WSWS for apr 20

UK sends warships to the Black Sea, targeting Russia
Thomas Scripps, WSWS, Apr 20 2021

The UK is deploying warships to the Black Sea next month, further ratcheting up provocations by the United States and its stooge regime in Ukraine against Russia. Russia has amassed substantial forces near the Ukrainian border, after the Ukraine regime endorsed a strategy to “recover” Crimea. The strategically vital peninsular was annexed by Russia following the US- and EU-backed far-right 2014 coup in Kiev. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence told the Times:

The UK and our international allies are unwavering in our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We are working closely with Ukraine to monitor the current situation and continue to call on Russia to de-escalate. Our armed forces continue to support Ukraine through our training mission Operation Orbital, which has trained over 20k members of the armed forces of Ukraine, and the UK-led Maritime Training Initiative.

Britain is sending a Type 45 destroyer equipped with anti-aircraft missiles, and an anti-submarine Type 23 frigate. F-35B Lightning stealth jets and Merlin helicopters based on the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier will be on standby to provide support. An international treaty currently prohibits aircraft carriers themselves from entering the Black Sea, although this arrangement is under threat. The UK already has special forces and aircraft deployed to the region. An SAS special forces team and Royal Signals electronic unit were officially sent to Ukraine last week, alongside a US special operations team, to “monitor Russian activity.” Six RAF Typhoon jets, armed with Paveway bombs and Brimstone missiles, have been despatched to Romania as part of a NATO “air policing mission” to patrol the Black Sea region. These developments make clear that Biden’s decision to cancel the deployment of two American warships to the region last week was a tactical pause in a still escalating conflict. Russia responded to the news that US warships were on their way with a statement warning of a high likelihood of serious “incidents.” Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov said:

There is absolutely nothing for American ships to be doing near our shores, this is purely a provocative action. Provocative in the direct sense of the word: they are testing our strength. They will not succeed. We warn the US that it will be better for them to stay far away from Crimea and our Black Sea coast. It will be for their own good.

There are currently more than a dozen Russian naval vessels on deployment in the Black Sea. Fifty Russian fighter jets, bombers and attack aircraft are engaged in “exercises over the Black Sea,” according to Russian news organisation Interfax, including “missile launches and bombardment of naval targets.” The Russian air force and Black Sea fleet are also scheduled to carry out joint exercises designed to “ensure security in the Black Sea”. Military planners in the US and allied militaries clearly drew from this warning the necessity of getting their pieces in place before making such an incendiary move. The US has neither confirmed nor denied the dispatch of its warships or the cancellation of the operation. Meanwhile, the UK will establish a significant presence. British forces have been leading participants in anti-Russian provocations in Ukraine and Eastern Europe. Last September, 250 soldiers in the 16th Air Assault Brigade, including from its elite Pathfinder platoon, parachuted into Ukraine just 100 miles from Crimea in the largest British army parachute drop in decades. They took part in an 8k-strong exercise with Ukrainian, US and Canadian forces. Ukrainian General Yevhan Moysiuk commented:

The main message for Russia is that the UK is our true and reliable partner who will help us in our hardship. The UK is ready to stand up to Russian aggression with us.

Later this year, British soldiers will take part in NATO’s Operation Cossack Mace, involving 1k troops from at least five NATO member states and which will simulate offensive strikes on positions held by pro-Russian and Russian forces. The UK’s taking a lead in additional deployments to the Black Sea is proof that the ruling class intends to follow through on the warmongering plans outlined in the recent Integrated Review of foreign and defence policy. The document positioned the UK at the head of the US war drive against Russia, describing the country as the “most acute threat to our security.” It argued that the UK should place itself “at the forefront of implementing NATO’s new Deterrence and Defence Concept” across the Euro-Atlantic region and supporting “others in the Eastern European neighbourhood and beyond to build their resilience to state threats. This includes Ukraine, where we will continue to build the capacity of its armed forces.” The review also called for an increase in the UK’s stockpile of nuclear weapons to meet “the full range of state nuclear threats.”

Military deployments are being matched with an escalation of anti-Russian agitation and propaganda. On Sunday, the Czech Republic claimed that two Russian agents, the same two alleged by Britain to have been responsible for the Salisbury poisonings, were behind an explosion at a Czech munitions factory in 2014. UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab quickly declared the UK’s “full support” for “our Czech allies, who have exposed the lengths that the GRU will go to in their attempts to conduct dangerous and malign operations. This shows a pattern of behaviour by Moscow, following the novichok attack in Salisbury. We are as determined and committed as ever to bring those responsible for the attack in Salisbury to justice and commend the actions of the Czech authorities to do the same.” Tom Tugendhat, Conservative MP and chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, tweeted:

Czech Republic is standing up to Putin’s Russia committing warlike acts in Prague. They’re right and all NATO must stand with them. We are all threatened by such violence. We defend ourselves best when we defend each other.

The UK’s stepped-up aggression against Russia is bound up with the crisis of British imperialism, attempting to maintain its position on the world stage after Brexit and to create an outlet for explosive domestic tensions, and of world capitalism, racked by escalating class and nationalist antagonisms. The ruling class in every country is seeking a way out through an increasingly reckless deployment of military force, turning the world into a tinderbox. Provocations in the Black Sea have already come close to sparking a major confrontation. In Nov 2018, Ukrainian naval vessels entered Russian-claimed waters near Crimea and were fired upon and seized by the Russian Coast Guard. The Ukrainian regime declared martial law and put the army on full alert, receiving assurances from Washington that it would provide “full support, full assistance, including military assistance.” In Jun 2015, Russian jets intercepted the US destroyer USS Ross after the ship set a course which would have taken it into Russian territorial waters in the Black Sea. The ship changed course. Russian military sources latter commented:

Scrambled Su-24 attack jets demonstrated a readiness to forcibly suppress border violations and defend the country’s interest.

The deployment of more forces to Ukraine and the Black Sea makes military confrontation ever more likely. Any incident could escalate into a full-scale engagement and war between nuclear-armed states. The urgency of the situation demands an urgent struggle by the international working class to form an anti-war movement to bring an end to the insane warmongering of the ruling elite.

US, EU step up campaign over right-wing Putin critic Navalny
Clara Weiss, WSWS, Apr 20 2021

Amid mounting military tensions in the Black Sea region and a diplomatic crisis between the US and Russia, the EU and the Biden administration have stepped up yet again the campaign over the right-wring anti-Putin oppositionist Alexei Navalny. Navalny was sentenced to over two years in prison in February after he returned to Russia from Berlin where he had spent several months after allegedly being poisoned in August. Between August and January, the American and German press was filled with ongoing reports about the alleged attempt of Russian President Vladimir Putin to murder him with the nerve agent Novichok. These allegations, presented as fact by the Western media, were, in fact, never proven and have been riddled with contradictions. Now the US and EU have stepped up the campaign over Navalny again. For the past three weeks, he has been on a hunger strike. His doctors now claim that his blood chemistry is so concerning that they believe that he could “die any moment.” On Saturday, Biden described the treatment of Navalny as “totally, totally unfair” and “totally inappropriate.” The White House said that there would be “consequences” should Navalny die while in detention. On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki again emphasized:

What happens to Mr Navalny in the custody of the Russian government is the responsibility of the Russian government. They will be held accountable by the international community.

According to US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan, “communication to the Russian government on this issue” would primarily proceed “privately and through diplomatic channels direct to the uppermost levels of the Russian government.” The NYT also published an editorial on Saturday, demanding that Putin allow Navalny to see his doctors in order to “save his life.” Senator Bernie Sanders lost no time to line up behind the renewed campaign over Navalny, tweeting:

Make no mistake about what is happening here: activist Aleksei Navalny is being murdered in front of the world by Vladimir Putin for the crime of exposing Putin’s vast corruption. Navalny’s doctors must be allowed to see him immediately.

In a similar vein, the high representative of the European Union, Josep Barrel, called upon the Kremlin to provide Navalny with the necessary medical treatment. Barrel said the EU was “very concerned” about his condition and that they held Russia “responsible” for it. On Monday, it was reported that Navalny has now been transferred to a prison hospital but his staff insists that he was only transferred to a different penal colony. Workers should reject the hypocritical campaign by the imperialist powers over the alleged mistreatment and “murder” of Navalny with the contempt that it deserves. The same politicians who now attack the Kremlin for alleged mistreatment of Navalny bear full responsibility for the year-long torture and illegal detainment of Julian Assange, a journalist and publisher who has exposed historic war crimes of US imperialism in the Middle East. If there is any political prisoner in the world who has been documented to really be tortured and murdered in slow motion by the state, it is Assange, and it is the US government that is primarily responsible.

The reality is that none of these imperialist politicians would care about Navalny if he had not been built up for more than a decade as a pro-capitalist opposition figure, capable of mobilizing layers within the Russian oligarchy, the state and upper middle class against Putin. While the New York Times and American and EU politicians present him as a “democratic” oppositionist, Navalny has well-documented connections to the Russian neo-Nazi scene. He co-organized the notorious annual far-right Russian March for several years in a row and published rabidly racist propaganda videos on his YouTube channel, denouncing immigrants from the Caucasus as “cockroaches” that had to be “removed” like rotten teeth. He never apologized for or distanced himself from these far-right views and activities. In February, Amnesty International, no doubt facing enormous public pressure, felt compelled to revoke his status as a “prisoner of conscience” because of what they acknowledged was “hate speech.”

The renewed campaign over Navalny comes amidst mounting tensions between NATO and Russia over the conflict in Ukraine in the Black Sea region. Last week, the US recalled the planned deployment of two warships to the Black Sea. A Kremlin representative had earlier warned the US to “stay away from the Black Sea for their own good.” However, shortly thereafter, on Thursday, Biden announced new sanctions against Russia and the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats. The Kremlin has since expelled 10 US diplomats in response. The Czech Republic, using a dubious explosion at an arms factory seven years ago as a pretext, has now also expelled 18 Russian diplomats as “spies,” the Kremlin retaliating by expelling 20 Czech diplomats. On Sunday, the UK announced that it would send two warships to the Black Sea. Commenting on the rapid deterioration of US-Russia relations, Fyodor Lukyanov, one of the main foreign policy pundits in Russia with close ties to the Kremlin, wrote on Monday:

Between Russia and the US there is basically no common agenda left apart from what they call ‘deconfliction’ (in Syria & Ukraine) which is something that the military must take care of.

He noted that the back and forth in Washington with regard to Russia, including the proposal by Biden for a bilateral summit, indicated “chaos.” Lukyanov wrote, “we are witnessing the final demise of the relations between Moscow and Washington as they have existed” over the past decades. Moscow’s response, he argued, had to be an ever-stronger orientation toward an alliance with China. As Russian-US relations have been breaking down rapidly, the Kremlin has been particularly concerned about Berlin’s heavy involvement in the campaign over Navalny. When Navalny fell ill on a plane in August, he was transferred to the Berlin hospital Charité following the direct intervention of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Last week, the Spiegel magazine revealed that several leading German politicians, including Jürgen Trittin (Greens) and Nils Schmid (SPD), had written a letter to Navalny accusing the Russian government of “targeted torture” and expressing their “complete solidarity” with him. The Spiegel also reported that the Russian ambassador to Germany Sergei Nechaev made a formal visit to the German foreign ministry on Feb 16 to accuse the German government of having assisted Navalny in the production of a two-hour-long video which details corruption allegations against Putin. The video deliberately tapped into mass discontent over social inequality which, thirty years after the destruction of the USSR by the Stalinist bureaucracy, is higher in Russia than in any other major economy in the world. It has been watched by 116m people.

On Monday, the Tagesspiegel published an interview with Alexei Gresko, a member of Navalny’s staff. Acting as if his team had not warned the world almost daily about Navalny’s imminent death from Novichok just months ago, he said, “We previously never dared speak about the possibility of his death. Now we are openly discussing that he might die.” He called upon the West to respond by showing “strength.” saying:

There has to be a response with financial consequences: The bank accounts of Putin’s supporters must be frozen. This is the only language that he and those he trusts can understand.

These appeals make very clear what stands behind the campaign over Navalny: It is aimed at destabilizing the Putin regime by pressuring the oligarchs that still overwhelmingly back Putin, while mobilizing right-wing layers of the middle class behind a rival section of the oligarchy and imperialism. It is a part of a regime-change operation which is aimed at installing a right-wing, pro-Western government. The working class can only advance its own interests by basing its opposition to the oligarchic Putin regime on a socialist basis, completely independent from the machinations of imperialism and sections of the oligarchy.

Australia announces withdrawal from Afghanistan
Oscar Grenfell, WSWS, Apr 20 2021

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced last Thursday that the country’s remaining 80 troops in Afghanistan will be withdrawn by the end of the year, bringing to a close Australia’s continuous involvement in the longest-running war of recent history. The announcement underscored the extent to which Morrison’s Liberal-National Coalition government, with the full support of the Labor opposition, is marching in lockstep with the Biden administration in the US. It came a day after Biden had declared that American troops would leave Afghanistan by the end of the year. As the WSWS has noted, the withdrawal will not end the decades of imperialist criminality visited upon the Afghan people. The Central Asian nation will still be ruled over by a US-aligned puppet government, thousands of American military advisors and intelligence operatives will remain, and murderous drone warfare is to continue. Morrison, like Biden, presented the invasion and occupation, which has claimed at least 100k Afghan lives and further laid waste to one of the poorest countries on earth, as a noble exercise in philanthropy. The PM affected emotion as he read out the names of the 41 Australian military personnel who died in the conflict. Morrison said:

The war has taken a heavy toll, but freedom is always worth it … That is why Australians who have served in our defence forces have always pulled on that uniform.

One reporter pointed to the elephant in the room, referencing the official Brereton report, released last November. It found credible evidence that Australian troops had committed war crimes in Afghanistan, including at least 39 murders, torture, and a redacted incident described as “possibly the most disgraceful episode in Australia’s military history.” Morrison was having none of it. he replied:

There will be time to talk about those things. Today is not that time.

In fact, the government and Labor opposition do not want to talk about the atrocities at any time. Five months after the Brereton report appeared, an official investigation into whether criminal charges can be brought against any of the perpetrators is proceeding at a snail’s pace. Despite the fact that no-one has been held accountable, Defence Minister Peter Dutton has insisted that it is time to move on and for the military to “get back to business.” His assistant minister Andrew Hastie, a former special forces captain in Afghanistan, was more explicit, declaring last week that the military had to focus on its “core business,” which was the “application of lethal violence in the defence of our values, sovereignty and interests.” Liberal backbencher and Afghan veteran Phillip Thompson, who is collaborating closely with Dutton and Hastie, added that the military had been beleaguered in recent times by a culture of “woke” political correctness. When soldiers were deployed on operations, Thompson said, they needed to “have an unapologetic aggression and violence to get the mission done.” Dutton put this line into practice yesterday, overruling a recommendation from the Brereton Inquiry for the removal of a “meritorious citation” awarded to the Special Operations Task Group. The award honoured the group for its activities over the same period that some of its members were accused of murdering, torturing and otherwise terrorising the Afghan population.

In other words, the capstone of Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan is a more or less open defence of shock troops accused of the gravest violations of international law. This underscores the criminality of Australia’s participation in the war, and the fraudulent character of the paeans to a supposedly “humanitarian mission” by virtually the entire political and media establishment. Australia’s two decades in Afghanistan implicate the ruling class in all of the crimes committed by the US and allied forces against the oppressed nation. This began with the 2001 invasion itself. The Coalition government of Prime Minister John Howard was among the most enthusiastic participants in the launching of a war of aggression. Together with Labor leader Kim Beazley, dubbed “bomber Beazley” because of his promotion of imperialist interventions, the Howard government touted the fraudulent claim that the conflict was a legitimate “war on terror” prompted by the 9/11 attacks, and immediately committed troops. In reality, the US had long been preparing a war aimed at securing greater dominance over the geo-strategically crucial Central Asian region. Australian troop numbers ebbed and flowed over the course of the conflict, in line with the requests of the US, but the unconditional support for the occupation, on the part of Labor and the Coalition, has been a constant.

The first public allegations of Australian war crimes, date from 2006, and involve reports of unarmed civilians being shot dead. Between 2001 and 2009, the Australian authorities paid some $120k in compensation to Afghan civilians, a tacit admission that such events did take place. Every military force involved in the occupation has had similar charges laid against it. The most-heavily documented Australian war crimes, covered in the Brereton report, span from 2009 to 2013. The timing is hardly an accident, coinciding with the most active combat role that Australian troops took at any point during the occupation. While Australia’s troop deployment may not have been as large as other US allies, it played a crucial role in the illegal war, stepping in precisely when the US occupation was under challenge. In 2010, as Afghan militias stepped up their struggle against the occupation, the US intensified a “counter-insurgency” operation, including through a massive troop surge overseen by the Obama administration. The Labor government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard fully supported this effort, presiding over a dramatic increase of Australia’s participation in US “kill or capture” operations targeting alleged Taliban commanders.

Contemporaneous press reports revealed that between Dec 2010 and Sep 2011, Australian troops had played a central role in more than 30 of these decapitation raids. During this period, Australian forces took a lead role in Uruzgan province, following the withdrawal of troops by the Netherlands. There they partnered with Matiullah Khan, a warlord involved in drug-running, extortion and the murder of his political rivals. The actions of the Australian special forces, as documented in the Brereton report and whistleblower exposures, themselves resemble those of a criminal gang. Junior soldiers were “blooded” by murdering civilians; illegal killings were covered up by planting weapons on the victims, detainees were routinely tortured, if not done away with altogether. While the Brereton report states that there is evidence of 39 murders, it acknowledges that there were likely more. There is good reason to believe that the figure is a significant understatement. A preliminary 2016 report heard accounts of My Lai-style massacres:

Australian troops would take the men and boys to these guest houses and interrogate them, meaning tie them up and torture them. The men and boys would be found dead, shot in the head, sometimes blindfolded and throats slit. These are corroborated accounts.

The entire Australian establishment is implicated in the atrocities. This includes various Greens and left-liberals, who promoted the Afghan occupation as the “good war,” contrasting it with the “quagmire” in Iraq and even claiming that it was being waged to advance the rights of women as such crimes were taking place.

The official haste to move on from the war crimes is a continuation of a protracted cover-up. It is motivated by the untenable character of the central claim of the Brereton report, namely that no one in government or military command was aware of the crimes as they were being carried out. In reality, the atrocities flowed directly from the “counter-insurgency” operation presided over by governments and army headquarters, and the predatory nature of the entire war. The attempts to downplay the war crimes, coupled with the promotion of an “aggressive” military oriented to the “application of lethal force,” are also bound up with Australia’s central role in the US preparations for war against China. Biden’s withdrawal is explicitly aimed at concentrating American forces in the Indo-Pacific, to target China, and in eastern Europe, where they are directed against Russia.

Australia has been aligned with the US “pivot to Asia,” since it was announced by Obama in 2011. Dutton and Morrison, with the backing of Labor, have signalled a further intensification of Australian involvement, backing all of the provocations and threats against Beijing by the Trump and Biden administrations over the past year. Dutton’s recent installation as defence minister has coincided with the announcement of plans for a further Australian military build-up, including through a domestic program to construct missiles for the first time since the 1960s. An article in the Murdoch-owned Australian last week, hailing Dutton’s “support” for soldiers and his opposition to the revocation of the special forces meritorious citation, bluntly declared:

Heightened security threats, including the possibility of a great power conflict over Taiwan, mean Australia’s service men and women must be ready for whatever lies ahead.

Macron’s Global Security bill passed into law in France
Will Morrow, WSWS, Apr 20 2021

Last Thursday, Apr 15, the French National Assembly voted to approve the Macron government’s “global security” bill, which significantly expands police powers. The law had already been approved by the Senate in February; with Thursday’s vote, it now comes into law. The law has triggered mass protests since it was first placed before the National Assembly in November last year. Its centerpiece, Article 24, restricts the right of the population to film the police. While presented in the name of defending police officers from targeted attacks, its clear aim is to provide police, who are regularly filmed engaged in violent attacks on protesters and workers, with impunity to violently assault the population, by preventing the population from filming them. In the face of protests of tens of thousands, the Macron government had pledged to “rewrite” Article 24. The new version no longer explicitly mentions the “sharing of images” of police agents. Instead, it criminalizes any act aiming to “provoke, with the obvious aim that their physical and mental safety will be subject to attack, the identification of an agent of the national police, military or gendarmerie while they are acting as part of a police operation.” It carries a maximum sentence of five years’ jail and a €75k fine. In practice, anyone who publishes a video identifying a police agent faces the danger of being criminally prosecuted, and the onus will be placed on them to demonstrate that they did not have an “obvious aim” of bringing about an attack on an officer.

Workers and young people in France and internationally have been outraged at the videos of the violence and brutality of the French state toward peaceful protests. In 2018, millions witnessed the videos of riot police dragging protesters across the road, shooting rubber bullets and tear gas canisters, and using attack dogs and truncheons against “yellow vest” protesters opposing social inequality. Last November, hundreds of thousands joined protests across the country in response to incidents of police brutality that were caught on video. On Nov 26, Loopsider published a video of a vicious police assault on music producer Michel Zecler in his Paris recording studio. Zecler was beaten for over 20 minutes. He was then thrown in prison for 48 hours and falsely charged with assault, and only released after police were presented with the CCTV footage proving what had actually happened. The following week, police had been filmed on a rampage at the Republic Square in the center of the city, beating refugees who were camped there in protest at the lack of housing and government support. The Macron government is seeking to oppose the spread of videos of police because it is aware of the explosive opposition to the repression by his government against the working population.

The “global security” law also includes other measures further strengthening the police. For the first time, it authorizes in legislation the use of drones for police surveillance, which had already been in place in practice. Drones are permitted to be used to monitor all protests. Police are to be equipped with body cameras which are to stream live video directly to headquarters. The bill includes no restrictions on the use of bodycam footage by automated facial recognition technology. Last December, the Macron government enacted a series of executive decrees which expanded the conditions in which police could collect detailed files on the population, including the views and political activities of citizens. It removed a clause in the existing police rules which explicitly precluded the use of police files by large-scale automated facial recognition technology. The legal liberties association Quadrature du Net noted at the time:

If, via the global security law, all protesters can be filmed at a protest, and … a large portion of them can be identified via facial recognition technology, the [police filing systems] have already prepared for them a complete system for centralizing all the information concerning them, without this surveillance ever being authorized nor weighed by a judge.

Under the “global security” law, police are also permitted to carry a weapon with them at all times in public places, such as restaurants and cinemas, including when they are off duty. In an interview with the right-wing daily Le Figaro on Sunday, Emmanuel Macron said he would meet his election pledge to create 10k new positions in the police before the end of his five-year term next year. He said:

Every French person will see more blue on the ground in 2022 than in 2017.

The National Assembly’s vote approving Macron’s police-state law came as the official, under-counted death tally of the coronavirus in France surpassed 100k. The mass death is the result of the policies pursued by Macron, who has refused any scientific lockdown policy that would require the closure of non-essential production. Schools and non-essential workplaces have been kept open so that workers could remain on the job, and profits continue to grow for French corporations. Alongside this death on a mass scale, the year has witnessed the further enrichment of a tiny corporate elite. Its 42 billionaires now have a combined wealth of $512.2b, after an increase of more than 66 percent in a single year. The French ruling class views with fear the eruption of social anger against its policies of profiteering on mass death and is building up the forces of state repression against that. The Socialist Party, the Greens and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Unsubmissive France have all postured fraudulently as opponents of Macron’s police law. The Socialist Party has announced that it will be launching a legal challenge against the entire bill. When it was in power under François Hollande, the Socialist Party significantly expanded police powers, including the enactment of a two-year state of emergency under Hollande, and the suspension of civil liberties, voted for at the time by Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise. Macron’s “global security” law expands police powers in the same direction as pursued under Hollande with La France Insoumise’s support.

Biden extends Trump anti-Chinese TikTok policy
Kevin Reed, WSWS, Apr 20 2021

Picking up where the Trump administration left off, the Biden White House has refused to drop the forced sale of the Chinese-owned social media video platform TikTok to an American company and is continuing to treat it as a matter of national security. Amid talk of “aggressive push-back” against Chinese economic expansion, Biden’s commerce secretary, Gina Raimondo, said on Apr 7 that reviews of TikTok and its corporate owner ByteDance are “ongoing” and being handled by NSA Sullivan. While she would not go into any details, Raimondo said:

We have to level the playing field, no one can outcompete the American worker if the playing field is level. China’s actions are uncompetitive, coercive, underhanded, they have proven they will do whatever it takes, and so I plan to use all the tools in my toolbox as aggressively as possible to protect American workers and businesses from unfair Chinese practices.

Raimondo’s reference to “American workers” is a ploy and has nothing to do with ensuring jobs and decent living standards for the working class in the US. Far from it, the Biden administration is utilizing the extensive connections between the Democratic Party and the AFL-CIO and other labor unions in a reactionary anti-Chinese propaganda campaign that is aimed at lowering the living standards of American workers such that US-based corporations can more effectively compete in the world markets. When asked by reporters specifically about forcing ByteDance to sell TikTok, Raimondo refused to directly answer, saying:

What we do on offense is more important than what we do on defense.

With the overtones clear, the Biden administration is seeking to mobilize the American public behind a military confrontation with China. On Apr 12, it was reported that the Commerce Dept needed more time to review the plan for a sale of TikTok to Oracle and Walmart that was worked out during the final months of the Trump administration. The original proposal ran into multiple legal challenges and reports that the Chinese government was in favor of shutting down the service in the US, keeping it running in the rest of the world, rather than having it sold off in a fire sale to Wall Street. The Trump administration initially issued a series of executive orders banning TikTok and other Chinese-based apps last summer after both Democrats and Republicans in Congress said the video-sharing app posed a national security threat and should be not be used by US federal employees on government-owned devices. Pompeo went on Fox News on Jul 7 and claimed that sensitive consumer information was going straight into “the hands of the Chinese Communist Party,” without providing a shred of evidence to prove the assertion. The Biden administration has done nothing to either substantiate the accusation or dispel the falsehood about the passage of sensitive data from Americans going straight into the servers of the Chinese government. Such claims have been denied by TikTok executives all along. A statement published by American offices of the platform in Los Angeles stated at the time:

TikTok US user data is stored in Virginia and Singapore, with strict controls on employee access. These are the facts.

On Mar 22, the WSJ published the results of a study by the University of Toronto cyber-security group Citizen Lab which found that the underlying code of TikTok poses no national security threat to the US. The Journal report says:

Citizen Lab, which releases regular reports on censorship and surveillance by Chinese social media apps, found no evidence of ’overtly malicious behavior’ after a technical analysis of TikTok, which is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd.

The researchers found that the TikTok algorithm that learns what kind of videos users like to watch is “no more invasive than Facebook when it comes to data collection.” The Citizen Lab research also found that neither the Android nor iOS version of the software “appeared to collect contact lists, or record or send photos, videos, and location data without user permission.” The data collected, such as device information that can be used to identify and track users when they are not logged into the app and in-app behavior such as “likes,” is “comparable to the practices of other major social media platforms.” All of these facts did not stop a group of Republican Party lawmakers headed by the fascist supporter Josh Hawley (R-Miss) from reintroducing legislation to ban the use of the TikTok app on federal government devices based on national security issues. The “No TikTok on Government Devices Act,” which was unanimously passed by the Senate last August, is now moving forward in the House of Representatives. Recognizing an opportunity to win enthusiastic support from the Democrats—including the Biden White House—for a complete ban of TikTok in the US, Hawley said:

TikTok is a Trojan horse for the Chinese Communist Party that has no place on government devices, or any American devices, for that matter. My bill is a straightforward plan to protect American government data from a hostile foreign power.

The Biden administration announced an “abeyance” on the plans for the sale of TikTok to Oracle and Walmart in mid-February so that it could “revisit” the issue. Part of the administration’s review is devoted to the lawsuits filed to block the sale and the complicated arrangements between the current owners of TikTok—including the billionaire ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming and the American private equity investment groups General Atlantic and Sequoia Capital, and the interagency of the Commerce and Securities called the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US (CFIUS). A new deadline of Jun 11 has been set by the Commerce Dept to release a plan for the financially valuable and highly popular short-form video platform in the US. In 2020, TikTok surpassed Facebook as the number-one downloaded app on both Android and iOS devices, and it hit the 2.5b download milestone earlier this year. TikTok is valued at $180b and ByteDance is estimated at $250b.

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