As India’s new government gets down to the task of governance and crafting a national strategic policy, it needs to take a fresh look at the country’s relationship with China. This is because there has been an inexorable hardening of the Chinese State in the past couple of years, especially since Xi Jinping took charge as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Three trends are evident: The concentration of power in the hands of Xi Jinping; enforcement of party discipline and the party’s narrative together with the tightening of criteria for restricting admission to the CCP and the accelerated modernisation of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
After his appointment in December 2012 to the country’s three top positions — general secretary of the CCP Central Committee (CC), chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) and President of China — Xi Jinping further concentrated greater authority in himself. Today he heads seven of the Central Leading Small Groups, the most powerful bodies overseeing government and Party affairs. He now guides and supervises all affairs relating to the national economy, armed forces and military modernisation, cyber security and domestic security. The important point is that this has concurrently further strengthened the CCP’s grip on the levers of State. Today, Xi Jinping is China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.
Xi Jinping’s concept of ‘China’s Dream’, articulated in December 2012, has already entered the Party’s lexicon. In addition to making the people wealthy and the nation strong, the concept envisages “rejuvenation” of the Chinese nation, which implies the “recovery” of all former territories as depicted by China’s maps. This concept and his speeches are central subjects in the ‘study sessions’ held regularly by the Party and PLA. The authoritative Party theoretical journal Qiu Shi (Seeking Truth) in its June 2014 issue concretised Xi Jinping’s status in the CCP hierarchy thus legitimising his status in China. It described Xi Jinping as “one of China’s greatest Communist leaders” who had put forward “new thinking, new views and new conclusions”.
Doctrinaire policies have gained ascendance in the Party in the past couple of years with renewed emphasis on Marxist and Maoist ideology. The Party’s guiding narrative is enforced by the CC’s powerful propaganda department which is introducing progressively stringent restrictions on journalists, the media and social media.
The ‘mass line’ campaign launched last year to enforce Party discipline and inculcate the CCP’s core values in members included tightened restrictive vetting procedures aimed at ensuring that qualitatively better people with the right temperament join the Party. As a result, last year 2.41 million persons, or 825,000 less than the previous year, were admitted to the CCP registering a 1.3% drop for the first time in a decade. Xin Ming, of the CCP’s Central Party School attributed the drop in new members to “the CCP’s initiative to adjust its size and structure, with the aim of improving quality and optimising structure.”
The anti-corruption campaign spearheaded by Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) member and fellow ‘princeling’ Wang Qishan, as chairman of the Central Discipline Inspection Commission (CDIC), has reinforced Xi Jinping’s authority. The campaign has targeted a number of vice ministers and cadres at the Party’s second highest rung of leadership, namely Politburo (PB).
China is awash with speculation that for the first time in decades a former PBSC member and country’s Security Czar, Zhou Yongkang, could fall next. Last November the PLA was brought within the purview of the CDIC and five generals have already been either dismissed or arrested. Reports circulating in Beijing assess that Xi Jinping might appoint some loyalists to important positions in the Party and PLA at the Party’s upcoming fourth Plenum likely this September.
Modernisation of the PLA, facilitated by the consecutive double-digit hikes in defence budgets since 1993, has accelerated since the 18th Party Congress. Reliable reports state that China’s seven Military Regions are being merged into five. The PLA is being downsized by 800,000 persons and elimination of the 300,000 non-combatants is proposed within a decade. There has been a vast infusion of funds in defence research and development in a major effort to upgrade technology, with China expecting to operationalise its second aircraft carrier in six years. China’s military doctrine dictates heavy concentration of firepower in a localised area to overwhelm the ‘enemy’. This reorganisation gives the PLA a definite “outward orientation”, implying that “recovery” of territories claimed by Beijing will be a central feature of China’s strategic agenda and reinforce diplomacy aimed at realising “China’s Dream”.
India’s strategic planners will be prudent to recognise the nature of the Chinese State and make interactions transactional. Areas open to economic engagement should have clearly defined limits. India’s defence preparedness must be given priority.
Jayadeva Ranade is a member of the National Security Advisory Board and former additional secretary in the Cabinet secretariat. He is President of the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy, New Delhi
The views expressed by the author are personal