While the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East are attracting the attention of newspapers around the world, in the background there is always the confrontation between the two major powers of today, the United States and, facing them, their main challenger, China, which is intensifying in an increasingly open and violent way. Within the American bourgeoisie, the main factions are united in the view that China must at all costs be prevented from strengthening its position as a world power with ambitions to dethrone the United States: "The USA’s reaction to its own decline and the rise of China has not been to withdraw from global affairs, on the contrary. The US has launched its own offensive aimed at restricting China’s advance, from Obama’s ‘pivot to the East’ through Trump’s focus on trade war, to the more directly military approach of Biden (provocations around Taiwan, downing of Chinese spy-balloons, the formation of AUKUS, the new US base in the Philippines, etc). The aim of this offensive is to build a fire-wall around China, blocking its capacity to develop as a world power." (Resolution on the International Situation, 25th ICC Congress, point 4, International Review 170, 2023).
The Chinese bourgeoisie under pressure from the US offensive
Militarily, despite an impressive build-up of its armaments over the last decade or so, China is still largely inferior to the United States and is therefore developing a long-term strategy aimed at laying the global economic foundations for its rise to imperialist power. In short, what China needs is time, and that is precisely what Uncle Sam is absolutely unwilling to give it.
The United States has greatly weakened Beijing's "strategic ally", Russia, which it has trapped in an increasingly destructive war in Ukraine. China has understood the Americans' warning message and has reacted cautiously, as it does not want to be subjected to sanctions that would make its economic situation even more complicated. The spread of the war chaos and the accumulation of debts by the states involved have led to stagnation, or even blockage, of its pharaonic imperialist project, the New Silk Road, which is another factor putting China in difficulty. On the other hand, the trade war, initiated under the Trump administration and intensified by Biden, is exerting a suffocating pressure on the Chinese economy: we need only think of the ban on Huawei using Google's systems and the customs duties on Chinese aluminium, or the ban on American investors investing in China in the development and production of microprocessors and the pressure on "allied" states not to export to China machines that can be used to manufacture microchips.
On the military front, the United States has fine-tuned its blockade of the Chinese coastline, thereby stepping up the pressure on China. In August, a mutual defence treaty was signed at Camp David between Japan, South Korea and the United States. Biden reiterated the United States' commitment to defend Taiwan militarily in the event of a Chinese attack and is providing massive arms supplies. Lastly, China's aggressive attitude in the China Sea has enabled the Americans to strengthen their ties with the Philippines and Vietnam, in particular through Biden's visit to Hanoi in September to propose a "strategic alliance" to a country with which American military companies such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing already have major economic links. If we add to this the US bases on the islands of Okinawa and Guam, it is clear that the American advance is increasingly limiting China's ambitions in terms of maritime routes. Finally, QUAD (Japan, India, the United States and Australia), a "mutual defence" group aiming to make the Indo-Pacific a place of "peace and prosperity" (sic!), declared at its recent meeting in Hiroshima in May: "We strongly oppose destabilisation or unilateral actions to change the status quo by force or coercion". While there is no mention of China and its threats against Taiwan, the message is nevertheless unambiguous.
All-out reactions from the Chinese bourgeoisie
Faced with such a situation, Beijing is obliged to react, but the hypocritical mix of provocation and diplomacy on the part of the Americans (they have sent 13 delegations to Beijing over the last 3 months with the aim of "negotiating") is leading China to react in different directions.
On the one hand, its military actions towards Taiwan are becoming increasingly threatening: China is stepping up military exercises in the Taiwan Strait to give credence to the idea that a possible invasion is being prepared, and it is also building artificial islands on controversial reefs in the China Sea to house new military bases, with the particular aim of controlling an area where 60% of the world's naval trade passes through. It is also stepping up the arms race to strengthen its military apparatus, particularly its war fleet. Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe declared: "If anyone dares to separate Taiwan from China, we will not hesitate to fight. We will fight at all costs and to the bitter end. It's the only option".
China's aggression is not only directed at the United States, but also at its neighbours: Beijing is embroiled in a territorial dispute with India that regularly leads to armed clashes; China's reaction to Japan's discharge of radiation-contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean is another example of the acrimony in relations between the two nations, the former having banned Japanese seafood products from entering its territory, given that the Japanese fishing industry is very important to the Japanese economy. On the economic front, China has also taken retaliatory measures against the United States, for example, by deciding at the beginning of September to ban the use of iPhones in its public services. While this immediately caused Apple to lose $200 billion on the stock market, the irrationality of the measure is highlighted by the fact that China is the main manufacturer of these mobile phones and that Apple may have to hire Chinese workers as a result.
On the other hand, China has embarked on a large-scale diplomatic operation aimed at showing that it is a "force for peace" and that it is the Americans who are pursuing a policy of war: it was the architect of the spectacular reconciliation between Iran and Saudi Arabia and has even offered its good offices for peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. At the recent BRICS meeting in South Africa, Xi Jinping pushed for the expansion of the BRICS by proposing 6 new members and the creation of a common currency; while the latter proposal met with hostility from India, Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Ethiopia and Argentina were included as new members. This Chinese policy reveals its growing influence in the Middle East. In the absence of a military capability to rival that of the United States, China is mainly using "financial credit diplomacy" to gain influence in the world. However, this weapon carries many risks. For example, the bankruptcy of Sri Lanka is preventing China from cancelling Pakistan's debt for the time being, given the risk of the repayment problem spreading.
Xi Jinping's absence from the G20 meeting in New Delhi in September was a first for the Chinese president, who had always attended meetings of this group of countries, and clearly illustrates the dilemma in which China finds itself: On the one hand, Xi wanted to show that he no longer wishes to recognise the world order dictated by the United States and resulting from the Second World War; but fundamentally, his absence is an admission of weakness in the face of American aggression in the Indo-Pacific, the strengthening of relations between the United States and Modi's India, and his own economic and political difficulties.
Faced with the American offensive, China is manoeuvring to gain time, but the Americans are not prepared to give it. American provocations and their policy of containment are increasing, aiming to strangle the Chinese dragon. This can only accentuate the unpredictability of the situation and the risk of irrational reactions that will multiply warlike confrontations and intensify the chaos.
Fo & HR, 9.10.23