Statement of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 16.5.2014, www.thecommunists.net
1. The world is witnessing the escalation of the long-standing conflict between China and Vietnam over control of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea (as the Chinese call it, while Vietnam calls it the East Sea). This escalation started recently after China, on 1 May, towed a deep-sea oil rig close to the Paracel Islands. China also sent about eighty ships to ward off any Vietnamese resistance. Indeed, there have been already several clashes between vessels from both sides. As a result, violent mass protests started in Vietnam on 13 May, when 20,000 workers took to the streets in the Binh Duong province. About a hundred factories owned by Chinese and Taiwanese capitalists were attacked, and some of them have even been set ablaze. Until now, at least five Vietnamese and sixteen Chinese have been killed, and police have detained 440 people.
2. It is clear that China, as an emerging imperialist power, is determined to enforce its control over the Paracel Islands by any means necessary. In fact, China is threatening Vietnam with war. The Global Times, the English-language newspaper put out by the People’s Daily – the leading organ of the ruling party in China – blustered in its editorial of 6 May: “We believe Hanoi has no guts to attack China’s drilling platform directly. (…) If Vietnam takes further actions in Xisha, the level of China’s countermeasures must be elevated. (…) China should evaluate whether Vietnam would stick its head out and become a more aggressive provocateur than the Philippines. If so, China should alter its Vietnam policy and give Hanoi a lesson it deserves to get.” This is not the first time that China has used such threats in order to reinforce its claim on the Paracel islands: In June 2011, it similarly threatened Vietnam: “China has to send a clear message that it will take whatever measures necessary to protect its interests in the South China Sea. If Vietnam continues to provoke China in this region, China will first deal with it with maritime police forces, and if necessary, strike back with naval forces.”
3. China invaded and conquered the western half of the Paracel Islands in 1974 which were then under Vietnamese control (the eastern half was already a Chinese possession). Since then, Vietnam has protested and laid claim to the islands. The islands themselves are important for both geostrategic reasons (relatively, they are centrally located in the northern part of the South China Sea) as well as because of their productive fishing grounds and their potential oil and gas reserves.
4. The following factors form the background for the recent escalation.
i) China has become a great imperialist power. It has become the world’s leading industrial manufacturer, it is the country with the second largest number of the world’s leading corporations, and it also one of the world’s leading foreign investors. In addition, China has the world’s second largest military budget, surpassed only by that of the US, it has the fifth largest nuclear arsenal, and it is ranked fifth among the competitors in the global armaments market. On the other hand, Vietnam is a small, semi-colonial country, dependent on and dominated by foreign powers. Indeed, Chinese capital is one of the main sources of foreign investments in Vietnam, where it exploits the latter’s cheap labor force.
ii) China’s ruling class is determined to enforce its dominance throughout the entire South China Sea. Its so-called “nine-dashed line” openly claims the entire sea for itself, leaving only the coastal areas for all other neighboring countries like Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines. These efforts express China’s ambition to dominate the southern and eastern neighboring regions, as well as to strengthen its position as a global power The South China Sea is a main international shipping route for world trade, as well as the location of huge oil and gas reserves.
iii) Both China and Vietnam were degenerated workers states ruled by Stalinist bureaucracies. In both countries, these regimes facilitated the process of capitalist restoration during the 1990s while retaining the dictatorship of a Stalinist-capitalist ruling class. Both regimes are faced with increasing inequality and social polarization and hence try to utilize nationalism to deflect unrest among the working people towards a foreign enemy.
iv) To this one must add the history of hostile relations between China and Vietnam. While the Chinese Stalinist bureaucracy more or less aided the Vietnamese Stalinists in their heroic wars of liberation against the French and later the US imperialists, they themselves shamelessly invaded Vietnam in 1979.
5. The RCIT has closely analyzed China’s rise as a great imperialist power. We have shown that China has become one of the world’s great powers (along with the US, the EU, Japan, and Russia). This is why US imperialism is increasingly alarmed by this new rival and plans to position 60% of its navy in the region of Asia by 2020 (Obama’s “Pivot to Asia”). This increasing rivalry is also the background for the conflict between China and Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.
6. The RCIT considers the US, Japan, and China all to be imperialist powers. In a military conflict between them, we will refuse to support one of the two warring sides. Such a war would simply be one between the respective ruling classes of these countries, each aiming to increase its hegemony and super-exploitation of the semi-colonial countries. Therefore, in such a conflict the correct tactic will be that of revolutionary defeatism, where workers in both camps raise the slogan “The main enemy is at home” and strive to turn the imperialist war into a civil war against their own ruling class.
7. However, in any conflict between an imperialist power and a semi-colonial country in the South China Sea, Marxists will have to concretely analyze the specific situation. This means that we will have to work out whether the imperialist drive to subjugate a given (semi-) colonial nation is the dominant aspect in the war, or rather determine that the ostensible struggle for national defense must more correctly be seen as a proxy war for an imperialist power. From this will follow whether Bolshevik-Communists should take a revolutionary defeatist or a revolutionary defensist position concerning the struggle of the (semi-)colonial nation.
8. In the case of Vietnam, it is clear that this country is not acting as a lackey for the US or any other imperialist power. The RCIT therefore considers the currently brewing conflict as a clash between Vietnam, a semi-colonial country, and China, an imperialist power which is attempting to increase its hegemony and its profits at the cost of the former. Under these circumstances, the main enemy is Chinese imperialism and, therefore, the international workers’ movement should defend Vietnam in this conflict.
9. Naturally, socialists in Vietnam should oppose any anti-Chinese nationalism which is whipped up by the regime. Socialists should also explain that the enemy is not the Chinese workers but the Chinese ruling class. At the same time, they should call for a class struggle of the Vietnamese workers against their domestic Stalinist-capitalist ruling class. Both Vietnamese and Chinese workers should confront the capitalists and their brutal dictatorships as their true enemies, and thus should fight jointly against them. Only a working class revolution against these regimes can end the tyranny of capitalist exploitation and oppression. The transformation of East Asia into a socialist federation of workers’ and peasant republics would open the road for joint exploitation of the natural resources in the South China Sea.
International Secretariat of the RCIT
We refer readers also to the RCIT’s analysis of imperialism in general and China as an imperialist power in particular:
Michael Pröbsting: The Great Robbery of the South. Continuity and Changes in the Super-Exploitation of the Semi-Colonial World by Monopoly Capital Consequences for the Marxist Theory of Imperialism, 2013, http://www.great-robbery-of-the-south.net/;
Michael Pröbsting: China‘s transformation into an imperialist power. A study of the economic, political and military aspects of China as a Great Power, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 4, http://www.thecommunists.net/publications/revcom-number-4
Michael Pröbsting: More on Russia and China as Great Imperialist Powers. A Reply to Chris Slee (Socialist Alliance, Australia) and Walter Daum (LRP, USA), 11 April 2014, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/reply-to-slee-on-russia-china/
Michael Pröbsting: No to chauvinist war-mongering by Japanese and Chinese imperialism! Chinese and Japanese workers: Your main enemy is at home! Stop the conflict on the Senkaku/Diaoyu-islands in the East China Sea! No to chauvinist war-mongering by Japanese and Chinese imperialism! 23.9.2012, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/asia/no-war-between-china-and-japan/