period of 20 years opened up by the collapse of Soviet Union and with it of the eastern bloc in 1989. The report also recalled the different debates that took place within the ICC immediately after the collapse of the eastern bloc.

In its first analyses of the collapse of the eastern bloc at the end of 1989 and in 1st Quarter of 1990, the ICC already concluded that the collapse of the Soviet Union overturned the division of the world into two blocs that was formalised at Yalta after the Second World War. It also marked the end of the western bloc. Against the propaganda of the bourgeoisie about the coming of ‘a new world order' and of peace and prosperity, the ICC predicted the spread of chaos, of every man for himself and the growth of the worst kind of disorder and barbarism. At the end of 1990, in IR 63 we already wrote that while US, the sole superpower, would try to stem the spread of chaos and restore order this "restoration of order, their order, that the US seeks to impose will be based on military force. And on this alone. But an order based on terror is never very stable, and even less so today in a period of catastrophic world economic crisis, of growing local tensions. The future is close. To be honest, it is already here".  Nine years later, at 13th Congress of the ICC, we wrote: "decadent capitalism has entered into its phase of decomposition, a new historical phase initially marked by the collapse of the eastern bloc in 1989. During this historic phase, the direct use of violence by the great powers is becoming a permanent reality. During this phase, the rigid discipline of the imperialist blocs has given way to indiscipline and rampant chaos, to a generalised struggle of each against all, to an uncontrollable multiplication of military conflicts".

2.     The report to the 18th Congress further analyzed the spread of war and chaos during the last twenty years and concluded that these predictions of the ICC have, unfortunately, come true:

"Throughout these years, inter-imperialist tensions have sharpened rapidly and dramatically, plunging the world into a barbarism which no continent has escaped. As we envisaged above all, it has been the decomposition of society which has dominated over these past 20 years.... Our analysis of the development of global chaos has unfortunately been tragically confirmed. The balance of forces between the great powers has been partly modified. And the irremediable weakening of the leading imperialist power, the USA, has been one of the main elements in this. A weakening that we have dealt with amply in our press these past years. A generalised disorder, a tendency towards every man for himself, growing challenge to the world's leading power, a military headlong flight by the latter...these are the main elements of the past 20 years."

3.     The report to the 18th Congress carried forward exceptionally profound analyses of the developments of last 20 years. It also tried to study how the current economic crisis could redraw the balance of power between different imperialist powers. The report to the Congress has the following to say on this:

"We are entering into a period in which capitalism will be going through the worst economic crisis in its history. It would be wrong to think that this will have no effect on the development of imperialist tensions and in the first place on the world's leading imperialist power. Thus, by taking account of the repercussions of the crisis on imperialist tensions, the report will try to draw out the perspectives."

The present report will not go over all this. Rather, it must be read in conjunction with the report on imperialist relations submitted to 18th Congress of the ICC. The report to the congress also went over the development of imperialist tensions in Asia and the present report will limit itself to this. While all parts of the world are ravaged by imperialist rivalries, Asia today is at the very center and heart of these conflicts.   

4.     What is happening in Asia is not isolated from the rest of the world. The trends witnessed in Asia are part of global currents and cross currents of imperialist conflicts that have unfolded over the last 20 years. As mentioned above, Asia has in fact been at the very heart of these military conflicts. Therefore the way to understand imperialist relations in Asia is to put these in the global framework drawn by our congress.

5.     An element defining the framework recalled above is the collapse of the eastern bloc, with it that of the western bloc,  the end of the discipline of blocs, the spread of chaos and every man for himself where each power, big and small is trying to push forward its own imperialist interests, and the generalisation of military conflicts throughout the world;

6.     Other decisive elements setting the global stage for the alignments and realignment of imperialist forces are:

o        Already recalled above, is the weakening power of United Sates despite its desperate recourse to permanent war as the only means to maintain its influence. This point has been extensively developed by us in numerous texts. The report to our 18th Congress on imperialist tensions further developed this point extensively.

o        Another, one of the most important, elements is the rise of China as an imperialist power of the top order that is challenging the US and all other powers. This is overturning the existing balance of power among different imperialist countries and forcing them to redefine their relationships. China is expanding its influence in every part of the world, especially in Africa where it is very active. But it is in Asia where the impact of the rise of China is most strongly felt.

Framework of the imperialist confrontations in Asia

7.     There are many reasons for this. One reason is that in some ways the balance of economic power within capitalism has been shifting toward Asia, especially China but not only China, over the last decades. China has emerged as an economic power of the first order and is projected to become the number one capitalist country in the coming period. In some areas it has already left the old established powers far behind. The latest economic crisis that hit capitalism in 2007-2008 has accelerated this process and shortened the period when China will surpass its competitors. While the crisis hits all capitalist countries, it hit hardest the United States and other advanced countries of Europe. Japan for its part has been already, before this latest crisis, stagnating at negative or zero growth for more than ten years. The present crisis has only accelerated this stagnation and decline. China, and to a lesser extent India, has so far weathered this storm relatively better. In particular, in the case of China this crisis has only magnified its rising economic might. While USA and Europe were tottering, China with its hoards of US treasury bonds, with estimates varying from 800 billion to 1.5 Trillion USD, has appeared as the main creditor of the USA, one that the US is compelled to humor. Since then this contrast between a declining America and Europe and a rising China has been further highlighted - in December 2009, China surpassed Germany as the largest exporter in the world, no doubt as German exports continued to shrink while Chinese exports did not. In the same month, China emerged as the world's largest car market, ahead of the US, with 14 million car sales for 2009. There are numerous other areas where China is racing ahead. The predictions that put the rise of China to the position of number one economic power in the world some decades in the future have now been revised to put this event much earlier.

8.     With rising economic strength, the imperialist ambitions of China have also been growing. It has been pursuing these ambitions with a single minded determination and has been more open in giving expression to them. This has meant that while older powers are constrained by their economic decline in furthering their interests, China has been aggressively going about it and has been expanding its military. Its naval fleet today is the third largest, behind only USA and Russia. And at $70 billion, its official military budget is second only to the USA's, even if it is still only 1/10 of that of the US. If you add what experts call hidden military expenditure in China, the figure for China goes up to 139 Billion USD and the gap between the US and China, though still large, becomes smaller. The pace with which it is going, and the fact that its competitors are faced with irreversibly declining resources while it is not, means that this gap will continue to narrow.

9.     Not only has China been modernising its military at an aggressive pace, it has also been preparing to set up military bases abroad. Especially in the countries around India: it has been building ports in Burma, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. The latest from the Chinese army is that it proposes to set up military bases abroad and may start with one in Pakistan. 

10.  In contrast, US power has been declining. This has been the trend over the last two decades but is showing starkly now. Even the US experts now unabashedly admit that the era of US as a power whose writ runs across the globe is over. The biggest debtor nation in the world, they admit, cannot remain the most powerful. 

11.  The rise of China to the top of the ladder of imperialist power in the world and Asia, and the declining power of USA, this is what sets the parameters for the imperialist confrontations and re-alignments in Asia. There are other regional and global powers whose interests are at play but it is the rise of China which acts as the shifting tectonic plate which is forcing every other imperialist nation in Asia, large or small, to look around and re-define its friends and foes.

Wars, militarisation and realignments in Asia 

12.  Confronted with the spread of chaos and its declining power, since the end of the Cold War the USA has had recourse to wars to impose its will on its rivals. While at the start these rivals were primarily its erstwhile ex-allies from the western bloc as well as Russia  - and they continue to be its rivals  - China has become a more important concern for it. And all these rivalries, including the rivalries of regional powers in Asia, are playing out through various wars.

13.  Some of the biggest wars and conflicts that the US has launched or sponsored in the last 20 years have been in Asia. These wars have not strengthened America. On the contrary each of these conflicts exposed the limits of its power and has further sapped it. These wars have accelerated the spread of chaos and destabilisation. For the countries attacked American policy has been one of scorched earth that has threatened to destroy all vestige of civilised existence.

i.     The Wars in Iraq - 1st Gulf War [August 1990-Feb 1991] and Iraq War [March 2003]: as we have often written the first Gulf War in 1990-91 was the last time the USA was to able mobilise all the main world powers behind itself.  By the next war, rivalries between the US and all its ex-allies and friends were already out in the open and, other than Britain and a few other countries, USA had to primarily go it alone. As the resolution to the 18th Congress of the ICC says: "this war has produced a real quagmire for US imperialism. We have often pointed out that there is no stability in this country at all and that the partition of Iraq is on the cards".

ii.    War in Afghanistan in 2001: as we wrote at the time of the start of this war, the USA's objectives at the time were to demonstrate its military superiority in the face of all of its rivals and to implant itself in an area of strategic importance. Thus to be better able to confront its rivals and would-be rivals like Russia, China and even India. This has continued to be its objective.

The development of this war has also shown the weakening power of the USA. The Taliban have strengthened themselves over the last 8 years. And the USA's ‘frontline ally', Pakistan, despite all the pressure and despite all the money paid by the US, has not budged from its policy of harbouring the Taliban.

Thus we have today a new phase in this War, Af-Pak War, which is a war that straddles both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The American bourgeoisie has pulled Pakistan into the same chaos and terrorist slaughters in which Afghanistan has been submerged since last eight years. The Af-Pak War is not simply a new phase in the subduing of Afghanistan. It is a systematic spread of war to a new theatre - Pakistan. While one of its objectives is to stabilise Afghanistan, the USA has extended this war to Pakistan with a bigger strategic objective. As a recent report of the ICC says: "Countering the challenges of Chinese imperialism in Pakistan has become increasingly important for the US. During the Cold War Pakistan was allied with US against Russia, but at the same time Islamabad also had strong ties to China. This was not a serious problem during the period when China was linked to US imperialism against Russian interests, but has become increasingly problematic in recent years now that China has grown in economic power and is challenging US imperialism in Asia, Africa and even Latin America. It is imperative for American imperialism to keep Pakistan from falling further under Beijing's influence. We should recall that a few years ago the US bourgeoisie specifically identified Chinese imperialism as potentially the most serious threat as a rival on the international terrain. The need to develop a comprehensive strategy to combat Chinese influence in Pakistan, as an element in the global confrontation with China, is more likely a principal element in the current deliberations in the US administration regarding policy in Aghanistan/Pakistan". In fact it is now common for US strategic thinkers to proclaim that in the war in Af-Pak, the main prize is not Afghanistan, the main prize is Pakistan and to win this prize, US must win in Afghanistan. While this may be the objective of the US, given the tight relationships between China and Pakistan, US will need to violently subdue parts of the Pakistani military to achieve it. This effort to weaken the Pakistani military that the US may be compelled to undertake will further accelerate the tendencies toward chaos and the break-up of Pakistan.

The fact that despite all the pressures and regular drone attacks on its territory by the US, Pakistan continues to clandestinely support the Afghan Taliban goes to show the dangerous adventurism of Pakistan's ruling class. It also shows that the perspective for this region and the surrounding region is the spread of more chaos and military barbarism.

It is not only Pakistan which is tenaciously fighting to get an influence in Afghanistan. All the various European powers along with India, Russia, China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and others are hovering like vultures over Afghanistan to gain a foothold.

Further, let us be clear, despite all the proclamations of the Obama administration, America is not in Afghanistan and Pakistan with the aim of going away in 2011 or later. It may reduce a number of its soldiers at some future date, but the USA is in Afghanistan and Pakistan to implant itself against its imperialist rivals and will remain here.

iii.  Apart from these there are other festering conflicts and tensions in Asia, in particular the Palestinian-Israel Conflict and the tensions with Iran. In all these areas, the USA is no longer able to assert its ‘leadership'. Even the Israeli bourgeoisie does not hesitate to push forward its interests at the expense of its main backer, the USA.

iv.   For some time after the crisis of 2008, the US bourgeoisie tried to humor the Chinese. Conflict between US and China is now in the open and developing at several levels. The latest flashpoint is the question of US weapons sales to Taiwan. But this conflict is developing around many other issues.

14.  Other recent wars in Asia in which different powers were involved have been the wars in Sri Lanka and Nepal. In the first, the Sri Lankan bourgeoisie was supported by Pakistan and China but at some level even by the Indian state. In Nepal, the seven party alliance that removed and replaced the king and that included the Maoists was cobbled together by the Indian state. But since then China has got a stronger foothold in Nepal. China and India have now been battling for influence in Nepal.

15.  The rise of China and the weakening of USA and generalisation of wars and confrontations have accelerated militarisation throughout Asia. While China is arming to contest the top slot in Asia and the world, other powers in Asia, fearful of China's rise, are arming to defend their imperialist interests. Today the biggest customers of armaments are in Asia - China, India and Saudi Arabia. But these countries are by no mean the only armament buyers: military spending has been surging throughout Asia. As per a report by the Asian Defence Industry Monitor dated March 2009, the era when Western Europe was the world's most important centre of military power after America and Russia has drawn to a close. As per this report as far back as 2008, Asian military budgets totalled £173 billion and were higher than the £144 billion budgets of Europe's NATO members. Since then military budgets of the main importers, China, India and Saudi Arabia, have grown by at least 17%. Other countries have followed suit. In 2008, a list of top military spenders in Asia looked like the following:

Rank In Asia Country Military Spending

(Billions of $)

World

Ranking

1

China [official and non official figures]

121.9

2

2

Japan

41.1

6

3

Saudi Arabia

29.5

9

4

South Korea

24.6

10

5

India

22.4

11

6

Australia

17.2

12

7

Israel

11

17

8

United Arab Emirates

9.5

19

9

Taiwan

7.7

20

10

Iran

7.2

22

11

Myanmar

6.9

23

12

Singapore

6.3

24

13

Egypt

4.3

31

14

Pakistan

4.2

32

15

Indonesia

3.6

34

16

Kuwait

3.5

36

17

Oman

3.3

38

18

Malaysia

3.2

39

19

Qatar

2.3

48

20

Thailand

2.3

49

Total

 

332

 

1

Turkey (Straddle Asia & Europe)

11.6

16

2

Russia (Straddle Asia & Europe)

70

3

16.   In addition to arming themselves, in the face of this changing balance of power between US and China in Asia, all the main powers in Asia are hedging their bets and looking for new alliances.

o        One of the important regional powers in the Persian Gulf, that spends 10% of its GDP on militarisation, Saudi Arabia has for decades been one of closest allies of the USA. In changing conditions, it has been taking initiatives that are not always in line with US interests.

o        Another close ally of USA, Turkey, has for years been distancing itself from USA. Even in the war in Iraq it bargained hard with the US to allow it to use its land for the war in Iraq. Today, it is more and more trying to go its own way and has been befriending countries like Iran that are a thorn in the USA's side. 

o        Japan, which claims to be pacifist and to have renounced all military ambitions, spent 41 billion USD on armaments in 2008, showing its pacifism for what it is, a complete fraud. More importantly, it has been looking for new friends and has now been trying to distance itself from USA. This later tendency has expressed itself strongly since the Democratic Party of Japan came to power in 2009. There is strong opposition to continuing to house US military bases in Okinawa, despite strong pressure from the USA. In addition, the Ozawa faction within the DPJ represents a powerful tendency within Japan that sees benefits in having a closer alliance with China. At the same time, Ozawa has been in deep political trouble since he took more than two hundred Japanese members of parliament to pay tribute to the Chinese president. What this highlights is that while Japan is looking toward distancing itself from America, China continues to be its main rival and any effort to cozy up to China is anathema to powerful factions of the bourgeoisie in Japan.

o        Australia and South Korea are perhaps the two major powers in the regions that continue to be close US allies. But the bourgeoisies in these countries show the same nervousness as others in the face of a changing balance of power. The Australian bourgeoisie is now aware that it cannot solely depend on US protection. While trying to develop better relations with China and forge other alliances, the Australian bourgeoisie is rapidly modernising its military, strengthening its navy and air force. Thus it is the 6th largest military spender in Asia. And South Korea, with its 24 billion USD military budget, is the 4th largest military spender in Asia.

o        The nervousness and fear that mark these major powers of Asia is even stronger in the smaller countries who are looking around for alternatives to US protection or at least not being seen as too close to the USA.

17.  However, as the report to the 18th Congress says, the weakening of the US does not mean that "US imperialist power will simply fold". It also does not mean that China is destined to be the head of another bloc. Again, as the report to the congress underlined, the gap between US military power and that of China is still great. In addition, the weakening of USA is accelerating the process of emergence of other regional powers like Japan, India, Iran, Australia and Saudi Arabia etc. This emergence of multiple centers of power will not bring stability to the world. Rather, destabilising the existing balance of power will bring more wars and chaos to the world.

Imperialist confrontations in South Asia

18.  Historically the main confrontations in this area have been between India and Pakistan, both of whom now have nuclear arms. The two have fought numerous open wars -1948, 1965, 1971 and the Kargil War in 1999, and have been on the brink of wars on numerous other occasions. The rest of the time, they have continued to wage discrete wars against each other. The history of the birth of Pakistan as a result of the partition of India and the conflict between India and Pakistan is such that there is no prospect of peace between the two. This in fact is the underlying convictions of the ruling classes in both countries. India-Pakistan continues to be a major flashpoint in Asia and the world.

While the present war in Af-Pak is spreading chaos in Pakistan, India is not really concerned about it. Stability in Pakistan is not in its interest. As a matter of fact, the spread of chaos in Pakistan can only further tempt India to accelerate its support to separatists and other terrorist groups in Pakistan's restive provinces like NWFP, Baluchistan and Sindh. For its part Pakistan, despite all the chaos and war engulfing it and despite itself being on the brink, has not stopped its support to separatists fighting against India in Kashmir and elsewhere.

In many ways, the increasing difficulties for the Pakistani bourgeoisie are only making it more desperate, more reckless and adventurist, posing a great threat of future conflagrations.

19.  India is heavily involved in Afghanistan essentially to further its interests against Pakistan. It is for the same reason that Pakistan is dead set against any Indian presence in Afghanistan. Despite all the pressure from the Americans, Pakistan has made it a precondition to limit Indian influence in Afghanistan for it to accelerate its war against the Taliban in Pakistan.

20.  While its conflict with Pakistan has been the main preoccupation for the Indian bourgeoisie so far, its rivalry with China has been on the rise. At one level the Indian bourgeoisie feels threatened by the rise of China. Furthermore China has been quite active in building influences in all countries surrounding India. Following the principle of the enemy of my enemy is my friend, Pakistan has historically been a close ally of China. China has done everything to build Pakistan militarily including facilitating its nuclear arming. It is building Gawdar Port in Baluchistan and a highway from Karakoram to the heartland of Pakistan and to the Arabian Sea so that its armies can, when required, pass through this area.

21.  While Pakistan is a natural ally of China, China has also built a strong presence in Burma, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, where China competes with India for influence, it has been building a port at Chittagong. Similarly it has been developing a port in Sri Lanka and Burma, where it is the closest ally of the Junta.

22.  While the Indian bourgeoisie feels that it is being encircled by China, the Chinese bourgeoisie see the Indian bourgeoisie as a rival and a threat. In recent times both these countries have been engaged in military build up at their common borders. China has been busy, for decades, building a military infrastructure along its borders with India and laying claim to territory presently with India. The Indian bourgeoisie have also now accelerated its military build up along its border with China. Along with this military build up by the ruling class in both countries, the borders between the two have been heating up after many decades. This is accompanied by massive propaganda campaigns in both countries that serve as a basis for further militarisation.

23.  In addition to this rising threat from China, with economic development the imperialist ambitions of the Indian bourgeoisie have also been growing. It sees itself vying for influence with China in the same global arena. And to prepare for this rivalry the Indian bourgeoisie has been militarising like its Chinese rival. India today is the biggest customer of military hardware in the global arms bazaar. Even if India is far behind China in militarisation, it was the 5th biggest military spender in Asia and 11th in the world in 2008. This ranking has since gone up.

24.  India has been busy in building alliances for this developing rivalry with China. The development of India-US relations and the nuclear deal between India and US must be seen in this light, where both countries see a convergence of their interests against China. Along with building close ties with the US, India, Japan and Australia have been developing their strategic ties in the Asia-Pacific. At the same time, the present period is characterised by every man for himself and there are no permanent friends and foes. Thus while until November 2008 the Indian bourgeoisie was gung-ho about its relations with the USA, it is not the case today. It is still developing its ties with USA and is strengthening its alliance with Japan, South Korea and Australia. It sees these relations with these as based on a long term convergence of imperialist interests. At the same, during 2009 it has also started rekindling its relations with Russia that had lost sheen in the previous period. There is a clearer conviction within the Indian bourgeoisie now that it cannot bank solely on America and must look out for itself and for other allies.

Conclusion 

To conclude, the present world situation is characterised by the spread of chaos, every man for himself, the weakening of USA and the rise of China and of other regional powers. This entire ensemble of conditions and their further development is escalating imperialist confrontations and tensions throughout the world and especially in Asia. The fact that all these old, new and regional powers are vying for influence and that their alliances have all the hallmark of musical chairs, has the potential of miscalculations by these big and small imperialist gangs. It has all the potential for bigger imperialist conflagrations. While decadent and decomposing capitalism is pushing humanity into imperialist slaughters, the struggle of the working class constitutes the only hope for humanity. It is only the development of the struggles of the working class, their finding a path toward the destruction of capitalism and the building of communism that can pull humanity out of the nightmare of increasing poverty, economic and social misery, wars and imperialist and terrorist slaughters.

CI, 13th Feb 2010