China: Anti-secession law raises imperialist tensions

Applause interrupted the final session of China’s National People’s Congress on 14 March as it agreed on the new anti-secession law directed at Taiwan. This was the climax of the NPC meeting, a rubber-stamp body of 3,000 functionaries in the ”communist” party apparatus. On this note, the ten-day session ended with an assertion of power from Beijing, increasing tensions between the main powers in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Chinese regime reaffirmed that it will never allow Taiwan formal separation from China. The new law states that "non-peaceful and other necessary measures" will be taken if ”hopes for peaceful reunification” are ”completely exhausted”. The law, despite being deliberately vague, has provoked both the Chinese regime and the nationalist movement in Taiwan. Spokesmen for US imperialism have linked the law indirectly to China’s strong military build-up.

"The law is tantamount to authorisation of war," warned Taiwanese cabinet spokesman, Cho Jung-tai. "All people in Taiwan are against the legislation, and we believe the world community also opposes it." Taiwan’s president Chen Shui-bian has called for hundreds of thousands of people to join a mass street protest on 26 March.

In the US, ”The president’s national security team has recently adopted a more confrontational tone” towards China (Financial Times, 21 February). The 2005 US Defence Review (replacing the Review from 2001) and the new CIA boss, Porter Gross, have warned that the Chinese military build-up could be a threat to US forces and the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld issued similar warnings against the growth of China’s navy, which according to some reports could surpass the US navy within a decade (New York Times, 17 Feb).

These warnings came at the same time as the first ever joint Japan-US statement on Taiwan. The Beijing regime of president Hu Jintao and premier Wen Jiabao, however, decided to go ahead with the new law. The “peaceful rise” of China as a world power is a key element in the regime’s nationalist propaganda and ideology. To show weakness over Taiwan would undermine this image. By focusing on Taiwan, the regime diverts attention from domestic issues such as the growing wealth gap and continued job losses in the state sector, pointing at enemies in Taipei (Taiwan’s ‘capital’ city) and Washington.

Deliberately vague

Yet the new law contains no detailed schedule making Chinese military action compulsory in response to a specific Taiwanese step. It is a general warning to Taipei, but the talk of ”non-peaceful means” could mean sanctions etc., rather than military action. The last similar decision, five years ago, was to demand Taipei’s participation in reunification talks. There is no similar demand in this law. This is not a ”war mobilisation order”, said the NPC spokesman.

President Chen of Taiwan has been cautious, stressing the need for a “pragmatic approach”. To satisfy his nationalist supporters he has promised a new constitution by 2008. But, Chen states, no referendum for independence, no change of state name (Republic of China, since 1949) and no sovereignty for Taiwan. Chen is conducting a delicate balancing act. The nationalist wing of his own Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has called for the demonstration on 26 March under the slogan: ”Uphold democracy and peace and protect Taiwan”. Despite supporting the initiative, Chen has not yet declared whether he will attend the demonstration or not.

On the other hand, the opposition parties, the traditional Kuomintang (party of the dictatorship in Taiwan from 1949) and the People’s First Party, are both criticising Chen for provoking Beijing. They are also criticising Chen for his huge arms deals with the US, buying arms, including Patriot missiles for $18 billion. This will only increase the arms race, say the critics, and could bankrupt Taiwan!

US imperialism, while for historic reasons supporting Taiwan militarily, is the main mover to restrain Taiwanese nationalism. Capitalists in the US as well as in Taiwan make huge profits in China. They fear any measure that would alter the status quo. The same goes in reality for the regime in Beijing. World capitalism and imperialism, however, do not act according to rational arguments. They are involved in a huge competition for profits and power up to and, on some occasions, including war. Neither the US nor China wants to be seen as giving way. The result is the present position of paradoxes. Taiwan has its own government and state but is formally a part of China. More than one million Taiwanese live in mainland China but there are yet no direct flight links (they have to pass by Hong Kong or Macao).

Rapid military build-up

The so called “People’s Congress” has maintained the rapid increase of Chinese military spending. This year, the increase of 12.6 per cent raises the military budget officially to $29.9bn. Capitalist commentators, like The Economist, estimate the military budget to account for 4 per cent of GDP, more than $50bn. Only the US and Japan have a bigger military budget (the US military costs are $408bn, plus Iraq). China is now reducing its armed forces by 200,000 troops, but they will still be over 2 million and therefore the biggest in the world. The main emphasis is to improve the technological level of the armed forces, with purchases of fighter jets from Russia and missiles from Israel.

The NPC confirmed president Hu Jintao as chairman of the Central Military Commission, i.e. military commander. This position was the last to be held by former leader Jiang Zemin. The change, however, does not represent any change in military build-up or outlook by China’s armed forces.

US imperialism is seriously alarmed by the military rise of China, at the same as it is economically dependent on Beijing. Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, is visiting China in March to smooth out the relationship. The Chinese regime, however, knows that its ”peaceful rise” sooner or later will represent a challenge to the US. The military build-up as well as its frenetic economic offensive in, for example, Latin America, has the two-fold aim of keeping both US imperialism and China’s own population in check. Both the US and Japan, and, of course, Taiwan are attempting to stop the European Union from lifting its arms embargo against China. In this, they do not seem to be successful. The EU leaders are not only aiming to sell arms, they want to secure access for European big business to the Chinese market.

The decisions of the NPC and the following international reactions confirm that neither the US, Japan or the EU, nor the regime in Beijing, is capable of solving the real problems of workers and youth in the region. Their statements are an attempt to present their own economic and military interests in the best possible light. By this process, capitalism and imperialism is preparing huge contradictions for the future.


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March 2005