The 60th year is one of great importance in traditional Chinese history and culture. It denotes completion of a life cycle and the beginning of a new one. This is also a year of piety and great benevolence from the patriarch of the family. Criminals are pardoned, and the subjects are treated with love and affection and gifts are showered on them. A time of peace and harmony and goodwill.
President and the Communist Party General Secretary Hu Jintao, who also heads the powerful Central Military Commission (CMC) will address the nation. There will be an unprecedented military parade where the country’s latest military arsenal indigenously produced, will be displayed publicly for the first time. It will show case to the Chinese people primarily the invincibility of the People’s Republic under this Communist Party.
China’s economic achievement will be showcased. It is the third largest economic power in the world. It has successfully contained the shock of the global economic meltdown. At it is already being said that only the USA and China together can bring the world out of global recession. In terms of comprehensive national power (CNP) it is being hinted it is only next to the United States. While China openly advocates a strong multi-polar world, there is also the ambition of creating a group of two (G-2) dominated world comprising China and the USA. It has already unofficially tested the USA if a division of global control or domination will be acceptable.
Chinese strategic experts have been advocating that the geographic area from West Asia to the Asia pacific region should come under China’s influence since it is now prepared economically, diplomatically and militarily.
Hu Jintao and his colleagues want to make the 60th founding anniversary of China a resounding success at whatever the cost. It will be the moment of crowning glory of the Communist Party and its leaders. But the evolving domestic scenario could make things a little difficult.
A modern Chinese ballad goes like this:
“In the 50s people helped each other,
In the 60s people strove with one another,
In the 70s people swindled one another,
In the 80s people cared only for themselves,
In the 90st people took advantage of anyone they ran into”.
Two more lines can be added:
“In the 21st century party cadres and officials began to rape the country, while the deprived minorities began to rise demanding freedom”.
Almost all societies in the world has a variety of problems. An approximate comparison can be made between India and China given the size of the two populations and stage of development. India is pockmarked with corruption and scams. It has caste issues, religious issues and conflicts, some ethnic separatist problems, a large unemployment and illiteracy and a myriad of other problems which are a drag. But there is no upheaval that threatens the country seriously. The democratic system allows the people vent their anger and change governments if they are dissatisfied.
China does not have outlets for the public to let out steam. It is a one party authoritarian state where all the powers vests with the party and the state, and the party also supersede the state. While democracy delays decisions and implementations, in China such questions do not arise. Yet, they are missing the woods for the trees.
Rigid systems can, however, be brittle. Despite its huge network, the party’s Central Committee does not get the real feedback about people’s views as vested interests in lower levels of the party generally suppress them. This has frustrated the higher echelons in Beijing. In a recent case of lead poisoning in several villages, the protesting villages were subdued by the police to protect the owner of the polluting factory.
The official Chinese fortnightly Liaowang (Outlook) recently carried two reports on serious problems and corruption and indiscipline among party cadres, especially the younger ones who are products of the economic liberation era under controlled conditions. The second report duly mentioned how the cadres and officials were using government law enforcement machinery at their command to exploit and suppress the people leading to multiple incidents of mass unrest leading to “uncontrollable situations”.
The Chinese authorities stopped publication of the annual statistics of workers protests and unrests after 2006. Even then, numbers of such unrests were over eighty thousand. Observers are of the opinion that such incidents may have increased.
The corrupt nexus between officials, cadres and business interests is well known. The government has taken well publicized actions against several senior officials and cadres including imposition of death penalty, but to no avail. Some of the recent protests reported by the official media involved ten thousand protestors in some cases, leading to riots at times.
Another issue is uneven wealth distribution. The late leader Deng Xiaoping had hoped that as wealth is created it will also get distributed. This has not happened. The wealth remained and accumulated in the eastern region while the huge hinterland lagged well behind. The development paradigm has also been seriously flawed. Too much emphasis was on glorifying China – the huge infrastructure projects in Shanghai and other coastal cities was meant to awe the world. But it also resulted in colossal wastage.
The capital construction drive deprived farmers of their land, most of the times with meagre compensation. The peasants were intimidated by force using the police. The beneficiaries were officials, middlemen and the land sharks.
The Chinese leaders are highly concerned, at times nervous, that the situation may destabilize the country and the legitimacy of the communist party may be challenged.
Social challenges appear to be straining the body politic of China at its seams. But a positive attribute is the character of the Han Chinese. They are naturally proud to be Chinese and stand by the country. They have never experienced western democracy, and may not have a taste for it. Yet, when their masters are no longer benevolent and the patriarch of the family is not able to control the modern chieftains or warlords, the situation could implode. After all, the Communist Party was built on the revolution of the exploited. The only saving grace is the exploited do not have a leader like Mao Zedong.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is the main pillar of the Communist Party, its protector, yet subservient to it. The PLA is, therefore, given due importance and support. It is ready to respond to any challenge to the party as happened in the 1989 Tien An Mean Square students uprising demanding a clean government. Will the PLA have their hands smeared with the blood of their own people once again? After all, if there is a new movement, it will be much wider than the 1989 incident because it will be from the people. And the Chinese soldiers come from that same stock.
The party centre understands this very well, and hence the tension. Despite differences and cliques, the top leadership appear to have closed ranks. But if the challenge from the people becomes really serious and acute, the leadership may break up and a Chinese Mikhail Gorbachev may take the centre stage.
That takes us to the next question. How monolithic and unitary is China today? A recent Chinese intelligence sponsored internet blog floated a theory how fragile India was because of its multi-linguistic and multi-cultural body, separatist activities, and suggested how the country could be broken up in small independent states with some Chinese assistance. It is true that the Indian insurgents like Nagas, Mizos, the Assamese ULFA and others receive covert Chinese arms assistance, and the Kashmiri separatists enjoy quiet Chinese empathy. But the fact is that the Indian separatists enjoy little support from their own ethnic brethren. The Indian Central government must bear responsibility for the birth of such movements because it did not address the problems of these people. That is being redeemed.
The Indian union was formed through natural intermix of its people. Long before India gained independence in 1947, most Indian states had become home of the people of other Indian states bringing about a happy unity. The emotion today is India first, then anything else.
China’s territorial unity has been brought about by military force. The Muslim Uighurs of Xinjiang or Eastern Turkishan, and the Tibetan Buddhists of Tibet refuse to be assimilated with mainland China. The Chinese propaganda that only a few of these ethnic minorities have been fomenting trouble has no credibility. The March 14, 2008 Tibetan protest and the July 5, 2009 Uighur protests were indigenous with majority support from their communities. Anti-Han sentiments run deep in these two communities. Beijing’s strike hard policies have not helped either. This has only widened the Han-minorities divide.
The Beijing leadership’s mind set still reside in the 1950s and 1960s when China isolated itself, and post-war reconstructions and realignments occupied the rest of the world. In today’s globalized world there is no iron curtain or bamboo curtain. The “March 14” and “July 5” incidents have brought about a new dimension in Beijing’s relations with its two major minority people. The minorities may become more fatalistic and attract more support from the developed world. China could calm down the Muslim countries over the Uighur problem with much difficulty and with a lot of help from its ally, Pakistan. Turkey has not reconciled with the Chinese explanations over the incidents, and Saudi NGOs will keep funding the Uighur separatists.
The Chinese propaganda against the Tibetan and Uighurs have become jaded and outdated. The abusive language used against the Dalai Lama does not affect this religious leader in the least. He is beyond that But it has only increased his support and following.
Chinese propaganda against the exiled Uighur leader, Ms. Rebiya Kadeer, a hero. She has been blamed for the “July 5” Uighur riots in Urumqi. In response Japan’s now ruling party, the DPJ invited her and gave her a platform. Australia gave her a visa, a documentary on her life was shown at a film festival in Australia which she graced. She may be the next exiled minority leader in line for a Nobel peace prize.
In the last few years, China’s separatist challenges are tending towards creating an unstable China. At some point of time, the Mongolians in China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region may restart their agitation.
Taiwan independence is another issue. With the new government in Taiwan under Ma Yin-Jeou co-operation has come about and lessened the tensions; but his popularity rating has been falling. He had to invite the Dalai Lama recently to pray for the souls of the 700 Taiwanese who died in cyclone Marakot. Beijing showed some understanding, but ridiculed the Dalai Lama’s activities in Taiwan as that of a “joker”. This will not go down well with the Taiwanese, most of whom are Buddhist and revere the Dalai Lama. China can only hope to appease Taiwan through economic co-operation, but assimilating Taiwan into the mainland is not necessarily in the near vision. Beijing, therefore, keeps 700 odd M-9 missiles pointed at Taiwan and ready to fire.
Within China, there are problems that are not openly visible. Southern China, especially Guangdong province, is more attached to Hong Kong linguistically and economically then with Beijing. This is not to say that Guangdong wants to break off from Beijing and form and independent state with Hong Kong. But increasingly, the Cantonese speaking of Guangdong would strike for economic and political independence from Beijing, while leaving defence, security, and foreign policy with the central government. This, in turn, would give greater political space to Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang. In fact all the four would desire support from each other.
The foregoing does not portray a break up of China in the coming years. But if the Chinese do not readjust their policies with the global realities of today, there may be a heavy price to pay. The west may already be calculating what kind of China will be more profitable for their economic relations, and how a fast militarizing China could be strained by its own fault lines.
(The writer, Mr Bhaskar Roy, is an eminent China analyst based in New Delhi.Email:firstname.lastname@example.org)