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Vol. 81/No. 16      April 24, 2017

(front page)

Washington tells Beijing: Back North Korea off

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s April 6-7 summit with his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida was completely upstaged by furor in Washington and other imperialist capitals over North Korea’s nine-minute-long test-firing of an unarmed missile into the Sea of Japan the day before the summit. It was also marked by Washington’s decision to shoot 59 missiles against a Syrian air base in response to Damascus’ use of nerve gas April 4 against Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province, killing at least 85 people and wounding over 500.

The media coverage of the summit focused largely on Washington and Beijing’s response to the developments in Korea. “If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will,” Trump told the Financial Times before Pyongyang’s missile test. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, “All options are on the table.”

The U.S. rulers pressed Beijing to get their ally in Pyongyang to back off, with little effect so far.

On April 11 Trump announced the dispatch of “an armada” near the Korean Peninsula. The navy strike group includes the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier that conveys 60 warplanes and a crew of 6,500, a cruiser armed with Tomahawk missiles and two guided-missile destroyers equipped with the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System. Submarines accompany the battle group.

Meanwhile, Washington and Seoul have been carrying on a massive seven-week-long military exercise involving some 30,000 U.S. troops and 300,000 South Korean soldiers that practice an invasion of the North. For the first time, the special Navy SEAL team that carried out the assassination of Osama bin Laden is participating. Some exercises, U.S. spokespeople said, simulate the “decapitation” of the North Korean leadership.

And Washington has begun installation of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, anti-missile system near Seoul, a system that Beijing feels would enable the Pentagon to spy on its missile program as well.

Also shaping the summit was Washington’s opposition to Chinese military expansion across the South China Sea and sharper competition between the two countries as world trade slows. During the dinner break the first night, Trump informed Xi that he had just unleashed the missile onslaught on Syria. He pressed Xi to do more to help Washington against North Korea, repeating warnings that the U.S. could act unilaterally to force North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program. Washington holds the world’s largest nuclear arsenal.

Sharpening competition

The explosive growth of capitalist industry and trade with China over the past 30 years has increased competition for U.S. capitalists. To defend its rising influence Beijing has expanded and upgraded its armed forces. For the first time, Washington faces a serious challenge to the fruits it won in World War II — control over Pacific trade routes.

Beijing’s claim to some 80 percent of the South China Sea, including more than 40 islands, is contested by Tokyo, Hanoi, Manila and other governments in the region. Trillions of dollars of trade goes through these waters every year.

Although a declining power, with its world order unraveling, U.S. imperialism holds far greater firepower than any of its rivals. And the dollar remains the world’s reserve currency. Bloody wars ending in a standoff in Korea and defeat in Vietnam did not quell the U.S. rulers’ resolve to retain their supremacy in the region. Washington has the world’s largest naval force, consisting of some 270 ships, including 10 aircraft carriers — more than the navies of all other countries in the world combined — 90 surface combat vessels, 72 submarines, and dozens more warships of varying sizes and shapes dedicated to maintaining “freedom of navigation” for U.S. imperialism.

In recent years Beijing has built artificial island military bases across the South China Sea. “Your access to those islands … is not going to be allowed,” Tillerson threatened the Chinese rulers in January. But by March 27 the Center for Strategic and International Studies reports that China was completing the installation of aircraft hangers and missile launchers on the islands, allowing Chinese warplanes “to operate over nearly the entire South China Sea.”

The U.S. has opened new bases in the region and plans to position 60 percent of its warships there by 2020. From 2011 the Obama administration began a much-ballyhooed “pivot” to Asia, increasing Washington’s military presence in the Pacific. They said this was necessary and possible because the wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East were winding down.

The U.S. has the largest military budget in the world, spending $584 billion a year. China, in a distant second place, spends $143 billion.

China’s rise is fracturing long-standing alliances among capitalist powers in the region, creating obstacles for Washington. On March 7, the Rodrigo Duterte government in the Philippines rejected Washington’s proposal to build facilities at the Bautista Air Base, the closest Philippine base to the Chinese-built islands in the Spratly archipelago. At the same time Duterte said he is reinforcing the Philippine’s own claims to islands, ordering troops to occupy and fortify them.

At the conclusion of the summit, neither Washington nor Beijing could announce anything of consequence. They said Trump and Xi agreed to spend the next 100 days seeking accommodations to avoid a trade war. Beijing’s bosses and farm enterprises enjoy a $347 billion annual trade surplus over their U.S. counterparts.  
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