[Marxism] Comment on China-Vietnam maritime clashes and Vietnamese worker riots
mkaradjis at gmail.com
Wed May 21 09:55:50 MDT 2014
Comment on China Vietnam maritime clashes and Vietnamese worker riots
A number of key points need to be understood about recent
Sino-Vietnamese clashes in the East Sea (also known as the "South
China Sea") and the mass reactions of Vietnamese workers.
First, the "disputed " islands that China has placed its oil rig near
- the Paracels - were not "disputed" before being seized by China from
Vietnam in an act of armed aggression in 1974. At the time, China
carried out this action in agreement with Kissinger. In 1988, in
further naked armed aggression, China seized about a quarter of the
Spratly Islands, which are much further south (and thus much further
from China), which had also, till then, been simply Vietnamese
I certainly don't support war, ie, I don't think any Vietnamese worker
in uniform should have to get killed just to defend uninhabited
islands. However, that is different to being "neutral" in low-level
conflict that inevitably does occur. If leftists want to call the
Paracel Islands "disputed", then they should call the Golan Heights,
which Israel similarly seized from Syria via armed aggression during
that era, "disputed." If they want to call the Paracels "Chinese"
because after all, Americans/Australians etc speaking on behalf of
the Vietnamese don't want to be "nationalists", then kindly be
consistent and declare the Golan "Israeli."
The bigger picture, of course, is that China has claimed the entire
East Sea as its own, with the famous "dotted line" going right up to
the borders of neighbouring countries, including Vietnam, the new
Monroe Doctrine of the new imperial colossus.
Second, regardless of the Paracels - for argument's sake let's call
them (and the Golan) "disputed" - the oil rig has been placed in what
is indisputably Vietnam's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), based on what
is indisputably Vietnamese territory on the mainland.
Third, the mass reaction against Chinese aggression by thousands of
Vietnamese workers cannot be written off either as a chauvinist
outburst (though it certainly has elements of that), as a
government-orchestrated provocation, or as an act of mass ignorance
(since so many attacked factories were Taiwanese rather than from the
PRC). Rather we need to look at it in all its complexity.
Mass revulsion against the Chinese regime in Vietnam is widespread
(and an obvious problem for "anti-imperialist" analysts). It has a
historical aspect (not just 1000 years of Chinese rule, but the 1979
invasion, being knifed by Mao in late Vietnam war (including the
seizure of the Paracels); it has economic aspects, with Chinese
companies operating a gigantic environmentally destructive
bauxite-aluminium operation in VN's Central Highlands, and seizing the
lion's share of contracts for projects of similar size and of similar
strategic importance; it has an aspect of moral revulsion and
solidarity, as the Chinese navy regularly kidnaps large numbers of
Vietnamese dirt-poor fisher-folk from around the two "disputed" island
archipelagos, and holds them for massive ransoms for months at a time.
To blame the VCP government for "provoking nationalism" is a statement
of ideology (whether Trotskyist or otherwise), based on the idea that
as a Stalinist-turned capitalist regime it "must be" doing so. It is
also a statement of breathtaking ignorance about the actual facts. The
VCP government of course vigorously defends its own view of the
islands. However, it also holds the view that only diplomatic means
can be used, that war is out of the question. However, most of the
Vietnamese dissident opposition (whether genuinely democratic,
right-wing, Buddhist, Catholic etc) have found the idea of anti-China
nationalism a good horse to ride on, *precisely because the VCP
government is seen to have a "too moderate" strategy and opinion. So
they denounce the VCP government as being "communists betraying the
nation to China" (which, while they don't often say so openly, can
mean little more than advocating war, since the VCP does everything
but this). In fact, anti-China, defend the islands, actions have
become the most prominent issue in anti-VCP regime dissidence for some
5 years now.
It is wrong, the way the dissident movement pushes the issue, of
course; but it cannot be denied that there is justice to the side
overall which is resisting a new mega-capitalist superpower (whether
one wants to call it imperialist or not is frankly besides the point).
Does this mean the nationalistic dissidents have secretly orchestrated
the workers? Again, I think that is unlikely. Most are rabid
supporters of foreign capital (curiously, they think there isn't
enough in Vietnam!); but more generally, workers are quite capable of
leading themselves, both in doing good class struggle things and in
making bad chauvinistic errors - no need to romanticise raw class
struggle by having to explain its bad aspects by orchestration by the
government, the opposition, or China itself (another theory floating
The simple facts of the matter are:
Workers have acted due to a mixture of mass revulsion against China's
bullying actions and raw class hatred of bosses - Chinese, Taiwanese,
Korean and even Vietnamese factories have been attacked and burnt.
More have been Taiwanese than Chinese, because more Taiwanese
investors invest in these sweatshops than Chinese. The Taiwanese,
Chinese (often Hong Kongese) and Korean bosses are famous, not only in
Vietnam, for running brutal capitalist regimes in their factories,
which openly violate Vietnam's labour laws, and are generally much
harsher than what is tolerated by workers from Vietnamese bosses (let
alone Vietnamese state industries, where workers' conditions are far
superior). Unleashing their class hatred against all these bosses, due
to a pretext, is not difficult to understand at all.
But to understand the particular revulsion against the Taiwanese
bosses, two things need to be considered.
First, China's claims to the Paracels and Spratleys (which at the time
were part of France's Vietnam colony and were thus handed over to
Vietnam at the 1954 Geneva Accords, where *China* and the USSR
betrayed Vietnam by agreeing to partition) were only made by the
Kuomintang regime that ruled China in the late 1940s before the 1949
revolution. The CCP simply inherited these chauvinistic claims against
its smaller and weaker "brother" nation, as you do. The Kuomintang
still rules in Taiwan, still supports these claims to the islands
(like China, it claims all of them), and in practice has been
supporting the PRC in the island issues (so afr has the capitalist
integration of Taiwan and the PRC gone).
Second, even more surprising (for "anti-imperialists", and those who
see China as some kind of "socialist" state): As explained by
Taiwanese researcher Wang Hongzen: "Almost all Taiwanese factories
hire PRC people as "cadres” [Yes, that is also how Taiwanese call
their supervisors: “cadres”]; inside the factories, there is a glass
ceiling that blocks Vietnamese from being promoted. There is also
everyday confrontation between Chinese supervisors with Vietnamese
workers under the so-called suppressive management style with “Chinese
characteristics” (Hongzen's article, "Beating up Taiwanese is not a
Misunderstanding," for anyone who reads Chinese, is at
One needs to take this into account when we read reports of Vietnamese
workers beating up Chinese workers, in some cases killing them. From
where I am, I cannot tell how targeted these attacks are: are they
specifically targeting these repressive Chinese supervisors and
"cadres", or are these simply ugly chauvinist attacks on Chinese
workers as a whole? I don't know, but I suspect there is probably a
bit of both. However, to explain it as simply some kind of latent
mindless chauvinism in Vietnamese workers coming out, rather than in
the class terms as explained by Hongzen, is just plain wrong. That of
course should not be read to mean any justification to the real
chauvinist acts that may be occurring.
Of course, more generally, regarding labour, some have written that
workers all around the world often attack foreign workers for "taking
their jobs" etc. In my opinion, this again is too narrow. This usually
refers to immigrants from poorer countries trying to get jobs in
richer countries, being opposed by more privileged local workers. But
here it is reversed, and I don't only mean the "joint-venture" CCP/KMT
"cadres"; as well, China tends to bring in masses of Chinese workers
with its investments in Vietnam, as in Cambodia, Papua-NG, African
countries etc. Bringing your workforce is not "immigration"; what it
normally means is 2 things.
First, since the capitalist regime inside the factory is significantly
harsher in China than in Vietnam, Chinese investors bring a workforce
so as to not have to put up with too much "trouble;" they are
well-known to see Vietnamese workers as more strike-prone and "lazy,"
ie, refusing to take as much shit. In any case, the Chinese workers
often have no work visas; their jobs there are completely tied to
Second, the Chinese investors use Chinese workers for better-skilled
and higher paid positions, leaving Vietnamese with the least skilled
and lowest paid positions. Just how different this is from the
position of immigrant workers vis-a-vis locals in imperialist
countries is rather obvious.
So all this also adds to the antipathy to Chinese workers.
Naturally, that does not mean that the attacks on Chinese workers are
in any way justified, except in cases when there is a issue of clear
class revulsion against slave-driving "cadres". Clearly, masses of
Chinese workers see themselves as in danger, and have fled; the VCP
has been able to use the outbreaks as a cover to crack down on other
peaceful forms of protest; the opposition claims the chaos is a result
of the VCP not being hard enough on China; China has scored some
points by pointing these events as Vietnamese anti-China aggression.
Vietnamese and Chinese workers need to see each other as allies
against intensified capitalism in both countries.
However, when Marxists analyse what causes events like this, it is
also important to understand who is the oppressor, both the national
oppressor in the big picture, and the class oppressor - including its
"cadre" agents and screws - in the factories.
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