U.S. China Trade Agreement: Tightening the Imperialist Chains on China

Revolutionary Worker #1033, December 5, 1999

After the U.S. signed a far-reaching trade agreement with China in mid-November, U.S. President Clinton said, "This is a good agreement for China, for America and for the world." The New York Times had this to say about the agreement: "More open trade will have broadly beneficial effects on China's economy, even if it causes greater unemployment as a result of factory closings."

Who really benefits from the U.S.-China trade deal? The short answer is that the agreement is good for the U.S. monopoly capitalist class which is eager to use "free trade" to penetrate even further into China and make huge profits. And it's good for China's capitalist rulers, who hope to expand the export market for goods made through sweatshop labor by Chinese workers.

But for the common people of China, the "free trade" agreement means even more ruthless exploitation--like the workers in the Shenzen "special economic zone" who make as little as 12 cents an hour while slaving 12 hours a day. It means greater social inequality--like the gap between the small number of urban rich who drive around in luxury cars and the millions of peasant farmers in rural areas who have barely enough to eat. It means that the Chinese people will witness foreign corporations gaining even greater access into key sectors of the economy--like telecommunications, banking and agriculture --and stronger influence on culture through films and other means.

In short, the U.S.-China trade agreement will lead to the tightening of the imperialist chains of domination on China and the Chinese people.

Opening the Door to Greater Foreign Control

The new trade pact gives the U.S. and other imperialists greater power to control key areas of the Chinese economy and more freedom for exports to China. The Chinese government made a number of important new concessions to imperialist demands. Foreign corporations can now own up to 50 percent of Chinese telephone companies and invest in Chinese internet businesses. The agreement allows foreign banks to operate directly in China. The Chinese government will reduce tariffs on imports--including on cars and agricultural products. And China agreed to import twice as many foreign films per year.

In return, the U.S. government will drop quotas on Chinese textile imports by the year 2005. And the agreement paves the way for China's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO). The Chinese government has wanted to get into the WTO for many years, as a way of expanding exports and acquiring new technology.

The WTO is an international body that sets rules and regulations for global trade. Some forces in the U.S. ruling class oppose the WTO, claiming that such an international body allows other countries too much say over U.S. policies. But this turns reality upside down. The WTO is dominated by the imperialist countries, especially the U.S. One of the functions of the WTO is to mediate trade disputes among the imperialists. But the WTO is also an important tool used by the U.S. and other imperialists to further pry open the economies of Third World countries to foreign investment and control.

For workers and oppressed people everywhere, there is nothing free about imperialist "free trade." The U.S. and other powers use the WTO and "free trade" as justification to go into any country and do whatever they want, with as few restrictions as possible.

In 1979, there were 100 foreign-owned enterprises in China. When China was an independent, socialist country led by Mao, there were no foreign-owned corporations. Today there are close to 300,000. More than half of the "Fortune 500" companies--the biggest capitalist corporations in the U.S.--have operations in China. With the new trade pact, U.S. insurance companies will be able to peddle policies anywhere in the country. General Motors can now lure Chinese people into signing up for multi-year loans to purchase cars.

Clinton says that the new trade agreement and entry into the WTO are part of "integrating China into the world economy." An important aspect of this "integration" is that the Chinese people are brought more directly into cut-throat competition with people in other countries within the international "free" market. Already, the Chinese government is shutting down many state-owned factories and throwing large numbers of workers out into the street--because they are "inefficient" --while sweatshop factories multiply rapidly. This process will intensify with the further "opening up" of China. At the same time, workers in other Third World countries like Indonesia or Sri Lanka are told they have to work harder and for cheaper wages because workers in China are paid even less.

And increased agricultural imports will drive many more Chinese peasants into landlessness and deeper poverty. This is what has been happening to peasants in Mexico since the "free trade" agreement with the U.S. (NAFTA) went into effect.

Echoes of the Pasts

The advocates of the WTO and imperialist globalization say that the agreement with the U.S. will help bring China more fully into the "modern" world. In reality, what is happening in China today brings back echoes of the past--when China was carved up by the imperialist powers.

From the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s, China was brutally dominated by various imperialist powers. The British even waged the Opium Wars in the 1840s to force China to continue the drug trade--and this resulted in millions of Chinese becoming addicts and huge amounts of wealth flowing into the hands of British merchants and bankers. China was forced to sign unequal treaties and cede parts of its territory to foreign powers. The U.S., a late-arriving imperialist power, declared an "Open Door Policy"--claiming the right to come in and exploit the Chinese people on the same terms as the more established European imperialists.

Mao Tsetung and the Communist Party of China led the people's war that defeated the imperialist powers and their reactionary lackeys. The foreign dominators were kicked out of China--and the Chinese people embarked on the road of building an independent socialist country.

Maoist political economist Raymond Lotta describes the revolutionary society built under Mao's leadership as "viable and visionary socialism." Lotta points out: "With political power in their hands, the workers and peasants of Maoist China were able to collectively tackle problems, to transform institutions, and to change their own thinking and motivations. Maoist China produced a model of economic development that is profoundly relevant to today's world. It delinked from the world imperialist system. A self-reliant economy was built that took the needs of the people--not profit, not the dictates of the world market--as its starting point. Agriculture was the foundation of the economy, and industry served agriculture.

"Technology was consciously developed and utilized to promote the aims of egalitarian economic and social development and to be mastered by people--rather than dominating, dehumanizing, and dislocating them. Workers and peasants took part in administrative, planning, and management tasks; managers and officials took part in production. Students went to the countryside to learn from the peasants. The age-old differences between mental and manual labor, between industry and agriculture, and between city and countryside were being overcome." (From "Imperialist Globalization and the Fight for a Different Future," available online at: rwor.org)

For over 25 years, the Chinese people built a new, revolutionary society, aimed at getting rid of all oppression. Then in 1976, a reactionary coup led by Deng Xiaoping overthrew proletarian rule and restored capitalism in China. The new capitalist rulers opened the door once again for the imperialist powers to come in and exploit the Chinese people.

These new capitalist rulers are the same oppressors who carried out the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre and murdered hundreds of workers and students in cold blood. And these capitalist rulers are now working in alliance with the U.S. and other imperialist powers--and against the interests of the masses of people in China.

The current Chinese rulers have ambitions to increase their economic, political and military influence in Asia and beyond. But China is basically a poor, Third World country--and the restoration of capitalism has meant the re-establishment of unequal relations between China and the imperialist powers. In the negotiations for the trade pact, it was the U.S.--the most powerful imperialist country in the world and the strongest military and political power in the Asia-Pacific region--that was mainly setting the agenda and calling the shots.

Fight for a Different Future

All over the world, the brutal process of globalization--and the dehumanizing working of the imperialist system in general--is sparking mass struggle and resistance.

According to an Associated Press wire report dated November 5, 1,000 textile workers in the city of Weinan in central China blocked three main roads for four days. They were protesting their measly $12 a month unemployment checks since the factory was shut down last year. The police attacked the protesters and injured five workers.

This is not an isolated incident. There are constant reports from throughout China--involving workers, peasants and students in confrontation against the government and its armed enforcers.

The imperialists declare that globalization is the "wave of the future"--and that there is no alternative for the people of the world. But oppressed people around the world clearly hunger for a very different future.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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