Days before the anniversary of the counterrevolutionary uprising in Tiananmen Square, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that the Pentagon was planning to deploy 60 percent of its naval fleet to the Pacific region.
Panetta said that the current 50/50 balance of U.S. naval forces between the Pacific and the Atlantic would be “rebalanced” to a ratio of 60/40 in favor of deployment in the Pacific and East Asia. “Make no mistake — in a steady, deliberate and sustainable way — the United States military is rebalancing and brings enhanced capabilities to this vital region,” Panetta said. (New York Times, June 2)
This flagrantly aggressive imperialist declaration was made in Singapore at a summit of Asian defense ministers, military officials, military contractors and imperialist analysts. Panetta’s high-level delegation included the chairperson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey; Adm. Samuel J. Locklear, head of the U.S. Pacific Command; and Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns.
Panetta outlined some details of the shift. The renewed emphasis on the Pacific will involve six aircraft carriers and a majority of the Navy’s cruisers, destroyers, littoral (coastal) combat ships and submarines. These will be fortified by an increase in the number and size of military exercises in the Pacific and a greater number of port visits.
Among the specific new weapons Panetta mentioned were the advanced fifth-generation F-35 aircraft known as the Joint Strike Fighter, made by Lockheed Martin; the enhanced Virginia-class fast-attack submarine, made by General Dynamics, which can operate in shallow and deep waters; new electronic warfare and communications capabilities; and improved precision weapons.
Panetta, of course, denied emphatically that this new policy was a threat aimed at China. Yet many of the new weapons are openly described as aimed to counter the defensive weapons systems being developed by the People’s Liberation Army. The new weapons specially designed for the greater distances in the Pacific include an aerial-refueling tanker, a bomber, and advanced maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare aircraft, said Panetta.
Retired Army Gen. David Barno, a senior adviser at the Center for a New American Security, put things more bluntly. Barno said that Panetta’s announcement will “put real teeth” in the Obama administration’s new strategy. “China should and will take note,” Gen. Barno said. “The United States is and will remain a Pacific power, even more so in this century than in the last.” (Wall Street Journal, June 2)
A deliberate public confrontation
Thus Washington and the Pentagon have made a decision to publicly declare a military confrontation with the People’s Republic of China. The so-called “rebalancing” is supposed to take place over a period of years, to be completed in 2020, according to Panetta. If the intention to make a drastic escalation of military pressure on China is going to be completed in eight years and is still in its earliest stages, why announce it so long in advance? Why now? Why announce it at all, for that matter?
One of the public reasons given for announcing it is to assure the governments of the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, India and others that the U.S. will “protect” them from China’s growing strength. This is, of course, a complete lie, on many grounds. It is meant to cover up the aggressive designs by U.S. imperialism on the region, including the desire of Big Oil to lay hands on 213 billion barrels of oil in the South China Sea. It is also false propaganda, creating a threat that does not exist in order to fill the coffers of the military-industrial complex with endless contracts for new weaponry.
But even assuming that Washington wanted to reassure its puppets, its allies and others, this could easily be done privately and/or bilaterally. Weapons agreements can be arranged. Low-level officials could issue a mere one-page press release or say nothing. They could sign international agreements in secret or with minimal publicity, as imperialists often do.
At a moment when relations between the U.S. and China are becoming increasingly tense in a number of specific areas, why make matters worse? But that is exactly what Panetta did.
Such a move seems counterintuitive. The U.S. financial establishment, the Treasury Department, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are trying to negotiate behind the scenes while pressuring the Chinese leadership to deepen capitalist reforms, to the point of threatening the socialist core that remains in China.
U.S. finance capital is trying to make inroads in the Chinese state banking system and to expand and invade the capital markets in China. The strategy of finance capital is designed to get rid of economic planning, undermine the state-owned enterprises, promote increased lending to private capitalists in China, widen the scope of imperialist investment and so on.
Why, at this critical moment, would they want to antagonize the Chinese leadership with military threats and subversive plots, such as the incident involving the recent removal of Chen Guangcheng to the U.S.?
Reagan & the Soviet Union’s collapse
A clue to what is behind this strategy can be found by going over aspects of the collapse of the USSR and elements of the strategy of U.S. imperialism that preceded the collapse.
Of course, China today and the USSR in the 1980s are in completely different situations. Many overall comparisons do not apply. But there are crucial common elements. And U.S. strategists, having gone through the historical experience of the collapse of the USSR, must surely be thinking of that experience as they approach the question of how to restore full-scale rule of capitalism in China.
In the early 1980s, the Reagan administration saw that the Soviet economy was in an increasing state of stagnation. Bourgeois elements — anti-communists such as Andrei Sakharov, Nathan Sharansky and other counterrevolutionaries — were growing stronger within the USSR. The Brezhnev era was coming to an end and leadership changes were in the wind that might be favorable to imperialism.
From ‘Star Wars’ to Gorbachev
In 1982 Yuri Andropov, a reformer, took over the leadership in the Soviet Union after Leonid Brezhnev’s 18 years at the helm. What was the Reagan administration’s response to this move toward a Soviet leadership more conciliatory to imperialism? In March 1983, Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative — soon called “Star Wars.” From the point of view of military strategy, it posed an enormous threat to the USSR.
The premise was that through various new weapons systems, involving lasers as well as space-based antimissile systems, the U.S. was striving to create a system that could preemptively wipe out any Soviet military response to a U.S. attack.
Many critics said “Star Wars” was technically too complicated to succeed. Nevertheless, some pilot project preliminaries did succeed and the Soviet leadership was deeply concerned. Arms negotiations were arranged where the Soviet side urgently pressed Washington to abandon the plan. They showed how it would upset the military balance and that “Star Wars” violated prior treaties and agreements.
The Reagan administration refused to budge. It pressed ahead despite protests from the Soviet Union and also from sections of the U.S. ruling class which thought this aggressive stance was foolish, dangerous or both. After two years at the helm of the USSR, Andropov died. An older and clearly transitional leader, Konstantin Chernenko, replaced him and died in turn in 1985.
Mikhail Gorbachev then succeeded Chernenko. Gorbachev brought a generation of bourgeois reformers into the government and opened up the door to bourgeois democracy and privatization. He broke the monopoly on foreign trade and tried to come to an international accommodation with U.S. imperialism.
In the late 1980s, Gorbachev virtually gave Washington permission to overthrow the governments of Eastern Europe without any response from the USSR. There would be no Soviet resistance such as in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. Washington would have a free hand to push all the levers and activate its entire underground counterrevolutionary apparatus in Hungary, Romania, the German Democratic Republic and the other Eastern European countries.
The Gorbachev regime thought it could arrive at peaceful coexistence with U.S. imperialism and NATO by a craven accommodation at the expense of the masses of Eastern and Central Europe, who are now suffering under the nightmare of capitalism.
Margaret Thatcher publicly embraced Gorbachev during his trip to London in 1985. Reagan then embraced him publicly at a meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland, and later at Geneva. But through all the negotiations on arms control, Reagan would not give one inch on abandoning SDI.
Instead, Reagan promised Gorbachev that the U.S. would never “seek superiority” over the USSR if Star Wars succeeded. He even promised to share the technology with the Soviet Union if it succeeded.
In other words, Reagan relied on the illusions and false hopes of this right-wing revisionist, bordering on counterrevolutionary. Gorbachev thought the USSR could reach an accommodation with U.S. imperialism by making gratuitous and drastic concessions.
It was not only military pressure that the Reagan administration brought to bear on the USSR. That was just one part of what was called a “full court press”: to spend the USSR into bankruptcy by driving it to respond to military threats; to drain it of resources for socialist construction; and to disrupt its economic planning processes.
In an article entitled “‘Full court press’ continues against USSR” in the Jan. 31, 1992, issue of Workers World, Pat Chin described varied aspects of the Reagan administration’s campaign to destroy socialism in the USSR. She referred to information from an article by Sean Gervasi, entitled “Western Intervention in the USSR,” in the Winter 1991-92 issue of Covert Action Information Bulletin. (Both articles can be found online.)
U.S. strategy can boomerang
To be sure, the Chinese leadership, regardless of political orientation, has shown no inclination to make territorial concessions on the same scale to U.S. imperialism. China was an oppressed nation for centuries and national consciousness is extremely widespread and intense throughout Chinese society.
But Panetta’s speech reveals that U.S. imperialism calculates that if there is a wing of China’s leadership that is prone to compromise and deepen pro-capitalist economic and political reforms, that wing is inherently conciliatory. And the way Washington deals with conciliatory elements is to bring greater pressure to bear on them, the way Reagan did on Andropov, Chernenko and later Gorbachev.
Panetta’s pronouncement, in addition to being a military threat, constitutes political intervention in the internal struggle in China.
China is now confronting an economic slowdown caused by its own internal capitalist development and the spillover from the global capitalist crisis. Pro-capitalist reformers in China are urging a policy of strengthening the private sector as part of any stimulus package to combat a slowdown. These elements seem to have the political upper hand at the top leadership level for the moment.
As happened in the USSR, this shift to the right at the top comes at a crucial time of leadership change. The elements who want to strengthen the state-owned sector have suffered a temporary defeat with the ouster of Bo Xilai. Washington is pressing its military and subversive efforts openly in order to strengthen the more conciliatory elements. That is the lesson imperialism learned from the destruction of the USSR. That is the scenario they are following.
But these threats are bound to backfire. The more aggressive the U.S. imperialists become, the more likely they are to antagonize the anti-imperialist masses of China and the People’s Liberation Army. In the long run, such arrogant military threats could provoke a profound response that could open up a mass political struggle against the entire course of the capitalist roaders in China.