A steady hardening of Chinese state

A steady hardening of Chinese state

Xi Jinping has used nationalism and ideology to promote political stability and regime survival.

As the 19th Party Congress convenes in November 2017, it will note that there has been a steady hardening of the Chinese state over the past five years. Xi Jinping has used nationalism and ideology to promote political stability and regime survival — the top agenda items of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) — and introduced progressively restrictive domestic measures. 

The 19th Congress can be expected to positively evaluate the measures implemented by Xi to ensure social stability and the CCP’s primacy. Despite the pools of dissatisfaction comprising those adversely impacted, he has persisted with substantive steps to ‘professionalise’ the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), cleanse the party and impose the constraints of party ideology on the academia, media and sections of society.

Problems, however, continue to linger in the PLA. When Xi visited the Southern Theatre Command on April 27, 2017, he exhorted the PLA to strengthen ideology and ensure it “resolutely follows the command of the CCP CC.” He pointedly asked officers to “eliminate the impact” of Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou, the former vice chairmen of the Central Military Commission (CMC) dismissed on charges of corruption.

Such references almost five years after Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou were punished, however, does suggest that their influence and that of their mentor, former CCP CC general secretary Jiang Zemin, continue to linger. A PLA Daily commentary in March 2017 also highlighted the continuing existence of problems in the PLA.

It asserted that “malpractice, including spreading political rumours, reckless comments on the party’s theories and policies, and participation of illegal associations should all be prohibited and punished.” Nonetheless, Xi has been successfully pushing through the most extensive reforms for streamlining and restructuring the PLA since its founding 90 years ago.

Concern about perceived destabilisation efforts, or ‘Colour Revolution’, by the West is very high in the CCP. A series of measures to counter this have been implemented including a crackdown on NGOs and civil rights lawyers, ‘liberal’ practices and academics and students. Party control is being stringently imposed on universities, schools and even primary schools.

In June this year, new regulations brought foreign students within the ambit of party controls including monitoring by political counsellors. A National Security Education campaign, warning citizens against foreigners, launched across China late last year, continues.

The economy has slowed to a 6.5% rate of growth. Income inequality is growing with latest official Chinese figures showing that while disparity between provinces is gradually reducing, the gap between the poor and rich is widening. Poverty has become a serious concern. There is a lack of confidence in the country’s economy as evidenced by the continuing flight of capital. The People’s Bank of China estimated that $ 1 trillion has fled the country since 2015.

At a politburo session on April 25, Xi described financial regulation as a matter of national security with existential relevance for the party. Analysts assess that with the party raising concerns about capital flight and focusing on conspiracies by ‘global financial elites’ to undermine national interest, the ‘internationalisation’ of the RMB (Chinese currency) might be affected.

Tougher policies

With the imposition of tougher domestic policies and China’s increasing assertiveness in the global arena, an arc of vulnerability is developing on China’s periphery. The Tibet Auto­nomous Region (TAR) remains restive with Tibetans declining to accept the China-appointed Panchen Lama, and Tibetans and Tibetan cadres harbouring loyalty to the Dalai Lama. China’s strong reaction to the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, to an extent, reflects the tension in TAR.

Similarly, the incidence of violence in Xinjiang is high despite the security budget being raised by 54% over the previous year’s $1.05 billion.  It has provoked the authorities to impose progressively harsher measures like: prohibiting Muslims from giving their children any of 20 specific names on the ground that they would then grow to become terrorists; directing children under the age of 16 years and having these names to change them; prescribing the length of beards; compelling all residents of the Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region to surrender their passports etc.

Tensions with Taiwan are high following Tsai Ing-wen of the DPP becoming president. Chinese analysts recently stated that “…China is now preparing for a final solution by non-peaceful means, which is the last resort China would prefer to turn to.” Conditions in Hong Kong too are disturbed with some young residents contesting Beijing’s “rule” and calling for “independence,” thus eliciting a strong reaction from Beijing.

As Xi begins his second term at the end of this year and advan­ces the ‘China Dream’ and Belt and Road Initiative, the hardening of the Chinese state will continue. The ensuing inflexibility will mean that negotiations are unlikely to yield concessions. 

This will be evident as China strives to shape its external regi­onal environment and pursues its claims in the South China Sea. It will also probably be reflected in China’s dealings with India and its other neighbours.  

(The author is a former Additi­onal Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India and is President of the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy)