[Part III and final part of Socialist Action’s 2018 National Convention resolution on China]
China has one of the world’s best funded and largest militaries, which it is increasingly seeking to use to advance its interests on a global scale. Its official military budget in 2017 was about $151 billion, although unofficial estimates ranged from $180 billion to $215 billion, in any case constituting the second largest military budget in the world. This was significantly behind the US military budget of about $700 billion in 2017 (including funding for “overseas contingency operations” – ongoing wars – which are not directly part of the Department of Defense budget). It was, however, nearly triple or quadruple that of other imperial powers, however, such as the UK ($66.5 billion), France ($52.7 billion), Japan ($49.3 billion), or Germany ($43.8 billion). By active personnel, China has the world’s largest military, with 2.3 million soldiers. China is significantly expanding its ability to make overseas military deployments, with plans to quadruple the size of its marine forces and increase naval personnel by 15%.
China’s air force, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), is enormous and increasingly geared towards offensive action abroad. The PLAAF is the world’s third largest air force, which as of 2014 had more than 2,800 aircraft, including 600 “modern” fighters and 333,000 personnel. While throughout the mid and late twentieth century the PLAAF had a doctrinal role focused almost exclusively on air defense and interception, it has, since the early 2000s, developed capabilities to carry out long range ground strikes, defeat surface to air defenses, maintain air superiority over hostile territory, carry out transportation and paradrop operations, etc. – capabilities which are most useful for waging offensive wars abroad.
China is also developing the J-20, a “fifth-generation” fighter with stealth capabilities. Armed Chinese drones are another key area of development for the PLAAF, and have been exported to the Middle East. Chinese-manufactured drones in Saudi and Iraqi service have seen over 10,000 flight hours and fired more than 400 missiles in combat. In terms of the development of drone ‘swarms’ – large groups of small military drones acting in tandem – China is matching or surpassing the United States. The development of China’s air force goes hand in hand with that of its navy.
The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), China’s navy, is one of the world’s largest and most powerful, after that of the United States. China currently has two aircraft carriers, one ex-Soviet vessel purchased from Ukraine and one domestically built. A third carrier is planned, using a new aircraft launch system which would enable the use of heavier aircraft. A 2016 report by the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission to the US Congress suggested that China might produce a total of 5 carriers within 15 years (bringing its total to six, including the carrier purchased from Ukraine).
As of April 2017, the PLAN had 32 destroyers, 68 submarines, and hundreds of smaller surface vessels. This included fifty-seven diesel-electric powered attack submarines and five nuclear powered attack submarines, as well as six nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines. The Chinese navy is developing a sea-based anti-ballistic missile system for deployment in the Pacific and Indian oceans, and has also developed a long range cruise missile that can be deployed from its destroyers to hit targets 3500 km away. The PLAN is also investing heavily into the development of underwater drones which can serve a variety of surveillance and other military purposes.
Responses to the Development of Chinese Imperialism
Of course, China’s rise as a new imperial power has not gone unnoticed among the other powers. Many of these states, in particular the United States, are redeveloping their strategic thinking, foreign policy, military deployments, trade deals, etc. in response – although not always in a coherent or effective manner. A report put out by the Strategic Studies Institute at the US Army War College entitled At Our Own Peril: DoD Risk Assessment in a Post-Primacy World, when read with the requisite critical eye towards its origins and motivations, gives a good broad overview of the perspective of many American military analysts and, more broadly, the US military establishment. Arguing that the collapse of the Soviet Union placed the United States in a ‘unipolar’, or ‘primacy’ role in the world, and dividing this time frame into two periods, one ‘post-Cold War’ from the early 1990s to 2001, and the other ‘Post-9/11’ from September 11, 2001 onwards, the study argues that the latter period is being supplanted by a new set of circumstances:
Now, it is becoming increasingly clear that the United States is either at the doorstep or in the midst of a third — even more uncertain — wave of foundational strategic change. This study labels this period “post-primacy.” For DOD, post-primacy is marked by five interrelated characteristics:
● Hyper-connectivity and weaponization of information, disinformation, and dis-affection;
● A rapidly fracturing post-Cold War status quo;
● Proliferation, diversification, and atomization of effective counter-U S. resistance;
● Resurgent but transformed great power competition; and finally,
● Violent or disruptive dissolution of political cohesion and identity.
While the United States remains a global political, economic, and military giant, it no longer enjoys an unassailable position versus state competitors. 
The report further specifies on the fourth point:
As discussed earlier, the United States faces new and meaningful opposition from at least two great powers who are bent on revising the contemporary status quo. China and Russia are engaged in purposeful campaign-like activities that are focused on the material reduction of American influence as the principal arbiter of consequential international outcomes. They seek to reorder their position in the existing status quo in ways that—at a minimum—create more favorable circumstances for pursuit of their core objectives. However, a more maximalist perspective sees them pursuing advantage at the direct expense of the United States and its principal Western and Asian allies. Each possesses substantial conventional and nuclear military capability. Further, each is aggressively pursuing interests in direct contravention of international norms and in ways that are threatening to U.S. and allied interests. Finally, both have adopted complex “gray zone” approaches that to date have vexed U.S. national security and defense leadership.
While the tone of this analysis – combining some degree of alarmism with a moral indignation and feigned innocence that strains credulity (the United States has certainly ‘aggressively pursued interests in direct contravention of international norms’!) – can be safely discounted, the fundamental worldview it displays is important to consider. According to this report, coming from authors and sources firmly ensconced within the American military establishment, the rise of China (and Russia) as “great powers” presents a threat to American imperial dominance and foretells a resurgence in inter-imperialist conflict, and requires new strategies on the part of American imperialism to counter.
This new perspective is not, of course, limited to purely academic rumblings in Department of Defense policy papers. After a series of 2007 war games that demonstrated that the United States would have trouble maintaining naval and air control over the South China Sea in the face of the Chinese development of ‘area denial’ weapons like anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles and better submarines, the US Navy and Air Force developed a new doctrine: “AirSea Battle” (ASB) which would seek to counter these weapons and ensure that the US could maintain air and naval superiority in a conflict with China. ASB was initially accepted in 2012. The Navy and Air Force initially tried to indicate that ASB was not directed at China, but were largely unsuccessful:
Despite the assembled brains the Navy and the Air Force had brought together for the project, AirSea Battle advocates proved inept at selling their plan, partly because no one wanted to offend China by stating plainly that the new thinking addressed the challenge from Beijing. In a May 2012 presentation at the Brookings Institution, Air Force Gen. Norton Schwartz claimed that ASB didn’t target China or any other particular region, but was “a genuinely global concept consistent with the globalized environment in which we operate.” The statement brought guffaws, even inside the Pentagon, where Army officers noted that Andrew Krepinevich’s AirSea Battle concept paper mentioned China no fewer than 150 times. (Schwartz’s office said the general could not find the time to comment on this article.)
The denials weren’t fooling anyone. Chinese military officers regularly questioned their American counterparts on the ASB doctrine, and the apparent unease reached into China’s leadership. In one unsigned editorial in China’s People’s Daily, the paper noted, “If the U.S. takes the AirSea Battle system seriously, China has to upgrade its anti-access capabilities. China should have the ability to deter any external interference but unfortunately, such a reasonable stance is seen as a threat by the U.S.” In other words, if the United States were intent on developing anti-access and anti-area denial weapons, the Chinese would just develop more of them.
While ASB was initially held up by inter-service rivalries (the US Army, concerned that it would face budget cuts if the focus of American military power was on naval and air operations, insisted on playing a bigger role in the new doctrine), it was advanced in 2015 under the name “Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons.”
In 2011, Barack Obama announced his administration would undergo a “Pivot to Asia” (P2A) in American foreign policy during a speech to the Australian Parliament. This was accompanied by announcing that the US would base 2,500 marines in Australia. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced in 2012 that the US would deploy a greater proportion of its navy to the Pacific. P2A, taken in conjunction with the development of AirSea Battle and the changes to US military deployments in the region, was widely seen as an effort to contain and encircle China. Indeed, a key element of P2A was building up closer relations with China’s neighbors, from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to Japan. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was conceived of as an economic extension of P2A, specifically excluding China. When China proposed establishing the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the United States not only refused to join, but tried to pressure its allies into boycotting the bank as well.
As a skimming of the titles of the articles we have cited in the above paragraph might indicate, however, P2A was far from an acclaimed success. Mainstream US foreign policy commentators have instead widely panned the policy – not because they though its aims were misguided, but rather because they thought its implementation has been incomplete, chaotic, and ineffective. A renewed focus on the Middle East and Eastern Europe deflected attention from the ‘Pivot’. The Obama administration’s public statements on China and East Asia were unclear and often contradictory, at times seeming to accept Chinese ‘core interests’ and at times seeming to be presenting a clear rebuke to China, in the end accomplishing little beyond aggravating both China and US allies like Japan and the Philippines.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership was held up in Congress and domestic opposition to it was so great that even Hillary Clinton – one of its architects – was compelled to oppose it in the 2016 election. One of the first actions of the Trump administration was to scuttle TPP. The American effort to boycott the AIIB was not just a failure but actively a debacle, with major European powers including the United Kingdom completely ignoring the directive and agreeing to participate and the US left looking “confused and contradictory”.
Despite the Trump administration’s cancellation of TPP, it has in no sense abandoned confrontation with China. Indeed:
Behind the scenes, however, the Trump transition is preparing its own pivot to Asia. As the team that will implement that policy takes shape, what’s emerging is an approach that harkens back to past Republican administrations — but also seeks to actualize the Obama administration’s ambition of enhancing the U.S. presence in the region. Transition officials say the Trump administration will take a hawkish view of China, focus on bolstering regional alliances, have a renewed interest in Taiwan, be skeptical of engagement with North Korea and bolster the U.S. Navy’s fleet presence in the Pacific.
Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, argued at his confirmation hearings that the US would need to block Chinese access to artificially constructed islands in the South China Sea. Tillerson did not specify the mechanism for this – “But analysts said his comments, like those of Spicer, suggested the possibility of U.S. military action, or even a naval blockade.” The bevy of threats directed towards North Korea by the United States is seen both by American analysts and China’s leadership as veiled threats against China.
Tillerson, responding to the growing economic importance of China in Latin America, declared that “Latin America does not need new imperial powers that seek only to benefit their own people” (for Tillerson, of course, the objectionable element is new; the current set suffices). The Trump administration has also announced an inquiry into allegations that China allows or supports theft of intellectual property, a common American claim. Although Trump seems to have backed off from a full scale trade war with China, his administration – and both Democrats and Republicans in Congress – continue to mull more limited options.
A major factor in Trump’s decision to retain and expand the US presence in Afghanistan was to acquire access to mineral wealth there so as to expand US access to rare-earth minerals and to deny control of mineral wealth to China:
But for Mr. Trump, as a businessman, [Afghanistan’s mineral wealth] is arguably the only appealing thing about Afghanistan. Officials said he viewed mining as a “win-win” that could boost that country’s economy, generate jobs for Americans and give the United States a valuable new beachhead in the market for rare-earth minerals, which has been all but monopolized by China.
China already has a $3 billion contract to develop a copper mine about 25 miles southeast of the Afghan capital, Kabul. Officials said Mr. Trump was determined not to spend American lives and treasure in Afghanistan only to watch China lock up its rare-earth deposits, which are used to make products from wind turbines to computer chips.
The United States has certainly not turned a blind eye to China’s rise as an imperial power and has taken significant steps to try to contain it or continue to outcompete it. From the military to the foreign policy establishment to the Obama and Trump administrations, the full breadth of state institutions at the core of American imperialism have put forward both strategies and concrete actions to this effect. To be sure, these efforts have often been confused, ineffective, and sometimes contradictory (incidentally, wholly undermining the argument that imperialist powers must necessarily be successful in preventing the rise of competitors!), but they have all had a common motivation. The United States is, furthermore, not alone in responding to the development of Chinese imperialism.
As noted above in the Chinese Imperialism Abroad section, China began a major program of investment into Europe during the apex of the European financial crisis, 2010-2012, with a particular focus after 2012 on acquiring properties in the most hard-hit states as well as in acquiring European companies with access to advanced technology. This investment quickly provoked concern from several leading European powers, particularly France and Italy, but Germany initially remained relatively sanguine. As the scale of Chinese investments and ambitions for further acquisitions became more clear, however, Germany pulled a dramatic turnabout and joined with France and Italy in pursuing European Union action against Chinese investments. Germany (unsuccessfully) sought to block the acquisition of robotics firm Kuka by the Chinese firm Media. It also joined Italy and France in calling for the implementation of EU authority to block Chinese purchases. The EU has also joined the United States in blocking the WTO from granting China “Market Economy Status”. This status would significantly restrict the ability of states to implement anti-dumping tariffs against China. This is of particular importance given the fact that the EU is considering implementing punitive anti-dumping tariffs against Chinese steel – possibly raising its tariffs from the current 21% to closer to the 266% implemented by the United States. With the exception of Hungary, EU ambassadors to China signed a report critical of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
In 2016, France pushed for European navies to begin regularly patrolling the South China Sea in “a clear indication of pushback against China.” A French amphibious assault ship was deployed to Japan in April 2017, for drills motivated in part by French concern over China’s newly constructed aircraft carrier. A leaked 2015 German military document revealed plans being made for potential conflict with Russia and China. Perhaps in response to these moves, in July 2017 Chinese warships including some of China’s most advanced ships staged joint exercises in the Baltic with Russian vessels. In January 2018, the French defense minister announced plans to “develop joint military exercises between France and Japan” including sailing additional French naval vessels through the South China Sea in moves aimed at China.
Japan has likewise organized significant responses to the rise of China as an imperial power. The public relationship between China and Japan is often deeply antagonistic, with bitter memories of the 20th-century invasion and occupation of wide swathes of China by Imperial Japan combining with modern day overlapping territorial claims. Japan has activated a marine unit for the first time since the second world war, as part of a broader package of military assets designed to contest a set of disputed islands with China. In general, it is significantly expanding and updating its military forces, particularly its naval forces, in anticipation of conflict with China. Japan has also sought out closer military ties with Europe and joint development of missiles and other weapons systems as part of this military buildup.
Neither has Japan been idle on the economic front. The abandonment of the TPP – a measure designed at incorporating Japan and other countries into a trade bloc excluding China – by the United States has caused significant consternation in Japan. It since proposed that the other parties to the pact should agree to strip US concessions from the deal and then implement it themselves. Agreements on a rump TPP sans the United States were concluded in November, 2017. After a 2010 dispute over contested islands, China – which had been dominant in the production of rare earth materials used in high tech production – cut off their supply to Japan. Subsequently, Japan has aggressively pursued the reinvigoration of its rare earth mineral mining industry to ensure it is not dependent on China for their supply.
China is the world’s largest economy, by purchasing power parity. Even by nominal exchange figures, it is the world’s second largest economy, and closing the gap. Its economy is starkly divided, producing huge cities with productivity comparable to the US or Europe’s leading imperial powers, and heavily underdeveloped rural regions. In terms of gigantic monopoly companies, China places second behind the United States, and is well ahead of any other power. Its banks are the largest and most profitable in the world. China was third among capital exporters from 2011-2016, fifth in accumulated export stock, and both its annual capital export and accumulated holdings are rapidly growing. Its economy is increasingly developing domestic high tech manufacturing and other high-margin sectors.
Chinese investment stretches across the world. In Africa, China extracts massive quantities of natural resources. It also, however, exports enormous quantities of manufactured goods – and increasingly also uses the continent as a source of cheap labor for offshoring production. Nor is China restricted to Africa; it entered Europe on a large scale in the wake of the European financial crisis, making large acquisitions in countries like Greece, Italy, Hungary, and Portugal, in addition to its holdings in countries like France, Germany, and the UK. The Belt and Road Initiative stretching across Asia, Africa, and Europe is one of if not the most ambitious infrastructure projects ever carried out by a state.
The Chinese military is rapidly growing and developing as a world power. Its ships patrol the South China Sea, the Horn of Africa, and the Indian Ocean, operating out of a network of bases spanning from the Spratly and Paracel Islands to Djibouti, with further development expected across Africa and Asia. China’s air force is one of the world’s strongest, and has been redesigned to serve in offensive overseas operations. It is a leader in the development of drones, and armed Chinese aerial drones have repeatedly proven themselves in Middle Eastern arsenals. Increasingly, the Chinese military is deployed to defend its economic interests. The ever growing presence of thousands of Chinese “peacekeepers” in Africa guarding its investments on the continent is but the most obvious demonstration of this role. In addition, China has developed close relations with foreign militaries to protect and advance its interests by proxy, as in Pakistan and Myanmar.
China has opened many doors across the world through its self-portrayal as some kind of new, non-imperialist world power on the basis of its status as a former semi-colony with no history of formal colonialism. This constitutes nothing more than a benign facade. The same economic and political logic that drove nineteenth and twentieth century capitalists to develop the capitalist imperialism Lenin described in 1916 has driven Chinese capitalists today to pursue imperial gains. The experiences of Chinese holdings across the world clearly demonstrate this. To point to just a few examples, in Myanmar, the Chinese government is complicit in the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya to free up land for its companies to develop, as in the case of Kyauk Pyu. In Greece, the purchase of Piraeus by Cosco was the catalyst for a massive assault on Greek dockworkers and their unions, backed by the muscle of local fascist thugs. In Zambia, Chinese election interference helps in maintaining the poverty wages and dangerous working conditions of its mining companies. In Mali and South Sudan, Chinese soldiers protect its investments from local forces and hostile imperial powers alike.
Key imperial powers including the United States, Germany, France, and Japan have recognized the rise of China as a serious competitor. None adopt the blasé position that China is a subservient semi-colony which is only succeeding as serving as cheap labor for their companies. Instead, each has pursued serious economic and military responses to attempt to contain China and protect their established world positions. Their efforts have not all been successful, or even all well-thought out. Nevertheless, the disposition of these powers strongly suggests that they are serious about seeing China as a new imperial competitor that exercises significant power on the world stage. This has heightened the possibility for inter-imperial conflict as the heretofore dominant imperial powers move to counter Chinese expansion into their traditional domains.
To be sure, there are significant weaknesses to China’s world position. Its domestic economy is resting adopt a huge property bubble which its leadership is desperately attempting to deflate slowly in part through intensification of its foreign investments. The same lack of colonial history which opens many diplomatic doors to China denies it the advantages of colonial legacies and ties which other imperial powers enjoy. In a military sense, it remains vastly inferior to the United States, the dominant imperial power. Its military and diplomatic weakness has forced it to pursue risky investments in areas like Pakistan where it faces serious prospects of economic or military collapse provoking major losses. It has already suffered some losses in this regard, as evidenced by its lost stake in Libya’s oil industry. Furthermore, China is often forced to pay a premium for access to investments in the spheres of influence of other powers, and sometimes even still has its investments blocked or rejected. Chinese capitalists, however, will not accept these limitations and premiums indefinitely without complaint. The expansion and renovation of China’s military capacity to intervene overseas is one indication of this tendency, the huge political ambitions of projects like the Belt and Road Initiative is another.
Socialists today cannot continue to be bound by empty platitudes that the components of the world imperial order are frozen in place and unchangeable, or that the threat from imperialism consists almost exclusively of imperial conquests and re-conquests of semi-colonies by an imperial alliance led by the United States. As Lenin noted in his critique of Kautsky’s theory of ultra-imperialism, the world order is not stagnant and the balance of forces shifts over time, with the potential of creating new imperialist powers or weakening old ones. China is clearly a significant capitalist imperial power and there is a serious threat of inter-imperial conflict between China and other imperial powers, whether in the form of proxy wars or direct engagements. Furthermore, Chinese investment in semi-colonies is increasingly defended and advanced by its military forces or those of its allies. If we are to offer the worldwide working class a serious and accurate assessment of the world situation, the threat from imperialism, or the nature of Chinese investments we must acknowledge what is clearly demonstrated by the facts at hand. China is an imperialist power which exercises a significant and growing influence on world events. In no sense, of course, does this mean that the United States has been or imminently will be eclipsed as the leading imperial power, or that the task of American workers and socialists in fighting against American imperialism is in any sense lessened. We must, however, understand the actions of American imperialism within the context of a worldwide struggle for control by competing imperial powers within which it is (currently, by a significant margin) the strongest, not as an unchallenged unipolar hegemon.
Footnotes to Part III
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 Ibid, 452-455.
 Ibid, 455-456.
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