The Fall of a U.S. Spy Plane

Or Why the Chinese People Hate U.S. Imperialism

Revolutionary Worker #1098, April 15, 2001, posted at

"Riding roughshod everywhere, U.S. imperialism has made itself the enemy of the people of the world and has increasingly isolated itself. Those who refuse to be enslaved will never be cowed by the atom bombs and hydrogen bombs in the hands of the U.S. imperialists."

Mao Tsetung, from People of the World,
Unite and Defeat the U.S. Aggressors
and All Their Lackeys,

"I feel choked with anger. Our government should have shot down the [U.S.] plane. [Chinese president] Jiang Zemin is too weak. If Grandpa Mao were still alive, the Americans would not dare to bully us."

A young worker in Beijing, China,
after the collision between a U.S. spy plane
and a Chinese jet fighter, April 2001

On April 1, a U.S. spy plane collided with a Chinese jet fighter off the southeastern coast of China. The Chinese plane went down into the sea, and the pilot, Wang Wei, was presumed dead. The damaged U.S. aircraft landed at a military base on the Chinese island of Hainan, and its 24-member crew was detained.

In the following days, the world was subjected to the latest episode of ugly U.S. chauvinism and bullying--providing yet another lesson in why people around the world hate U.S. imperialism.

The EP-3E Aries spy plane--crammed full of high-tech electronic surveillance equipment--was eavesdropping on sensitive Chinese military communications. Two Chinese jet fighters kept a close watch on the U.S. aircraft. According to Wang Wei's partner, who was flying one of the jets, the EP-3E made a sudden turn and rammed into Wang's plane, which spiraled uncontrollably into the sea.

The huge information-control machinery in the U.S. immediately went into high gear. The newspapers and airwaves were flooded with the U.S. government's official story, intended to steer people into looking at and thinking about events from the viewpoint of the bourgeois ruling class.

Declaring that the blame lay solely with China, U.S. officials accused the Chinese pilot of being a reckless show-off who caused the collision by flying too close to the EP-3E. This spin on events was blatant hypocrisy, coming from a government that promotes its "top gun" military pilots--who bomb and kill for U.S. imperialism around the world--as risk-taking "heroes." The U.S. government callously ignored the fact that the Chinese pilot lost his life--until four days later, when officials finally uttered a few words of "regret." When the Chinese government pressed the U.S. to make an official apology, the U.S. media featured "experts" promoting chauvinist theories about how this demand for an apology comes from some "inscrutable" character of the Chinese--as if there were no issues of right and wrong involved.

U.S. spokesmen warned the Chinese authorities to keep their hands off the top-secret equipment on the EP-3E--even claiming that the plane had "sovereign immunity" like an embassy. They arrogantly demanded the immediate return of the crew and the plane to the U.S. According to them, the U.S. plane was simply on a "routine" mission over international waters, and China had no right to "interfere."

Imagine what would happen if the U.S. was the target of such spying. Let's say that China, or some other country, sent a spy plane to fly near the U.S. coast on a "routine" mission. Such a plane would not last more than a few minutes in the sky before it was shot down by the U.S. military. And if the plane managed to land on U.S. soil, is there any doubt that the U.S. authorities would detain the crew, treat them as "intruders," and closely inspect the plane? In fact, the U.S. military actively tries to obtain military equipment from other countries, including China, through "any means possible." When a pilot defecting from the Soviet Union flew a MIG fighter to Japan in 1976, the U.S. spent nine weeks taking the plane apart and closely inspecting it before sending the aircraft back to Moscow--in packing crates.

The U.S. also threatened military and economic retaliation. In a statement reiterating the demand for a quick return of the spy plane and the crew, George Bush said that the situation could "undermine" the relationship between the U.S. and China. While Bush spoke in "diplomatic" language, other ruling class representatives talked more explicitly. They raised the possibility that the U.S. might go ahead with new sales of advanced military equipment to Taiwan--a move that the Chinese government would consider quite threatening. And they discussed a delay in China's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO), which would be a big blow to the plans of China's capitalist rulers.

The underlying "logic" of the U.S. stand is simply the arrogance of a big power bully: "We're the world's superpower, so we can go anywhere, do anything--and no one better get in our way."

China's Capitalist Rulers--and Anti-Imperialist Sentiments Among the People

The mini-crisis over the downed U.S. spy plane has also given revealing glimpses into the nature of the current system in China. The Chinese government made tough-sounding statements demanding an official "apology" from the U.S. and a halt to the spy-plane flights. But as we go to press, the U.S. and China were reportedly working through diplomatic channels to resolve the situation--without a U.S. apology.

The U.S. imperialists still call the current Chinese government "communist"--but they are quite aware that the system in place today in China is fundamentally different from the revolutionary socialist society led by Mao Tsetung. The present-day rulers of China do have aspirations to join the "big power club" of international exploiters and oppressors, and this has led to some contradictions with the U.S. imperialists--but they certainly are not anti-imperialists. They are a bourgeois class that came to power through a coup shortly after Mao's death in 1976. During the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and '70s, Mao warned that if these "capitalist roaders" defeated the proletarian revolutionaries and seized state power, China would once again come under the domination of imperialism. He mobilized the people in their millions in an unprecedented "revolution within a revolution" against Deng Xiaoping and other capitalist roaders. But socialist rule was overthrown in the 1976 coup, and events since then have proven the truth of Mao's warning.

The government of China today mainly acts as an accomplice of the U.S. and other imperialist powers, who see China as a huge and profitable source of cheap labor and a market for capitalist goods. The dismantling of the socialist economy and the opening up of China to imperialist penetration has led to wealth for a few but great misery among the masses of people. Millions of unemployed cram the cities, and peasant revolts in the countryside are on the rise. Oppression of women has made a vicious comeback.

At the same time, the U.S. wants to "contain" China because of concerns that the current Chinese rulers' ambitions to become more of a power in the world could destabilize Asia and hurt U.S. imperialist interests. The contradictions between the Chinese government and the U.S. are reflected in disputes over such issues as trade agreements, status of Taiwan, and accusations of espionage.

The Chinese rulers have tried to sell their capitalist program to the people with bourgeois nationalistic rhetoric, promising that they will make China into a strong and wealthy country capable of "standing up" to the U.S. and other big powers. But this is a dangerous tiger that the Chinese bourgeoisie is trying to ride. The Chinese government may talk tough at times, but in reality they are shamelessly selling out the Chinese people to the imperialist dominators. And the contrast between their words and their actions could end up blowing up in their faces.

The Chinese government loudly demanded that the U.S. stop spy plane flights off the coast of China. But through the recent events, millions of people in China learned for the first time that U.S. has long been carrying out such spy flights against China. For many Chinese, the bitter memories of the U.S. missile attack on the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia in 1999 are still fresh in their minds. That bombing, which killed three Chinese and injured many others, sparked angry anti-U.S. demonstrations in over 20 cities across China--including in the capital, Beijing, where tens of thousands of protesters surrounded the U.S. embassy for several days. And many Chinese are still angry that the Chinese government did not take stronger measures against the U.S.

The Chinese government clearly wanted to prevent similar mass protests around the spy plane incident. Police tore down anti-U.S. posters and broke up demonstrations around the U.S. embassy. But the spy plane affair has sparked a new surge of anti-imperialist sentiments--and anger that the government is not standing up more resolutely to the U.S. The New York Times reported on anti-government messages posted on the Internet. One message, by someone using the name "New Force of Laid-Off Workers," said, "We miss Chairman Mao." Another posting read, "China needs politicians like Chairman Mao who have strategic vision." A 28-year-old engineer in Beijing said that if Chinese President Jiang released the spy plane crew without a clear U.S. apology, the people "won't forgive him and I won't forgive him." The Times noted that the common view among the Chinese people is that the U.S. "acts like an international policeman, interfering in situations all over the world."

The masses of people in China, including the youth, know that Mao led the revolutionary war to defeat the powerful and brutal armed forces of the Japanese imperialists--and then led the civil war to defeat the U.S.-backed Kuomintang army and establish revolutionary state power in 1949. When the U.S. imperialists threatened China with atomic weapons, Mao was defiant. He declared that, like all reactionaries, U.S. imperialism was a "paper tiger" that would eventually be defeated by the struggle of the people. Mao's strategic confidence in the people and revolutionary courage in the face of powerful enemies stand in sharp contrast with the current rulers of China.

The U.S. ruling class is looking nervously at the anti-imperialist protests and views in China. The New York Times pointed out that "popular dissatisfaction with weak governments developed into rebellious movements in the past" in China. The U.S. is worried that the rise of anti-imperialist and anti-government sentiments could lead to greater instability for the Chinese government--which could cause many problems for the U.S. in Asia and worldwide.

But for Maoist revolutionaries around the world, the difficulties facing the imperialists and reactionaries are welcome developments. The rise of anti-imperialist protests and sentiments among the masses in China--where a quarter of humanity lives--gives heart to proletarians and oppressed people everywhere.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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