The recent developments show that nothing is more important to President Xi Jinping than implementing the ‘Chinese dream to replace the US as the pre-eminent global power and redraw the world in line with its interests and values. The dragon dominates while its bottoms seem doddering
By Sankar Ray
- Xi Jinping will be more powerful in the coming years, during which many sitting PBSC members including his rivals will retire
- Xi’s operational style appears to be a winner-take-all approach to the rough-and-tumble world of Chinese Politburo politicking
- China is seeking alternative pathways in many areas, from a rival to the global financial transfer system to the Arctic
- The advent of China with economic dominance aside, the CPC will keep all nerves strained to move towards unification with Taiwan
EVER since the Speaker of the US Senate Nancy Pelosi visited the Taiwan Straits, the region centering Beijing, the capital of the People’s Republic of China, became tensed up. In his opening report to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party at the Great Hall of China on 16 October, the CPC general secretary and President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping said categorically that his government would spare no efforts for peaceful reunification with Taiwan but would not hesitate to opt for force if compelled. But former British diplomat Charles Parton, now a fellow of the Council on Geostrategy, the Royal United Services Institute and the Mercator Institute for China Studies, rules out reasons for panic. Global policy analysts are sharply divided (see box).
In an article in London-based Financial Times, ‘West must remind Xi of the economic consequences of threatening Taiwan’ in early October this year, Parton posted a narrative on the consequences of the Chinese invasion of Taiwan. The most likely retaliation might be from the USA which would block the Malacca and Sunda straits, the channel of oil supplies from the Middle East to China. The ship owners too would oblige the US rulers in such an eventuality.
Taiwan factor apart, the rumours about Xi, having been under house arrest, reflect the unnerved vested interests dominating the global power struggle at the progress of China, the detrimental economic fallout of ‘Coronakratch’ causing shutdowns of a large number of factories notwithstanding
The British diplomat also jotted down why Beijing would refrain from such a drastic step from a military angle. “The 100 nautical miles of rough seas, only 14 beaches on which to land men and materials and Taiwan’s mountainous topography all favour the defence. After a slow start, Taipei is moving towards a ‘porcupine’ defence, which acknowledges Chinese superiority in conventional arms and relies on small, mobile platforms. These are difficult to knock out and would inflict considerable casualties. Then there is the fear of American intervention,” he wrote.
Moreover, the Chinese head of state and general secretary of the Communist Party of China which has more than party members (although less than Bharatiya Janata Party) is very much unlike the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin who invaded Ukraine putting Russian economy into sanguinary risk, Parton rightly put in. Nothing is more important to President Xi than implementing the ‘Chinese dream to replace the US as the pre-eminent global power and redraw the world in line with its interests and values. It is an unnecessary risk, if he is indeed convinced by his own slogan that ‘the east is rising, the west is declining.’ Better to wait.”
The ex-diplomat remembers the Delphic oracle warning Croesus that, ‘if he invaded Persia, an empire would fall; leaders have succumbed to the blindness of hubris.’ Washington’s readiness ‘to supply Taiwan with the sorts of nimble weapon systems that would help rebuff Beijing’s advances’ is an indirect message to CPC brass to remain non-belligerent at least towards Taiwan.
China, Parton cited, is judiciously non-hostile towards Taiwan for its own interests. The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company is the largest producer of the world’s advanced semiconductors. The TSMC CEO C C Wei stated bluntly that the company whose annual revenue crossed US$ 57 bn would never go into Chinese hands as China is yet to be able to manufacture a well-aimed missile that the Americans possess and just banning of the sale of the materials, machinery and parts would be enough to stop China from dreaming to take over TSMC. That apart, most of Taiwan’s nearly $200 bn exports to China are components in China’s own exports.
Taiwan factor apart, the rumours about Xi, having been under house arrest, reflect the unnerved vested interests dominating the global power struggle at the progress of China, the detrimental economic fallout of ‘Coronakratch’ causing shutdowns of a large number of factories notwithstanding.
External and Internal Pyrexia Dogs Xi Jinping
President Xi Jinping is yet to set out a convincing explanation for his zero-COVID policies that have squelched domestic consumption and made small businesses perish, let alone soaring youth unemployment, which hovers around 20 percent in China’s cities
THE growth engine of China has his roadblocks. President Xi Jinping is yet to set out a convincing explanation for his zero-COVID policies that have squelched domestic consumption and made small businesses perish, let alone soaring youth unemployment, which hovers around 20 percent in China’s cities. He is silent about how the government plans to ease the country’s deep property downturn and prevent crisis that hampers the banking system. These snags are in the way of meeting Xi’s own goals of more “domestic demand-driven growth and higher, technology-driven productivity,” not to mention his attempt to close the gap between China’s haves and have-nots: “It will be hard to divide the economic pie more evenly if it’s not growing.”
In the external arena, an imminent critical area is what Beijing has in mind in its goal of reuniting Taiwan Straits with mainland PRC. Shirley Martey Hargis,non-resident fellow at the Global China Hub and Digital Forensic Research Lab doesn’t envisage any imminent threat from China to take Taiwan militarily as Xi is keenly aware of Taiwan’s growing global acclaim for its handling of COVID-19 and dominance in semiconductor production. “Xi wants to temper those accomplishments as much as possible to keep other powers from aligning with Taiwan,” she asserts, adding that would be wise to ‘keep a close eye on more than just military movements: Watch cyberspace and China’s daily use of psychological warfare, legal warfare, and public-opinion warfare against Taiwan.’
Kit Conklin, non-resident senior fellow at the GeoTech Centre and former US national-security official differs with Hargis and stresses the increasingly bold and aggressive Chinese foreign policy, evident in speech to the CPC jamboree. “Xi’s refusal to ‘renounce the use of force’ leaves little room for strategic ambiguity when it comes to China’s willingness to go to war with the United States over Taiwan,” he strongly feels. The CPC supremo’s calls to “resolutely win key core technology battles” and “modernise military weapons” indicate that Xi, himself a technocrat, believes that ‘science and technology innovation is a key enabler for China’s broader political objectives, including economic growth, military modernization, and Taiwan reunification.’
“There is no denying, however, that China has been confronting tremendous pressure from US-led sanctions,” forcing Xi to beef up security at home and abroad. Xi is deeply concerned about its fractured relations with the world that has slapped an unstable international environment. Beijing has no alternative to taking on strong winds and high waves and even dangerous storms.
Last month, Twitter was abuzz with “news” that there had been a military coup in Beijing to put President Xi Jinping under house arrest. “The grist to the rumour mill: hundreds of flights had been cancelled across the country, Xi had not been seen in public for a week, and a video showing a military convoy making its way into the capital city was being widely circulated”, wrote The Straits Times. Conspiracy theories about Chinese leaders’ fall and demise come and go with high frequency that at times made even ‘the most seasoned China watchers roll their eyes every time one of them pops up on social media.
During almost half a century, CPC never uttered words like ‘US imperialism’, ‘proletarian internationalism’ and ‘international class struggle’, let alone battling against capitalism, for the ouster of which Mao Zedong never uttered a single word although since the founding of the Communist International in 1919, under the leadership of Vladimir Ilych Lenin, termed the ‘new epoch’ as a transition from capitalism to socialism, meaning termination of capitalism
However, those who have been going to China quite frequently state that attempts to even kill Xi have for years been on the blueprint albeit in vain. A good friend of this writer who had been to China for more than 30 times for the translation of Chinese texts from Mandarin to an Indian language gave his first reaction to rumours through tweets that Xi was about to be ousted as ‘extremely unlikely’ while admitting the existence of the anti-Xi conspiracy.
All said and done, Xi seems safe and free from tensions about his future. This was clear from the sequential contours between the Seventh Plenary session of the Nineteenth Central Committee to the Twentieth Party Congress that kick-started on 16 October at the Great Hall of the People on the western edge of Tiananmen Square.
Dr Rana Mitter, professor of History and Politics of Modern China at Oxford’s St Cross College director of the University China Centre, and author of books such as China’s Good War in an interview with Pranay Sharma of Money Control on 10 October 2022 said categorically that Uncle Sam’s seven decades of the policy of containment of China continues, even after the inking of Zhou En Lai-Henry Kissinger treaty of friendship on 21 February 1972 when the Vietnamese war against the ‘US imperialism’ was heading towards the penultimate stage. “China is genuinely concerned by the prospect of the US containing it.
This could be in many forms – recent official comments have spoken of concerns that technological progress might be curtailed by the ability of the US to allow top talent to come to China. China is seeking alternative pathways in many areas, from a rival to the global financial transfer system to a new interest in the Arctic”, Prof Mitter stated.
Xi Jinping’s extended tenure as China’s top leader is somewhat like ‘an inconvenient truth’ as his ‘transformative agenda amounts to nothing less than a fundamental reordering of the Chinese party: state’s core structure and its operation, both at home and abroad
On the election of Xi for the third time in a row to the post of CPC general secretary, the Oxford-based academic elaborated that the ground for this was being made for several years. He hinted at the continuity of factionalism citing that “even top leaders can be removed if they are politically problematic, notably Sun Lijun, a senior figure who just this week was sentenced to death (suspended) for corruption. There are no clearly visible alternative factions as there were in the 1990s when leadership politics was a question of balancing various interest groups more openly.”
However, there is no denying as Rana asserted, Xi has been asserting that China has entered a “new era” which demands leadership that can operate outside the norms that were set up under Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, Xi’s predecessors. The advent of China with economic dominance aside, the CPC will keep all nerves strained to move towards unification with Taiwan in a long time frame. But whether it will lead to fruition in a decade’s time is unpredictable.
Christopher K Johnson, senior fellow of Chinese Studies at the Asia Society Policy Institute, founded by John D Rockefeller in 1956 in New York, in a paper, Raising the Curtain on China’s 20th Party Congress: Mechanics, Rules, “Norms,” and the Realities of Power, focused on the growth of ‘elite politics’ dominating not only the CPC but overall governance too.
During almost half a century, CPC never uttered words like ‘US imperialism’, ‘proletarian internationalism’ and ‘international class struggle’, let alone battling against capitalism, for the ouster of which Mao Zedong never uttered a single word although since the founding of the Communist International in 1919, mainly under the leadership of Vladimir Ilych Lenin, termed the ‘new epoch’ as a transition from capitalism to socialism, meaning termination of capitalism.
Johnson wrote: “Despite the paucity of hard rules governing Chinese elite politics, some scholars have argued that the leadership generally followed a discrete series of political practices regarding senior leadership promotion and succession, with very little variation, for at least the two decades leading up to the 19th Party Congress in 2017. These ‘norms’ included, among other things, the clear identification of a successor halfway through the sitting leader’s roughly 10 years in power; the strict adherence to age restrictions defining who could serve on the Politburo; and a Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) whose numbers generally aligned with a definable set of senior party portfolios.”
For outsiders like this writer, China remains the world’s largest prison inside the Great Wall of China, more so for having been confused by conflicting analyses by Sinologists, let alone the community of scholars of China. To me, the most irritating are the Maoists who are split asunder on the critique of Mao’s Great Political Cultural Revolution by the plenary session of Adopted by the Sixth Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, adopted on 27 June 1981 “Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of our party since the Founding of the People’s Republic of China.” The irritation is more due to an omniscient pose from those who had never been to China although their epistemological base is deplorably shallow.
Whether Sinologists agree or not is a different matter, But the ASPI academic is of the view that Xi Jinping’s extended tenure as China’s top leader is somewhat like ‘an inconvenient truth’ as his ‘transformative agenda amounts to nothing less than a fundamental reordering of the Chinese party: state’s core structure and its operation, both at home and abroad, over the last several decades. Xi’s formative experiences—the exhilaration of a privileged upbringing after the CCP’s successful seizure of power in 1949, combined with the tumult stemming from his family’s fall from grace in the run-up to the Cultural Revolution—seem to have instilled in him a belief that he is operating in a highly Hobbesian political environment that, when push comes to shove, has very few formal rules, and therefore little predictability or safety. Consequently, Xi’s operational style appears to be a winner-take-all approach to the rough-and-tumble world of Chinese Politburo politicking. Guided by a philosophy that can be best described as ‘political shock and awe.’’
For outsiders China remains the world’s largest prison inside the Great Wall of China, more so for having been confused by conflicting analyses by Sinologists
While external observers have been focusing on the Twentieth Party Congress from early 2022, the CPC has been making preparations since late 2021. Most importantly, the party history resolution was passed through at the Sixth Plenum last November when it was announced that the ensuing Congress would convene “in the second half of 2022.”
The work of the preparatory committee, Johnson rightly noted, “is never publicly acknowledged until after the party congress closes, but it is an essential building block for ensuring that the conclave comes off without a hitch, and it is a key mechanism through which the sitting leader puts his stamp on the congress’s outcomes”. It was then evident that Xi would remain on the top and hot seat beyond the Twentieth Party Congress. He will be more powerful in the coming years, during which time-space many sitting PBSC members including his rivals will retire as mandated by the Constitution of CPC. Xi will chair the PBSC and ideology czar Wang Huning is likely to serve as vice chair. The fate of other biggies like the PBSC member and Executive Vice Premier Han Zheng is uncertain.
PROTEST AGAINST DICTATOR
Managing the CPC cannot alone ensure the top dictator of Beijing’s tenure sans worries. The farm front is set to put Xi on pins and needles. A few days before the mega-jamboree of Chinese communists, a rare protest reportedly took place in China against President XI Jinping and his zero-Covid policy. Photos were around showing posters and banners on the Sitong Bridge overpass in Beijing against the authoritarian rule of Jinping. One of the banners indicted Xi Jinping as a dictator and demanded his removal. Another poster wrote, “Say no to Covid test, yes to food. No to lockdown, yes to freedom. No to lies, yes to dignity. No to the cultural revolution, yes to reform. No to the great leader, yes to vote. Don’t be a slave, be a citizen,” reported CNN. A third banner states “Go on strike, remove the dictator and national traitor Xi Jinping.”
Reinhard Bütikofer, a Member of the European Parliament tweeted about the protest in China, calling it as something very rare in China. “Protest in #Beijing against Xi Jinping personally: “Overthrow the dictator and thief of the country Xi Jinping.” “No PCR tests but food, no lockdown but freedom, no lies but dignity, no Cultural Revolution but reforms, no figureheads but ballots. Don’t be a slave but a citizen”, he wrote on Twitter. The dragon dominates while its bottoms seem doddering. The biggies around the supremo await a flickering fortune which may – one cannot be sure- may kick an unknown upstairs to the
hot seat one day. Till then Zàijiàn – Goodbye.
Taiwan wasn’t originally a Chinese territory
The mainland Chinese expeditionary forces commanded by Admiral Shi Lang first decisively defeated the Zheng fleets at Penghu, or known as the Pescadores in the West, and then compelled the Ming loyalists on Taiwan to accept unconditional surrender
IN 2017, Young-tsu Wong got a book published – China’s Conquest of Taiwan in the Seventeenth Century Victory at Full Moon whose introduction begins with these words, “In 1683, Imperial China launched a successful blue-sea naval campaign against Taiwan. It happened to be one of the most complex and hazardous sea battles before modern times. The mainland Chinese expeditionary forces commanded by Admiral Shi Lang first decisively defeated the Zheng fleets at Penghu, or known as the Pescadores in the West, and then compelled the Ming loyalists on Taiwan to accept unconditional surrender. Admiral Shi’s skills, bravery, and experiences were surely indispensable for the victory, which not only secured imperial China’s political legitimacy by eliminating the last bastion of the Ming loyalists but also firmly acquired a strategic island off the mainland coast.”
Thereafter the Chinese emperor established peace and order in the Taiwan Strait and it remained as that for over a century. The Vietnam-based pirates began disrupting the coastal peace in 1796. In the 1930s,Taiwan went down under Japanese imperialism and was liberated by the Chiang Kai Shek-led Chinese Army in the late 1940s.
In 2004, Melina J Brown wrote a book, ‘Is Taiwan Chinese? The Impact of Culture, Power, and Migration on Changing Identities. It is a theoretical construct. She wrote in preface on her theoretical claims , grounded in empirical case studies of identity changes that took place in Taiwan and China.” “Moving from the more specific to the more general, they are: identity is based on social experience, not cultural ideas or ancestry; cultural meanings and social power constitute two distinct, though interacting, systems that affect human behaviour and societies differently; demographic forces such as migration affect human behaviour and societies in yet another way; and human cognition—both cognitive structure and decision-making processes—mediate the influences of culture, power, and demographic conditions.In arguing these claims, I weave together theoretical perspectives from across the postmodernism-science divide to produce a synthesis that, hopefully, provides a clearer picture of the processes shaping human behaviour and societies,” she wrote.
The fact remains that the “Taiwan problem”— whether Taiwan should be a part of the Chinese nation or its own independent nation—is a political issue.It is fundamentally an issue of identity. “These statements are not contradictory, for, as we have seen, identity is political. A specific identity is formed by individuals who share common social experiences because they are classified as members of a single group. Social experience includes political and economic experience”, she added.