News There’s no stopping China

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SOURCE: The Tribune

CHINA’S Xi Jinping has now assumed powers that only two Chinese leaders, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, had wielded since the establishment of the People’s Republic in 1949 by Mao. Xi is today the uncrowned king of China, dominating the Communist Party, military and the government. Born in 1953, Xi Jinping is today the general secretary of the Communist Party of China, the President of the People’s Republic and chairman of the Central Military Commission.

He has consolidated his powers by having the constitution amended to enable him to continue in office indefinitely as the country’s supreme leader. Recognising the dangers of concentration of powers in one person indefinitely, Deng Xiaoping, who had suffered from Mao’s excesses, amended the constitution to limit any leader to two terms in office. Like Mao and Deng before him, Xi has enshrined “Xi Jinping Thought” in the constitution.

One can expect a long tenure in power for Xi, like Mao and Deng, unless he is faced with unexpected and unforeseen challenges Mao was erratic in the conduct of his foreign policy, which was partly driven by ideological and personal considerations. His relations with Soviet leaders Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev were uneasy, even hostile, and marked by personal differences, disputed borders and even ideological considerations. Relations with Moscow changed slowly, only after Mao’s exit. Deng was a supreme realist who recognised China’s prevailing political, economic and military weaknesses.

Rejecting diplomatic overreach, Deng profoundly proclaimed: “Hide your strength and bide your time”. While his invasion of Vietnam in 1979 to teach it a “lesson” was a disaster, Deng derived huge benefits by pragmatically shunning Communist ideology, encouraging private enterprise, and making peace with and deriving immense benefits from US-led Western investments and technology. Gorbachev’s weakened Soviet Union sought rapprochement with China and settled bilateral differences on the border, largely on Chinese terms. Putin’s Russia, afflicted by falling birth rates, alcoholism and drug addiction, with its economy largely dependent on mineral and oil resources, is now a junior partner of China in countering and challenging US-led Western supremacy.

When Deng Xiaoping commenced his State-driven economic reforms in 1979, China’s GDP was less than 20 per cent of Japan and half that of the UK. Over the past three decades, thanks to many years of near double-digit economic growth, China today has a per capita income of around $7,000. Its economy is larger than that of Japan and could overtake the size of the US economy by the 2030s. China has the largest exports in the world. It is relentlessly using its economic clout, particularly its construction capabilities, to build infrastructure, industrial and urban hubs across the world. Xi, some years of whose childhood were spent with his father jailed by Mao and later rehabilitated by Deng, clearly aims to build on Deng’s policies to make China the largest economy in the world, with military capabilities that enable it to dominate the western Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Xi has dealt with opposition ruthlessly, acting against influential party leaders who could pose a challenge to him by enforcing several measures to ensure party discipline. He has also taken measures in anti-corruption programmes that ousted leaders who could have challenged his supremacy. He has sought to pre-empt all manifestations of organised dissent by stringent Internet censorship and promoted trusted cronies to key positions of influence in disciplining party colleagues, especially on charges of corruption. He has appointed his close crony and anti-corruption hatchet man, 70-year-old Wang Qishan as Vice-President. Wang can now, with Xi’s approval, continue indefinitely in office. Personal freedoms, together with Internet monitoring and access in China, are now set to be more tightly monitored restricted and controlled.

China has now made it clear that it will not hesitate to use coercion and force in pursuit of its territorial and geopolitical ambitions. It has not even respected rulings of the international tribunal on its maritime boundaries with the Philippines. This has set the stage for Beijing to blatantly disregard the provisions of international law in dealing with its maritime boundary claims on South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia. Using its economic aid as leverage, China has divided ASEAN states, thus pre-empting the possibility of a collective ASEAN response to its maritime territorial expansionism. Japan, Vietnam and Indonesia are the only countries to challenge untenable Chinese claims.

Apart from its quest for port facilities across the Indian Ocean Region in Kyaukpyu (Myanmar), Chittagong, Hambantota, Gwadar, the Maldives and Djibouti, China is now increasingly proactive in meddling in democratic and electoral processes in South Asia. This has been evident in its reaching out to and backing anti-Indian leaders of its choice in Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh (which is scheduled for elections later this year), and the Maldives. China does not need to act similarly in Pakistan, as it has the Pakistan army, which has marginalised the country’s political leaders, strongly on its side. Apart from strengthening Pakistan’s army, air force and its nuclear weapons and missile capabilities, China is now set to enhance Pakistan’s maritime capabilities with the supply of submarines and frigates, apart from providing Pakistan with multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRV) technology, which involves delivery systems able to launch multiple nuclear warhead-tipped missiles simultaneously at numerous targets. There should be no doubt that China will miss no opportunity to maintain pressure on India along our borders, as it did during the Doklam standoff. China will, however, not resort to military adventurism if there is any possibility of it facing the same failure, as its disastrous 1979 Vietnam misadventure.

While strengthening its defence capabilities as a deterrent to Chinese adventurism and aggression, India would be well advised to adopt a policy that eschews rhetoric in dealing with China. Confidence-building measures to maintain peace and tranquility along the border need to be strengthened. We should also proactively assert our readiness to resolve the border issue in accordance with the terms of the 2005 “Guiding Principles,” agreed to during the visit of PM Wen Jiabao to India. Chinese power in the Indian Ocean Region has to be neutralised by active strategic and economic cooperation with powers like the US, Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam and EU members like France and Germany.