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China: Signs of Attention to the Communist Party of India (Maoists)

The international relations of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) need to be studied in a historical context. The corner stone of the Sino-Soviet alliance was anti-imperialism and the world communist movement came to be shaped accordingly. The Moscow-Beijing rift however split the movement into two- one led by the then Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the other by the CCP, which developed its own international line seeking alliance with those parties abroad, including in India, adhering to the Mao Zedong thought. Many in India still remember in this connection the solidarity shown by the CCP with the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (CPI-ML); Radio Beijing had hailed (December 1968) the formation of the CPI (ML) led by Charu Mazumdar as the “Front paw of the revolutionary armed struggle launched by the Indian People under the guidance of Mao Zedong thought”.

The CCP’s international ties underwent a basic revision in the post-1978 reform period, ushering the party into an era of “new type of party relations” abroad. In the foreign policy front, China’s previous strategy of “marking out a broad front” against the Soviet Union became no longer necessary and was replaced by an ‘independent foreign policy of peace’. Remarkable had been the corresponding shift in the focus of the party’s external work – from “supporting the left and opposing the revisionists” to “ working for an international environment favourable for reform and opening-up and the modernisation drive”. In simple terms, it meant China’s abandoning of its claim as an alternate center of world communist movement. Inter-party relations have since then been centering round the principles of “independence, complete equality, mutual respect and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.” In India especially, these principles have provided justification for the CCP’s official relations with almost all political parties in the country irrespective of the ideological differences with the latter. However, what approach Beijing may develop towards the Communist Party of India (Maoists) (CPI-Maoists) in particular, remains unclear. An attempt is made below to make some projections concerning the question, based on available data.

Beneficial to discussions will be a look at the prevailing ties between Beijing and the Nepal Maoists. Till middle 2006, China had been following the practice of making no reference to Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) (CPN-Maoists) by name, calling the latter only as ‘anti-government guerilla group’. The country’s Foreign Ministry went to the extent of declaring that China had nothing to do with Nepal Maoists and ‘felt indignant’ over the latter’s ‘usurping’ the name of Mao Zedong (Beijing, 1 Feb 2005). This picture started changing since the middle of 2006; top leaders of the CCP’s International Department Liu Hongcai and Wang Jiarui, visited Nepal respectively in 2006 and 2007 and held talks with Maoist leaders. There has been a momentum to China’s party and government level contacts with Nepal ever since the CPN-Maoists attained majority in Nepal’s April 2008 elections and formed a coalition government. The Nepal example shows that notwithstanding ideological constraints, the CCP may be willing to establish relations with Maoist parties abroad based on pragmatism, provided they attain capacity to capture positions of power.

The CPI (Maoists) was formed in 2004, but both at official and party levels, China has been totally ignoring its activities; the only exceptions being some academic level discussions occasionally on the future role of that party as well as opinions coming from some ultra-leftist media circles within the country, like the World Communist Movement (Guoji Gongyun) website. Examining their contents may be useful for discerning any definite trend in the opinion formation in China, a process always seen as a prelude to firming up of official positions.

First catching attention is an article published in China in 2007 (by Professor Han Ping in the journal “Contemporary World and Socialism”, Chinese, issue No.6/2007, published by Shandong University, China), highlighting the increasing attention of the people in India and outside to the ‘speedy and continuous rise’ of the CPI-Maoists since its inception in 2004. In this regard, it noted the party’s guerilla actions, holding of the ninth congress in January 2007, growing links with the CPN (Maoists) as well as the Maoist parties in South Asia. Its tenor while referring to the CPI (Maoists) was positive.

Next notable Chinese analysis of the role of the CPI (Maoists) has appeared very recently. Writing in the Journal “Contemporary World Socialism Questions” (Dangdai Shijie Shehui Zhu Yi Wenti, Chinese, No.1/2009 issue, dated 1 January 2009), Prof. Shi Hongyuan of the Asia- Pacific Institute of the Chinese Academy of the Social Sciences, like his colleague Professor Han Ping, has acknowledged the ‘fast development’ of the CPI (Maoists) within few years of its founding. The scholar in this connection has highlighted the holding of the party’s ninth congress in January 2007. The reason traced by Professor Shi for the advance of the CPI (Maoists) seems more important – the party’s capability to win broad mass support in rural areas under a situation marked by the ‘three factors’ of extreme poverty, incomplete land reforms programme and serious caste discrimination. In addition, the growth of the CPI (Maoists) has been helped by the inadequacy of the government police forces and certain measures taken by it in areas under its control like setting up of courts, according to the analyst.

Professor Shi has also disclosed that the CPI (Maoists) with a cadre strength of about 25000 could establish its active presence in 16 of the 28 provinces in India and the influence of that party is now spread over an area of 92000 sq kms stretching from the Indo-Nepal border to Indian western shores. The Indian Government considers CPI (Maoists) as the biggest internal security threat while the country’s Prime Minister Dr Singh is inclined to view the Maoist issue not only from a law and order angle, but also from the prism of socio-economic disparities which are forcing the exploited classes to turn towards the CPI (Maoists) for support. The expert has further opined that the root causes behind the growth of the CPI (Maoists) will not disappear in a short time and as such, that party will play a long term role in rural areas.

Sounding as an advice to the CPI (Maoists), Professor Shi has felt that the party will find it hard in implementing its strategy of “armed struggle and surrounding the cities from the country side” and cited in this connection the example of the like-minded CPN (Maoists), which after several years of guerilla war, finally selected a parliamentary path to attain political power. In his view, there is another impediment making the goals of the CPI (Maoists) unrealistic- the situation arising out of the ongoing upsurge in the telecommunication technological standards, progressing modernisation of military methods, growing inter-dependence between politics and economy, persisting opposition to it from the leftist parties like the CPI and CPI-Marxist and finally, the continuing apathy to the policies of the CPI (Maoists) from many in developed areas of India. “As there is no consensus within the country on the role of the CPI (Maoists), it would be difficult for that party to accomplish its goal of capturing political power through mobilisation of the masses”, the scholar has concluded.

Some Chinese language websites (reference earlier paragraph) loyal to Mao Zedong thought in absolute terms and critical of reform aspects in China have also been highlighting the activities of the Maoists in Nepal and India, including the guerilla tactics of the CPI (Maoists). The Guoji Gongyun (International Communist Movement) coverage has been regular in this regard under the title “New Democratic Revolution in India”. A long report published by it (carried as on 25 June 2009) has cautioned the Nepalese and Indian Maoist parties against the danger of ‘revisionism’ within their ranks, as similar phenomenon had ‘caused damage’ to the Soviet and Chinese communist parties. Overall, a strong bias in favour of the Maoist movements abroad including in Nepal and India, is clearly visible in their articles.

Following conclusions can be drawn on the subject:

  1. As per its changed policy on international relations, the CCP will certainly treat the Maoist problem as India’s internal affair. Formal contacts between it and the CPI (Maoists) are possible if the latter gains capacity to capture political power, as happened in the case of CPN (Maoists). However, the rationale for such contacts will primarily be provided by the arising necessity for Beijing to deal with any ruling party abroad, whether they are Maoist or not; in doing so, China will not consider ideology as a constraint.

  2. For China, the question whether the CPI (Maoists) will come to power similar to what was achieved by the CPN (Maoists) in Nepal, may look hypothetical; proving this is the admission of its analysts of the present bleak picture before the Indian Maoists, in realizing their political goals. At this juncture, Beijing is undoubtedly finding the prevailing situation concerning Maoists in India as characteristically different from the one existing in Nepal.

  3. It is natural for the Indian government to keep a close watch on the ability or otherwise of the CPI (Maoists) to procure weapons or funds from abroad to help its armed struggle. In the background of Nepal Maoists buying arms from China (http://www.telegraphnepal.com/, 16 June 2009), New Delhi may have to address a question – whether or not China can be a source of arms for the CPI (Maoists). Admittedly, there are thin chances of Beijing agreeing to be such source, but it would be prudent for New Delhi to look for signs of any clandestine or indirect sales of Chinese-made small arms to the Indian Maoists; howsoever presumptuous it may be, some in China may even think that some sort of arms help to Indian Maoists, could be an additional mean for their country to apply strategic pressure on India.

  4. China’s scholars seem to show some sympathy towards the causes being advocated by the CPI (Maoists), albeit in a domestic context. In which direction such sentiments will be taken further, will be a key question for India.

  5. The implicit advice given by the Chinese analysts for adoption of a parliamentary path by the Indian Maoists as done by their counterparts in Nepal, could be a significant indicator to the evolving thinking in China on the future role of the CPI (Maoists).

(The writer, Mr. D.S.Rajan, is the Director of the Chennai Centre for China Studies, Chennai, and India. Views expressed are his own. Email: dsrajan@gmail.com)

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