A robust and confident China

In Perspective

Sixty years is an auspicious life cycle in the Chinese lunar calendar as the zodiac would have completed a full circle and a new cycle and new vitality would have begun. National celebrations on the occasion at Beijing indicated to a similar tone as the People’s Republic of China was observing its 60th founding anniversary.

President Hu Jintao, addressing the 2,00,000-strong audience at Tiananmen Square, said that China is striving to build a “rich, strong, democratic, civilised, harmonious and modernised socialist country.”

Hu also said, “China is prepared to make due contributions to the world. This is a significant change from the past pronouncements and to some extent represents the changing goals of the current fourth generation of leadership in China.

Firstly, Mao Zedong, speaking from the same rostrum in 1949, said that Chinese people have ‘stood up’ against imperialists and that the Chinese leadership is on the path of building socialism. Subsequently, socialist projects such as agricultural productive cooperatives, people’s communes, cultural revolution, Third World solidarity, etc were launched which were disbanded by the second generation of leadership under Deng Xiaoping from 1978.

Today, the country wants to initiate far reaching reorganisation and reform of every walk of life of the Chinese, including intensifying market economy, opening communist party for private entrepreneurs or vying for a seat at the high-table in international relations. China today is also increasingly involved in cajoling smaller countries such as Vietnam or the Philippines in disputes related to the South China Sea or others in economic and trade related issues.

New trends
Secondly, while there has been some continuity in the last six decades and possibly in future too, such as in providing legitimacy and expansion for the ruling communist party, military’s influence, certain nuances with the past and possibilities for new trends in the future are visible. For instance, today, the Chinese leadership makes unabashed statements about the rejuvenation of the Middle Kingdom, display great power mentality, spreading neo-Confucianism, delink with the Third World countries and associate more closely in a ‘responsible stakeholder’ framework with the developed countries.

Thirdly, with its status as the third largest economy in the world, China’s bargaining capacity in international economic and diplomatic affairs is increasing unlike in the past when China was a relatively backward and underdeveloped country and counted little at the high table. Today, piggybacking globalisation, China is attempting to transform internally and externally. Internally, massive urbanisation programme was launched and the ‘excess’ peasantry is being fed to the teaming working population in the cities, despite growing income inequalities and growing unrest.

Externally, China is at the forefront internationally of selective investments in strategic sectors with its $ 2.2 trillion foreign exchange reserves. These are so far mainly in US treasury securities, foreign institutional investors or in the energy sectors. China expects to reap rich dividends through these ventures.

Unlike in the past when China used brute force to address its perceived sovereignty claims or to counter the then super powers — the US or the Soviet Union, today’s China is reassessing the strategy, without renouncing the use of force.

Indeed, coercive diplomacy or even as the 2006 white paper on defence suggested, “deterring regional conflicts from breaking out.” The current strategy of the fourth generation of leadership means that China ought to convey to the adversary that the intended punishment on the latter would be swift, decisive and totally paralytical. Several aspects of the current military strategy of China are in subscription to the above point of view.

The current leadership is also moving away from even the second generation of leadership of China, viz, Deng Xiaoping, Chen Yun and others. In the 1980s, for instance, Deng Xiaoping suggested that China should follow the strategy of ‘hiding capabilities and bide for time,’ while focusing on economic development.

Today, China appears to be displaying its capabilities and its rise. The Beijing parade on 60th anniversary is a reminder of this display — exhibiting solid propellant, land-mobile, multiple re-entry capable long-range ballistic and cruise missiles, multi-role aircraft, Marine Corps and other hi-tech equipment.

On Taiwan, certain new beginnings are visible in China’s strategy, triggered by the victory of Ma Ying-jeou last year as the president. Instead of the previous policy of ‘liberating Taiwan’ or ‘peaceful re-unification’ or countering ‘Taiwan’s independence,’ President Hu says that China will “push forward the peaceful development of relations across the Taiwan Strait.”

(The writer is a professor in Chinese Studies at JNU, New Delhi)

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