China Begins to Flex its Muscles as Imperialist Power

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23/10/2021 by socialistfight

By Dov Winter

Officers and soldiers of the Chinese naval fleet prepare to carry out an escort mission in April 2020. The 35th fleet went to the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia to escort civilian ships. Photo: Xinhua

In the debate on China, the Trotskyist Left is thoroughly all over the place. Many think that China is still a workers’ state (BT and company). Some believe that China is a semi-colony. I belong to the group that understand that China has evolved to become an imperialist country.

I will not repeat here the arguments that China is qualifies to be imperialist based on Lenin’s definition of imperialism, that is, on how much capital a country exports overseas (see…/why-china-is-an…/ )

Many concede that China investments abroad and in the semi-colonies in particular, are on par with the big European imperialist countries. But the main argument of these comrades is that China has only one military base in the semi-colonies, in Africa. So how can it be imperialist? Before I look into this, let just say that with such an argument, key imperialist countries must be just semi-colonies. Japan has a mere one military base overseas! Italy has mere two bases overseas! And the mighty Germany has only four military bases overseas. (…/Ranking_of_countries_by_the_number… )

As Marxists we must view everything dialectically, that is, in its transition and transformation. Taking a still photo of China military developments overseas at a given time does not necessary tell us the dynamic of China imperialist ambitions.

China has already more military presence than its military base in Doraleh, Djibouti, that was established in 2017:

“Although it once opposed international peacekeeping, China is now the largest provider of peacekeepers of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, with over 3,100 in Africa and Lebanon.” (…/chinas-military…/ )

UN “peace” forces are just imperialism in sheep clothing. Here is another clear element about the transformation of China into an imperialist country. The fundamental reason why China can invest overseas and start to expand its military to protect such investments is the billions of dollars as surplus capital that China has. And according to Lenin such surplus capital is what makes a country imperialist. China’s gross domestic product has jump dramatically. No other country has had such a jump in recent memory:

“China’s gross domestic product jumped from $1.2 trillion in 2000 to more than $14.7 trillion in 2020.” (…/after-9-11-china-grew… )

This is the huge jump that transformed China into an imperialist country.

This allowed China to build a mighty military. This comes directly from a Pentagon report to Congress:

“China now has the world’s largest navy, is expanding its already massive and advanced missile arsenal, and has the capability to seize Taiwan’s outlying islands.”

And the report concluded that:

“China is already ahead of the United States in certain areas.” (… )

The Pentagon report also declared that:

“the PLAA is the world’s largest standing ground force, with 915,000 active-duty personnel in 13 group armies, one of which is roughly the size of a US Army Corps — 20,000 to 45,000 troops.” (Ibid)


“According the report, the PLAAF, combined with the PLAN’s air wing, is the largest air force in the region and the third largest in the world.”

“The PLAAF is rapidly catching up to Western air forces across a broad range of capabilities and competencies,” the report notes.” (Ibid)

“More than 800 of China’s 1,500 fighter jets are considered fourth-generation, on par with fighters in Western inventories. The PLAAF also has a stealth fighter in service and a stealth bomber in development.” (Ibid)


“We know the Chinese desire a network of bases around the globe,” the head of U.S. Africa Command, General Stephen Townsend, told lawmakers Thursday, adding, “My concern is the greatest along the Atlantic coast of Africa.” (Ibid)

“Townsend said that since then, Beijing has worked on expanding its footprint in Djibouti as it eyes additional locations.” (Ibid)

“What they have done in the last two years is completed a very large and capable naval pier that adjoins their base,” Townsend said of Chinese expansion at Doraleh. “This pier has a capability to dock their largest ships, to include the Chinese aircraft carrier as well as nuclear submarines.”(Ibid)

“Now U.S. officials say China is looking to set up a presence farther south along the eastern Africa coast, in Tanzania, and has an even more ambitious plan for Africa’s Atlantic coastline.” (…/usa_china-eyes…/6204929.html )

If China is a mere semi-colony, it would not generate such worries from top US generals. China’s military expansion into countries like Tanzania show a clear trend in which China is beginning to protect its investments in Africa via military expansion. But why the delay? comrades may ask. When China has expanded its investment overseas, it initially did not dare to challenge the US in a military sense. But this is changing. The recent conflicts between China and the US in the South China Sea, are key. China won most of these conflicts and it chased US warships in the South China Sea. This gave it the confidence to start challenging the US in places such as Africa and Latin America. And it has the military might to do this.

According to the US Department of Defense 2020 annual report to Congress on Chinese military power, China has surpassed the US in terms of naval fleet size:

“The PRC [People’s Republic of China] has the largest navy in the world, with an overall battle force of approximately 350 ships and submarines, including over 130 major surface combatants … In comparison, the US Navy’s battle force is approximately 293 ships as of early 2020, said the report which was released in September.”

The bottom line is that China growing military is viewed with fears by the top US generals. China is becoming a serious challenger to the US.

And what is most interesting is the conclusion of the report:

“Analysts said expanding the navy fleet was aimed at protecting China’s overseas interests, especially while Beijing was starting infrastructure projects abroad, but it also created a challenge.” (Ibid)

We know that the infrastructure projects abroad are a step toward the extraction of raw material to be used by China. This is classic imperialism. But the Chinese way is not the cowboy way, the American way of shooting first and asking questions later. China is more cautious in its approach than the US. China has sent military attaches to Argentina, Brazil, and other Latin American countries. It promises “aid” to these countries as China builds infrastructure in these countries and other semi-colonies. It is not done from the bottom of China heart. It is an infrastructure for the factories that China uses to exploit the local labor. It is the method of Chinese imperialism, that is different than the American way, but it is still imperialism:

“Currently, China lacks such bases because such arrangements typically require alliance-like commitments, which Beijing is reluctant to make,” and: “China does not necessarily follow the US model, but could instead take the form of access agreements, logistics facilities and other arrangements.” (…/size-chinas-navy-may-be-closing… )

These logistic arrangements allow China to bring commodities into the semi-colonies, as well as military presence. It is a method that China uses throughout the word, but particularly in the Semi-colonies:

“Heath [senior security analyst from the US think tank Rand] expected China to seek a variety of access arrangements. Simply gaining more access for navy ships to stop and refuel would be helpful if granted in more places and perhaps the most common form of military access China will seek. This might mean dual-use ports managed by Chinese state-owned enterprises”

“In terms of bases, I [Heath] think these are inevitable and we are seeing China work towards this goal through its Belt and Road Initiative. They are securing access to – or in some cases control of – ports that whilst commercial in nature, could support PLAN [PLA Navy] operations in the future,” (Ibid)

This is the Chinese way of imperialism. They secure the ports by buying them outright or have a “share” in the ports. They try to please the local bourgeoisie as they plan the entry of the PLA navy. They use commercial ships for this, and they sneak the navy in. Ultimately this is the ticket to enter the exploitation in the semi-colonies.

Many comrades cannot let go of China as the biggest workers state. At best they concede that China is a semi-colony. But the world is constantly changing. It is very contradictory, and contradictions transform and evolve. China was the biggest workers state. Yet, all the advances in the development of the productive forces allowed China, after the restoration of capitalism was completed, to become a strong imperialist country capable of challenging the US. Xi Jinping is right when he said that the US is a declining imperialist power. He has China in mind to replace the US. But as the saying goes, a wounded tiger is the most dangerous tiger. It will likely take a war to replace the US as a main imperialist power. The US is still more powerful imperialism than China. And an all-out war between China and the US will bring a nuclear disaster for the entire human race.

How many overseas military bases does China have?


China / Military

Size of China’s navy may be closing gap on US fleet but what can the PLA do with just one overseas naval base?

The US maintains nearly 800 military bases in more than 70 countries and territoriesIf not keen to enter alliances, China could use access agreements and other arrangements to have strategic access abroad, says analyst

Kristin Huang

Kristin Huang+ FOLLOW

Published: 12:00pm, 14 Mar, 2021

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