By ERNIE GOTTA
As protests against the Chinese government in Hong Kong enter their fifth month, the embattled new imperialist power is also burdened with defending its growing assets abroad. While spending huge sums of money in building infrastructure like the “Belt and Road” initiative, China’s imperialist expansion is driven by the lucrative extraction of profits from workers across the globe. Yet the disorder of the global capitalist system makes it difficult to secure a place among the top imperialist players.
Balochistan promises to be another thorn in the side of Chinese capital’s incursion in Pakistan. The Balochistan province, and Gwadar in particular, have been the intense focus of Chinese capital, which built a $60 billion port in Gwadar as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Chinese companies stand to make significant profits from the CPEC deal. For example, China will receive 91% of the revenue from the Gwadar port for the next 40 years.
Gwadar is a poor and neglected part of Pakistan where costs of food and water are extremely high. Yet Chinese capitalists have even bigger plans for Gwadar. The building of the port is just one of many development projects headed by Chinese capitalists in the region, which also include mining, rail, and shipping for extraction and export of natural resources to European, Asian, and African markets. Plans also include building luxury hotels as a Dubai-style playground for the world’s elite.
Baloch anger over the exploitation of natural resources by Chinese capitalists has given way to a strong separatist movement in the region, of which the Baloch Liberation Army is one of many independence groups. Elsewhere in Pakistan, resistance to what is widely viewed by locals as exploitative Chinese development has taken forms other than armed struggle, including 2018 protests and strikes by fishermen over access to routes to the Arabian Sea. Their actions cost the economy millions.
There’s no doubt that China has the economic and military power to overcome this adversity, but it will come at a cost. China’s pursuing a relationship with Pakistan may also deepen a conflict with the U.S. that is already hot due to the current trade war.
The U.S. views Pakistan as a key geographic and tactical component to undoing the morass in Afghanistan. The U.S. however, has been unable to gain a strong political foothold. Instead, American drones continue to bomb the rural region of Waziristan.
China has had economic and diplomatic success in its relationship with Pakistan and has pledged $60 billion to Pakistan through the China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC) initiative. Chinese has also surpassed English as the most popular language to learn in Pakistan. Still, a Chinese military intervention to defend its geopolitical interests should not be ruled out. The increasing tensions in Balochistan, a heavy U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, and the conflict in Kashmir will likely influence future decisions.
China has doubled down on its support for Pakistan. This includes backing the semi-colonial Pakistan’s claim on the region of Kashmir. People in Kashmir have been fighting for self-determination for decades, opposing China’s, India’s, and Pakistan’s claims to the territory. Like other disputed territories, Kashmir has mineral resources as well as a Saffron industry that brings in billions of dollars of revenue each year.
China has had its own territorial disputes with India. This includes disputes over a section of Kashmir that have yet to be settled. Perhaps China believes it could more easily settle these border disputes by applying pressure on Pakistan if it controlled Kashmir, and not India. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said, “China is always opposed to India’s inclusion of the Chinese territory in the western sector of the China-India boundary into its administrative jurisdiction.”
Hua went on to reference Article 370 (the law upholding a semi-autonomous status for Kashmir that was recently suspended by the Indian government) by saying that India “continued to undermine China’s territorial sovereignty by unilaterally changing its domestic law.”
At the same time, the U.S. is building ties with India and the ultra-right-wing government of President Modi. Economically, this approach secures stronger trade relations for the U.S. as India’s top trading partner. Not only has trade grown but the U.S. trade deficit with India has decreased significantly. The deficit has decreased from $27 billion in 2017 to $21 billion in 2018. The trade agreements also include the sale of Apache and Chinook helicopters to India for military use. The U.S. has increasingly encouraged India to play an increasing role in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s intelligence service has leveled multiple accusations that India is financing terrorist attacks against Pakistani military and civilians in regions like Balochistan.
Inter-imperialist relationships are generally complicated, with different powers vying to divide and re-divide world markets of the semi-colonial countries like India and Pakistan. There are multiple players in the game and all want to increase their share of the profit margin.
For example, Russia, another new imperialist power, supports India’s claim to Kashmir. What does Russia stand to gain from their relationship to India? Breaking out onto the world stage when the U.S. dominates so much of the available space is not easy. Yet Russia has tried to compete for certain industries where it might establish a base of operations. They have maintained a heavy economic and political focus on India. Despite not having the same leverage as the U.S., Russian companies are benefiting from the relationship. Rosneft, for example, bought a controlling stake in India’s Essar oil in 2017.
Of course, we know that the constellation of imperialist relationships is also ever changing. One day’s friend can easily become the next day’s foe. China too is trying to smooth over its relations with India, keeping all options open. Indian nationalists of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are angered over China’s support for Pakistan and are organizing boycotts of Chinese goods. But whipping up support for a boycott will not be easy, as China is India’s second largest trading partner. Some 13% of all imports in India come from China, while exports to China are only 5% of the total. Currently, the China-India trade deficit of $57 billion is more than double the amount of the U.S.-India deficit and accounts for 40% of India’s total trade deficit.
Kashmir could prove a serious testing ground for China’s ability to maneuver nimbly in a global way. China will also have to contend with an increasingly agitated domestic working class and oppressed minorities. There are thousands of protest actions each year in China. Workers may yet have a thing or two to say in the matter of who rules China. The revolutionary traditions of China’s past have not been completely lost. Most recently, there has been an upsurge of Marxist-oriented youth who were arrested for being critical of the government.
Can Chinese imperialism maintain strong positions on all of these fronts? Can its ruling class manage the local crisis of the Hong Kong uprising while at the same time managing a U.S. trade war, jockeying for position on Kashmir, and extracting profits from workers in Africa and Latin America? With another global recession probably around the corner, Chinese imperialism will more than likely face new challenges that will bring them into conflict with contending imperialist powers and their own working class.