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Late Stephen Cohen, an expert on South Asia describes Pakistan in his book “The Idea of Pakistan” as – “Every country has an army but Pakistan’s army has a country.” His statement can be extrapolated for China also. Every country has political parties but in the case of China, a political party has a country called the communist party of China. Chinese communist party has completed 100 years. The aggressiveness of China has been witnessed from the South China Sea to the Himalayan region.
Mao and Xi are on the same page
Mao and Xi Jinping have been the chairman of the Chinese communist party. Both have followed a similar mean. Lots of continuity is seen with few changes to address time. For example, Mao started the ‘Five years plan’ which has still been following by Xi Jinping. Both of them utilized ideologies to justify purges. Mao was witnessed in a number of purges by claiming individuals were counter-revolutionary. Similarly. XI has utilized his own ideological agenda of being anti-corruption to remove political rivals.
Mao has confronted one of the worst famines in history on account of his misadventure of the Great Leap Forward Movement. Rather than accepting his mistake, he started a campaign to attack India in 1962 when China shared a ‘close friendship’ at that point of time. Similarly, Xi Jinping started bullying the South China Sea and the Himalayan region amid the COVID-19 pandemic to valve the pressure of a closed Chinese communist society. He had countered the growing inner party criticism and thrust from the public.
Like Mao, Xi Jinping also wants the same kind of dominance in the party. Both of them have followed the personality cult syndrome. Xi Jinping is also a man of hurry like Mao. Instead of countering opponents with ideology and work, Mao chose a quick and violent means through a cultural revolution. Throughout his leadership of China, Mao lived by the principle of “continuous revolution”. Similarly, even during the Pandemic, Xi Jinping didn’t take a break in his expedition, and bullying is witnessed in the region.
Why aggressiveness of China is increasing at a faster pace?
The pace of aggressiveness and assertiveness has been at an all-time high. In the recent book, “India and Asian Geopolitics: The Past, Present” (2021), Shiv Shankar Menon tried to answer this new phenomenon. First, China views itself as the natural hegemon of Asia. The “Middle Kingdom Complex” is specifically used to describe a mentality that China is the center of the world. Second, China has adopted Wolf warrior diplomacy (An aggressive foreign policy) to convince the domestic audience for “strong leaders” like Xi Jinping.
Third, Shri Menon argued that there is a strategic window between 2020 and 2050 for China. It is because of the aging population of China. The median age of China by 2050 will be 50 years. The median age in India by 2050 will be 37 years. Common sense suggests that younger China can take more risks than Older China. Xi Jinping’s ‘Chinese dream’ has been on the same tune to become a ‘developed country’ by 2050.
Fourth, I would like to add more argument in his list that China has been enjoying the status of developing countries to exploits resources at freehand. It won’t last long for China. Before China gets restrictions in upcoming environmental deals, China has been exploiting the environment to become developed similar to Britain and the US. China has three decades to assert itself. Doklam standoff in 2017 and the Galwan standoff in 2020 were just an experiment to China to test India’s strength so that it could make changes in the status quo in the disputed regions.
Probably, that’s why China has been planning to take over Taiwan by 2027. Fifth, Shivashankar Menon argues that China has never been a naval power. China has been learning from the western countries to pursue the Mahanian (Alfred Mahan) suggestion. China has been trying to insert cracks in the first Island chain through BRI, a signature campaign of China. The string of pearls around India is one of example. That’s why China is trying to make naval bases even in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
Developmental debate and the test of communism
Former PM of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew appreciated the growth of China because of the discipline due to soft authoritarianism. He believes that democracy is a western obsession and it is not conducive for development. Later Amartya Sen has clarified that development in China is not because of authoritarianism but due to political will. Many authoritarian countries are poor. He gives an example of Botswana, a small African country, having a democracy with an appreciable rate of growth.
China has modified communism. The core idea of communism revolves around the mean of production. It should not be owned by anyone, but shared in common, without class-based exploitation. Ananth Krishnan in his book “India’s China Challenge” has explained the level of exploitation in Chinese cities to minimize the cost of production so that it could capture the foreign market. China also ignores environmental parameters to achieve high growth. Thus, ends can’t always justify the means.
China claims that it has eradicated extreme poverty but inequality has been increasing at a faster face. On a structural level also, China is not communist in the original sense. According to it, power should have been in the hand of proletarians. But in reality, it has been concentrated in the hand of the Politbureau. China follows socialism in politics but liberalism and privatization in economics.
It has been just the opposite to the third world countries like India and Pakistan as evaluated by the neo-Marxist, Hamza Alvi. He claimed that Pakistan an “Over-developed state” that follows liberalism in politics but feudalism in the economy.
Prospect: Can China replace the US hegemon?
Some scholars like Kishore Mahbubani have been claiming the rise of China as a hegemon in the coming days. The signature campaign of China, BRI has been advancing throughout the globe. It would benefit China economically as well as strategically to get power in oceans. China has been trying to make a crack in liberal institutions like WTO and WHO. It has been trying to set up BRICS Bank, a parallel institution to IMF for hegemonic assertions. The pace of increasing military expenditure in China is higher than in the US.
But it would not be an easy task for China. China lacks soft power in the world. Hegemon needs smart power, a mix of soft and hard power in a definite ratio. Hard power can give temporary happiness to China but without soft power, China as a hegemon power can’t sustain long. Even China faces thrust from the local people in other countries where BRI is shaped. China follows Checkbook diplomacy and traps the country beneath loan. For example, China got Hambantota port for 99 years in Sri Lanka.
The attitude of China has not been according to the need of being hegemon power. China is a closed society. It has pressure cooker syndrome where the safety valve is often in the hand of the leadership of China. It is against the demand of the time. Hegemon power believes in an open society and liberal values. Mishandling of COVID-19 has decreased its credibility in the eyes of the world. Trade war with the US and its spillover impacts on other countries along with bullying in the south China sea and the Himalayan region has not been in favor of China.
Thus, the decline of the west and the rise of China in the second decade of the 21st century is true. But whether it can replace the US hegemon is a matter of debate. Recently, G7 and NATO declared China a prominent threat to Global security. Under Mao Zedong, China ‘Zhan qilai (stood up)’; under Deng Xiaoping, China ‘fu qilai (became rich)’ and under Xi Jinping, China is well on course to ‘qiang qilai (becoming powerful)’. If China misread its tiny tea leaves, then China will definitely miss the bus.
- Amazon | The Idea of Pakistan by Stephen Cohen
- Thoughtco | The Great Leap Forward
- Amazon | India and Asian Geopolitics: The Past, Present by Shiv Shankar Menon
- Taiwan News | China could invade Taiwan by 2027
- Washington Post | What Lee Kuan Yew got wrong about Asia
- Amazon | India’s China Challenge: A Journey through China’s Rise by Ananth Krishnan
- Business Standard | Sri Lanka leased Hambantota port to China for 99 yrs
- Decoding Dream India | Changing world order and the rise of China
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