Xi is supreme — for now. But will CPC eventually judge him harshly?
A resurgent China is seeking to dominate Asia. In the process, it is thwarting the legitimate aspirations of others and jeopardising peace and security in the Indo-Pacific.
On July 1, the Communist Party of China (CPC) marked its centenary. President Xi Jinping’s address from the rostrum of the Tiananmen Gate to the Imperial Palace, overlooking the vast eponymous square, was a throwback to the Mao Zedong era. He referred to the steel wall of 1.4 billion Chinese people in the context of external threats and underscored the supremacy of the CPC. The several references to the leadership core were but a thinly veiled reference to himself.
This was endorsed in similar eulogies at the sixth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the CPC which adopted a formal resolution on the “Major Achievements and Historical Experience of the Party over the Past Century”.
Coinciding with the centenary year of the CPC, the resolution placed Xi alongside iconic leaders such as Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping in the Chinese pantheon. The several effusive references to Xi as the “core” of the party leadership have no doubt paved the way for his unprecedented third term at the forthcoming 20th Party Congress in 2022.
With nationalistic fervour running high, China’s ire has been directed at Taiwan as well as India in eastern Ladakh and, further afield, to a lesser degree, in the South and East China Seas. Particularly in a centenary year, the CPC can ill afford even a single setback. Whether in trade negotiations, high technologies, territorial claims or tenets for governance and economic development, China has endeavoured to establish its supremacy.
The attainment of the first centenary goal, of becoming a moderately prosperous society by 2021, has greatly enhanced China’s confidence. Before the decade is out, China is expected to overtake the United States in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) terms. Buoyed by economic success and military expansionism, China is now focused on achieving the second centenary goal of achieving the “China Dream” of “rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” and making China a “prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious & modern socialist country” by 2049.
Today, no part of the Indo-Pacific is inured to China’s influence even though this influence is, as yet, manifestly more economic than military beyond its immediate periphery. From artificial islands to Artificial Intelligence, China’s artifice looms large. Its emphasis on “sea power” and naval expansion, whether for sea control or sea denial, has triggered the formation of a countervailing defence arrangement — AUKUS — aimed at restoring the balance of security in the Pacific Ocean. Meanwhile, with both India and China adhering to their respective positions, the military situation in eastern Ladakh has proved to be protracted in nature. The initial disengagement in the Pangong Lake area in February this year was followed by a breakthrough leading to a similar disengagement at Gogra in August. Dialogue continues at multiple levels, including the diplomats and the corps commanders, but further progress has since proved elusive. Untying the Gordian Knot at the remaining friction points would pave the way for the two Asian giants to work incrementally to rebuild trust and resume cooperation.
China holds the key to the restoration of normalcy in India-China relations. As 2021 draws to a close, it is clear that the longer the current stalemate endures, the harder it will be to bring the ship of bilateral relations back on to an even keel. Good relations between India and China matter. They account for two-thirds of Asia’s population.
Surely China recognises the pitfalls of policies that are alienating the global community.
Even a colossus such as Mao Zedong could not evade the severe criticism heaped on him in the party’s resolution of 1981, for grave errors of judgment. As to how the party will evaluate President Xi Jinping’s leadership, time will tell. History, as the saying goes, does have a way of repeating itself.
Sujan Chinoy, a former diplomat and negotiator on India-China boundary issues, is currently director general, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses
The views expressed are personal