United States-China standoff a warning of larger conflicts ahead
April 16, 2001
Although the Chinese government has released the crew of the U.S. spy plane, the incident is a likely precursor to future clashes between the two nations. The standoff has added to a growing anti-American sentiment in China over attempts by the United States to contain that country and intervene in its affairs.
As one Chinese official recently told the New York Times, "the battle is not over" regarding U.S. spy flights.
China views the United States as a bully and hypocrite, practicing unfair double standards. For example, the U.S. military does not permit this kind of foreign patrol along its borders and coastlines, even though it claims to have the right to conduct such reconnaissance of other nations. As the New York Times reported earlier this month, "the American military, which does not tolerate such close surveillance of U.S. territory, regards these operations as entirely routine."
But it is the question of Taiwan's future that presents to the Chinese the most clear-cut case of the imperialist role of the United States, and the double standard that it applies to other countries. China accuses the United States of interfering with its attempt to regain the island by proposing the further sale of high-tech weapons to the Taiwanese government, despite strong Chinese objections.
Taiwan was part of the Chinese Empire long before Western powers arrived, but the mainland lost control over the island when the Japanese occupied it as the first of their foreign colonies in 1895. With the triumph of the Communist revolution in 1949, defeated forces retreated to Taiwan, where a U.S. fleet protected them from further attack. There would be no "Taiwan issue" today were it not for this intervention.
To understand how the Chinese view this issue, imagine the roles reversed. What if China were to arm the Puerto Rican independence movements and Vieques anti-military protestors with fighter aircraft and the latest missile destroyers? What if it were to send its navy ships to patrol the waters around the U.S. territory to ensure that referendums on their status were carried out fairly and without interference from Washington?
China views similar acts by the United States regarding Taiwan as insults to its sovereignty and a threat to national unity, the latest stage in a century and a half of imperialist efforts to occupy and divide its territory. As a rising economic, political and military force that is reclaiming its historic role in East Asia, China will no longer accept this kind of treatment. It refuses to be looked upon as a "Third World" country that can be bullied and attacked by the last remaining "Great Power," the United States.
It is therefore the U.S. government and people who must now decide if they want a new relationship with the Chinese, one based on equality, mutual respect and noninterference in internal affairs. If the United States instead chooses to continue playing its role as an imperialist power, attempting to contain China and intervene on such issues as Taiwan, conflict is all but inevitable.
The record of U.S. military intervention in the civil divisions of Asia has been a disastrous one. If the Korean and Vietnam Wars are not to be repeated on a larger scale, then the United States needs to fundamentally alter its policies and its attitudes toward China.
April 16, 2001 is the author of "Red Cat, White Cat: China and the Contradictions of 'Market Socialism'" (Monthly Review Press, 1996), and a lecturer and labor organizer at the University of California at Santa Cruz. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.