THE DRAGON GAME

The suc­ces­sion war in China es­ca­lates as the Com­mu­nist Party congress be­gin­ning Oc­to­ber 18 gets ready to choose the suc­ces­sor to both the Para­mount Leader and Prime Min­is­ter. What this means for China, India and the world.

Sunday Express - - FRONT PAGE - by Yatish Ya­dav

The suc­ces­sion war in China es­ca­lates as the Com­mu­nist Party congress be­gin­ning Oc­to­ber 18 gets ready to choose the suc­ces­sor to both the Para­mount Leader and Prime Min­is­ter. What this means for China, India and the world

The moon-shaped beach of Bei­daihe, a coastal re­sort town on China’s Bo­hai Sea, is known for its shal­low wa­ters, ideal for rookie swim­mers. In July, vet­eran nav­i­ga­tors of the Com­mu­nist Party of China’s (CPC) deep and treach­er­ous po­lit­i­cal tides had gath­ered there to dis­cuss the con­tours of the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s future lead­er­ship. In pa­tri­ar­chal China, re­tired party lu­mi­nar­ies such as Jiang Zemin still in­flu­ence po­lit­i­cal out­comes both in­side and out­side gov­ern­ment. The CPC’s 19th congress, sched­uled to be­gin on Oc­to­ber 18, will elect the suc­ces­sor to the om­ni­scient ‘Para­mount Leader of China’, the 64-year-old Xi Jin­ping—Gen­eral Sec­re­tary of the Com­mu­nist Party, President of the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China and Chair­man of the Cen­tral Military Com­mis­sion. His sec­ond term ends in 2022. Suc­ces­sors are elected at the end of the in­cum­bent’s first term. Del­e­gates will also be choosing re­place­ments for Prime Min­is­ter Li Ke­qiang. How­ever, the pow­er­ful Xi shows no signs of want­ing to go. Will he change roles as party and gov­ern­ment boss to China’s ven­tril­o­quist by se­lect­ing a suc­ces­sor of his choosing in the man­ner of Rus­sian President Vladimir Putin, who had stepped down in 2008 to in­stall Dmitri Medvedev in his place, only to re­turn to the Krem­lin as President in 2012? The bull in the China shop is the ques­tion whether Xi will try to change the party con­sti­tu­tion, which re­stricts the pres­i­den­tial terms to two, though the length of the Gen­eral Sec­re­tary’s sinecure is not spec­i­fied. The Dok­lam con­fronta­tion be­tween India and China was a sign that Xi needed de­flec­tion to con­sol­i­date power ahead of the party ses­sion. His sec­ond term in 2017 as President is a given.

As mat­ters stand, it is not go­ing to be easy for Xi.

Eth­nic ri­ots in Xin­jiang Prov­ince along north­west China, civil un­rest in Ti­bet Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion, a hos­tile bu­reau­cracy de­prived of the fruits of cor­rup­tion and the weak­en­ing core of the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army (PLA) are Xi’s ma­jor chal­lenges. China’s hous­ing and con­struc­tion sec­tors have de­cel­er­ated in 2017, af­fect­ing in­dus­try, which con­trols most of China’s cor­po­rate debt and con­struc­tion sec­tors. More cor­po­rate de­faults and bank­rupt­cies are feared to oc­cur in 2018. China will be then forced to in­crease spend­ing to meet the pres­sures of the US’ pro­tec­tion­ist poli­cies.

THE ARMY IL­LU­SION

One of Mao Ze­dong’s best­known max­ims is ‘power comes from the bar­rel of the gun’. Xi’s de­pen­dence on the military as a piv­otal force in China’s power struc­ture il­lus­trates his pres­i­dency’s re­liance on the PLA’s sup­port. In July, Xi— wear­ing the uni­form of the Com­man­der-in-Chief—had presided over a mas­sive military pa­rade to cel­e­brate the PLA’s 90th an­niver­sary. The Army and the Party feed off each other in China; though the for­mer is no longer the fear­some dragon of the past few decades. It is in­ex­pe­ri­enced in mod­ern war­fare. It fought its last war in 1979 and was de­feated while try­ing to teach Viet­nam a ‘les­son’. The Korean War in the 50s and the In­di­aChina War and bor­der en­coun­ters with the USSR in the 60s is the only other ac­tion it has seen. Says Ma­jor Gen­eral (retd.) G D Bak­shi, “China can­not af­ford a full-fledged con­ven­tional war with India. Over the last two decades, India has emerged as a nu­clear state.”

China is at least a quar­ter cen­tury be­hind West­ern pow­ers in naval prow­ess. If Amer­i­can right wing philoso­pher Thomas Fried­man is to be trusted, it will never catch up. The Chi­nese Air Force is de­pen­dent on Rus­sian tech­nol­ogy. Its dense pop­u­la­tion, es­pe­cially on its east­ern se­aboard where the rich and mid­dle-class live, makes it vul­ner­a­ble to nu­clear at­tack. India’s Agni V in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile, with its 6,000 km range, can hit tar­gets in Pakistan and China. Agni IV can strike nearly all of China, in­clud­ing Bei­jing and Shang­hai, from north­east­ern India. Agni II can de­liver a nu­clear or con­ven­tional war­head over 2,000 km to hit west­ern, cen­tral, and south­ern China. “China uses Dok­lam to wean away India’s in­flu­ence in Bhutan. The in­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal dy­nam­ics of China are play­ing a ma­jor role in the bor­der is­sue since the in­cum­bent gov­ern­ment wants to prove its met­tle to get back into power again. But military con­fronta­tion is highly un­likely since China has been em­bar-

rassed in the world arena for es­ca­lat­ing a lo­cal is­sue,” says Lt Gen Mo­hin­der Puri, for­mer deputy chief of the In­dian Army.

POCK­ETS OF RE­SIS­TANCE

Xi’s China is in the throes of a gi­gan­tic eco­nomic cri­sis. Over one bil­lion Chi­nese out of 1.4 bil­lion live in house­holds whose in­come is be­low $2,000 a year (600 mil­lion be­low $1,000 a year). An age­ing pop­u­la­tion, ur­ban-ru­ral eco­nomic dis­par­ity and poor ru­ral health in­fra­struc­ture are hin­drances to growth, though China’s growth rate has been mov­ing up steadily over 30 years. Econ­o­mists be­lieve China will have to shift its fo­cus away from ex­ports to do­mes­tic con­sump­tion. To achieve this, the Chi­nese mid­dle-class has to grow more. But wage growth for high-skilled work­ers is down from a high of 20.3 per cent in 2007 to 8.6 per cent in 2014. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent sur­vey, over 50 per cent of Chi­nese high net worth in­di­vid­u­als, who have in­vestible as­sets of $1.5 mil­lion or more, are ei­ther plan­ning to or are con­sid­er­ing em­i­grat­ing to the West. China to­day has more bil­lion­aires then the US. Un­even wealth dis­tri­bu­tion is an­other chal­lenge—as the econ­omy grew rapidly in the 80s, en­rich­ing the new mid­dle­class, so did dis­par­ity. Post the Tianan­men Square protests on 1989, em­ploy­ment was tai­lored to­wards youth in cities and towns, leav­ing peas­ants out lead­ing to ur­ban mi­gra­tion. A re­port showed that in spite of the av­er­age wealth of each Chi­nese cit­i­zen be­ing $17,126 —al­most dou­ble of In­di­ans—me­dian wealth was just $6,327. “Tak­ing on India will send China’s growth path on re­verse mode. It shares bor­ders with 14 coun­tries and has dis­putes with most of them,” says Lt Gen Puri,

RI­OTOUS TIMES

The eco­nomic ram­i­fi­ca­tions above are vis­i­ble in China’s ru­ral ar­eas where the gov­ern­ment has to put down ri­ots pe­ri­od­i­cally. Mi­grant un­rest is ris­ing in the cities. The Is­lamic and cul­tural in­sur­gency in the Xin­jiang au­ton­o­mous re­gion in China’s far west, led by the in­dige­nous and largely Mus­lim Uyghur pop­u­la­tion, is es­ca­lat­ing, and has been de­mand­ing in­de­pen­dence since the 80s. The au­thor­i­ties have been car­ry­ing out re­pop­u­la­tion ini­tia­tives by giv­ing eth­nic ma­jor­ity Han Chi­nese jobs and homes in Xin­jiang. The Uyghurs are hit­ting back, tar­get­ing them as ri­ots, bomb­ings and stab­bing sprees con­tinue to break out pe­ri­od­i­cally. The world is watch­ing China’s in­tol­er­ance for dis­sent. In Hong Kong, protests hit the street in Au­gust when three ac­tivists of the Um­brella Move­ment—the pro-democ­racy ag­i­ta­tion that sprung up spon­ta­neously in 2014—were jailed. More­over, the ocean burial of No­bel lau­re­ate and pro-democ­racy cam­paigner Liu Xiaobo by China’s se­cret po­lice to prevent his burial site from be­ing a pil­grim­age des­ti­na­tion for pro-democ­racy ac­tivists has ig­nited sea­side protests across the world. How­ever, these may not be an ur­gent con­cern for Xi, who is look­ing be­yond 2022 to make his­tory his own.

DEFT MA­NOEU­VRES

In the com­ing fight, Xi will be ap­ply­ing his­tory’s lessons to tri­umph. The Polit­buro had anointed him “the core” of the party’s lead­er­ship last Oc­to­ber and Para­mount Leader. Now, he is fac­ing the CPC’s Shang­hai fac­tion, led by Jiang Zemin, and the Hu Jin­tao-led Bei­jing lobby. For­tu­nately for Xi, they are en­gaged in an in­ternecine war them­selves to be ahead in the po­lit­i­cal game. Both are aware that Xi is pre­pared for a fight. And he has the ad­van­tage, be­ing both the Gen­eral Sec­re­tary of CPC and the President. He has the power to re­duce the num­ber of mem­bers in the elite Polit­buro Stand­ing Com­mit­tee from seven to five, thus re­duc­ing op­po­si­tion. Five re­tire next year, which will en­able Xi to ap­point his own men to the va­can­cies. The ma­jor­ity fac­tion de­cides the out­come of China’s next president. The num­ber of seats has os­cil­lated from three to 11 from 1927, when the Stand­ing Com­mit­tee was formed. In 2002, Xi’s pre­de­ces­sor Jiang packed the Com­mit­tee with his nom­i­nees to re­tain con­trol of the party, af­ter ex­pand­ing its strength to nine. Xi had cut the num­ber back to seven, oust­ing Jiang’s men. Sig­nif­i­cantly, both changes oc­curred dur­ing the ap­point­ment of a new Gen­eral Sec­re­tary.

RUTH­LESS RULER

The Para­mount Leader, whose role model is Chair­man Mao, has been ruth­lessly con­sol­i­dat­ing his grip over the party and the coun­try. Ri­vals and bu­reau­crats have been purged, and dis­si­dence and crit­i­cism have no place in Xi’s schemat­ics. When Xi as­sumed the cat­bird seat, the in­ter­net was trans­form­ing in­for­ma­tion dis­sem­i­na­tion. Dur­ing Fe­bru­ary and March 2016, Ren Zhiqiang, once the most fol­lowed per­son on Weibo (the Chi­nese avatar of Twit­ter, with 38 mil­lion-plus fol­low­ers), ques­tioned Xi’s de­mands of un­con­di­tional loy­alty from the me­dia. Xi promptly or­dered Ren’s ac­count shut down, which cre­ated a fu­ri­ous cy­ber storm. Sub­se­quently, jour­nal­ist Zhou Fang, who worked for the CPC-con­trolled news agency Xin­hua, called for a probe against the gov­ern­ment for vi­o­lat­ing the cit­i­zens’ con­sti­tu­tional rights us­ing in­ter­net cen­sor­ship.

Xi also faced op­po­si­tion from re­spected me­dia con­glom­er­ate Wu­jie News and on­line gi­ant Alibaba. Chi­nese se­cret po­lice ar­rested 11 cit­i­zens for ask­ing for Xi’s res­ig­na­tion—their fate is un­known. Xi cham­pi­ons “in­ter­net sovereignty”, which ad­vo­cates the gov­ern­ment’s un­ques­tion­able right to im­pose cen­sor­ship on do­mes­tic in­ter­net space. Upon be­com­ing the CPC Gen­eral Sec­re­tary in 2012, he cre­ated a rul­ing ca­bal with him­self as the cen­tre. He em­barked on the elim­i­na­tion of future op­po­nents. He took down mighty lob­bies like the en­ergy in­dus­try and re­gional cliques, made the pow­er­ful Cen­tral Po­lit­i­cal and Le­gal Af­fairs Com­mis­sion tooth­less and broke up the Com­mu­nist Youth League, which in­flu­ences the po­lit­i­cal careers of top lead­ers. He also cre­ated a net­work of loyal tech­nocrats from the de­fence sec­tor in­volved in China’s space pro­gramme, ap­point­ing them in provin­cial posts, which are piv­otal in Polit­buro elec­tions. He also ex­tended his grip over China’s military and se­cu­rity or­gan­i­sa­tions. He set up pol­icy-mak­ing com­mis­sions to con­trol eco­nomic and for­eign pol­icy.

If Xi is suc­cess­ful in neu­ter­ing his en­e­mies dur­ing the Oc­to­ber congress, his writ will run supreme in China and the CPC. The signs be­came clear in July when he ap­pointed loy­al­ist Chen Min’er the Party Sec­re­tary of Chongqing, which guar­an­tees a seat in the 25-mem­ber Polit­buro. Now, Xi has three of the coun­try’s six most pow­er­ful re­gional posts in Bei­jing, Chongqing and Tian­jin in his pocket. The mul­ti­tude of pro­tégés he has posted in many provin­cial po­si­tions will as­cend to na­tional sta­tus in five years. This rain­bow con­sol­i­da­tion to­day makes Xi the most pow­er­ful leader in China since Mao Ze­dong.

Bei­daihe has changed much since Mao built a house there. Mao be­lieved that only a ruth­less and om­nipo­tent leader could bring global supremacy to China. Hence, the ghost of the Great Helms­man would only be too happy to en­dorse the claim of his most ar­dent wor­ship­per as China’s most pow­er­ful dic­ta­tor in the 21st cen­tury.

PRADYUT

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