China’s ‘Peaceful’ rise is today viewed with suspicion in many quarters. The threat of a Red China as propagated by the West during the Cold War era cannot be brushed aside. At this Covid-19 moment, China must come clean so that the global community can repose faith in its leadership.
China is on its own course. This year it is completing the 71st year of its Independence. From Mao Zedong to Xi Jinping, China has travelled a long distance. Dispelling fears among the world powers that its rise is absolutely peaceful. Despite its domestic problems and mounting global challenges, the country’s communist leadership has been able to make friends and allies and keep the enemies at bay so far.
However, its neighbours in the Asian continent and the rest of the world view China with suspicion. China is working hard to ensconce herself in a desired global order so that dominant powers, like the US, find it difficult to drag her away.
Following the teachings of Sun Tsu, the veteran Chinese war strategist, Taoist philosopher and general of the 6th century BCE, the successive Chinese leaders have been able to overcome troubles since its birth as an Independent nation on October 1, 1949.
Mao Zedong, known popularly as “Chairman Mao” who ruled China from 1949 to 1976, established a Communist regime and ruled the country with iron fists. Marking a stark contrast from the then existing Communist regime in the USSR which was purely based on the teachings of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin, Mao proclaimed his brand of socialism as “socialism with Chinese characteristics”. But then in reality, this socialism was none other than a kind of socialism that reflected Marxism-Leninism adapted to the Chinese circumstances.
During Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” from 1958-1962, as many as 45 million people died from his failed attempt to convert small family firms to communes while pushing them into steel production at the same time.
And another disaster that Mao heralded was the “Cultural Revolution” from 1966 to 1976. What Mao did was another blot on the modern Chinese history. He indeed surpassed the record of the country’s first emperor Quin Shi Huang, who buried 460 scholars alive thinking them as threats to his power.
However Mao’s campaign to eradicate both cultural relics and the traditionalism they bring and academic intellectualism led to the killing of nearly 46,000 scholars. And this eventually brought down industrial production by 14 per cent in 1967. Though Mao era ended with more of chaos and internal disorder, China had made its unique mark in the comity of nations.
By 1979, Deng Xiaoping adopted the historic “Open Door Policy” which spearheaded the process to bring in a real economic miracle in the country. However the biggest irony was that the Communist China could not find its miracle within the tenets of its very own trilogy of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, but finally rediscovered it in the heart of capitalism only.
The China advocates boastfully say that the country’s success comes from an effective hybridisation of both capitalism and socialism. And it’s not simply China’s taste of capitalism. For example, the hallmark of such hybridisation could be directly pointed out at the state-owned enterprises (SOEs) that single-handedly dominated the country’s economy in the beginning, but then their roles were gradually reduced in successive years. Strikingly, the SOEs once again have received the same treatment now under the Xi regime.
What exactly operates in China is that sovereign help preferential financing, and large subsidies normally offer a big boost to Chinese firms in comparison to firms in other countries. With the coming of President Xi in 2012, China has maintained a 6 per cent plus GDP growth. What critics say is that he has done it at the cost of massive debt. Under his tutelage, the building of ghost cities and roads have continued in the name of expanding infrastructure facilities and increasing employment opportunities.
His regime has allowed select companies to remain as defaulters under his very nose even as he is raging a war against corruption, mismanagement and nepotism. At this juncture, the Western economists come to realise that China’s state-owned enterprises could easily devour bad loans the way it can’t be thought of in a market economy. Many analysts believe that Chinese banks may have ten times more bad loans than they actually report in public and to the outside world.
The ongoing trade war between the US and China revolves around many key issues. But initially President Donald Trump was really unhappy about the fact that American export to China was more than $540 billion whereas China to the US was $120 billion per annum in 2018. But this trade war includes range of other controversial issues such as theft of intellectual property rights to state subsidies.
Around the same time, the controversy around the technologies made by Huawei, a Chinese software giant came to the forefront of trade tensions between America and China.
The US suspicion regarding Huawei predated the current trade dispute but the legal battle around the arrest of the Company’s Chief Financial Officer Meng Wenzhou added the tensions between President Trump & President Xi. The main controversy behind the Huawei is that its founder, and current CEO Ren Zhengfei, was previously an Officer in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
And many companies and Governments who normally mistrust the Chinese Government and its enterprises veer around the idea that the Huawei’s huge database of customers may be used by Beijing for espionage network.
The first of such espionage charges came out in 2012. Then a US Congressional panel concluded that both the Huawei and ZTE Corporation, a rival Chinese telecom company, could pose a security threat to the country. And it was followed by the UK, Australia, New Zealand, etc, by excluding Huawei and the ZTE from their 5G Network.
Today it has been realised that the 5G network developed by China with at least its three telecom giants is 20 times faster than 4G network. The 5G network can enable better connectivity among all kinds of devices starting from smartphones to driver-less cars.
On the other hand, the 5G network developed mostly privately and regulated by the federal and state agencies in the US has been allowed to play a much smaller role than the Chinese ones. These all have added to the growing business war between the US and China. It may be a conspiracy on the part of the Western Governments and trading companies to pull down a Chinese company that is fast taking both their business space and network.
The Covid-19, a Chinese originated epidemic from the heart of its wet market in Wuhan, has taken a deadly toll across the world. Today many in the West and around the world are simply branding this new virus as a kind of “biological weapon” launched by China to put the rest, especially the US and Europe, behind.
Some of the China sceptics are labelling this disease as a new type of “Red War” or “Red Threat” released by the Communist leadership in Beijing to teach the world a lesson. It is alleged that China has fought the Third World War even without fighting a single bullet. How has this dreaded virus challenged the scientific inventions and discoveries that have failed to stop its assault on the mankind around the world?
Is it not unbelievable that despite the world fast turning out to be a graveyard, China is opening up the Wuhan wet market and business activities across the Hubei province? Surely, scientific research and technology can easily find a solution soon for Covid-19.
China’s fast opening of the Wuhan province seems little mysterious when the whole world is grappling with the fear of a virus originated in that city only. It means China must have made a new drug to control the virus and hence restarting its business and allowing people to come out.
If it is so, Beijing must come out openly and help the rest of humanity to stop this menace. If it is not doing this, there must be some ulterior motive behind the spread of the virus. Only time, adequate scientific research and smart intelligence could establish the fact in due course of time.
Keeping these in mind, today it is uncertain whether China’s rise will be absolutely peaceful. In fact, it can’t be judged solely by its rhetoric or its politically framed narratives released by the Communist Party.
When we go by the traditional liberal and conservative frameworks offered by global experts, what we gather from them is that a country will be willing to use peaceful means to resolve any conflict situation provided it is in the national interest of the nation.
But then history does not bear any single route for a nation to become a dominant power with a peaceful rise. And herein the rise of China certainly raises some pertinent questions as to its real intentions while engaging the rest of the world. While echoing the postulations of American theorist Hans J Morgenthau, one can safely say that it is very natural that a new rising power will definitely challenge the status quo.
And this will lead to the rise of the new power less peaceful unless there is some kind of balance of power to tame the new one. While advancing his thesis for a fierce power struggle between the status quo and the new power, he strongly rejects the liberal thesis that advances in education, culture, and technologies enhance the prospects for peace and stability. But theorists such as Samuel P Huntington believe that it is not the power trajectory but there could be an obvious clash with China from cultural perspectives.
Huntington argues that “China’s history, culture, traditions, size, economic dynamism and self-image all impel it to assume a hegemonic position in East Asia. This goal is a natural result of its rapid economic development. All other major powers, Britain and France, Germany and Japan, the United States and the Soviet Union, have engaged in outward expansion, assertion, and imperialism coincidental with or immediately following the years in which it went through rapid industrialisation and economic growth.
No reason exists to think that the acquisition of economic and military power will not have comparable effects on China”. This indicates that China will have a direct encounter with the West or with the rest of the established dominant powers in international politics.
Hu Jintao, the predecessor of Xi, advocated for “peaceful rise” and “peaceful development”. But many international observers remained puzzled as to whether this was a tactical or strategic move in that time or for future.
Also it was broadly discussed around the world whether such a strategy is going to last or to be changed as per the global and regional situation demands.
Alongside, many sceptics argued that when China obtains primacy in the global affairs, will it continue to seek reciprocal relationships with other dominant powers and maintain a benign position in the Asian continent.
But when we analyse today’s China and its leadership, we could visualise two different situations: first, the advocates of a revisionist China or China threat theory clearly points out that China will obviously try to alter the existing global order and its rule book as to suit its own demands.
And in fact, this was done by the major powers in the past. During the time of Hu, China was more or less non-aggressive and today under Xi, the country is fast appearing to take a more dominant rule, taking the advantage of the decline of the US and the EU’s roles at major global platforms and circumstances.
That’s why many of these China threat theorists underlined the point that the country’s current strategy seems benign and calm. But it remains unclear the course that China will follow if its current “peace and development” strategy fails to succeed.
When we flip through the pages of history, what we experience is more of a pessimistic scenario of China’s rise. In 2006, John Mearsheimer, in his seminal article in the “Current History” rightly highlighted that China’s rise would not be peaceful. It is very much evident from the policies and strategies adopted by Xi since the time he took over from Hu in 2012.
He has rightly moved from the earlier strategy of peaceful rise to his grand “China Dream” wherein he aspire his nation to be simply a globetrotter very much like him.
China has re-emerged for quite some time when the world has witnessed almost the downfall of the liberal order. Many say the West has experienced in many of its countries the rise of the illiberal order. And around the same time, the Eurozone is facing a debilitating financial crisis accompanied by a looming Brexit crisis.
Undoubtedly, China has filled this gap. Its doom as predicted by many liberal theorists with its entry into the era of market economy has not so far come true. Rather China and its Communist leadership have adequately placed its socialist system in tandem with the country’s capitalist expansion.
Sadly, with Xi, the country has seen an extraordinary level of animosity not only with its neighbours but also with the major powers of the world. He and his regime as dubbed correctly as a reincarnation of “Chairman Mao” is simply brewing infighting within the Party and chaos around the overseas territories of China such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, South China Sea, East China Sea and most prominently, within the country in the restive province of Xinxiang.
His truly authoritarian style of functioning and making him the President for life i.e. lifting the two years presidential terms is indicating the return of a Mao-era.
His over-ambitious One Belt One Road (OBOR), China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and rapid encircling of India in and around the Indian Ocean are simply starting new great game in the continent. High investments in Maldives, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and finally making Pakistan an all-weather friend can be regarded as the beginning of a new war theatre in the sub-continent.
China’s rise or re-emergence can be laced with high probability of big falls for sure. The threat of a Red China as propagated by the West during the Cold War era cannot be brushed aside. Its journey from peaceful rise to peaceful development is today viewed with apprehension in many quarters.
Its money, muscle power and authoritarian leadership all together have given what it has achieved today. Its attempt to expand beyond borders can create insecurity not only for itself but also for the rest of the world.
If China is strictly following what Sun Tsu said many centuries back: “the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting and all warfare is based on deception”, it would certainly lose the rare chance of leading world once and for all. At this Covid-19 moment, China must come out transparent so that the global community can repose faith in its leadership.
Truly speaking, by the beginning of the last decade of the 20th Century, Wilsonianism seemed triumphant because the Russophobia and the Communist ideological trap had been overcome by the credentials of liberal democracy.
But then, with the start of the 21st century, when we largely encounter a downfall of the liberal order, an Asian order under the leadership of China (though many in Asia will simply reject Beijing’s mentorship) could have shown a new path to the international community. It seems China may rightly lose the same.