Playing The China Card

by Benjie Oliveros


A few days ago, a photo of China’s first aircraft carrier was published on the front page of a major daily. There appears to be no other reason for China’s aircraft carrier to merit the front page but the much-reported tension between the Philippines and China over the Scarborough shoal and Spratly islands, as well as reports that tend to portray China as the bully of the region.

The question is: Does China have the intention and capacity of projecting itself as a power in the region? Is it a real challenge not only to small countries like the Philippines and Vietnam but to powerful countries as well, such as Japan and most especially, the US? Is the US justified in increasing its presence in the region and is the Aquino government right in requesting the US to do so and opening up the country to more frequent stationing and rotation (euphemistically called as “visits”) of battleships, submarines and a larger contingent of US troops?

Well, Dr. PaoYu Ching, PhD in Economics, a progressive political economist, does not think so. This was the main topic of the talk Dr. Pao Yu Chinggave in a recent forum with the title US Rebalancing in Asia and the Pacific and its effect on China and the Philippines, which was sponsored by Bayan recently.

First of all, she said, China could not match the military weaponry of the US. It does not even have the aircraft that could land on this aircraft Chinacarrier, which, by the way, is a refurbished one bought from the Ukraine. Thus, for China, she said, it is basically just a big boat. And besides, she said, China has only 3,000 aircraft, 2,900 of which are outdated.

On the other hand, the US, she said, has 12 aircraft carriers and 3,000 modern fighter jets. The US, she said, will, in the near future, have the nuclear capability to destroy all the other countries’ nuclear arsenal just with its first strike.

Also, China’s annual military expenditure of $40 billion is a mere one-tenth of what the US is spending, which is at $400 billion annually.

Second, she said, China’s government is unstable because the country is being battered by a crisis economically and politically. The Chinese government, she said, is under tremendous pressure domestically because the world economic crisis has gravely affected China’s capability to sell its exports. Politically, she said, there is social unrest because its workers have very low wages, poor working conditions and no security of tenure because of contractualization, the privatization of the government’s social services has made education, health and other basic services unaffordable, and the worsening conditions of the peasantry because land suited for agriculture is fast diminishing at an estimated rate of two percent annually due to land use conversion and pollution. The Chinese government, she said, would have wanted to privatize the remaining state industries, as well as land, if not for the growing resistance of the masses.

With the state China is in, it could not be a major economic power, much less a military power in the region.

Third is the economic relationship between China and the US. The US is still China’s main export destination. Twenty-one of China’s 28 industries are controlled by foreign monopoly capitalists. The five largest multinational corporations, including that of the US, control these 21 industries. And China is dependent on US capital and technology.

For the US, China is still the main go-to country for work that its companies sub-contract to exploit China’s cheap labor. China is the biggest debtor country of the US because the latter is unable to pay for its exports from China. And it is also a major destination of US investments.

So if the probability of a US-China conflict is very remote, why is the US blowing up the possibility of China being a threat to its hegemony? Dr. Pao Yu Ching believes that the US is creating the hype of a Chinese threat to justify its intent to realign its forces toward and project its military might in the Asia-Pacific region; China, on the other hand, is making a show of asserting its claim over Scarborough shoal and Spratly islands to show to the Chinese people that it is doing something to assert China’s interest, especially after it has practically handed over 21 of its 28 major industries to multinational corporations.

Dr. Pao Yu Ching has made a very incisive analysis of China and its relations with the US. With the data and information Dr. Pao Yu Ching provided, it is indeed implausible for China to challenge the US. It has neither the capability nor the reason to challenge the US when it is dependent on US technology, capital and market.

The US also has no reason to provoke an armed conflict with China. Aside from the fact that China is its biggest source of cheap labor, and its biggest debtor, and that a lot of US multinational companies have factories in China, it has no reason to do so. The Chinese government has essentially turned its back on its socialist path, has fully opened up its economy and turned over control to foreign monopoly capital of three-fourths of its major industries, 21 out of 28.

The only reason for the US to provoke a conflict with China is if it becomes so desperate that it would want to take over the rest of China’s major industries and kick out its competitors from this big market. If it comes to that, the US could not risk an open conflict with China. It could not send enough troops to occupy such a large country, aside from the fact that a substantial number of its forces are still tied up in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the volatile Middle East. What it would probably do is to use both its allies such as Australia and Great Britain and its surrogate forces such as the Philippine Armed Forces as auxiliary forces and support a rightist coup from within China.

With this, the only remaining question is that: if the specter of a Chinese threat is all hot air, why is the Aquino government readily lending a hand in bloating this lie? What is in it for the Aquino government?

The Aquino government is hoping that by towing the US line and agenda in the region, and by allowing more frequent visits of more US troops, warships, and submarines, it would receive more military aid and financing from the US for the modernization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. So far, it has received two old re-commissioned coast guard cutters, with its guns removed.

If there are no immediate external threats and the Aquino government is confident of US support in the unlikely event that it would be involved in a conflict with another country, what is the AFP modernization program for? The Aquino government’s desire to infuse more funds and weapons to the AFP, through US military assistance, is intended to strengthen its counterinsurgency program, while at the same time, to court the continuous support of the AFP to the administration. Simply put, it is meant to defend the status quo against threats to its rule and to the whole ruling system. Why? Because it is pursuing the same oppressive economic policies and program that have been pushing the country deeper into crisis and have been worsening the immiseration of the majority of the Filipino people. (

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