People's republic rising at 60

Chinas anniversary celebration did not tell how the Communist party was lifted out of poverty

National Day parade at Beijing on October 1 marking the 60th anniversary of communist rule in China.Two developments happened towards the end of 1979. Their historical significance wasn’t immediately evident then. Certainly, the international community could not perceive them to be as important as the two defining moments of the 20th century – the October Revolution of 1917 that established the Soviet Union under the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and another October revolution in 1949 that established the Communist state in China under the Communist Party of China (CPC).

However, by the beginning of the 1990s, the full import of the two developments of 1979 was evident. The 1979 developments in question are: the CPSU’s decision to send hundreds of thousands of soldiers to Afghanistan and the CPC’s decision under Deng Xiaoping to unveil four modernisations: modernisation of industry, technology, agriculture and defence.

Twelve years after the intervention in Afghanistan, the Soviet Union, and with it the CPSU, collapsed under the weight of that country’s mounting economic crisis. In contrast, Deng’s China was beginning to make headlines across the globe, what with the country beginning to consistently record double digit annual economic growth rates. Deng had discarded the communist orthodoxies in favour of very pragmatic economic policies of the capitalist variety, though he continued to term them as socialist policies with Chinese characteristics. But that was merely to defend the supremacy of the CPC.

Very rich, less rich & poor

Deng successfully exploited the authoritarian political structure of the communist rule to put market economic reforms on a breakneck speed, the kind of which has not been seen previously anywhere else. Deng, by then knXown as the country’s paramount leader, was clear that the country must become rich, prosperous and strong – to him, to be rich was “glorious” and he was willing to accept that in the process of this growth, some would become very rich, many not-so-rich and still many more rather poor. Without ever acknowledging that the path was capitalist, he was bold in convincing his people that fruits of economic growth would eventually percolate down to the poorest and improve his living standard.

It is a matter of conjecture if Deng was aware of the serious mistakes of the Soviet leaders on the economic fronts when he launched the four modernisations. He certainly might have been conscious of the roaring economic successes of a relatively tiny neighbouring country like Japan with which China has a history of competition for supremacy.

Power play evident

The results of the single-minded pursuit of growth and development are all too evident: In the three decades since the launch of the reforms, China’s economy grew almost ten-fold, per capita income six-fold, savings to boost investment increased 14,000%, foreign trade almost 150 times, 400 million people were lifted out of poverty and over half the billion-plus population is in the middle-class category. In these times of global economic recession, when the US economy, the world’s largest, is reeling, China continues to register impressive growth and Beijing is being looked up to for bailouts, with the Chinese foreign exchange reserves crossing a whopping US$ 2 trillion mark.
China’s emergence has both opportunities and challenges for others. Historically, Beijing has entertained ambition of becoming a great power and it has been willing to demonstrate its arrival on the world stage. The acquisition of the economic muscle has added to its confidence. The demonstration of power is all too evident in many ways: look at the spectacular way it staged the Beijing Olympics last year, the decisive intervention to ground a US spy plane over Chinese airspace a few years ago, the tough talk with Japan over the Japanese depiction of history, its handling of the now-on, now-off political confrontation over Taiwan etc.

To cap this all, on October 1, the Chinese leadership commemorated 60th anniversary of Communist China’s establishment with a majestic display of modern China’s might at the Tiananmen Square in the national capital. Ironically, this was also the place where hundreds of students demanding democratic freedom were killed in 1989.

‘India is China’

The achievements of China have exerted enormous pressure on India, the only neighbouring country with which Beijing has an unresolved boundary dispute. India has, of course, set in motion its own version of economic modernisation with the launch of market economic reforms in mid-1991. The results of the changes have been evident in recent years as the Indian economy has begun to grow impressively. Many economists even tend to see similarities in the growth processes of the two Asian countries. One such is the conclusion that “India is China with a 5 to 10 year lag”.

Probably, there is a lot of exaggeration in this. At the present rate of growth, India may be actually a quarter century behind China. Certainly, there is eagerness in India to replicate the Chinese economic successes. Which is why, Jairam Ramesh, currently a Union minister of state, invoked a comparative term called “Chindia” to explain and understand the growth processes of the two countries. While India has a lot to learn from the Chinese experiences, what is currently a matter of challenge to Delhi is to manage its China diplomacy as the gaps – economic, technological and military – have widened at a time when a resolution of the boundary dispute is nowhere near after almost 20 years of diplomatic negotiations.

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