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Vol. 81/No. 6      February 13, 2017

(front page)

Chinese rulers advance, Washington seeks to slow decline in Asia, Pacific

As it took office, the administration of President Donald Trump threatened trade sanctions against China, along with action to curtail expansion of Beijing’s deployment of military forces in the South China Sea.

The moves reflect concerns of the U.S. rulers at China’s capitalist rulers’ ascending economic and military weight in Asia and the Pacific. China’s rise comes at the expense of Washington, which saw domination of the region and its lucrative trade routes as the rightful fruits of its bloody victory in the second imperialist world war.

At the same time, Trump’s “America First” course and his decision for Washington to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal has fueled growing uncertainty among the U.S. rulers’ allies in the region.

Beijing’s massive growth of capitalist industry, investment and trade over the past 30 years has meant increasing competition for U.S. imperialism. Capitalist bosses throughout Asia and the Pacific have become ever more dependent on economic relations with China.

Beijing’s new weight was reflected in the top billing given to Chinese President Xi Jinping at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 17-20. The forum is an annual gathering dedicated to “free market” capitalism and trade liberalization.

Xi, who is also secretary general of the Chinese Communist Party, gave the opening address, standing as the foremost defender of unbridled capitalism and “globalization.”

“We must remain committed to free trade and investment. We must promote trade and investment liberalization,” Xi told the heads of state, billionaire hedge fund managers, Hollywood glitterati and other privileged invitees. “No one will emerge as a winner in a trade war.”

These developments reflect the sharpening competition between the masters of the first and second largest capitalist economies in the world.

Over recent years the Chinese government has carried out major dredging in the South China Sea, turning reefs and islets into islands, and building ports and runways that can host ships and aircraft. In response, then President Barack Obama said Washington would make a “pivot” to project more power in Asia, and the U.S. Navy has conducted ongoing “freedom of navigation” military patrols.

Trillions of dollars in trade passes through these waters every year.

“We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed,” Trump’s secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson told a Senate confirmation hearing Jan. 11.

The Philippine government won an international court ruling in July last year upholding its claims to territory occupied by China off its coast. But Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has refused to press the issue, instead seeking closer ties with both Beijing and Tokyo. He ordered an end to Philippine participation in U.S. naval patrols.

At a news conference Jan. 29 Duterte threatened to abrogate a 2014 security treaty with Washington that allows U.S. troops, warships and planes to rotate deployments at Philippine bases. Washington’s posturing against China was putting the Philippines at risk, he said.

Trump’s plans for the region revolve around seeking to stop the decline of the U.S. rulers’ competitive edge. Administration figures say a major naval buildup in East Asia is coming to counter China. U.S. trade officials have also threatened to impose hefty tariffs on Chinese goods.

Trump junked the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact, saying it would disadvantage U.S. bosses seeking trade and investment and that it didn’t go far enough to counter Beijing’s government-aided economic expansion.

The TPP was a 5,500-page agreement negotiated last year by the governments of Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the United States. Its numerous regulations aimed to establish a web of economic and political connections that would enable Washington to “call the shots” in Asia, Obama had said.

At the same time, Trump named Terry Branstad, Republican governor of Iowa and long-time friend of Chinese President Xi, as his choice for ambassador to Beijing. Branstad says he wants to expand U.S. trade with China.

Trump’s moves have led to a new round of maneuvers by capitalist rulers seeking to advance their competitive positions in the region.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull urged the other 11 signatories to push on with the TPP without Washington, and even suggested that Beijing itself could be invited to head the anti-China agreement. That was immediately rejected by Tokyo, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declaring the deal was meaningless without Washington. Japan’s capitalist rulers run the second largest economy in Asia.

Meanwhile, Beijing has said it will now forge ahead with its own alternative to the TPP, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. The RCEP is a less regulated trade agreement that includes the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations along with Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and China. Talks on the agreement are set for Japan in February. A number of countries in Latin America have indicated a desire to join.

One thing is sure — deepening competition, as Trump seeks “better deals” in Asia for U.S. capital and Beijing pushes its economic and political expansion, means increased attacks on the wages and working conditions of working people.  
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