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WW Masthead

Workers World EDITORIAL
China: grave symptoms
Published Dec 21, 2005 11:23 PM
 http://www.workers.org/2005/editorials/china-1129/

Partisans of China’s revolutionary transformation and its rise from colonial slavery to the status of a rapidly developing, independent nation are justifiably wary of imperialist-inspired criticisms. No matter whether China pursues a left course, as it did in the days of Mao Zedong, or turns to the right and allows capitalist market mechanisms to operate inside the workers’ state, as it has done for the last three decades, the imperialists will never be satisfied until they can thoroughly penetrate China’s economic arteries and bend it to their will.

China’s growth in the last quarter century has been stupendous. However, it is important that progressives understand the debilitating side of these market reforms and the deep problems they are presenting for the workers and farmers of China, who have been the backbone of the revolution.

Two events this year illustrate the grave consequences of rapid, market-oriented industrialization. One was the awful disaster in February at the Sunjiawan coal mine in Fuxin, Liaoning province. Some 203 miners were killed and several dozen injured. It helped turn a spotlight once again on the terribly hazardous conditions faced by miners in China.

Last year, more than 5,000 Chinese coal miners were killed on the job in mining disasters. The Chinese government admits this came to a fatality rate per ton of coal that is 100 times that of the United States. China has many older mines and outmoded equipment. Its mining is labor intensive, compared with the more mechanized systems available in the imperialist countries. That would account for some of this, but the casualty rate is nevertheless staggering.

What especially concerns progressives is that the bulk of these deaths occurred in privately owned mines, where the profit motive is the driving force, and where rich owners can bribe officials to ignore safety violations. This quest for profit is likely to increase as China opens up more opportunities for foreign investment. For example, the British investment analysis firm Battelle says in a report called “China’s Coal Industry: Evolution and Oppor tunities,” that foreign capital can now find “huge opportunities for investment in China’s coal industry development.”

In 2003, says the Battelle report, China was the world’s second-largest exporter of coal. It is now ready to embark on “a vast program of expansion.” (Only a summary of this analysis of China’s coal industry is available online, at www.battelle.org. The full report costs its corporate customers over $850.)

Now comes the huge explosion on Nov. 13 at the Jilin Petrochemical plant in northeast China, followed by a spill of benzene, nitrobenzene and other highly toxic chemicals into the Songhua River. Millions of people were left without safe drinking water when, a week later, the spill reached the large city of Harbin downstream. The Chinese government mobilized to provide many tons of bottled water, but the damage to the population and the environment could still be enormous.

Because of a cover-up that lasted nearly a week, during which time the people along the river had little knowledge of the approa ching danger, the top environmental official in China has been fired. Beijing made a formal apology to Russia, which lies downstream along the path of the poisonous chemicals. By late December, the Chinese were working around the clock in subfreezing temperatures to build a containment dam above the Russian city of Khabarovsk that could reduce the spill’s impact.

Why did this explosion happen? No explan ation has been given, but it is certainly likely that the heated pace of development of the chemical industry contributed to it. And there, too, foreign capital is involved.

A Dow Chemical news release on Sept. 29, 2004, announced that PetroChina Jilin Petrochemical Co. has started up a 128,700 MTA normal butanols plant in Jilin “using LP Oxo Process technology licensed from Davy Process Technology Ltd., London, in cooperation with Union Carbide Corp., a subsidiary of the Dow Chemical Co.”

Union Carbide is infamous for what it did to the people of Bhopal, India, in 1984, when a toxic gas leak from one of its plants there killed 8,000 people and injured 120,000 more.

China’s Communist Party has introduced market reforms, it says, in order to accelerate its development and build socialism. But the market is not just a stimulus; it creates a class of millionaires that corrupts the economic and political structures and divides the people, undermining the class solidarity that is the bedrock of socialist construction.

None of this can have escaped the attention of China’s leaders, who are skilled and experienced. They themselves have admitted that there were 74,000 “social disturbances” last year. But are there forces prepared to mobilize the advanced elements among the workers and farmers to engage in a struggle to turn the situation around politically and economically and push back the forces of capitalism, which are endangering the foundations of the workers’ state? The fate of one quarter of the world’s people is involved.

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